Barbara Botham

A true story from 1963

THE PIER was always an integral part of our weekly visits to Dun Laoghaire. While the adults caught up on the weekly news, we children would play around the seafront. The tiered pier with its rocky breakwater on one side and wide flat promenades atop and on the lee side became our playground. In the long summer evenings we had lots of time to walk all the way to the end of the pier. Soon it became a tradition that we would walk the full length of the pier. It always seemed a long walk–particularly as we would add to it by taking the steps to another level for a change of view, or to get closer to the small boats in the shelter of the harbour.

At the end of the pier was the big round wall that encompassed the lighthouse which had been guiding mariners for over a century. A walk to the end of the pier was not complete unless you touched the big blue wooden door in the wall. No cheating was allowed. If one of us became sidetracked and had not made it all the way to the end, we would all watch as they ran to the end and make sure the connection was made with the door.

One stormy evening, when my sister and I were in our very early teens, we decided we would ‘do’ the pier. Although it was fairly sheltered at the house, we knew it would be wilder on the pier. So, dressing in our hooded gabardine coats, we headed off. It was heavily overcast when we reached the harbour and we were delighted with the fierce waves that battered the pier from the open sea.

We stood and watched for a while to determine the possible danger in walking the deserted pier. We could see occasionally some of the waves were splashing over the top wall, and on the lee side the lower level was often awash, but we’d be safe enough on the upper level sheltered by the wall. Right, we’d do it!

We set off confidently, but were soon slowed by the buffeting winds. Bent into the wind, and keeping our heads below the top of the wall, we held our collars tight and plunged on. Occasionally we got a great thrill when a wave cleared the wall and splashed ahead of us. We’d run through what appeared to be a dodgy area and managed to avoid being doused by a full wave.

We battled our way to the end of the pier and ran the last few yards to the blue door. Just as our hands touched the door we both let out an unmerciful scream, as not only did the door give way but a dark figure appeared in the opening. As we recoiled, the wind buffeted us about. The figure beckoned us impatiently, yelling above the roar of the wind and waves to come in out of the storm.

We knew we couldn’t stand where we were, and so we stepped into the small opening. The man hurried us across a courtyard and into the lighthouse.

We were absolutely charmed. Here was a perfectly round room, furnished to suit. Against one side was a curved sofa. On either side of it were low curved bookcases. A cosy fire burned, and everything oozed solitude and comfort. As we gazed around in awe and delight, the Lighthouse Keeper shot questions at us. What were we doing out on the pier on a night like this?

“Oh, we usually walk the pier when we come here.”
“But on a night like this!”
“Yes, it was windy.”
“Windy! I’ve been watching you through the binoculars all the way. I couldn’t believe someone was out on the pier tonight. I saw you nearly get blown off and then you kept on coming! I couldn’t believe you kept on coming!”
“Well, we couldn’t believe when that door opened. The wind didn’t scare us, you did!”

He was a fairly young man. He told us he’d been stationed there for a couple of years, and loved it. Although he worked alone much of the time, there was always something to keep him busy and, mostly, he was very content. He was looking around his living space with what seemed a new appreciation, as he hadn’t felt there was anything charming about it.

It was now approaching dusk and he was just going to light the lamp, so he invited us to mount the spiral staircase and watch him. What a thrill! We followed him up to the lantern and watched him reach with a blowlamp to ignite the light. Then we watched the lens make its turn, before descending back to the living area. We noticed the peculiar angle of the glass. He told us this was to increase the distance from which the beam’s flashes could be seen.

He would have been happy to host us longer but he was worried about our return trip, now that it was dark. He admonished us to keep our heads down and stay close to the wall. He would watch us until we made it back safely. The pier was close to a mile long; but we were very excited and, with the wind now behind us, we seemed to fly back. As we stepped off the end of the pier, we turned and waved to our unseen guardian.

Barbara Botham is now living in Canada and wrote this recollection in the spring of 2006

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