In this world of rapid
change lighthouses transcend
physical maritime utility and are more than just guiding lights that shine in
During the hours of
daylight, as lighthouses stand steadfast on
windswept promontories, lighthouses make a statement of solidarity
and permanence and are a source of
inspiration whether viewed by the eye of the beholder or the brain of the absentee.
now only the descendants of the coast guards and a handful of others who know and remember the
Elie lighthouse as
it once was and the coastguards who were the lighthouse keepers. John
McKevlin and Ernie Gillard whose fathers were coastguards and keepers
of the light were two of my school classmates.
night as I was put to bed I counted the intervals of time as the
reassuring and rotating beam of light reflected it's pattern of light on to the ceiling of my bedroom. In no
time each night I was sound asleep.
first grade teacher Miss Mowat was quite impressed when I first
attended her class and she discovered that because of the lighthouse I knew intervals of time and
that I knew how to count.
Before the lighthouse was converted from a flame to a strobe light bulb the
operation of the lighthouse was highly labor intensive. The light had to be tended and serviced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The lenses
and reflectors required that they be kept polished. The gas generator was required to be kept
constantly cleaned out and supplied with new batches of calcium carbide.
The rotating mechanism had to kept wound up. The residual sludge from the spent carbide had to be kept removed. There
were two nearby holding ponds for this sludge which as a byproduct had
considerable value. Used as a paint on exterior surfaces of buildings
the sludge dried to form a completely waterproof, long lasting and
brilliant white coating. When villagers needed white paint to paint their
they just arrived with whatever containers and wheelbarrows they had on
hand to carry home the sludge that was free for the taking. The sludge was used
to coat the lighthouse itself and ended up on many of the houses in the
village. Indeed there are likely a few houses that still have external walls and
that are so coated.
lighthouse, at one time, fulfilled the utilitarian purpose of protecting
and guiding mariners.
With the technological advancements of Radar and
Satellite Global Positioning it's day of maritime usefulness is about
Just seaward from the lighthouse was one of my favourite places to go
where I would sit on the Fish Rock and fish for codlings and flounders with a hand held, throw-out line
that I baited with Earlsferry beach lug worms.
The Elie lighthouse, as I remember it, standing on its tidal island, is
and has been a part of me for the 90
years that I've been on this earth. It is a part of my being, whether I
like it or not. Even though I've been away from Earlsferry for 62 years and now may
never again see it in reality, it is a part of me. Its
message and inspiration became imprinted in me just as it does in everyone
who sees it.
many summers my mother Katie whose hobby was painting would set up her easel and
lovingly make one more painting of the lighthouse that she'd give away to
someone. And if she wasn't making a painting of the lighthouse she was
painting of the nearby lonely Lady's Tower which for her was
her special place.