Saturday, September 24, 2022

Ballycotton lighthouse, county Cork Part One - across the water


Something a little bit different for this post, please forgive the indulgence. 

I recently had the good fortune to visit Ballycotton (or Ballycottin, as it was often written) on a beautiful warm summer's day in East Cork. I will write about the visit and the history in a subsequent post or posts but I recently came across a short, short story called "A Keeper's Woman," written eight years ago by a multi-talented lady named Henrietta McKervey. I requested permission to reproduce it in full on the blog and Henrietta kindly agreed.

A Keeper’s Woman

We’d say to one another, and we’d nod saying it, wasn’t herself the luckiest woman in Ballycotton? And though they had gone and painted the lighthouse black, and in our hearts we wondered was that the worst of luck, we would say what great fortune Enagh had, that she’d always know where her husband was, and what he was up to. He’d not be touching a drop out there neither, one of us would be bound to say, and Josie would let a wail out of her till whoever was nearest would grab her hand and go, ah don’t mind, your Tommy will come right yet. And Enagh would give us that thin smile of hers that isn’t a smile at all, only the thing she does with her face before she walks away. And back she would go to her house on the hill. We’ve heard it said the Commissioners above in Dublin send her and that little lad the best of everything. Coal, and wool. Schoolbooks. Soap even, so we’re told. And when winter falls and the days die without ever getting to grow into themselves, we would watch Enagh standing alone at the harbour, staring across the black water at the lighthouse sprouting strong as a weed over on the island. We’d watch her two lips touching each other as she waited for him to light the lamp. She would count to ten between each flash, the boy shivering beside her. Ah sure, don’t be worrying yourself Enagh, we would say. What man ever came to harm in a lighthouse? And black or not, we’d mean it too. Yes. We all wanted to be a keeper’s woman.

As you are doubtless aware, my literary talents know no beginnings and I can only dream of being qualified to review that piece of work, but it really touches a part of the world of lightkeeping that I often think about - the unsung heroes. I mean, God knows, the keepers themselves are very much the unsung heroes but the wives and families, the painters and tradesmen, the provisioners and rowers are even more unsunger. The piece above says so much in so few words and says a lot more without saying it at all. Makes me glad I wasn't married to a lightkeeper (even though some of them look very dashing in their uniforms and caps.)

Looking back to Ballycotton from the balcony of the tower

Enagh's view (old, not so sunny photograph) The lighthouse is on the second of the two islands from the coast. The first island is Small Island or Little Island or Tiny Island, which is actually larger than the lighthouse island when the tide is out.

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