Not that it was a lighthouse, you understand. Though it looked out on Belfast Lough for decades and New Year was always filled with the sounds of the ships’ horns welcoming another 365 days, it had no tower and a most modest number of stairs. It was a detached house in the middle of a street on the outskirts of what has often been dubbed a troubled city.
Number 30 leaned its elbow against Cave Hill, Belfast; filled with the stories of its inhabitants who have been extraordinary, and surrounded by stories of uncommon drama, old – Jonathan Swift is said to have been inspired to write Gulliver’s Travels looking at the great form of Cave Hill and not so old, within earshot of the Troubles. By no means least of the stories was their protagonist, Wee Ma, who on her return from San Diego where Da had found absorbing lucrative work in sun-kissed California, arranged her husband and three little under-sevens away from a house on the Falls Road to a new sanctuary. Slim and charismatic, sixties iconic, she was stylish and fiery and unusually, most unusually kind.
The kindness characterised this gorgeous firefly all her life, and surrounded the three little boys as they grew. And one became a high-flying management consultant, another managed a renowned choir, and a third forged a career as a Hollywood scriptwriter. Da worked hard all his life and though born in Derbyshire, England, learnt Gaelic and became more Irish than the home-born variety. And the boys faced their challenges; one helping his loved one battle and win against cancer, another with a daughter born with a rare and puzzling syndrome so that he must forsake his music and become a carer, and the third being met with the devastating news that his partner had contracted AIDs in the early 90s, dropped his career to care and nurture her.
The house was a light house because it was filled with light, visually and metaphorically. Ma loved gold things and they were at every twist and turn of the house, acting with the sunlight which would come from unexpected directions and play with them. It was a house filled with gossip and laughter and priests visiting and customers of Ma’s beauty business and friends and family and just about anyone you could think of.
Finally it was time first for Da to take his leave, slowly departing though Vascular dementia, and then – devastatingly for all whose lives the Firefly had touched – Ma prepared to leave. She spend more and more time in the dream world of sleep and Da would return from Beyond to visit.
And finally, the house she had filled with gold things and lightness of touch must be sold , and there were worries about the portly Empress of the house, Smokey The Cat, who had only known the light house, and indeed chosen it and would not relinquish it without the most fearful fight.
Reader, they found a buyer: one who appreciated the Empress’s dilemma and requested to move in to the light house alongside the portly little cat. Who acquiesced graciously.
And last Friday, this 50 year story drew to a close.
It is interesting that as I stood, taking a picture of the house which had decanted stories for half a century with a firefly at its heart, two of the three boys were at the gate, making final preparations for departure.
And a vivid glowing circle of light hovered on the garden wall a few yards along. Nothing ostentatious: the light house was never that; but a small incandescent orb of joy as the light house opened its doors to the next dynasty.
I have no doubt, not one iota, that it will continue to be a light house for many decades to come.