The Flannan Isles Vanishing

Hello, Weird Wednesday-ers! This week’s post is on the Flannan Isles Lighthouse and the mysterious disappearance of its keepers in December 1900.

The lighthouse is on Eilean Mor, an island off the coast of Scotland. The island is not inhabited, and in 1900 the only people who lived there were the three lighthouse keepers: James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and Donald McArthur. There were actually four keepers hired for the job, and they would take turns in having leave on shore.

On the day after Christmas, 1900, the man currently on leave, Joseph Moore, was put ashore to investigate why the lighthouse had been dark since December 15. The fact that it took so long to safely put a man on shore will tell you something about the weather and sea conditions around the island. 

Mr. Moore found all three keepers gone. Two sets of heavy weather gear were missing, but the third set was still in the house. There was also some storm damage high above the normal waterline, suggesting truly dangerous weather. 

Weather remains the most likely explanation for what happened to the keepers. One man was always supposed to stay by the light to avoid this exact scenario of all three men vanishing, but it is thought that the third man rushed out of the house without his oilskins either to warn his fellow keepers of an impending monstrous wave or to try to save them after they’d already been swept into the ocean. Sadly, he was not successful, and all three men perished. Their bodies were never found.

As you might imagine, the enduring mystery has inspired many creators.

And now, some stormy writing prompts!

*Firstly, no self-respecting isolated, weather-beaten island would not be haunted. The question is, was it haunted after the keepers’ disappearance, or before? After the vanishing, people on the island did report hearing voices, and those could be the keepers— or the ones who haunted them to their deaths. 

*One could also go the Celtic fairy tale route:  in such stories, there is not always a clear difference between the dead and the fae. Sometimes dead people are seen dancing in fairy circles. Fairies are known to strenuously object to buildings on their personal land, which might, presumably, include an island. 

*In later tellings of the Flannan Isles story, there is the addition of a log book that hints at impending doom for the keepers, saying they were uneasy, crying and praying, and worried about storms that weren’t any worse than usual. Were the keepers hearing voices? Were they having frightening dreams or visions? Were they feuding amongst themselves? Had they angered some supernatural force?

*Sea monsters! Sea monsters on remote islands have a lot of leeway that monsters in busy places would envy. Isolated monsters can be huge, perhaps as huge as an island itself. Or they could be small but in great numbers. They might look like people, demons, fish, or any combination thereof. They could even be cryptid rather than supernatural, an undiscovered species that humans have not yet learned to guard against because they are so rarely encountered, ie: dinosaurs, a giant shark like Megalodon, or a kraken (giant squid). Or perhaps an aerial monster could have an island as a nesting ground. And of course, there are always the tempters of sailors: mermaids and sirens.

*Alien abduction. Mysterious disappearances on remote islands make for a good sci-fi plots. Were the keepers chosen for abduction because the landing place was isolated? Had the humans mistakenly built on an island that was being used by aliens? Are alien visitations responsible for the island’s reputation of being haunted?

*Crime. You don’t need to go supernatural: working a difficult job in close quarters on an isolated island can definitely lead to tensions, and possibly murderous intent. In reality, the men appeared to get along quite well, but one could invent a stressor for them: a lover to fight over, a love triangle among the men themselves, disease or injury, or sources of stress back on shore.

*Pirates. Invaders of the human sort. Perhaps other people came ashore with some nefarious purpose. Maybe a pirate buried treasure on the island. Perhaps a shipwrecked or marooned sailor was rescued by the keepers, who lived (briefly) to regret their kindness.

*Or there could be something else hidden on the island: fairy gold or an alien artifact. Maybe a religious relic was buried there, or the body of a murder victim, and the killer was afraid the corpse would be found. Any of these ideas might draw unwanted visitors to the island.

Thanks for spending your Weird Wednesday on Eilean Mor! We’ll leave a light on for you.

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If you like mysterious tales of the sea, you can read my story “The Lifeboat” in Seaside Gothic, Issue 4. Cousins looking to scatter their grandfather’s ashes make an unsettling discovery in a sea cave.