Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The lighthouse two miles off Tremaine

The Maidens light, county Antrim

This is a poem wot I wrote many years ago and which I actually set to music a few years ago. However, I am no Donnacha O'Laoghaire either vocally or on the geetar, so I'll reproduce the poem without the musical violation. Incidentally, there is, nor ever was, a lighthouse off Tremaine, nor any village of that name, that I am aware of and the events only happened in my morbid imagination.

Eeragh lighthouse, the Aran Islands

Come hear my strange story, repulsive and gory,
about one who was ruthlessly slain.
It happened, you see, back in 1903
on the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine.

The storm lashed the bay on that terrible day,
clouds darkened the sea like a stain.
And when evening fell, it became black as hell,
with no beam from the light off Tremaine.

By eleven o’clock, there were crowds on the dock,
all willing the tempest to wane.
But the winds from the north meant no boat could set forth
for the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine.

Still no light from the rock by one, two o’clock
and the people sang hymns in the rain.
Through that night dark and long, they knew something was wrong
in the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine.

The first keeper, Prior, was about to retire,
John Dancer was hitched to Liz Wayne,
while Mattie McGraw had a family of four,
all stood on the quay at Tremaine.

Beeves Rock lighthouse, Shannon Estuary

Dawn rose o’er the town ‘ere the high winds died down
And a fishing boat hauled up its chain.
And it battled the swell on its journey to hell
to the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine.

It passed the quay wall looking desperately small
as the waves crashed a howling refrain.
And the crowd on the quay watched it go silently
as it fought with the seas off Tremaine.

It was buffeted hard as it crept yard by yard, the small bow creaking under the strain. But despite the resistance, it made the long distance to the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine. But no-one came out of that great chimney spout to see why the boat was in train. So they knew straight away there was something astray on the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine. Now, reaching the light was but half of their plight for, to all of the crew, it was plain that the boat couldn’t land on the quayside as planned at the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine.

Ballycotton, county Cork
They concocted a plan that one very brave man should be winched onto shore with the crane, or the boat would be dashed by the high sea that lashed the old lighthouse two miles off Tremaine. The pilot drew near, well disguising his fear, again and again and again, till he gave a great shout and the winch swung about by the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine. Steve Murtagh swung high ‘neath the querulous sky and regarded the brine with disdain. In the rain and the cold, he gained a weak hold on the treacherous rock off Tremaine. His harness unhitched, as the boat tossed and pitched, he crawled to the blacked-out domain. To the steel door he hied, pushed it once, went inside the old lighthouse two miles off Tremaine.

South Rock lighthouse, county Down (with lantern)
On the very top floor, what a nightmare he saw, as the gale outside howled as in pain. The walls were splashed red and Con Prior lay dead in the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine.

John Dancer sat hunched, his eyes tightly scrunched, his gibberings wild and inane. But of Mattie McGraw, no traces Steve saw in that lighthouse two miles off Tremaine. Steve questioned John Dancer but got ne’er an answer, for a switch had been flicked in his brain. And he could not make sense of the train of events at the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine. One very much dead from a blow to the head. One missing, the other insane. And it ne’er came to light what transpired that night on the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine. The lamp is now static, unwatched, automatic. The seagulls alight on the pane. But at night in their dreams, people still hear the screams
from the lighthouse two miles off Tremaine.

Tuskar Rock, county Wexford

Friday, May 5, 2023

The Lighthouse Keepers of Old

Edward McCarron, author of 'Life in Donegal' was a keeper at Dundalk, Arranmore, Inishtrahull, Tearaght, and others from the 1870s

I came across this poem by somebody called A.M.C.(a strange name with very few letters in it?) in the Cork Examiner of 5th November 1892. Imaginatively called 'The Lighthouse Keepers,' its message is basically to appreciate the lightkeeper while he is around, for there would be carnage if he ever stopped lighting his lamps.

Francis James Ryan and Mary nee Redmond,  married in 1867, and then circumnavigated the country.

Far away on a rocky coast where great waves dash and roar,
And vessels passing to and fro keep off the dreaded shore:
The lighthouse stands, silent and cold, in solemn loneliness:
Towering far above the sea, and the ocean's wild caress.

William Landers, a devout Methodist, served at Clare Island and Inishgort for many years in the mid-1800s

Ever and ever the breakers crash; ever the seabirds fly,
Mingling the noise of the angry waves with their weird and piercing cry;
Ever the billows rush and leap, covered with creative foam,
Running their maddening ceaseless race 'neath the lighthouse keeper's home.

William Glanville, who served at Slyne Head, Eagle Island and many more from the 1880s had at least sixteen children

When the storm-fiend comes with desperate rage and destruction in his train;
And the hurricane blows with awful force 'mid the furious driving rain;
The lighthouse warns the tossing ships of the dangers looming near
And guides them to a spot beyond - the harbour of refuge is there.

Rickard (not Richard!) Hamilton served at many stations from 1865 to 1905 and spawned a dynasty of keepers

When in the darkness of the night, the mariner sees the light
From the lighthouse shining steadily, gleaming serenely bright,
He keeps away from the rocky coast and silently sailing by,
He thinks of the lonely lighthouse-men in their hermitage so high.

Lightkeeper, probably Joseph Corish, surveying the damage caused by the December 1894 storm at Eagle Island

Fathers and mothers with anxious hearts, when you pray for your sons at sea,
Do you ever think of the lighthouse-men - how they watch unweariedly?
Do you ever thin, were it not for them, many lives would soon be lost,
And your boy - yes, your bonny sailor boy - on the treach'rous rocks be tossed.

The brilliantly-named Watson Pepper Armstrong was a keeper at Beeves Rock, Roches Point and Clare Island in the 1860s and 1870s

So when you pray for your sons at sea, you must not fail to bless
The lighthouse-keepers who watch and guide 'mid the wild sea's loneliness.
Think what your own sad plight would be, if the Lighthouse-Keeper of old
Were to watch no more and to quench his light in the ages yet untold.

Thomas Francis Fortune and daughters. Thomas was the PK when the Calf Rock came crashing down in 1881(Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)