Paul Morrissey is the writer and producer of Wickies: The Vanishing Men Of Eilean Mor
Those enthused by lighthouses are called pharologists. And apparently, I am one. Or maybe I should say, I’m becoming one. And it seems I’m not alone. Since writing Wickies, I’ve discovered that there are quite a few of us. Perhaps it is due to lighthouses’ heroic purpose. Their practical role as beacons. Towers of light and hope. A symbol of man’s good intentions. Protecting seafarers approaching rocky shores. Shining a light that, quite literally, guides them home. Or maybe it is something more elusive. Their link with the past, perhaps? The tales of solitary lives lived within the confined, yet breath-taking structures.
When I first thought about writing this for the stage, I wasn’t sure I could see a way in. After all, how do you write a mystery that, so famously, remains unsolved? But then I thought again about that fascination. About their role as a guiding light. And then I thought, what happens if the light goes out?
On 15th December the light went out on Eilean Mor. When the relief crew arrived on 26th, it is said they found a baffling scene: Three giant black birds perched on the cliffs staring eerily down at them as they climbed the one hundred and sixty steep steps to the lighthouse, a chair overturned, plates with half eaten food, an oil skin missing, and the clock stopped. What had happened? I needed to investigate.
It turns out, there are a lot of theories out there as to what happened. But the real reports from the relief crew — Joseph Moore, Captain James Harvie and Superintendent Robert Muirhead — were my springboard. Documented facts about what they found on Dec 26th and what they think happened.
The problem is, we’ll never know. Not really. Perhaps it was the world’s largest ever recorded wave that drowned three men as they desperately tried to secure the landing crane. Perhaps one of them went mad, killed the other two and then himself. Or perhaps it was something else. Local legends and superstition claim the island has a long history of being connected to the world of the supernatural. If the light goes out, there is darkness. And sometimes, that’s exactly where truth lies.