THE entire population of Rathlin has been wiped out twice by invaders, the most notorious incident being in 1575 when 600 men, women and children were butchered. Sir Francis Drake is often blamed for his role – he was in charge of the English fleet that transported the troops of Colonel John Norris to the island and provided a blockade against Scottish help arriving. Continue reading →
Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother, Annie Jameson, of the Irish whisky distillery family. Inspired by the work of Heinrich Hertz on the properties of electromagnetic waves, Marconi filed the patent for ‘wireless technology’ in 1896. Continue reading →
Rathlin is surrounded by some 40 wrecks, the most famous of which is HMS Drake in Church Bay. Capable of a top speed of 23 knots, she was one of the fastest and heaviest cruisers of her time and was escorting a transatlantic convoy.
She was hit in Rathlin Sound by a torpedo from German U-Boat U-79 early on October 2, 1917, killing 19 of her crew. Her Captain, SH Radcliffe brought her into Church Bay but she was too heavily damaged to be saved and soon sank.
The SS Lugano and HMS Brisk were sunk during the same attack – probably by mines laid by U79 and the wrecks lie in Rathlin Sound just over a mile from each other. The technically challenging dive to the SS Lugano is considered one of the best in the British Isles. There was no loss of life on the Lugano but 31 crew died on HMS Brisk. Although her bow section sank, the stern section of the ship was towed into dock in Londonderry.
In 1962, the wreck of HMS Drake was hit by the Fleetwood trawler Ella Hewitt, which soon joined the cruiser on the seabed in the middle of Church Bay.
Photographer Andy McInroy has created some impressive images of sea caves on the Antrim coastline (as part of a larger portfolio of landscapes in Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Rathlin Island merits its own pages on his website with atmospheric shots of cave interiors. He also relates many fascinating tales, with plenty of legends and a few good ghost stories.
What inspired you to visit Rathlin?
I had seen some beautiful photographs of the Rathlin shoreline and, when I was getting into my Antrim sea caves project, it seemed like a logical place to finish my story. What really interests me is to be able to tie a cave photograph to a story, legend or old etching. The caves of Rathlin have these in abundance. Bruce’s cave in particular interested me very much, although Oweynagolman cave (above), which lies closer to the castle, may be a more likely place for Bruce to have visited.
Which was the most interesting cave?
Oweynagolman is a fascinating place – not only because of its possible connection with Bruce but also to an old story told on Rathlin which refers to it as Avaragh, the cave of the Children of Lir. The physical description of the cave matches my photograph with its obvious protective bar across the mouth. This bar is said to have been put there by a wise woman of Rathlin.
Oweynagolman is a perfect example of a classic basalt cave: it’s cavernous, beautifully shaped and it is a proper active sea cave, requiring a deep wade to enter. It has a real atmosphere about it.
Some caves are quite dangerous to get to. Did you have any close calls?
Some are, yes, and I would not encourage people to enter the caves in my project without doing their homework. I took no chances on Rathlin, as I appreciate the remote nature of the cliffs and caves there. What we did at Dunkerry Cave on the Runkerry headland on the mainland was certainly risky.
We entered that massive cavern armed with a toy dinghy bought in Lidl supermarket for £40. However, on that adventure I was guided by an experienced sea-stack climber from Orkney who has a string of epic first ascents to his name both in Scotland and on the sea stacks of Donegal.
Dunkerry was a frightening undertaking, but we managed the risk as much as we could and everything went exactly to plan. Riding down the swells of the channel into Dunkerry in the dinghy is an experience I will never forget.
Have you explored all of the caves?
When I started this project I thought that there might be five caves in all of Antrim that might make a good photograph. How wrong I was. The more I dig, the more of these amazing places I find. There are probably enough caves on Rathlin alone to keep me busy for a lifetime.
Many of the caves of Antrim are not marked on the maps, most are rarely visited by anyone other than the odd inquisitive kayaker. My ‘to do’ list is actually bigger now than it was at the start of the project.
Angela Ginn graduated from Goldsmiths College, London, returning to Belfast in 1990. Her oil paintings of the Northern Irish landscape have been exhibited regularly in Ireland and Europe. She was Artist in Residence for Belfast City Hospital for three years and part of a three-year residency with Kids’ Own, in the Multimedia Maps project. Here, she tells us about the inspiration she found on Rathlin… www.angelaginn.co.uk
When did you first visit Rathlin?
In 1996, with my niece Stacey, who was around seven years old at the time. We were staying at Whitepark Bay for the week and took a day trip over.
What were your first impressions?
It felt very special to me to be crossing the sea to get there. The crew on the ferry all seemed very exotic and ‘island looking’. My niece is not at all outdoorsy and she soon wanted to leave but the trip whet my appetite to return.
Tell us about the residency on Rathlin…
I have spent the last seven summers on Rathlin, from 2001 – 2008. My residency came about because Ann Henderson and myself were working on an art project together in Sligo and she knew that I had rented an Irish Landmark Trust cottage in Randalstown every year in which to paint. When Alison and Liam McFaul restored their outback barn, beside the Camping Barn, they were open to the possibility of an artist using it as a studio. Ann invited me over to the island and introduced me to Alison, who showed me the barn. I loved it and booked it for two weeks later that summer. I stayed for five weeks that year and for two to four months in the following years.
How was the weather?
The weather varied from year to year, day to day and hour to hour! I never minded what the weather was like as I was always so happy to be there, it wasn’t important to me. Although if it was warm and sunny, of course, the island was especially wonderful. I thrived in the physical space, the beauty of the landscape, the surrounding sea and all those skies were just magical. I never ever became complacent about the pleasure of opening my door in the morning onto a field and the marvel of the expanse beyond it.
Was four months long enough? Were you glad to leave or would you like to have stayed longer?
Four months was a great length of time for me. It gave me plenty of time to paint, rest, socialise, dander about and just ‘be’. I always found it hard to go, to end my summer adventure and to say goodbye to my dear friends. My awkward departure technique is usually to take a notion in my last week and make a speedy and quiet exit. I do love my artist in residency work back over the water and, on my return to Belfast, I always enjoy getting back to work with the children and the groups again. I also always needed to earn some money again by that stage.
What was the best thing about Rathlin?
The stunning beauty of the island itself. The colours and the light. The physical space, the skies and being surrounded by the sea. I also enjoyed being part of the summer island community and spending time with friends there and attending the daily/nightly events and gatherings. I am particularly partial to a ceili and to ‘Shoeing the Donkey’ with Loughie Mc Q.
What did you miss most?
Nothing. Once I got settled in my barn, I was always loath to leave. I only ever left to attend to business or something important. Most of my friends and family became regular annual visitors and looked forward to visiting me there too.
Is there a piece of music that reminds you of Rathlin?
That has to be ‘Fear A’ Bhata’. All Teresa’s beautiful renditions – and also those of the Black family – will always take me there.