Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Three Flannan Isles Lighthouse Keepers Disappearance & Time to Reflect

Before we jump into the "T" topic, I'd like to make a quick announcement about the A-to-Z Reflections post. We will again be doing one this year, and there will be a sign-up list for it. The post can go up anytime between May 3 and May 10. We ask that you not enter your blog on the sign-up list until your post is up, at which time we'd appreciate it if you would link directly to your A-to-Z post, not just your overall blog home page.

What is a Reflections post? It's simply whatever you want to say, post-A-to-Z. What did you find challenging? What did you enjoy the most? What did you learn about? You can give overall commentary or make it specific. Just as with theme, it is entirely up to you what you write about the A-to-Z.

Okay, on to "T"!

T is for Three Flannan Isles Lighthouse Keepers Disappearance.

On December 26, 1900 (Boxing Day), a relief team arrived at the lighthouse on Three Flannan Isles, Scotland. Specifically, the lighthouse was on the island of Eileen Mor (Gaelic for Big Island/Isle). It had been reported that the light had not been on for several days, beginning on the 15th during a violent storm. A heavy mist had kept those nearby from being able to check on the lighthouse with a telescope, a means they employed in order to watch for emergency signals from the island.

Lighthouse of Three Flannan Isles
JJM [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When they arrived, they found the lighthouse locked up, and were forced to use their keys to get in. Inside, they found a chair overturned, beds unmade, two pairs of boots missing, and two coats missing.

What they did not find, were the three lighthouse keepers who had been dropped off on the uninhabited island on the 7th of December. These three men were Donald MacArthur, Thomas Marshall, and James Ducat.

The island was searched, the lighthouse examined. They found that a section of railing had been torn loose, with part of it missing. Also missing was a box where ropes and such were stored. The ropes had been torn loose from the crane and lay on the rocks below.

Some have claimed there was food on the table as if they had just sat down to a meal, but actual reports from those who arrived on the 26th do not indicate this. Instead, it appears all utensils were cleaned up, making it appear that they disappeared after their meal.

A different view of the lighthouse on Elieen Mor, Three Flannan Isles
Marc Calhoun [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The official log wasn't filled in beyond the 13th, but there were notes on a slate for the 14th and 15th, so it is thought they disappeared sometime after dinner, but before midnight (when a passing ship reported the light being out) on the 15th.

The question was, why had they disappeared?

Of course, lots of theories exist. A giant freak wave could have taken them out, dragging them from the rocks or possibly even the lighthouse. But why were only two of them in coats, while the other must have just been in his shirt?

Another theory is that one of them killed the other two, then committed suicide out of guilt.

Some put forward that it could have been a giant sea serpent or bird that tore them from the side of the lighthouse.

A strong theory is that two of them put on their boots and coats and headed outside to repair something. The third man may have seen a massive wave coming and run out to warn his friends. Or on a similar bent, one might have gotten swept off while two of them were out there working. The second man may have gone back to get the third man, causing both of them to get swept out to sea, as well.

Other theories include spies taking them into custody, a ghost ship taking them prisoner so as to roam the seas forever, and a storm of such force that it ripped a hole in the space-time continuum that sucked them in.

Finally, need I say it? Aliens.

More information for you:
An old newspaper story about the incident
A poem about the incident, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson
A website with links to official reports from the incident

What do you think is the most likely cause of their disappearance? Why were all three men together outside? Why was one not wearing his coat when conditions were terribly cold? 

May you find your Muse.


  1. It was Atlanteans.

    My wrap up post is going to go up on the 1st. I'm not sure if I will have more reflections other than that.

  2. Interesting case although it seems likely some form of the elements, weather or sea related took them out.

  3. I think that it was probably a freak wave. Two men were working and the third raced out to warn them. That makes the most sense to me.

  4. Hmm...a mystery for sure. I want to say they were swept out to sea in a rescue effort, but the murder theory is intriguing.

  5. Where do you get these? Very mysterious! I'd say they were swept out to sea too, but there's a little nagging voice in my head claiming it's murder.

  6. This one sounds more like a weather related incident. Or maybe one of the men went mad and the others had to restrain him and.... It's funny because I've read at least two novels lately about lighthouses and the isolation the keepers and their families experience out there.

  7. I would guess weather but it's interesting to think it was something more mysterious. I've never even heard of the Flannan Isles but I love stories of the sea so this was a really interesting one.

  8. The clock that stopped could've been mere coincidence, but the overturned chair suggests violence inside the lighthouse, a detail that counters a weather-related cause.

  9. I love lighthouse stories. On our honeymoon, Matt & I visited a lighthouse in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where his Great Uncle & Aunt worked (shortly before Canada automated all the lighthouses). We had a great afternoon listening to his lighthouse tales, and he entertained us with his fiddle, while the waves crashed on the doorstep.


  10. I actually skimmed the list looking for aliens before I read the rest - I knew it would be there!
    This is an interesting story, but we'll probably never know. I think the fourth theory is the most probable - they were out in the storm for some reason and got swept away.

  11. Andrew, darned Atlanteans! The light must have been keeping them awake.

    J, definitely likely, but it's fun to speculate.

    Rachel, it does make sense.

    Dishit, I'm glad you like it!

    Sharon, which one did the murdering?

    T., the interwebs! Ha! Murder is more interesting, isn't it?

    Madeline, it definitely sounds like an isolating place to be, especially those on an island, rather than the mainland.

    Julie, the Flannan Isles sound interesting all on their own, and dangerous.

    Myrite, if the clock were broken or something like that, it would change things.

    Debbie, that sounds so amazing! What a cool experience.

    Laura, ha! I know, someone always says it was aliens. I was interested in the time rip theory, though.

  12. I think one somehow got swept away (or tried to off himself), and the other two put on their coats and tried to save him, but were either too heavy, breaking the railing as they tried to lift the guy up with ropes, or were also swept away.

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog: kristenhead.blogspot.com