Reconnecting on Rathlin – Part Two

After a night of good food, traditional music, great craic and the still swirling birdsong in my half dreamy state, I awoke to what looked like promising weather. Bursts of blue emerging from the cloud. Easter Sunday, the day we were going to the West Light Sea Bird Centre! Situated not too far from our cottage on the West of the Island, it is managed brilliantly by the RSPB. A stunning observatory, it is home to the largest seabird colony in Northern Ireland. I was so excited!

The morning sea was calm and dazzling and we scaled the nearby cliff way before breakfast, feeling rock and spying what looked like Juniper and exposed primroses. We ran around for ages with my sister collecting the eggs mum and dad had strewn for us…so different to our small urban garden, where the eggs are instantly and dissatisfyingly found. Searching through the cracks and crevices of the traditional stone wall, under rocks, we squealed and ran, full of unbridled excitement. We didn’t have to control ourselves, there wasn’t anyone around for miles!

I couldn’t control my impatience to get to the seabird centre, so as soon as possible, we all started the walk west. On the way the Skylarks accompanied us, they were our Sunday choir. The landscape, our place of worship, as it always is. It was breezy but getting so bright, this was going to be fantastic. I could just feel the anticipation!

On our way I spotted a pair of Greylag peacefully nibbling grass by the edge of the lake. There were eight in total, waddling around coming quite close to us, no fear.

On arrival we realised that we were half an early, which was humorously due to the fact that we had been in such a rush to get out. Luckily though the staff were all ready there and didn’t mind our intrusion! Up until this point I hadn’t realised that the Rathlin Stickybeak twitter and blog, was actually two people! Hazel and Ric are RSPB visitor experience officers, and although they’ve only been living on the island for a year, are highly knowledgeable about the birds and wildlife on the island; incredibly passionate and so welcoming and friendly.

Hazel and me!

After lots of chatting (well, the adults; in case you’re not aware, conversation is not my strong point!) we skipped down 94 winding steps that twisted round the precipice like a snake, slowly bringing into view, an awe-inspiring cliff face. Kittiwakes and fulmar wheeling, twisting, turning, dancing in the air, they made my insides wiggle. The sounds almost exploded inside my chest, and in a sudden fit of excitement I rushed down the rest of the steps and bounded out to the viewing platform from which I could clearly see the towering shape of The Guillemots Stacks. Hands trembling I borrowed a tripod from Ric, set up my scope and peered out to sea. After only seconds of scanning the monochrome suit of a razorbill came into view. It bobbed in the water and amazingly, despite the churning waves the group seemed to be able to stay in line without breaking. They are smart looking birds, even when swaying inconspicuously at sea. There were Guillemots too, too far for my camera stretch.


Streamlined Northern Gannets graced the sky, nonchalantly swerving; our largest seabird. It can reach an astonishing 62mph when diving to feed. This is a spectacle I have yet to see, but will do, soon I hope. They are beautiful birds with stunning eyes, art deco lines and a two metre wing span. I managed to catch one, just about.

Fulmars, rested on cliffs, cackling and creaking like hags hexing the cliffs and all who rest on them. They are quite amusing birds, vomiting a rancid, bright yellow oil to repel nest intruders. I find them strangely delicate sea birds and enjoyed watching them sailing and landing very much. The whole scene was mesmerising and hypnotic, the screeching soundtrack, perfect to me.

There were no Puffins as yet, but I hadn’t expected them, I still harboured a hope though. Bláthnaid and Lorcan were getting a little restless, not everyone has the patience for watching birds and although I was given the option to stay, I headed off with the rest of the family for some lunch with a deal that we’d return before we left the island. It was incredibly warm now and I felt so contented, so at peace.

After lunch we hiked the Kebble Cliff Walk, it was beautiful. Hare prints cast in mud, showed its light and deep footed antics. They were everywhere again, they mystically emerged from tufts of crisp mounds and even rested for a while, seemingly sussing us out curiously.

Buzzards and Ravens intermittently delved and wheeled throughout our day and a Peregrine swiftly flew past too and downwards, out of sight. We flushed Snipe and Woodcock as we walked. Their frightened flight taking us by simultaneous surprise and delight. The Skylarks and Meadow Pipits continued to spiral and ascend, their song sneaking into every part of my being, lifting then coiling. I heard Vaughan Williams in the distance, my mum’s favourite. All that was missing was the flutter of butterflies, the whizz of dragonflies, the hum of proper Spring. I listened to how it might sound in those times and vowed that we’d be back to hear it for real, in May.

Meadow Pipit

Such a day, tired from walking, then exploring the cliffs and hazy sunshine we drove to the pub to have dinner, play pool and for me, file away each and every moment to recall later, when I would really need to remember, to feel that way again. Everyone so friendly, so few people, so few cars and hurried busyness.

Relaxing with Lorcan in McCuaig’s Bar

This almost mermaid shaped island had me in its siren spell, I was completely smitten with it. It is only six miles long and one mile wide but it holds so much and I had only seen a fraction of it. Tomorrow we would explore some more. Mum and I walked the last mile or so back to the cottage in search of the rare pyramidal bugle, to no avail. Our cottage looked so perfect as we neared and my heart ached a bit. Tomorrow was our last full day.

The third and final instalment will (hopefully, dependent on homework) be written tomorrow. Seals, Eiders, lambs and lots and lots of…well, you’ll have to wait and see!

Thanks for reading and the lovely response to yesterday’s blog.


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11 Responses

  1. Another evocative piece of writing, thank you. I enjoyed this greatly, and the previous post as well. My favourite place in the world is the island of Spiekeroog, and I know the feelings you describe from visiting it. The wildness that fills you up, the joy of just being there, and the sadness when you have to leave, and the longing to go there again.

  2. Fabulous post, Dara. I have never been to Rathlin and it is on our list. I would love to take the boys to see the puffins. Lovely photographs. My favourite is the one of the hare with the beautiful blue sky above. Looking forward to part three. We’re enjoying getting out in the sunshine, these last few days. Spring, at last.

  3. Lovely writing Dara I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the wonderful Rathlin Island. Reading this really makes me want to go and I understand the ache you describe at having to leave. My great -grandfather was the miller on the island at the start of the 1900s and my grand-mother was born there in 1891 so the island holds a special place in our hearts. Keep up the good work. I’m sure your parents are very proud of you.

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