Lighthouse Beacons from Scotland

Flannan Isles Lighthouse

Flannan Isles Lighthouse and St Flannan's Cell by JJM via Wikimedia

The Flannan Lighthouse is located on the Flannan Islands twenty one miles west of the Isle of Lewis and marks the fringe of the Outer Hebrides with only St Kilda further west.

It is named after St Flannan who was St Ronan's half brother and the seven rocky outcrops are sometimes called the Seven Hunters. The island of Eilean Mor on which the lighthouse stands had two other habitations before the lighthouse was built. The ruins were described by the Ancient Monuments Commission as "The Bothies of the Clan McPhail" and in appearance one of these ruins seems to have a chapel (see graphic above) and the other a dwelling. The graphic on the right shows the steps from the jetty to the lighthouse.

The lighthouse was sanctioned by the Board of Trade in 1896 but was not completed until 1899. The engineers were David and Charles Stevenson. It stands on the top of a 200 foot cliff. The tower is 23 metres high and flashes (2) white every 30 seconds with a range of 20 miles. Dwelling houses for the lightkeepers' wives and families were built at the shore station at Breasclete, Isle of Lewis. The site for this was chosen for its close proximity to Loch Roag, a sea loch, which provided a safe anchorage and shelter for the lighthouse tender when taking on or putting ashore the lightkeepers, or when bad weather made it impossible to carry out the relief on the due date.

As there was no radio communication between the Flannans and Lewis at that time, a gamekeeper, Mr Roderick MacKenzie, was appointed as observer to the light. His duties involved watching for any signals from the lighthouse 18 miles north west of his vantage point at Gallan Head, Lewis and to observe and report any failure in the exhibition of the light. In the event of such a failure he reported immediately by telegram to Head Office in Edinburgh so that the necessary steps could be taken to have someone sent to carry out any repairs.

Flannan Isles lighthouse is famous because three keepers disappeared on December 13, 1900, just over a year after the light began operating and were never heard of again. The event captured the imagination of the public in much the same way as the "Mary Celeste". The official Northern Lighthouse Board position is that a large body of water washed them out to sea. But, no one knows the true story. The graphic on the left is by Charles Tait.

Flannan Isles lighthouse was one of the last of the Northern Lighthouse Board's stations to be automated (on 28 September 1971).

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