Cork lighthouse keeper who raised 15 children recalled in TV series

Great Lighthouses of Ireland continues tonight and there's a lovely Cork flavour to this week's episode
Cork lighthouse keeper who raised 15 children recalled in TV series

Pauline Butler in uniform at Galley Head Lighthouse, which she ran

EVER since they first appeared on the Irish coast, lighthouses have been a source of fascination and inspiration for photographers and painters.

The connection between the rugged and often wild outposts and the art world is explored in the final episode of Great Lighthouses Of Ireland on RTÉ1 at 6.30pm tonight (Sunday).

Pauline and Larry Butler with 14 of their 15 children, who were raised in lighthouses.
Pauline and Larry Butler with 14 of their 15 children, who were raised in lighthouses.

Clonakilty artist Geraldine O’Sullivan explains how lighthouses inspire her: the sense of romance, their remote locations, how they offer a feeling of security. She created a ‘lifescape’ of Pauline Butler, a woman from a lighthouse family who became a lighthouse keeper.

Pauline married lighthouse keeper Larry Butler and went on to have 15 children who were raised at lighthouses. When her husband died she became the keeper at Galley Head lighthouse.

Pauline’s son Gerald Butler also became a lighthouse keeper and is now Attendant at Galley Head. He reflects on his unique childhood as part of a ‘lighthouse family’.

Also in the episode, photographer Peter Cox shares some of his spectacular lighthouse photographs and explains his fascination with lighthouses, including the Skelligs lighthouse, which has quite a short tower, but clings tenaciously onto the steep cliffs of Skellig Michael.

Plus, retired lighthouse keeper Ciarán O’Briain recalls how he took up painting, particularly seascapes, because as a keeper it was important to have a hobby while on duty.

Growing up in a lighthouse family brings its own specific challenges, as former ‘lighthouse children’ reflect.

Professor John O’Connor recalls having to be tied by ropes to walk safely to the pathway at Wicklow Head lighthouse during high winds.

Margaret Talbot, Paddy Lawlor, Myra Lambert and author Patricia Scanlan emphasise how tough life could be for the wives of keepers.

John Noel Crowley, a retired keeper, his wife Margaret and their three children, Fair City and Derry Girls actress Amelia, and sons Seamus and John, also recount their experiences as a lighthouse family.

They describe the struggle of spending Christmas without John Noel, and the joy of spending a whole month together each time he came home.

John even became a temporary lighthouse keeper just before automation.

From being 4th and even 7th generation lighthouse keepers, and the inspiration to become a keeper, to the recruitment process and training, and the difficulties of getting on with colleagues, the lives of lighthouse keepers is laid bare.

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