When the Light Goes Out

I finally received my long-anticipated copy of Pete Goulding’s book on Irish lighthouse fatalities, and I can heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in lighthouses, maritime heritage, or Irish history in general.  When the Light Goes Out, a clever title by the way Pete, is 224 pages of first-class research including maps and images (145 as it happens and many in colour).

Pete is the chap behind the blog page Pete’s Irish Lighthouses which I have followed for several years now.  He lives in Dublin and works in a warehouse.  He’s a prolific writer including humorous verse, serious verse, a book of essays, a novel, and a biography. He’s also one of these history bloggers who have a passion for League of Ireland soccer just like Cian Manning and David Toms…Maybe that’s where I have gone wrong!

Anyway back to the review.  The purpose of When the Light Goes Out is to shine a light – yes a pun but as Pete is the king of them, it is rubbing off on me – on those men, women, and children associated with the long and proud family tradition of lighthouse service in this country.  It tells this story through a prism of deaths from 1786 to 1972 in the service of the Irish Lights whether at lighthouses, lightships, pile lights, or light tenders.

If that sounds like a rather gloomy and depressing subject can I just reassure you that it is anything but.  Yes there is sadness, anger, rage, and in some cases perplexity at what occurred but it is also a treasure trove of lost lighthouses, a glimpse into a way of life now (regretfully to my mind) extinguished and a wonderful companion to anyone interested in the lighthouses around our coastline. You will also learn about families of the lighthouses, the tasks of those employed, the social history of the lighthouse families who travelled almost like nomads from post to post, often leaving their loved ones in graveyards that would not be seen for years later if at all.

The household names of lighthouses feature such as Hook, Fastnet, Tuskar, Poolbeg, and the Skelligs.  But many were new to me as were the stories of fatalities associated with them.  And as I said it’s not just the deaths, it’s the story of the light, its historical context, the politics and the drama that sometimes went on, the isolation, loneliness of the service, and just how unfortunate a person can be – the wrong place at the wrong time!

I was surprised to learn that I had no awareness of the Beeves Rock Lighthouse on the River Shannon until now.  I was amazed at the history of the Pidgeon House and family on the Great South Wall and wondered how I had never been.  I don’t know how I missed the Puffin Lightship disaster at the Daunt Rock in 1896.  And of course, there were so many fascinating details on one of my favourite lighthouse constructions – the Pile lights to which we owe Alexander Mitchell such a debt. 

ILV Ierne(1898) at Fastnet Lighthouse via Pete’s Irish Lighthouses

Many of the stories stood out in this book and some have been featured on my own blog, for example about the ILV Isolda, a recent guest blog by David Carroll.  Another that was new to me was a tragic incident aboard the ILV Ierne(1898) which was the tender vessel used in the construction of the Fastnet light.  Ierne departed Castletownbere in West Cork on Thursday 11th January 1906 to land a relief crew and supplies to the Bull Rock, a lighthouse on the SW tip of Ireland open to the full fury of the Atlantic Ocean.  As the vessel rounded Crow Head the long finger of Dursey Island was coming into view and the seas grew in size.  As the crew hurriedly completed their deck duties Captain Kearon spotted a rogue wave tumbling towards the ship, from the bridge.  His cry of warning was only out of his mouth when the ship was engulfed in seawater.   The Ierne went over on her beam end and everything on deck not secured was lost over the side.  As she righted herself the captain pulled himself out of the scuppers, several of the crew were seriously hurt, but one man was lost overboard.  As the Ierne came about, Thomas Kearney was seen holding onto an oar struggling to keep his head over water.  With their lifeboat stove in, there was little the crew could do but throw life rings and try to get as close as possible to haul their colleague aboard.  The elements were against them, however, and in horror, they watched as Kearney slipped beneath the waves.

Now although that may sound sad, and it is, Pete takes four pages in the telling.  There’s the service of the Ierne, Thomas’s back story, the inquest, the aftermath, and also a poem written to commemorate the event.  Such rich detail and a fine way to remember such sacrifice to such an important way of life.  Pete has over 70 such events, each with its own unique back story.

If I had any criticisms of his book, I might have changed the chronological order of telling to include the various events at Hook for example, or Belfast Lough.  In the latter, I found that some repetition was needed just to remind me of the context of the lights, and I needed to go back to the earlier stories just to be sure for myself.  But that is a small matter and perhaps just an issue for me as a slow, meticulous reader…I love the details, and be sure of my ground. However, his contents page and his index at the end ensure that those searching for a particular lighthouse or a specific event, or a lighthouse family will easily locate them in the text.

As I said at the outset I would highly recommend this book.  It’s also a read of small chapters, some only a page or two, it can be picked up and laid down and come back to time after time.  It also has a very clear contents section that gives you the name of the deaths and the location of the event.  So as a lighthouse fan, you can read up on a tragedy(s) before you set off to visit. 

Pete is selling the book “When the Light goes out” through his blog via a Paypal button on the sidebar.  One book will cost €18, which includes post and packaging worldwide. (For those ordering on a phone, you may have to scroll to the bottom of the page and click ‘View web version’ in order to see the sidebar.) Pete will distribute to Ireland himself but for orders outside Ireland, he will arrange for these through his publisher.  All orders, Ireland or overseas can be made through his blog page. The book will also be available on the Lulu bookstore and on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Ingrams amongst others. But as an author who knows, can I plead with you to consider buying direct from Pete…financially it’s a very big difference to an author after the years of work.

Pete can be contacted by email at  gouldingpeter@gmail.com