"Archie's Lights: The Life and Times of a Scottish Lightkeeper" by Archie MacEachern and Anne MacEachern is a wonderful book for anyone with the slightest interest in lighthouses, and especially in Scottish lighthouses. There are, perhaps surprisingly, quite a few books out there which look at different aspects of the construction or history or operation of Scotland's many lighthouses. "Archie's Lights" succeeds in bringing lighthouses to life in a way we've never quite seen before, by focusing on the story of one remarkable man.
Archie MacEachern was born at the lighthouse at St Abb's Head in 1910, where his father was an assistant keeper. He would go on to become the third generation of his family in the service of the Northern Lighthouse Board. This book is his autobiography. Actually, it isn't, not quite, but it might as well be. The book is a labour of love by Archie's second wife, Anne MacEachern. They married in 1973 after the death of his first wife, Peggy. During 31 years of marriage until his death in 2005, Anne took notes of Archie's recollections and anecdotes, many told specifically to provide material for what became this book.
In her preface, Anne says: "At the time of publication, nearly fourteen years have passed since Archie's death. The content of this book is factual but some people's names have been changed. It is as told to me over 30 years. It resembles a conversation with digressions, as memories were triggered, so is not necessarily always in strict order. It is written in the first person, in the hope you will be able to imagine Archie's voice with occasional Highland words of his day." What follows reads exactly as if it had been written by Archie himself and is a real achievement by Anne. It transports the reader convincingly back to a way of life that, with the automation of lighthouses, has now long gone. It also succeeds in bringing vividly to life a man who was an integral part of that long-gone world, and who you feel would have been both admirable and likeable.
The book itself is largely chronological in its approach and is very nicely illustrated. Books about lighthouses tend to focus on the more spectacular, the difficult-to-reach, and the remote. What is especially nice about "Archie's Lights" is the balance that comes from following a keeper through his career. Certainly Archie spent his share of time at remote lighthouses such as Skerryvore and the Flannan Isles. But he also spent time at lighthouses like Chanonry, Barns Ness and Turnberry. What emerges from this focus on one man's career is a balanced picture of a world whose automated relics, in the shape of today's lighthouses, continue to enthrall and excite.