Dwight Peck's personal website
north of Ireland, April 2007
2006-2007 spent waiting around for winter
(and Northern Ireland) in the springtime
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.
Island -- Church Bay and the South Lighthouse
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.)
poring over The Guardian as we pull out of the harbor at Ballycastle.
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.
viewing the northern Ireland coast as we leave it, bound 45 choppy minutes later
for Rathlin Island.
sensing the presence of the paparazzi
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.")
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Caledonian MacBrayne ferry tied up for the night, with the Irish mainland on the
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.
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.
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.
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.
serious birdwatchers would have been seriously disappointed, but I didn't care
much one way or t'other. We're after SEALS!
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.
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.
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.
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.
to the seal hunting! There's a good prospect. Is it still alive?
That's exactly what that is. A seal. A Yellowish Seal, in fact. Or a Yellowish-Albino
Seal. Flapping for his new audience.
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
is what this yellow albino seal is doing, evidently, and flapping his flippers
at us regularly, and sqwaurking loudly.
thinking about seals again. After a suitable interval, we persuade her to move
on towards the South Lighthouse. The albino tried to follow us.
out to the South Lighthouse
Smugglers' House, with a proper farmer's ramp up into the loft on the side. The
mainland Fair Head is in the distance.
seal friend has followed along, 'gatoring at midstream, white duck in the background.
Seal is either just curious or is already starting to become emotionally dependent
upon Kristin. Like the rest of the party.
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.
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
trying once again to connect to the WiFi -- still no luck.
Rathlin Island ferry heading out on the early morning run to Ballycastle.
the arrival: vital supplies, and a tractor.
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.