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Funeral of 'kind' lighthouse keeper who struck up friendship with Brendan Behan

Mourners gather for the funeral of retired lighthouse attendant, Henry Henvey in Killough, Co Down. Photo by Bill Smyth
Marie Louise McConville

A foghorn was sounded as a mark of respect yesterday as mourners gathered for the funeral of a retired lighthouse keeper.

Henry Henvey, who was 87, died suddenly in the early hours of Saturday at his home at St John's Point Lighthouse in Killough, Co Down, where he had lived with his wife, Mary.

A former member of the Merchant Navy, Mr Henvey was also a well-known boat builder and fisherman and had been based at the lighthouse, first as its keeper and later as its attendant for many years.

Mr Henvey's remains were yesterday draped in the flag of the Commissioners of Irish Lights, which now maintains St John's Point Lighthouse, as they was driven away from the historic landmark.

Standing at 130ft, the the lighthouse is the tallest on the island of Ireland and has shone for more than 170 years, providing safe passage to people on land and at sea. Dating back to 1839, it was used as a marker on a test run for the Titanic.

Yesterday, the foghorn was sounded as Mr Henvey's remains began their journey to St Joseph's Church in Killough for Requiem Mass.

Mr Henvey had previously spoken about the many years he had spent working at St John's Point Lighthouse, in particular his predecessor's experience with one of Ireland's most irreverent writers, who caused havoc when he was employed to paint the landmark more than 60 years ago.

Mr Henvey had personally recalled the irritation Brendan Behan had caused his former employer when he arrived at St John's Point in the summer of 1950.

Mourners gather for the funeral of retired lighthouse attendant, Henry Henvey in Killough, Co Down. Photo by Bill Smyth

A teenager at the time, Mr Henvey had befriended the budding playwright and had pleasant memories of them swimming together in the open sea and enjoying long conversations in the family kitchen.

However, his experience was at odds with that of the then lighthouse keeper, Mr Blakely, who was so horrified by Behan's behaviour that he wrote to his boss calling for him to be dismissed immediately.

Mr Blakely referred to Behan as "the worst specimen" he had met and accused him of having no respect for property.

He said Behan, who had been released from borstal four years before for being a member of the IRA, had failed to turn up for work one day and in addition, had spilled paint as he went about his work.

Speaking to the Irish News yesterday, a neighbour described Mr Henvey as a "mine of information about the sea and the weather and nature".

"He was the only one I would have asked about the weather," she said.

"He was a real pillar at he point. He was a very kind man.

"It just feels a different place without him".

Following Requiem Mass, Mr Henvey was laid to rest in Our Lady Star of the Sea Cemetery, Rossglass.

Mary Henvey at the funeral of her husband, Henry Henvey, a retired lighthouse attendant who had been based at St John's Point Lighthouse in Killough, Co Down. Photo by Bill Smyth

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