Taking a four hour watch each day gave the keepers a lot of spare time throughout their four weeks of service. Understandably, some found this challenging while others saw it as an opportunity. Being stationed on an offshore lighthouse afforded a certain freedom to spend your time as you truly wished, without the pressures of the outside world to contend with.
“You could do anything you wanted to really. You could sit down and read or whatever you want. One day would drift into the next and you wouldn’t know what day it was because there was no change in the routine. Then there were places you’d stay up all night playing cards and talking and the next thing you’d realise it’s dawning.” - Richard Foran
Many turned their time to crafts. Ships in bottles, wood work, fine needle work and more helped to pass the time, but for some it also provided a second source of income. Others enjoyed the pleasures that nature had to offer them. Swimming and fishing were obviously regular activities, but so too were photography and writing. Above all, it allowed the keepers the time to think and then think again. A luxury that perhaps the outside world could not always afford them.
Spending such a huge amount of time in the exclusive company of only two other people made having a good working relationship essential. Alan Boyers recounts one Christmas where the other two keepers didn’t speak to each other at all, “On the Skelligs I was with two guys and they didn’t speak. So on Christmas eve we all took out our little cans, two cans each, and they weren’t speaking at all. They never spoke for the whole two weeks on...they’d had some disagreement in the past.” More often than not however, there was a great sense of camaraderie between the keepers. The unique shared experience of lightkeepers often helped to forge strong friendships between them, many of which last to this day.
“You’d put the bacon and the potatoes on down low and then go and whitewash the walls or whatever, then you’d come back and have your dinner together. It was like a family and it wasn’t a family, we tried to make it a bit like a family home.” - Alan Boyers.
Every second year lightkeepers were obliged to spend Christmas at a lighthouse. There were, however, a few comforts that made the time away from their families and loved ones a little easier. Parcels from home, a few bottles of Guinness and a sing song across the radio telephone with their fellow lightkeepers…