A Lightkeeper’s Christmas
Rain, hail, shine or snow, a lightkeeper’s work never stops. That means missed anniversaries, birthdays, special occasions and even Christmases.
As hard as it was to be far from loved ones during the festive season, keepers would find joy where they could – often in the form of singing Christmas carols over the radio to keepers at other offshore lighthouses! All the more plausible when you remember that Christmas Day was the one day a year that the ‘no-alcohol’ rule was relaxed…
Despite the work to be done, turkey with all the trimmings was still on the menu come December 25th. Bill Power, a former Fastnet keeper, had quite the memorable Christmas with a turkey – named Percy – that he and the two other lightkeepers had reared for the big day. When Christmas Day came, Bill slaughtered the bird, prepared it, stuffed it and cooked it for all three keepers to enjoy.
However, the other two keepers had become a little too attached to the turkey and couldn't bring themselves to eat it. Bill didn't want to eat Percy on his own so after three days of it sitting on the table Bill threw the whole lot into the Atlantic!
Former lightkeeper Gerald Butler remembers the festivities of a Christmas on duty:
“On Christmas Eve a few bottles of stout were opened after supper and the other rock stations would call each other to pass on the compliments of the season. We would just sit around the table and chat [...] of course when the voice-boxes were loosened after a few bottles, singing to each other would start. This was eagerly awaited for by the families ashore and also, as the range of these radios increased with darkness, it was possible to be heard virtually anywhere in the country.
When I was on duty at the Fastnet and being a non-drinker, I found myself in for a long night. As the effects wore on it became clear that I was on duty for the entire night. This lighthouse concert continued until the early hours and although by now the other two keepers on the Fastnet were gone to their bunks and were sound asleep, it was nonetheless, entertaining for my watch. All the duties had to continue as usual and nothing changed. When one of the lads got up in the morning I then headed off to my bunk…”.
Former keeper and current Ballycotton Lighthouse guide, Eddie Fitzgerald fondly recalls some festive seasons spent on duty:
“I remember in the mid-60s spending Christmas on Ballycotton Lighthouse. It happened to be my first Christmas away from my family, as well as my first on a lighthouse even if I was just a couple of miles from home.
Ballycotton Lighthouse is just a mile offshore and I remember the weather was very fine up to and after Christmas. The weather being good, my father decided to make a trip out with a nice roast chicken, plum pudding and Christmas cake, so I was ready for the big day.
Up to Christmas Eve, life on the lighthouse carried on as normal with us keepers doing our watch-keeping and station maintenance. On Christmas Eve we were very busy getting everything ready for our Christmas dinner. On Christmas morning the keeper on the 6am-10am watch made sure that the Rayburn Cooker was cleaned and ready for the important job ahead.
Each keeper prepared and cooked his own dinner but we all kept an eye on how things were progressing. At 1pm we sat down to a wonderful meal and talked about our families and friends. The two keepers I was with told me stories of Christmases spent on other lighthouses around the coast. I had a box of crackers and we had great fun finding hats and jokes.
It was a lovely Christmas spent on Ballycotton Lighthouse with those two gentlemen. My next Christmas was a completely different experience, spent at Fastnet Lighthouse during a heavy storm.”