Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Flannan Islands Mystery

When you think about writing a novel all sorts of tidbits that you have heard and read over the years seem to tumble around in your brain. I have a very keen interest in Maritime Archaeology and myths and legends of the sea.  When I was thinking about The Lighthouse Keeper : Book One in the Peron Cove Mysteries, many lighthouse mysteries came to light.
One true mystery I heard of many years ago that seems fascinating and perplexing, is the missing Lighthouse Keepers of Flannan Islands.  Situated on the highest point of Eilean Mor, one of the remote islands once known as The Seven Hunters, the Flannan Island Lighthouse was designed in 1899 by David Alan Stevenson, a relative of the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson.  Standing at 23m (75ft) high the Lighthouse was fully automated in 1971.  

The Flannan Islands are part of the Outer Hebrides and were named after St Flannan, Flannan mac Toirrdelbaig.  The Irish Saint, who lived in the sixth century, was the son of Irish Cheiftan Turlough Thomond.  St Flannan was said to have made a pilgrimage to Rome where Pope John IV consecrated him as Bishop of Killaloe of which he is the patron saint.  He preached in the Hebrides and there is a chapel dedicated to him on Eilean Mor.

In December 1900 a steamer called the Archtor, that was travelling between Philadelphia and Leith, passed the island in bad weather and noticed that the light was not lit.  On the 26th of December 1900 a small ship called the Hesperus made its way to the Flannan Islands with the replacement keeper, Joseph Moore, on board. Three lighthouse keepers manned the  lighthouse in two week shifts with a fourth lighthouse keeper coming in on a rotational basis.  Despite the Captain of the Hesperus sending up a flare and sounding the ship's horn none of the lighthouse keepers came out of the lighthouse.  When the keeper, Joseph Moore, disembarked from the Hesperus he instantly felt something was wrong.  The three lighthouse keepers, Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald MacArthur were no where on the island.  Two of the three oilskin jackets were missing from inside the lighthouse, food was on the table, the clock had stopped and one of the chairs was on the floor as though someone had stood in a hurry.  

Unable to explain how all three lighthouse keepers could be missing, the log entries were checked.  The final entries in the log were strange and unsettling.  Thomas Marshall, the second assistant had noted severe winds, the likes of which he hadn't seen in twenty years.  It was noted in the log that James Ducat, the Principal Keeper had been 'very quiet' and the third assistant, an experienced mariner had been crying.  There was mention of a raging storm, which subsequent weather reports did not match.  The final log entry on 15th December simply said "Storm ended, sea calm God is overall".
Many theories have been put forward to explain the strange disappearance of the three lighthouse keepers.  Rogue waves, aliens, the idea that one keeper had murdered the other two and had killed himself in remorse and the phantom of the Seven Hunters have all been cited as possible explanations.  No bodies were ever found.  It is said however that in subsequent years lighthouse keepers on the island have claimed to hear strange voices on the wind saying the names of the missing keepers. The island is said to be haunted by sea shepherds and perhaps the ghost of St Flannan himself.