Tuesday, January 18, 2022
A lovestruck young lightkeeper annoys the crap out of an elderly colleague on Mew Island in the 1930s
Friday, January 14, 2022
So, rather belatedly, here is the second part of what may be a trilogy but may again be only a biology(?) We'll look at the early lightkeepers on that strange, unheralded island that can be spelt in so many ways that a googler could be driven mad.
From the Belfast Telegraph 5th July 1924. It seems that the Inishtrahull keepers were the last to come ashore as most island stations had been made relieving by 1912.
Sunday, January 2, 2022
Dundalk Bay lighthouse (photograph by Barry Pickup)
Gather round, ladies and gentlemen, don't be shy. Can you hear me at the back? Today I'm going to let you into the secret of Doctor Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People - a young lady pining away and growing paler by the minute; a lightkeeper's anxiety for his beautiful daughter. What's that you say? I'm a mere quack? Well, if you don't believe me, you'll surely believe the august and honourable Ballymena Observer of June 24th 1898 ...
Monday, December 20, 2021
My posting has been fairly non-existent for December so as an apology, I wish you all a very merry Christmas and send you this very old Christmas card which seems to encapsulate what the festive season is all about. Imagine the eight-year-old child coming down on Christmas morning to find the cat has eaten her pet budgie ....
I had hoped, as this is a lighthouse blog, to bring you a lighthouse Christmas card but they are few and far between and rarely very humorous. But there is a lighthouse link in the above card.
Audrey Arthure is a fellow Irish lighthouse enthusiast and well she should be, as her pedigree of Hills and Whelans goes back to the first half of the nineteenth century, many of each family serving as either lightkeepers or coastguards. John Whelan, for example, joined the Ballast Board, (as was) in 1856/7, as the son of a lightkeeper. Frank Hill, born 1878 was both the son and grandson of a coastguard.
Fortunately Audrey has done a large amount of work on researching her family tree and, even more fortunately, she actually got around to writing down a lot of it, a salutory lesson to those of us with good intentions!
(I also see Pat Demarte Handorf's name in her writings, another name familiar to Irish pharologists!)
Audrey also inherited from her grandfather, Frank Hill, a wonderful postcard album, featuring scenic views and humorous caricatures, some of them not altogether pc by today's standards! These were apparently used as the modern equivalent of text messages. As Frank could not phone his family while out on a rock lighthouse, he imaginatively used to send these postcards back on the relief boat with little messages. As Audrey says, a lot of them seemed to involve instructions to send butter out. "The PK broke his leg. Send butter." "I'm out of hair gel. Send butter." "The lantern has fallen into the sea. Send butter." That sort of thing.
You can view Audrey's wonderful piece and the postcard collection here.
Sunday, December 5, 2021
It was doubtless gratifying to him that his adopted city was one of the first to request one of his pile lights. It was erected in 1844 on the edge of a large and dangerous bank of sand off Holywood, county Down. The lighthouse also doubled as a pilot station and contained fifteen sleeping berths, as well as separate apartments for both the captain of the pilots and his assistant. The captain of the pilots was also in charge of the light.
We do not know when Joseph Kerr became the lightkeeper of the Holywood Bank light. Newspaper reports in the early 1850s talk generally of regatta races being held “to Kerr’s lighthouse and back,” which suggests he was certainly well-known in the area by this time. A Joseph Kerr, born in Belfast in 1821, received his Master’s Certificate in 1851 for having served seven years in the coasting trade as a boy, mate and master. It was probably the same man.
Joseph Kerr was married and had two small children. His wife used to mind the red light at the bottom of the Victoria Channel. When morning came, Kerr was in the habit of dowsing his own light and taking the boat to his wife’s lighthouse.
At 7 o’clock on Monday morning 14th May 1855, he was doing just this when, descending the ladder on the piles, he fell into the water and was carried away. What made this all the worse was that the accident was witnessed by the keeper’s six-year-old daughter. As the strong current took him away, his daughter attempted to push the boat out to him but was unable to do so. Raising the alarm, the pilots immediately set about scouring the area but were unable to find him. At last, around two o’clock in the afternoon, the Harbour Commissioners’ pilot boat succeeded in locating the body not far from the lighthouse.
The obligatory inquest was held at the General Hospital in Belfast and came to the unsurprising conclusion that Joseph Kerr had been accidentally drowned.
At the next meeting of the Belfast Harbour Board, it was graciously agreed that they should permit Mrs. Kerr to continue to mind her light as she had done during her husband’s lifetime, as otherwise the family would be unprovided for.
Seven weeks later, the Harbour Board engineer had the sad duty to report that Mrs. Kerr (being a woman, her first name was immaterial) had also died. The Board empowered board members Messrs. Pirrie and Henderson to inquire what could be done for the two orphaned children and to appoint a successor immediately.
More on the Holywood Bank lighthouse can be found here
Thursday, November 25, 2021
Regatta Day pre-1909 (the year the North Pier was constructed) Note the Union Flag on the lighthouse and the beautiful copper dome too. From the Lawrence Collection in the National Library