Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Turkeys and amputations, Rathlin Island

As the Association of Light Keepers will be in town from Saturday to Tuesday and a trip to Rathlin Island has been scheduled in, this is an opportune time to highlight a tale from The Irish Press, 21st November 1944. 

CIL Inspection trip c 1905 The accommodation for the families of the West Light keepers were also located at the East Light.

The two lights at Rathlin East (or simply "Rathlin" before the Rathlin West light was established in 1919) were established in 1856. The lower, fixed, baby light was discontinued in 1894. The cave system in the cliffs below the lighthouse is supposed to be the place where Robert the Bruce had his arachnid experience.

Rathlin East was one of the last lighthouses on the Irish coast to go automatic, holding out until 1995. 

It was also the scene of a terrible accident in 1912. Dennis 'Denny' Duff was an AK at the lighthouse, four years into his career with Irish Lights. The Princess Maud steamer, laden with tourists, was passing the island and the three keepers decided to fire a salute. A first salvo from the 18 pound fog gun was fired and the lads decided to make it a three-gun salute. Denny hurried to load the gun but forgot to swab the barrel with water first, with the result that the burning remains of the first shot ignited the second prematurely. The explosion practically severed Denny's right arm and would have killed him had one of the keepers not spotted a White Star liner, the Megantic, approaching over the horizon.
Hurried signals brought the ship's doctor ashore and he quickly arranged for Denny to be transferred to the ship's hospital where he was kept alive until the ship got to Liverpool, successfully avoiding all icebergs on the way. An ambulance was waiting on the dock and he was rushed to hospital where his life was saved but the arm was operated above the elbow.
Denny's career as a lightkeeper was over and he moved to England with his wife and family. Struggling to find work, he contacted Irish Lights and, through their intervention, he got a job with Chance Brothers in Birmingham, the famous lighthouse lens manufacturers. Here he worked as a very popular gatekeeper for twenty years. One-armed Denny Duff died in 1958. (Information from Thomas Tag - "The Anatomuy of a Lighthouse Story")

Denny Duff

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