"The Blackwater Lightship" by Colm Toibin tells the story of a married woman in Ireland, estranged from her family, who is forced to contact her mother after not speaking to her for ten years. Her brother, Declan, mortally ill with Aids, desires to die surrounded by his loved ones.
Helen, not wishing to reunite with her mother Lily, and explain the nature of Declan's illness at the same time, visits her grandmother Dora who lives on the coast of the Irish Sea.
It was here, some years ago, that Helen had brought her two young sons to meet her mother who never appeared, and it was here, that she and her brother were sent while her mother nursed her father until he died, when they were children.
The story unwinds slowly under grandmother's roof, as Helen talkes to the Declan's friends who have come to nurse him. Helen tells how she had to work for her grandmother who ran the house as a bed and breakfast while she attended University.When Helen graduated,her mother and grandmother wanted her to return to her hometown to teach and continue working at the resort during the summer, but Helen made other plans.
But Lily's story is more riveting, as she explains to Helen,as the revulsion she had for Aids and Declan's friends turns to compassion for her son and appreciation for the nursing the friends bestow on Declan.
On one of the walks along the sea, Lily points out the Tuscan Rock lighthouse, and explains that there used to be another one, the Blackwater Lightship."I used to believe that Tuskar was a man and Blackwater was a woman. He was forceful and strong, and she was weaker but more constant." Lily told Helen,"I thought your father would live forever."
Helen reconciles with her mother and promises to bring her children to visit. Until now, she had associated love with loss, but realized that her mother had loved her father deeply, and did not know how to express her grief. Declan's illness forces all the characters, Helen, Lily, and her grandmother to come to terms with life.
This report prepared by Betty-Jeanne Korson