The very beautiful old Skellig Michael lower light before renovation. This post is entirely based on Seamus Farrell's painstaking research into his father's career
Francis J. "Frank" O'Farrell, Service no. 517 was not, like many others, born into the lightkeeping service. You could say that he chose the service, rather than the service choosing him.
Born in Waterford in January 1934, his father was a member of the Gardai. After school, he joined British Rail as an electrician and also became a wireless operator in the Merchant Navy. Apparently the only time he got wet in the latter job was having to stand in the rain at Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953!
Frank as a wireless operator in the Merchant Navy aged 19
Returning to Ireland, he was appointed a Supernumerary keeper with Irish Lights in November 1956, a position he held for four years which, to me, seems a very long time. Seamus has been trying to piece together which lights he served on (Irish Lights have no SAK records) and has come up with Dun Laoghaire East Pier, The Baily, Black Head, Mew, Haulbowline, Hook, Ballycotton, the Fastnet, Roancarrig, Skellig, Tearaght, Slyne Head, Black Rock Mayo, Loop Head, Eagle Island and Rathlin West. In four years, I wouldn't be surprised if there were many more.
This period - 1956 to 1960 - was of course in the days of vapourised paraffin, explosive fog signals and clockwork-run weights that made the lens revolve. It was also during this time, while stationed at the Baily that he met Gabrielle, who would later become his wife. She worked at Keogh's Sweet Shop in Sutton Cross.
A very dapper new SAK in 1956
Frank got made Assistant Keeper on 5th November 1960 and was posted to Skellig Michael for three years just before the station was modernised and rebuilt. With Gabrielle and daughter Cathriona, they lived in the Knightstown dwellings on Valentia, next door to Jean and Peter Duggan, who was a keeper on the Tearaght.
From county Kerry, they moved up to Shroove in county Donegal for another three years before spending four and a half years in his first spell on Rockabill. Then it was to the bleak isolation of Eeragh in the Aran Islands for ten months before putting in nearly six years on the Tuskar from 1972 to 1978.
Two more years on the Kish in Dublin Bay and then Frank made Principal Keeper, returning to Rockabill where he had served at the end of the sixties. An unusual occurrence happened there in 1982, when Frank, from his watch at the lighthouse, happened to spot that the 30 bedroomed Rockabill Hotel in Skerries was on fire and alerted the emergency services to the fact!
Frank in the lantern room of Rockabill with the old vaporized burner. To me, there's a look of Colm Meaney about him here. During his time there he worked with Johnny Weldon and Alan Boyers
Photo by Frank from the Bolko relief helicopter approaching Rockabill.
Frank's final posting was back to the Kish in May 1983, the only Irish lighthouse with no outside land space.* Exercise could be had running around the top of the tower! Two years into his stint he fell ill and had to be airlifted off the station. He retired from Irish Lights in 1986.
Frank died in October 2012.
Frank's son, Paul, also joined Irish Lights and achieved the distinction of being the last keeper to be awarded a service number. Paul's number (701) is therefore the highest and the last in a list of all the keepers that served from 1900 onwards. He joined in 1982 and resigned in 1986, during which time he probably experienced more different and varied light stations than many of his predecessors who served ten times as long. When Dad Frank was airlifted from the Kish in 1985, it was Paul who was sent out to replace him, which was definitely not Irish Lights procedure!
Seamus, (Frank's son,) would be keen to hear any reminiscences of his father's time in Irish Lights. Any comments posted on Facebook or on the blog, or sent to me on gouldingpeter at gmail dot com, will be forwarded on to him.
*I am rightly pulled up by Lee Maginnis who wonders what kind of outside exercise space Haulbowline had. Of course, he's right though I'm not sure if the keepers couldn't get out and stretch their legs at really low tide. But then of course, I thought of the pile lights of Spit Bank in Cork Harbour, Passage East, Dundalk, Moville, Redcastle, Whitecastle, Ture, Lough Mahon and Dunkettle, not to mention the Dublin lighthouses of North Wall and North Bank, and I realised, yes, you're never too old to make a complete hames of something!
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