“When I was a young keeper,” my father continued, “I was stationed on a barren rock lighthouse. It was about 1918, I think. There were three keepers on the rock station – the principal keeper, the assistant and a supernumerary keeper. As a supernumerary, and the new boy in my first year in the job, I was not yet in the confidence of the two older men, who had served more than thirty years each.
‘Besides the keepers, on this occasion, there were three painters. One of the painters I hadn’t seen for a few days but didn’t take that much notice. We were on our fifth week and seven days overdue for our relief. The weather was the worst that anybody could remember and I was bored and started to have a nose around the stores, when a large captain’s chest caught my eye. Though I’d been in that store many times before, I couldn’t for the life of me remember seeing the chest. I stared at it for ages, wondering what treasures it might contain until eventually my curiosity got the better of me. I lifted the lid and was struck dumb by the contents. Inside was a corpse with the whitest face I’d ever seen, snow white it was, like the walls of the lighthouse. Heavy air oozed from the corpse I had stirred, bringing to light some hideous crime that had for so long been hidden.
‘Convinced I’d discovered a murder from the past, I was out of there quicker than a robber’s dog and running blindly through the narrow passage before collapsing at the principal’s feet, still shaking with fright.
‘After a few minutes, I got my breath back and told him what I’d seen. He couldn’t restrain himself from laughing.
‘‘Calm down,’ he said. ‘It’s only Harry the painter. He died last week from a heart attack and we had to salt him down as we do with the fish to preserve the body until the weather improves and the relief boat can get here. We thought it better not to tell you after all them ghost stories and yarns we’ve been spinning.’”
Of course, since then, I have been trying to discover who the poor ex-painter was through the online civil record death certs. A big job but it can be narrowed down. First of all, he is somebody of adult working age, whose first name is Harry or Henry. Secondly, I reckon that 1918 should be about right. Lenny middle was born in 1897. If he joined Irish Lights at 21 and was a first year SAK, 1918 or 1919 would fit the bill. And thirdly, the barren rock station with terrible weather - Blackrock, Slyne Head, Tearaght, Bull Rock, Fastnet, Tuskar - with corresponding Registration Districts of Belmullet, Clifden, Dingle, Castletown, Schull and Wexford.