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 The Elie Lighthouse 

As it was at its beginning


We are an island race who live by the sea and come from a long line of seafaring people.


The sea is our heritage and our lighthouses are reminders of who we are and of how our forbears lived.


The Elie lighthouse has shone its reassuring light for over 100 years. Imagine that day when the building of the lighthouse was completed and the lighthouse was lit for the first time enabling it's rotating beam to sweep the darkness.


Unlike the appearance of the lighthouse as it is today, the lighthouse, when it was designed and built by the Stevensons, was topped with a distinctive glass lantern house and was crowned  by a sloping copper roof and a weather vane.      


Originally the amplification of light was achieved by a system of fresnel lens that surrounded an acetylene gas flame.  The acetylene gas for the light source was generated at the lighthouse by equipment that added water to calcium carbide.  



In this world of rapid change lighthouses transcend physical maritime utility and are more than just guiding lights that shine in the darkness. 


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.


There are 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.


Each 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.


At school my 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 white houses 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 interior ceilings that are so coated. 


The 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 over.


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. For 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 making a painting of the nearby lonely Lady's Tower which for her was her special place. 




   Hooked rug created by Barbara of how the Elie Lighthouse once was.



My mother's special place.

 The Lady's Tower is about a quarter of a mile from the Elie Lighthouse and the car park.