Sunday, August 15, 2021

Mr Lynn, heroic Tuskar lightkeeper ... or was he?

The Tuskar Rock lighthouse c.1906 from the Commissioner of Irish Lights archive in the National Library of Ireland

  A few days ago I posted this snippet up on Facebook from the Wexford Conservative 1835

You see, this is my interpretation of the story and it differs very much from the author of the article, not that I'm in the habit of arguing with people who are long dead.
There is no way that Mr. Lynn would have used his own boat to row from Tuskar to Rosslare and back to fetch provisions. Every offshore lighthouse had a tender "belonging to the lighthouse" paid for by the lighthouse service and tendered out to one particular individual, invariably a local boatman. This boatman would row over to the lighthouse with a hand-picked crew - normally between two and six - on a pre-arranged day, once, maybe twice a week to hand over provisions, mail etc. Occasionally, there would be adhoc requests - if clothes were needed on the rock, say, the keeper's wife might ask to go ashore and the local boatman would oblige, naturally, or the Ballast Board wouldn't have renewed his contract.
So when the newspaper talks about 'Mr. Lynn's boat', they really mean the 'lighthouse boat.' Certainly in the twentieth century, keepers were not allowed to have their own boats at offshore lights. Going out in their own boat would have meant leaving the rock and that was a no-no.
So, let us assume Mr. and Mrs. Lynn were travelling in the light tender. They would have had at least two big strapping men doing the rowing, maybe more, and the chief boatman would have been in charge. There probably wouldn't have been a spare set of oars for Mr. Lynn to help out so its doubtful that there was any 'unprecedented struggling' on Mr. Lynn's part. The real heroes would have been the rowers.
So how did the newspaper get it so wrong?
Well, the lightkeeper was a highly-respected member of the community. He wore a uniform and had responsibilities. The rowers were simply part of the great unwashed. For example, in a drowning case  in Lough Foyle, the body was found by "Captain McLoughlin's manservant." A man transporting girders to build the bridge at Tarbert in 1840 was known simply as "a poor man." A mass drowning at the Calf Rock in 1869 was referred to in the papers as happening to Assistant Lightkeeper Richard Howard and six men. No names needed. 
I may be doing Mr. Lynn a great disservice here, though I secretly suspect it is "his men" who are being disserved.
At least the kids were saved.

The Tuskar today


  1. Weird mis-telling, if you’re right.

  2. Hi Peter - this is very interesting. I have a question you might be able to answer. I understand, even though it is shocking, that lighthouse keepers were not permitted to keep their own boat at offshore stations. Does this mean they had no access to a boat at all apart from the tender? So if they saw a boat in distress out at sea they could not go out to them? Thank you.

  3. That is a very interesting post. So light keepers did not have access to a boat of their own? If light keepers on an offshore lighthouse saw a boat in difficulty what could they do?

  4. It seems they could actually do very little if they saw a boat in distress at sea, except fire flares and hoist flags and shine blue lights to alert the coastguard. The keepers on the Calf Rock could only watch on helplessly in 1869 as the relief boat to the lighthouse foundered with all seven hands lost. Of course, it may have been possible that some keepers kept a small boat to do a spot of local fishing but all lighthouses had contracted tenders to and from shore.