Reconnecting on Rathlin – Part Three

A restful nights sleep is not something I’m familiar with, being autistic, I find it hard to process and faze out so much of our busy and sometimes overwhelming world. The colours on Rathlin are mostly natural and in this early Spring, muted; and so for me, the most tolerable. Bright colours cause a kind of pain and physical assault of the senses that few will understand. The noises too, in our faster paced world are so unbearable at times. Natural sounds are the most easily processed and appreciated, by me. That is all we heard on Rathlin, my body and mind was in a kind of balance that I don’t get very often. I could reconnect with myself and my family; life can get busy, noisy and really quite intense. I ambled here, got to watch birds for hours on my own, free to walk wherever I wanted. Just, free. To explore. No litter, no unsavoury anything, unless you dislike animal poo, I’m fascinated by animal poo! My curiosity for natural history will obviously draw me to such a wild place, such a place. Picking up guillemot and razorbill egg shells, last year’s loot stolen by the ravens. Mermaids purses…shells, bones. We have a thing here called ‘Fermanagh Time’ life is slower here than a lot of places, but still, it has nothing on ‘Rathlin Time’, a kinder and more flowing time – well, especially on holiday!

I awoke on our last full day to wind and grey skies but it didn’t bother me at all. We ran out in it anyway, the wind chopping at our exposed faces, noses filled with salt and freshness. We scoped out the lake again, I brought no camera, I didn’t want any extra weight apart from my binoculars. We ran and ran. No Hares to be seen, probably undercover and hunkering down against the blowing gale. When we arrived home out of breath and a bit battered, we found out that the Ferry was cancelled today. Secretly I hoped the weather wouldn’t improve. I dreamt of being stranded…I kind of went a bit far in my plans. After a quick breakfast, I pleaded to go to the seabird centre again. In agreement we drove the short distance as the rain started down in sheets. There were no birds, save a lonely Gannet circling, a small pod of Razorbills and a couple of Black-Backed Gulls. I was a little disappointed but it was really nice to see everyone and we had a lovely hot chocolate and chat with Hazel, Ric and the volunteers. I can’t wait to volunteer at the seabird centre when I’m old enough. We chatted with James who has been volunteering for years, a lovely man. We paid more attention to the lighthouse itself this time; its history and displays were really fascinating.

We drove to the harbour for a breezy walk to look out for seals; there were around six right in front of us in the heaving water. One in particular caught my eye as it had a strange red protrusion (I would later learn from Twitter …. that it was likely to be speared plastic where the wound has healed over and held the object in place – this makes me feel all kinds of tumultuous emotions).

We watched Eider Ducks drifting, the males’ striking, sophisticated plumage outlandish against the more moderately adorned female. The sky here, even in shades of grey and black holds such light, space and colour. It doesn’t hold the heaviness of town or city sky because there is so much space.

Male Eider Duck

Oystercatchers, Redshank and a single Sanderling pecked and skipped through the seaweed. I found it difficult to hold my camera against the howl.

We took a delve into the visitor centre which had some really interesting displays, information and books. The lady there was so friendly and chatty and showed us lots of interesting excerpts in local books.

Bláthnaid posing with the once majestic Great Auk

Walking against the grain once more we landed in a cosy coffee shop ( The Water Shed ) and devoured crepes, hot chocolate and cake. The wind nearly knocked us off our feet and we decided to take a drive to try and explore Roonivoolin and Ushet Point on the East of the Island. It was almost impossible to stand still and look, we were bent out of shape and we called it quits. Bláthnaid, although well dressed was finding it tough. The wind was so fierce and we were so exposed, I loved it though. I felt more alive like this.

Rue Point

We went back to the cottage to read and play some board games before venturing out again to try and walk to the lake, we were soaked and blown with bright red faces. We were excited because we had been invited to feed the lambs at the McFaul farm later in the evening. The McFaul family are amazing, I had just read about Liam’s work in the RSPB members magazine, he is the island warden and his work to bring the Corncrake back to the island is admirable. Last year, a male called. I really hope his call is answered this year. Liam’s nettle beds will really assist with this dream. It reminded me that even here, there is loss, of habitat and species…a way of life. It is being reclaimed though and it’s such a complicated matter, I definitely am not qualified to pass judgement. It was so good to feed the lambs, I feel so funny saying that…although we love the outdoors, we are not farmers. Thanks to Hazel especially for giving Bláthnaid this experience as she loves animals so much – she wants to be a vet one day!

The rest of the evening was spent reading by candle light, dad read Dara Ó Conaola. ‘Night Ructions’ and mum read some poetry and beautiful picture books, especially for Bee. I read this amazing book – which was left in our cottage alongside other fascinating natural history books.

One by one we all drifted away, protected against the crashing and din that was exploding outside.

The morning dawned silently, the wind had gone and we realised we were leaving. The business of tidying and packing kept my mind busy but a feeling inside was tumbling in jagged circles.

We rushed for the ferry, late, and in a hurried and wholly heavy manner we were out to sea. There was no giggling this time, no pointing out to sea, just subdued silence. We were sad. In Irish this feeling is called ‘Uaigneas’ a deep feeling, the condition of being lonely. We had found and lost something too quickly, maybe a part of my childhood was lost too.  There was a Rathlin shaped space inside me, it would need to be filled again, and so, we will be back.

Thank you to the people of Rathlin, the RSPB and this place which changed me. What a way to start my fourteenth year of being on this planet. It was magical.

If you would like some more information on this wondrous place:-


Thanks for reading and if you haven’t read them, here are the first two parts –

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10 Responses

  1. Thank you, Dara, for sharing your wonderful birthday with us. I can’t imagine a better one, or a better place to be or in better company; such memories to keep in your heart and look at again and again. If you hadn’t left, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the expectation of going back again when you can!

  2. Oh Dara, the seal. :,( Thank you for sharing your posts. I have interest from a few families for a home ed day trip to Rathlin. Ferry is easy. I must message your contacts at the centre and see when they can look after us. Really want to see the puffins. Thinking May. Whilst it would be amazing to do it on our own, a group would be a special meet up for everyone. What do you think?

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this post Dara – you encapsulate the facets of island life that I felt in love with when I first visited Bardsey (now my home) when I was younger. It sounds like you had a fantastic time, and I hope you have the opportunity to return soon. Likewise, if you’re even this side of the Irish Sea, I’m sure you’d love it over here too!

  4. Oh Dara, been there, seen it, done it, but wasn’t able to write about it like you did. Thank you so much. Love your blog. Love Rathlin. Brenda

  5. Dara, you make me want to get out to Rathlin! I’m really enjoying your adventures. And I’ve actually seen a great auk egg—the university where I earned my Masters degree has a room of bird eggs collected in the 1800s, some now extinct, sadly. Have you read the book, Blue Mind? It is about how neuroscience is discovering the connections between the natural world, particularly water, and our well-being. You might appreciate it.

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