Dwight Peck's personal Web site

The north of Ireland, April 2007

Winter 2006-2007 spent waiting around for winter



Ireland (and Northern Ireland) in the springtime

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Rathlin Island -- Church Bay and the South Lighthouse

The Rathlin Island Ferry. We're here Bright and Early for the noon ferry. ("Bright and Early" is subjective, especially when "full Irish breakfast" is one of the options.)

Kristin poring over The Guardian as we pull out of the harbor at Ballycastle.

Kristin, pausing from The Guardian to think about Rathlin Island. That's a practical new wheely dufflebag suitcase in front of her, and she bought me one, too. That's stacked up against the wall on the upper left.

Kristin, viewing the northern Ireland coast as we leave it, bound 45 choppy minutes later for Rathlin Island.

Kristin, sensing the presence of the paparazzi

Entering Church Bay on Rathlin Island, 11 April 2007. Island population: ca.100, down from its peak in recent history of 1000. Though the island was first settled 7,000 years ago, the question whether it's part of Ireland or Scotland was only agreed in 1617. ("It's yours!" "No, it's yours!" "You take it!" "Oh, all right, but then we get Isle of Man, too." "Can't, we promised that to England.")

Shoreline in Church Bay, Rathlin. The pub is on the far right. Rathlin seems to have hit its peak in about 2,500 B.C., when the islanders kept up a healthy export business making axes out of "porcellanite" and, later, out of flint dug from the limestone cliffs that encircle most of the place. But, even without the WTO, trade can be fickle, and a mere 700 years later, copper axes were introduced from Spain and the bottom dropped out of the Stone Age flint-axe market.

The far left of Church Bay (with the lovely Gage family church). Rathlin's got a disproportionately enormous number of historical associations, including St. Columba's early years here in the 6th century, before getting into really bad trouble over ownership of a psalter and going off to Scotland to convert it to what passed for Christianity at the time. And The Bruce was here. And Drake was here, too. And Marconi. And now us.

Dockside Rathlin map. Actually, we're immediately sensing some problems here. The green loops at the upper right are marked as Natural Heritage "walking trails". The other walking opportunities appear to be on paved roads, for the most part, and are not expansive. An uneasy "pavement" feeling begins to creep in upon us.

But just a glance at the adjacent Manor House accommodations improves our spirits mightily. Built in 1756 to house the island's dynastic overlords, the Gage family, it's now a charming and comfortable, basic, hotel leased out by the National Trust after the Gage family packed it in a few years ago.

The Manor House, welcoming and very white. The round window just over the front door turned out to be our bathroom. A very nice bathroom it was -- though there were brand-new bath plumbings installed but no shower. It's not easy to fathom why one would install an excellent new bath and not include a shower. But we've come here precisely to experience different cultures, haven't we.

Another view of the beautiful Manor House hotel, later the same day, with a row of houses above leading up to the school and one of the -- of course! -- TWO churches, up to the left. Not only is Rathlin Island wired for electricity (ever since October 1992), the Manor House is wired for WiFi Internet access. We've been told.

The beautiful Manor House again. This is the restaurant on the island (basically functional), but there is a pub with pub meals farther around the bay and some kind of summer take-away shop next to it. There is also a small grocery store off to the left along the shore, which was apparently, while we were there, awaiting the next shipment on the ferry.

The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry tied up for the night, with the Irish mainland on the horizon

Kristin working hard at connecting the WiFi to check in with the kids. No luck -- it wasn't turned on until we were leaving a few days later.

Kristin, blessedly having got past the paved road, saunters out the unpaved road towards the South Lighthouse, looking for seals of course. There's some pretty serious fencing and barbwiring all around us to make sure that we don't succumb to the feeling that we own the place. Just stay on the road and you'll be all right.

At the end of the road, this is called the Smugglers' House -- the walls are said to contain little secret hideways for stuffing bits and pieces into when the revenuers come by. The roofs have gone absent, of course, because historical taxation rules counted by roofs, and the first thing any good landowner would do when decommissioning a building would be to knock the roof off it.

Kristin having a good lookround at the Smugglers' House, but the only item of interest now was an oil-slicked dead migratory waterbird -- I took a picture of it, but I won't trouble you with that here. The only other birds we saw were gulls, as far as I could tell, but the RSPB birdwatching station at the other end of the island was undergoing transformations and closed down tight, and the migratory birds had not yet arrived here anyway this year.

So serious birdwatchers would have been seriously disappointed, but I didn't care much one way or t'other. We're after SEALS!

Kristin viewing the horrible dead oil-slicked waterbird, closer to it than I would have wanted to get, as I don't like dead things at all, even birds, as they remind me of mortality.

The Smugglers' House or whatever it was. More likely an outlying farm or, more likely still, a kelp processing station. They beat on the algae and seaweed and kelp all day and heated it and cooled it and turned it upsidedown and, at the end of the day, they got marketable iodine out of it, and trace elements of other odd things, like "soda" and arsenic probably and god knows what.

And once every six months the agent would show up at the harbor pier, and give everybody four dollars for their half-year's worth of iodine extract (half of which seems to have gone to the Gage family), put it into a big sack, and sail off again to Ballycastle. (I made all that up, but it's probably not far off.) The kelp processing industry collapsed in the 1930s.

Kristin stalking ruined smugglers' or kelp-smelters' facilities, checking to see whether anyone's dropped some loose change out of their pockets. No change, this time, only old kelp and a dead migratory waterbird.

Back to the seal hunting! There's a good prospect. Is it still alive?

Yup! That's exactly what that is. A seal. A Yellowish Seal, in fact. Or a Yellowish-Albino Seal. Flapping for his new audience.

Kristin loves nothing so much as the sight of a yellowish off-white seal flapping spastically and groaning loudly. It's clearly a bonding moment, and we stay out of the way of it.

"Basking" is what this yellow albino seal is doing, evidently, and flapping his flippers at us regularly, and sqwaurking loudly.

Kristin thinking about seals again. After a suitable interval, we persuade her to move on towards the South Lighthouse. The albino tried to follow us.

Kristin out to the South Lighthouse

The Smugglers' House, with a proper farmer's ramp up into the loft on the side. The mainland Fair Head is in the distance.

Kristin's seal friend has followed along, 'gatoring at midstream, white duck in the background.

Mr Seal is either just curious or is already starting to become emotionally dependent upon Kristin. Like the rest of the party.

The kelp processing house in Church Bay; the second floor level can be seen on the back wall. Can you imagine working long days here and into the night probably? In more recent times, it's been a kind of festive town hall, for village dances and what not, and is now (as you see) an historical landmark.

Former kelping factory, former village dance hall -- now just standing there, night and day, whatever the weather, but the people who animated it are long gone. (I'm becoming sad.)

Kristin trying once again to connect to the WiFi -- still no luck.

The Rathlin Island ferry heading out on the early morning run to Ballycastle.

Later, the arrival: vital supplies, and a tractor.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 9 May 2007, revised 27 March 2008, 11 August 2014.


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