Reworking the Flannan Isles’ Mystery

People seem to minimize a disappearance at sea. It’s a big ocean. Ships are relatively small by comparison. Deserted ships strike more of a chord of mystery with us. But then there are deserted islands where there should be people. This is unusual. Two of the most bizarre mysteries involve lighthouses.  The most famous is the Flannan Isles’ mystery where the 3 lighthouse keepers vanished.

The lighthouse was situated atop windswept and lonely Eilean  Mor, the largest pebble of 7 islands known as the 7 Hunters in the outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. On December 26, 1900, the lighthouse was found to be deserted by the replacement member who had rowed ashore to find where the men were. The launch had been expected. He was scheduled to relieve one of the men. But none of them had showed at the landing area. So the crew of the boat that brought him remained aboard and he took the boat and rowed to shore.

The tall, steep cliffs were lifeless except for sea birds mewing and cawing. The wood box that contained rope and tackle at the foot of the large crane (that lifted supplies) was washed away and rope was lodged into the crags, jammed in by a high and tempestuous sea. A large boulder had fallen from the tall cliff overhead and lay cracked nearby.

He mounted the steep stairs and walked up to the whitewashed lighthouse complex. Wind howled around the windows and door. Not a soul answered his calls. Inside he found that there was a half eaten meal on the kitchen table. One of the chairs was knocked over and laying on its back. Where the oilskins were mounted on pegs, there was only was set remaining. The clock had stopped. There was a half starved canary in its cage.


The boatmen came ashore to help him search. But no one ever found a trace of the three men.

This is the mystery of Flannan Isles.

The clues proved a sequence but not a solution. Apparently from reports the light had not been working for 11 days by the time the replacement arrived on the 26th. So whatever happened had happened on the 15th of December. This was the day before the storm that hit the area.

What could have happened on this day? Let’s look at the sequence of clues.

Company rules required that the lighthouse never be unattended. One man must always be inside the lighthouse. Two oilskins were gone. So it is obvious 2 of the men were outside on a blustery December 15th. Something had happened that took them from mealtime. Whatever it was, it was within sight or sound of the third man. Something happened. It was something he could detect from the window of the kitchen where they ate at the small wood table. He rushed out, leaving behind his oilskins. The three never returned.

Unfortunately, I do not know what the line of sight is from the kitchen window. Perhaps he saw his mates floating out to sea. He rushed out knowing he’d have to tie one end of the rope at the bottom of the crane around himself and the other around the base of the crane and swim out to get them. Alas, he drowned or the rope broke and all 3 drowned together. The storm came and because the wood box was open and not secured the waves washed it away and destroyed the evidence.

Or was it something else?


Whatever happened must have been alarming for the third man to rush out without his slicker on. He must have thought he would not be long . . .or it was too frightening not to care.  But the clues give us a logical sequence within the lighthouse. We simply do not know what motivated the first two to don their oilskins and go outside. But something happened that then prompted the third to double time it to their rescue or aid. It happened during the day. The beds had not been disturbed.

The mystery remains, but the idea that the clues in the lighthouse indicate another sequence is highly unlikely. A spy boat did not pull up and grab the men, nor did aliens from the Pleiades. Nor does it seem that one man was wandering causally around in such cold weather without his oilskins and the other two dressed and went looking for him. The clues indicate at least one man was startled at mealtime and went outside quickly. He is most likely the man who did not put on his oilskins.

Yet what happened on the day before the storm? What could the third man inside have seen or heard from the angle of the kitchen to have bolted outside, violating company rules and risking freezing?

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.


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