Love at the Lighthouse

Love at the Lighthouse

Lighthouses are magical, romantic places. Many a man has been moved to propose there and wedding anniversaries are regularly celebrated with a stay in a lightkeeper’s house.

It’s not just visitors who are overcome by the elemental passion of the place. Love blossomed amongst the lightkeeping community too and often was pursued in the most inventive ways.

Hugh Redmond was a lighthouse keeper in one of the Maiden Lighthouses in County Antrim in the early 1800s. His daughter fell in love with the assistant keeper on the other Maiden Lighthouse, 800 yards across the water.  When possible they visited each other by boat, but most of their courting was via semaphore (a system of signaling by flags). The pair were affectionately known as the Maidens Lovers. According to a local memoir, the families fell out about the romance and eventually the couple eloped to Carrickfergus to get married!

Elsie, another keeper’s daughter, also found a lighthouse love. During a trip home to Ferris Point Lighthouse, on summer leave from her job in the Imperial Civil Service in London, Elsie met and fell for her lightkeeping husband, Bobbie Nelson.

Andrew Coughlan and Mona Williams outside Ballinacourty lighthouse. Love at the lighthouse. Great Lighthouses of Ireland.

Semaphore also played a key role in the courtship of Pauline Fitzgerald and Larry Butler, both part of established lightkeeping families. Pauline’s father was stationed on Eagle Island when she met a dashing young Assistant Keeper named Larry. Love blossomed until Pauline’s father found out and sent her back to Dublin to continue her nursing career. Poor lovelorn Larry followed, proposed and once again the two eloped! Larry and Pauline went on to have 15 children which they raised at various Irish lighthouse stations. Pauline became Female Assistant Keeper of Galley Head Lighthouse in 1969, and two of their children continued the family tradition and became lightkeepers too.

Love at a lighthouse wasn’t without its difficulties though, especially if a lightkeeping husband was stationed offshore for weeks at a time. A poem from a 1970s edition of the Commissioners of Irish Lights’ magazine Beam shows just what life could be like for the wife left ashore:

“It’s off to bed alone for me,
My husband is tending the light,
Though wed I may be,
There’s no comfort for me,
No love, no affection, this night”

“Oh it’s there he must stay by night and by day,
Till the term of his duty is done…
For wedded I be, to a man of the sea,
Who is serving his fellows tonight.”

Though there are no more lightkeepers at the stations, you never know…. on a trip to one of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland you might just meet your one and only. If not, we know you’ll certainly be swept off your feet by the stunning scenery and breathtaking views.

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