Ciaran Duke recalls the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on the Flannan Islands
For years no explanation has ever been forthcoming for the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers of the Eilean Mor Lighthouse on the Flannan Islands, off the west coast of Scotland.
These desolate rocks are situated on the outermost fringe of the British Isles. The nearest land is the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, 20 miles to the east; westward the Atlantic Ocean stretches uninterrupted across to North America. The islands are small and Eilean Mor is the largest at only 500 feet across. They have the reputation of being haunted, and though Hebridean farmers might sometimes leave their sheep for fattening on the fine green turf of the tiny isles, nothing would persuade them to stay overnight.
Four retired seamen looked after the lighthouse, working three at a time in shifts of six weeks on the island, followed by two weeks leave on the mainland. Every two weeks the supply vessel Hesperus arrived with mail, oil and food. The boat brought one man back from his two weeks off and left with another, due for his two weeks away.
On 6th December, 1900, it was the turn of Joseph Moore to be relieved. When the skipper of the Hesperus asked him if he was looking forward to his shore leave, he replied, “Aye,” and added that it was pretty lonely there sometimes.
Moore and the other men, Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald McArthur had served through one long winter and none of them relished another one on the island.
There was little to do in their spare time except read, play draughts and stare out to the cold sea.