A visit to Rathlin
A few years ago I visited Rathlin Island for a day with some friends. It was a beautiful day with calm seas (thankfully) and we ate our picnic on the beach overlooking the seal-filled bay after visiting the puffins in the Seabird Sanctuary at the western tip of the island. It was idyllic and peaceful, a memorable day out.
Since then I have read two very different books which are based on the island.
The Watch House by local author Bernie McGill is historical fiction based at the end of the 19th Century and using the back drop of real life events as Giovanni Marconi locates to Rathlin for his communication experiments of wireless telephony. In an interview with the Irish Times the author says “when I think about the historical wireless experiments on Rathlin, I think first of all about the people there and the abiding impact that that early visit from strangers must have made on all their lives”
It is these islanders who feature in her novel, as the newcomers’ arrival affects their lives, introducing new technologies - which to the locals seems magical and mysterious, almost supernatural as disembodied voices are heard through the equipment .The rugged geography of the island features strongly as does the wild weather and primitive living conditions and the story includes everything from the depiction of humdrum island life to forbidden love and even possible murder. The research and attention to detail in this engrossing book is admirable, and the characters so engaging that it would inspire the reader to revisit Rathlin with fresh eyes and appreciation of its past.
Another more recent novel I have enjoyed based on Rathlin is The Couple at Causeway Cottage by Diane Jeffrey (Borrow on Libby). Set in the modern day, Mark and Kat have bought a cottage in Rathlin and relocate from England to be closer to Mark’s ailing mother. The setting is idyllic but cracks begin to appear in their marriage as the spectre of Marks ex-wife hovers and Kat begins to make new friends on the island when Mark is away for work. Dara, a local artist and handyman, in particular causes friction between the couple. This is a pacy read with strong charahcters, plenty of secrets and plot twists, and with an uneasy undercurrent which runs through the whole story. The ending took my breath away and I had to reread it again to make sure! No spoilers here though!
As with the novel mentioned above, the island features with a strong presence -the terrain, the sea, and the weather dominating everything that happens. It is obvious that the author has spent time in and around Rathlin, with such accurate use of language and local knowledge, adding to the authenticity of the novel.
I think I’m due another visit to the island soon – and this time I will have an added appreciation of the history and landscape. I just hope the sea is as calm as the last time I travelled there!