Men Rescued by Helicopter From Sligo Bay Lighthouse

Sligo Champion February 22, 2006


BlackRock Lighthouse

• Aerial picture of the Black Rock Lighthouse, showing two of the marooned men standing on the rocks at the base of the Lighthouse. This picture was taken by staff photographer James Eccles from the Miles Messenger aeroplane owned and piloted by Mr. Kevin P. Murray , Sligo .

• The helicopter, which rescued the men from the lighthouse

Fifty years ago a dramatic rescue of three men who were marooned for several days on the Black Rock Lighthouse in Sligo Bay took place. Outlined is an account of the incident as reported in The Sligo Champion dated October 27th 1956 .

In the teeth of a howling gale with lashing rain, the thrilling rescue of three men, marooned on the Black Rock Lighthouse, in Sligo Bay , since Monday of last week, was successfully carried out yesterday afternoon by a Royal Navy helicopter from the Royal Air Force Station at Eglington, County Derry .

Two of the men were from Dublin and one was from Rosses Point . All three had gone to the lighthouse eleven days ago to carry out maintenance and repair work.

The two Dublin men, technicians employed by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, were 38 years old, Dick Delaney, married and the father of five children, of 173 Rafter’s Road, Crumlin and 55 years old James Lambert, unmarried, of 1 Donacarney Road. The local man was Thomas McMorrow , aged about 50, married and the father of a family of five, who lives at Greenland Villas, Rosses Point .

Mr. McManus was employed by the Irish Lights Commissioners as a labourer to assist the other two men in their work on Black Rock, which is an unstaffed, automatic lighthouse.

When the men left Rosses Point on Monday week, they took with them bedding equipment and a supply of food to sufficient to last them for a week.

A relief boat with further food supplies was due to arrive at the lighthouse on Saturday last, but due to the adverse weather conditions which were prevailing, it was unable to make the crossing.

On Sunday, early in the afternoon, a motor boat with Messrs, Austin Gillen and Joseph Haran, Rosses Point on board, who were accompanied by Principal Lightkeeper Duggan from Oyster Island, attempted to make the crossing to the lighthouse, but due to the heavy seas that were running, were unsuccessful in their effort.


After the relief boat failed to arrive on Saturday, and seeing that the gale which was blowing showed every indication of continuing, the stranded men held a conference on their lonely outpost and decided that a food rationing system must be implemented immediately in order to conserve their supplies.

Next move was to raise a flag on the lighthouse as a distress signal and when this was seen on the mainland, word of the situation was sent to the Commissioners of Irish Lights at their head office at D’Olier Street , Dublin , as it was still impossible to reach the stranded men by boat.

On Wednesday night a representative of the Commissioners, Mr. W. D. Clothworthy , travelled from Dublin to Rosses Point , bringing with him emergency rescue gear.

On yesterday morning, when the gale had not yet subsided and it was found to be impossible to use the rescue gear, Mr. Clothworthy got in touch with the well-known Sligo businessman and company director, Mr. Kevin P. Murray , Wolfe Tone Street , to enlist his aid.

Shortly after mid-day, Mr. Murray , accompanied by Mr. Padraig Ferguson , company manager and former Captain in the Irish Air Corps, travelled to Rosses Point accompanied by a ‘Sligo Champion’ staff representative and photographer, J. Eccles .

Messrs Murray and Ferguson flew over the lighthouse on a survey run, having previously decided to drop food parcels to the marooned men in the afternoon.

As they flew over the lighthouse, they could see two of the men standing on the balcony waving their arms and as they came in closer they could see the men pointing towards their mouths with their hands.

Returning to Mr. Murray ’s air strip, it was decided to make a second run and this time our staff photographer took his place beside Mr. Murray in the cockpit and flying over the lighthouse, took the picture which appears on this page.

Back at the landing ground once again, Mr. Murray decided that as conditions were satisfactory he would fly over a third time and drop the food parcels provided they were ready.

On enquiry, however, it was ascertained that the food parcels would be ready soon after 2 p.m. and arrangements were then made to drop them at that time.

Meanwhile, unknown to the mercy men at Rosses Point , contact had been made from Dublin with the RAF at Eglington and when Messrs Murray and Ferguson arrived at Rosses Point to make their flight, they were informed that a helicopter was on its way.

This was confirmed by our staff reporter, who received a telephone call at Rosses Point from the Lifford office of our sister paper, the ‘People’s Press’, that the helicopter had passed over Donegal on its way to Sligo .

Shortly before 3 p.m. , the helicopter arrived over the lighthouse and within minutes, despite a high wind, had landed on the rocks at Black Rock and which were then exposed by the outgoing tide.

Making separate runs, the helicopter took off the men and landed them on Oyster Island where they were supplied with food.

Soon after they were conveyed to the mainland, where they gave a graphic description of their experience.

Sitting before a roaring fire and faced with plates of rashers and eggs in the residence of Austin Gillen , Messrs Lambert and Delaney recounted the story of their stay on the lighthouse.

Mr. Lambert summed it all up with one phrase- “it was just damnable.”

This small grey haired man, who had been fifteen years in the Irish Lighthouse service and who, with his father, served together in the Irish Army, said that in all his years experience of tending lighthouses, he never experienced a gale as blew itself around the Black Rock this week.


“On Sunday afternoon,” he said, “we watched as a boat came down the channel and out the bay. We watched it as it neared the Wheat Rock Buoy, and then after it turned to attempt the crossing to the lighthouse. I saw it stand up almost on its stern end. I knew then that it could never make as far as us, and no surprise when it turned back towards Rosses Point .

“We had a conference on Saturday night and decided to ration our food supplies. When rescue arrived, we were running perilously low of fresh water- we had taken three kegs with us-paraffin oil for our cooking stove and provisions.

“My companions picked periwinkles off the rocks and we cooked them and ate them. I did not care for them very much - I only had two or three spoonfuls and it was a good job that I brought some stomach powder with me as I believe I would have died after eating them.

“We searched the rocks during low water during daylight hours for crabs and lobsters, but could fined none. On Wednesday our main meal consisted of a tin of peas and one onion divided between the three of us.

“Today, at lunch time, we boiled pieces of cabbage, turnip and carrot and ate them. We had no meat, tea or potatoes,” went on Mr. Lambert , who added that the cold was intense.

Their only source of heat was from their oil cooking stove, but this they could light only at periods as they were forced to conserve their paraffin oil supply.

“I used to go to bed early at night as I found it was the warmest place to be. We had a Dunlopillo mattress with us and plenty of blankets, so as far as bedding was concerned we were all right.”

Mr. Lambert went on to say that his work on the lighthouse, which was connected with the light flashing apparatus, was completed on Sunday and from then on he found that time hung heavily on his hands while they were awaiting rescue.

“I read and re-read the few newspapers and magazines we had brought with us to the lighthouse and then we just sat around and told stories.”

Mr. Delaney said his work, which was connected with the lighthouse generators, had been held up owing to lack of the necessary supplies of materials and he still has to complete the job.

However, he said, when the weather calms he will return to the lighthouse and complete his repair work but will travel between Rosses Point and the lighthouse each day by boat.

Both Mr. Delaney and Mr. Lambert agreed that the lack of cigarettes was severely felt.

“It was heart breaking not to have smoke” said Mr. Lambert .


Referring to the flights of Mr. Murray ’s aeroplane over the lighthouse, Mr. Delaney said when they saw it they knew that their plight was realised on the mainland.

“When I saw the aeroplane,” said Mr. Delaney , “I waved arms and pointed to my mouth to show that we wanted food. We expected that supplies would be dropped to us, but we never thought for a moment that a helicopter would be used to take us off the lighthouse.”

Mr. Lambert interjected here to remark: “When I saw the helicopter it was just like an angel descending down upon us from the heavens”

Asked about their short flight from the lighthouse to Oyster Island , both men agreed that it was completely uneventful.

Although neither of them had ever flown before, they had no fears and Mr. Lambert said sitting in the helicopter was just like sitting in a bus.

Interviewed by our representative near the shore in Rosses Point after her husband had been landed at Oyster Island , and while she awaited his return to the mainland, Mrs. McMorrow said she had spent an anxious and worrying time during her husband’s enforced absence on the lighthouse.

“Last night was a particularly worrying time.” She said, adding: “It is all over safely now, thank God.”

The helicopter, which made the sixty-mile journey from Eglington, was piloted by Lieut. Comdr. C. C. Thornton , who had leading Telegraphist B. Brindley as crew member.

Last night it was learned that this was the first occasion on which men have been successfully rescued by helicopter from an Irish lighthouse.