The sea holds both danger and wonder in equal measure. Many keepers view it as an unpredictable living entity, which is to be enjoyed but also respected. Its unpredictability also comes from the many creatures that live within it. Lighthouses are blessed with the fortune of being situated in the midst of some spectacular wildlife.
Watching over the safety of mariners gave keepers an acute awareness of the sea and its power, but also afforded them time to appreciate the thriving natural beauty of their surroundings. Not only did keepers have to adapt their daily lives to the lighthouse and weather conditions, but they also had to adjust to the bustling wildlife.
“The worst station I was on for bird attacks was Mew Island, off Donaghadee. The tern birds would dive on you and make contact(...)I wouldn’t go down the island in the breeding season without a helmet, or you’d get a brush and just hold it high above your head or a mop.” - Vincent Sweeney
Living in locations that are physically bursting with life often gave the keepers a love for nature and a reflective appreciation for the world around them.
“On the Bull Rock the kittiwakes all lived in a cave under the derrick and the noise they used to make was unbelievable, but it was great company. They would leave on the 23rd of August, they would disappear. You would go out one morning and there wasn’t a sound. The rock was empty. By God you’d feel the loneliness of that.” - Gerald Butler
Two islands of Ireland each at opposite ends of the coast, Rathlin and Skellig Michael share a rich history of lightkeepers. The Skelligs once had two functioning lighthouses, whilst Rathlin has three; one each for its eastern, western and southern points. The two islands are also renowned for their abundant bird and marine life. The cliff face onto which Rathlin west lighthouse is built, is shared with a natural bird colony which is home to thousands of seabirds including guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, puffins and a variety of other breeds.
Skellig Michael also boasts a similar variety of bird life while its sister island, Little Skellig, is home to one of only three gannet colonies left in Ireland. In Rathlin, a colony of seals has also made its home on its shores and these curious, placid creatures are often seen bathing on the rocks of Mill Bay.
These two islands offer shining examples of the beauty that the island of Ireland offers and on which keepers lived. The sensory experience that would have been their daily pleasure is something that cannot easily be quantified. The sights and smells and sounds of these islands and countless others around the Irish coast evoke feeling and emotion like only the beauty of the natural world can.
Enjoy two soundscapes from both Rathlin and Skellig Michael to help you share in the experience.