Buyout plans for Flannan Isles lighthouse station

An Taigh Mhòr, Breasclete, Lewis.

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A community buyout of the Flannan Isles lighthouse station, where three men mysteriously vanished more than a century ago, is one step closer.

The handsome building in the village of Breasclete on the Isle of Lewis was home to the keepers of the Eilean Mor lighthouse on the Flannan Isles, 20 miles west in the Atlantic Ocean.

Over a century ago, in December 1900, the three men charged with keeping the lighthouse shining, Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald McArthur, mysteriously vanished.

A relief vessel, the Hesperus, sent to investigate, ominously found no one waiting to welcome them ashore, the beds unmade and an overturned chair by the kitchen table. The missing keepers had kept their log until 9am on December 15.

Captain Harvie sent a telegram to the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) dated December 26, 1900, stating: ‘A dreadful accident has happened at the Flannans. The three keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the Occasional have disappeared from the Island … The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows they must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane.’

An official investigation by the NLB, led by superintendent Robert Muirhead on December 29, 1900, concluded: ‘From evidence which I was able to procure, I was satisfied that the men had been on duty up till dinner time on Saturday the 15th of December, that they had gone down to secure a box in which the mooring ropes, landing ropes etc. were kept, and which was secured in a crevice in the rock about 110 ft (34 m) above sea level, and that an extra large sea had rushed up the face of the rock, had gone above them, and coming down with immense force, had swept them completely away.’

On December 15 last year, 117 years to the day since someone first noticed the light of Eilean Mor had gone out, a memorial is being unveiled to those who were lost.

A memorial to three lighthouse keepers who mysteriously vanished from the Flannan Isles in 1900 was installed at a ceremony on Lewis.
A memorial to three lighthouse keepers who mysteriously vanished from the Flannan Isles in 1900 was installed at a ceremony on Lewis.

A bronze wave sculpture set on Lewissian gneiss and sandstone was set on the shore of Loch Roag, within sight of both the quay, which was the departure point for the ill-fated crew and An Taigh Mhòr, the lighthouse station built and designed in 1899 by David Alan Stevenson to house the families of keepers serving on the island.

The Flannan Isles memorial.
The Flannan Isles memorial.

Now a community group, Urras an Taighe Mhòir, has secured funding for ‘a feasibility and technical study on the potential purchase and development’ of An Taigh Mhòr.

It announced: ‘The funding, totalling £17,740, has been achieved through submissions to both Scottish Land Fund and Architectural Heritage Fund. The community are extremely grateful to both funding bodies for their support of this project.’

John Watt, the Scottish Land Fund chairman, said: ‘The Scottish Land Fund is pleased to be able to assist Urras an Taighe Mhoir in its endeavours to purchase An Taigh Mhòr. While this award may only be the first step of any future community buyout, it shows how a relatively small amount of funding can be of great significance in helping communities begin the process of purchasing a local asset.

‘The community look forward to working with the team in developing a plan for the acquisition and development of this iconic building. As part of the feasibility study, further public consultation is planned and the community welcome all to attend meetings or contribute ideas through the trust.

‘If you live in the area – Linshader to Tolsta Chaolais and wish to become a member of Urras an Taighe Mhòir or if you live further afield and have a specific interest in the project, wish further information on supporting the development or wish to engage in the public consultation meetings planned, please like our Facebook page Urras an Taighe Mhoir for updates, or contact urrasantaighemhoir@gmail.com.