“A piece of social history,” was how Enda Kenny described what is perhaps one of the last accounts of the life of a lighthouse keeper.
The Taoiseach officially launched The Lightkeeper: A Memoir last night at the Irish Lights headquarters in Dun Laoghaire.
Gerald Butler’s story, penned by Patricia Ahern, struck a chord with Mr Kenny, whose grandfather was also a lightkeeper. He was moved by the West Cork man’s account and requested to unveil the book after reading it.
It was also a special night for Mr Kenny, as he was presented with a lighthouse-mounted insignia of the type his grandfather would have worn on his uniform.
He promised to wear the badge as a symbol of his grandfather’s role.
“In this business you get lots of different things,” he said. “But I have to say, I really appreciate this.”
A third-generation lightkeeper with more than 21 years’ service, Gerald’s story features 21 lighthouses and the 1979 Fastnet tragedy, where 15 of the world’s finest yachtsmen perished.
A connection between this race and the Irish Examiner was discovered upon publication last year.
“I had called the lifeboat for an outside broadcast unit from RTÉ who had been photographing the race and appeared to be in difficulty,” said Gerald.
“Unfortunately, when the lifeboat arrived, it could not locate the vessel and had to turn its attention to other distressed seafarers.”
After reading the book, former Irish Examiner chief executive Ted Crosbie wrote a letter of congratulations to Gerald. In the letter, he also mentioned that he had taken the RTÉ crew out on his boat that fateful night.
“It took me 30 years and the publication of my book to make the connection or to find out what happened to that boat,” said Gerald.
The book touches on the life of Gerald’s mother, an assistant lightkeeper who raised 15 children.
Mr Kenny urged people to buy the book, which he said captured a way of life that might otherwise have been lost. “It is part of a living and vibrant jigsaw, because the sea is in us all.”
* Read Ted Crosbie’s book review on ‘The Lightkeeper: A Memoir’ here
* Watch Gerald’s interview on the TV3 morning show here Approx. 17 minutes in
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