This shortie-short story was broadcast on RTE Radio 1’s Bookshow on Saturday January 31st. It was inspired by a visit to Ballycotton Lighthouse last summer, part of a project to explore the Shipping Forecast thanks to the Maeve Binchy Travel Award, which was open to students of UCD’s English, Drama & Film department. Of all the lighthouses I saw during the project, I found Ballycotton to be the most imposing in terms of its relationship with the land. It’s black for a start, and although it’s on an island, it’s close enough to the mainland to feel both part of the community as well as separate. (This photo shows what was once keeper’s housing beside the lighthouse. The red covers over the old windows made me think of two eyes, crossly watching.)
A Keeper’s Woman
We’d say to one another, and we’d nod saying it, wasn’t herself the luckiest woman in Ballycotton? And though they had gone and painted the lighthouse black, and in our hearts we wondered was that the worst of luck, we would say what great fortune Enagh had, that she’d always know where her husband was, and what he was up to. He’d not be touching a drop out there neither, one of us would be bound to say, and Josie would let a wail out of her till whoever was nearest would grab her hand and go, ah don’t mind, your Tommy will come right yet. And Enagh would give us that thin smile of hers that isn’t a smile at all, only the thing she does with her face before she walks away. And back she would go to her house on the hill. We’ve heard it said the Commissioners above in Dublin send her and that little lad the best of everything. Coal, and wool. Schoolbooks. Soap even, so we’re told. And when winter falls and the days die without ever getting to grow into themselves, we would watch Enagh standing alone at the harbour, staring across the black water at the lighthouse sprouting strong as a weed over on the island. We’d watch her two lips touching each other as she waited for him to light the lamp. She would count to ten between each flash, the boy shivering beside her. Ah sure, don’t be worrying yourself Enagh, we would say. What man ever came to harm in a lighthouse? And black or not, we’d mean it too. Yes. We all wanted to be a keeper’s woman.