Tuesday, June 24, 2008


We arrived across the Sound at Church Bay. We've climbed up, and now we pause, panting. That's the view south, over Rue Point and the South Lighthouse, back towards Fair Head and Torr Head on the North Antrim Coast. It is rarely as bright, blue, calm and placid as this:
A natural silence, slowly broken
By the shearwater, by the sporadic
Conversation of crickets, the bleak
Reminder of a metaphysical wind.
[Thank you, Derek Mahon, once of Trinity College, Dublin. Now a stalwart of the Irish Leaving Certificate.]

Rathlin, Eileann Rathlainn, sits on the map like a sharp bracket, or an elongated apostrophe, off the Antrim Coast. Along the eastern shore, we see basalt columns, part of the same geological feature that appears at the Giant's Causeway and Fingal's Cave. Until an Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, it supported a population into four figures. The main industries were kelp (to produce soda and iodine), illicit stills, and smuggling.

So, from Cathy Ryan, back in the Famine days of 1847:
Ochón is ochón, the ship is sailing:
Carve our name in cloch na scríobh.
Ochón is ochón, the hills are wailing
In ainm Dé, in ainm Dé, a rachfaimíd.
Today, there are perhaps 80 permanent residents. The school has one teacher for seven pupils. The island received an electricity supply, mainly derived from three wind turbines, as recently as the 1990s: someone with a soul named the turbines for the Children of Lir.

The Island is only part of Ireland because, in 1617 at the Court of King James, the snake test decided it was not another of the Outer Hebrides: no snakes, so therefore, it's Ireland. That's why the recently-restored, toy-town St Thomas's Church (right) is of the diocese of Connor, linked to the parish of Ballintoy. However, reptilian behaviour may yet feature in this story.

Spiders, however, are definitively a feature of Rathlin. After all, this is where the legend of Robert the Bruce and the spider is supposedly based. Bruce's cave is under the lighthouse at Altacarry Head. Tangled webs are also integral to the story.

Rathlin grows low bushes, but no trees: the wind sees to that. It can be equally a wild and a beautiful place, even simultaneously. There should be, Bruce's cave apart, metaphorically no place to hide.

The immediate episode, however, is not Malcolm's to tell. It properly belongs to Nevin Taggart:
Those three links, in sequence, tell the whole sorry story to date, as it is so-far known.

In essence the matter is how did a Mr Ciaran O’Driscoll of the County Cork, about whom previous questions have been asked (reliability, employee rights ...) persuade the Northern Ireland Department of Regional Development [DRD] to prefer his plan for a swish "new purpose built high speed catamaran" to the existing service? Where's the catamaran to come from? Is it viable for such a short run, to a barely-populated island, and across a vicious tide-race?

Those feeling queasy should look away now:

Otherwise, Malcolm has said his piece at his Home Service site.

Remember: this is Northern Ireland. They do things differently here.
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