Life in a Lighthouse. 1892.


Life in a Lighthouse. 1892.

People who profess to be tired of the world and its turmoil may rave over the delights of solitude in a Lighthouse, where the soul may commune with nature, and that sort of thing: but if they actually found themselves in such a position they would soon tire of the hard work involved. An old seaman is preferred, or ordnance sergeant, or some other person who has learned subordination , and is used to sitting up at night. Then, too, old sailors can do the menial labour – the scrubbing and scouring and all those disagreeable things , without the loss of self respect which such duties seen to involve for the landsman. The work of a lightkeeper is like that of a woman – never done. Everything appertaining to the light must be kept absolutely clean. Inspectors make their rounds at frequent intervals; they are provided with very fine linen napkins which they carry with them, and when they are inspecting the glasses or fine brass work of a lens they carefully draw the cloth across the surface. The slightest soil on the napkin is a matter for grave action. Then a formal reprimand is written to the keeper, who never receives a second one. If his lens is found dirty again he is dismissed with out further ceremony. The light must not only be carefully cared for, but it must be watched all the time it is lighted. If a keeper is negligent and lets his light go out he is promptly dismissed. Large quantities of oil, always kept in a separate building , have to be carried up to feed the great lamps, and there is a vast deal of painting and small repairing to be done – quite enough to keep the time from dragging heavily. Women are not allowed in isolated lighthouses set on a bare rock, off from shore, but wherever there is a bit of land attached keepers are encouraged to take their wives. In such stations the head keeper is often married and the assistant keepers live with him and his family. In the sea-rock lighthouses the quarters are too narrow to permit domestic life. Room is needed for the various stores, for even fresh water has to be provided in quantities to last six months. As to food the keepers have each the regular navy rations. The effect of such a tedious existence on the mind is nearly always so injurious that everything possible is done to modify the condition of monotony. Libraries for their use are put up in neat little wooden cases holding about forty volumes each, and the Inspector changes them every three months when he makes his regular visit. If a man can read and write he need not lack entertainment; it is the uneducated keeper who finds the routine most tedious.

The average official life is four years. In that time the inefficient men are ousted, and the good ones find something better to do. If it were always summer, no doubt the term would be longer. But in winter sailing, fishing, and gathering treasures from the beach are things from the past. Yet even then there are pleasant days when the sun shines on the dazzling snow and the beach is white with ice. The water is deeply blue, and the gulls are everywhere. One does not like to talk of the dark side of the terrible storms; the lighthouse is surely then a beacon both on the land and sea, from some half a dozen sailors escaping from their wrecked vessel would never have found their way to food and warmth had it not been for the streaming rays of the light. In the long winter months the memories of the preceding summer are appreciated all the more, and consciously or unconsciously one counts the days till another comes.

Ref:The Irish Times 2 January 1892.




Life in a Lighthouse. 1892

To the Editor of the Weekly Irish Times.

Sir, It is with great surprise I read the statement in the Weekly Irish Times, headed “Life in a Lighthouse”

I believe it is more in ignorance of the service than a desire to make false statements. In the first place no one can enter service over 25 years of age, and then has to pass a strict educational exam, as well as a medical one for insurance. It has been stated old soldiers and sailors are preferred, and the life is like a woman’s. I only wish the party was in it for a while and he would soon alter his opinions. As regards the Inspector and the napkin, during my long service I never saw it used. The disagreeable work which has to be performed – I don’t know of any, or unpleasant either. Keepers have no work to do that any mechanic would not do without losing his self respect. There are more statements which I will pass over as unworthy of notice. There are strict rules as in every other department under the government, but they are not as the writer describes them. Four years has been stated as the average official life. I know men who are 43 years in the service. Libraries are not changed every three months as stated. With respect to his information about dwellings for keepers, there is no department under the government where better are supplied. With very few exceptions – and in no instance do two keepers dwell in the same house – everything is done for them that can add to their comfort. I must admit that in some places their life is lonely in remote places, but they don’t spend their life there, they are changed after a certain time to land stations. As they get up in years and in the service, they remain on shore in some place with easy duty for the remainder of their time, and in old age are provided with good retiring pensions.

Your correspondent must have spent some of his time lately reading some of Sir Walter Scott’s novels when he speaks of picking up treasure on the shore in times gone by. As regards the ice and snow, his experience must be of the Arctic Regions as we poor Paddies never saw it as he describes it. Hoping he will be better posted on lighthouse affairs before he again enlightens the public on the matter. Apologizing for taking up so much of your valuable paper, which is such a boon to Irish lightkeepers.

I am yours faithfully. An Irish Lightkeeper of 34 years Service.

Ref: The Irish Times 9 January 1892.


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