Rathlin Island HostelBlog 4: The Island Sometimes Known As Raghery

Week 6

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The sense of camaraderie at McCuaig’s, the sheer craic, and personal investment, coupled with beautiful landscape made my time on Rathlin second to none. Special mentions to the hostel-runners: Fergus and Tania; but especially Sean, Patsy and Rohan, who made me feel like a member of the family. How could I not take another
week? On my final day we spotted blue whales jumping in Mill Bay, right in front of the hostel.


DVD for Always Sunny in Philadelphia Series 1-2 arrives. Check out the box’s audience warning marks.

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Sean (McFaul) reckoned I’d experience culture shock on return to Belfast. At first, little things; then the rising noise of the traffic, the internalisation of city folk, and a return of claustrophobia. Still, Rathlin’s weather taught me to appreciate the colours and patterns closer to home.

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Enter, Sean Duffield, cartoonist of Paper Tiger Comix, who I’d invited to come from Brighton and be my guest in N. Ireland. Sean had one request.

Week 7

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Belfast to Ballycastle, often it’s needed to change buses at Ballymena. We discovered a small park five minutes from the station with these beautiful Four Seasons statues.

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Sean gets comfortable seal-spotting down at Rue Point, earning the nickname ‘Manimal’.

We take the round-island coach trip.
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Even saw a peregrine falcon at West Lighthouse. It’s a pleasure having Sean D around. His sticking to daily writing exercises provides the perfect context for professional practice myself. Sean is also an awesome cook. There’s not much pub time, as Sean wants to walk e v e r y w h e r e.

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We do make a visit to Yvonne Braithwaite’s Breakwater Arts Studio, hosting Rathlin’s first ever Culture Night. It’s an intimate evening of songs and stories from islanders, handed down through generations, as the sun goes down accompanied by deelish cheeses and warming wines.

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Watershed Cafe Suzie shows us around some caves.
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andy vs sean

And we’re introduced to a healing pool, legend having it that if you bottle this water and give it to a friend, it will clear foot ailments of all descript. Though you can’t use the water on yourself…

healing pool

…No. It really has no effect.

We set sail for home like every visitor to Rathlin, forever changed.

I’ll be returning this weekend (5th December), for a few drinks in the bar. You’re invited to join us.

If you’d like to keep a closer eye on Rathlin, there’s a host of stuff around the web, including the Rathlin Community Page, and the regularly rewarding Friends and Residents of Rathlin page on Facebook.


RathlinHostelBlog 3: Everyone doesn’t want to leave.

Week 5

Hristina and I meet in nearby Ballintoy to coo at Bendhu House, eat at harbour, shriek at divers in rocky waters.

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2015-08-28 14.43.44There’s a pub there with a Game of Thrones room, apt, as they shoot at the harbour twenty minutes walk.

Back on the island, 520 people come in for the Rathlin Run. Special Guest Star: Rathlin chum Moira Morton arrives. Sean and Patsy take us for a look around West Lighthouse.

On the way back, I’m inspired for a horror short and home, we’re made Sunday dinner and treated to many stories. Throughout the week, I’m talking to four islander writers, hatching plans for a writer’s retreat. Beer and burgers for a fiver!

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Writing: End of month deadlines: Sloppily prepped, I do submit an article on writing I am pleased with, five poems and a piece on behalf of Richard Barr, storyteller supremo. 2nd draft my horror piece and continue with the space opera.

Special Guest Stars #2: Donna Traynor and BBC Newsline. I appear in cafe background, but will it make the edit?

Answer: Usual ole nuisance associated with film crews. They might not show up, they show up late, they don’t want to shoot in the cafe, they do want to shoot in the cafe, they’re setting up for ages, or are they filming, I’ve already drank two cups, the marshmallows, the hot chocolate and I can’t order another because they’re still here, directing everything. Annoyed. Filming or not? Apropos of nothing, I drink from an empty cup because this is amusing to me. This ends up on five seconds of the broadcast.

There’s been a problem with the volunteer due to show up on Saturday. Will she? I might stay on. To be continued.

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First writer’s retreat

Last September, I hurried together a trip to Rathlin. As per the objective, it was cheap, (£60 a head OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAall inclusive), and didn’t mean me stressing over a big group or cancellations. The six of us came from Belfast Writers Group, people I’d got to know over two years, and could depend on. The location was inspiring and the prepared content would be self-fuelled, in the barcamp ethos of everybody brings something. As it was only Alex prepared a presentation, the rest of us either ran out of time, or decided to ad lib. (An earlier draft of my plan made used of a timetabled plan for teaching, readings, private writing, group discussion and time set aside for leisure)

In many ways, the beautiful location worked against the order of things. Rathlin is wild and flourishing, enormous through it’s limits. It was short-sighted thinking this heart-winning location could coop six creatives in a bungalow. It took much buckling down to get us each to write one short piece from a set stimulus point. Once we’d done that,we agreed, post Doctor Who, to entertain one another with an evening lock-in, the compositions and a bottle of wine. There were alternate takes on my breakfast breakdown, observations of the beautiful environment and eerie descriptions of local myth. It was worth resisting the charms of the local pub to allow us to bond beyond friendships, as creatives working and evolving in a singular space.

1200px-Rathlin_Island_Northern_Ireland_17Rathlin Island Northern Ireland 17” by Brian O’NeillOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

(In defence of the pub, it gave inspiration for three of the tales in our canon. We got there after the group-session, and it was one of the prettiest night-skies I’ve ever seen)

On the logistical side of things, plans changed as they do. Lynda, our un-official leader, chef and driver had to drop out at short notice. Holly volunteers to provide wheels and everyone can take turns at breakfast and lunch prep. My food shop plan needed help, so Holly wheeled in there too.

We weren’t dependent on Lynda to fill a bunk as one person slept in over-flow accommodation. Alex signed up a few days before. A few people had dietary concerns. These posed little problem,  required I do an hour or two of research, which, in a perfect would be just common altruism.

I got a lot from this weekend, and am indebted to Holly, Alex, Ellie, Bruce and Philip for making it happen. Also for the inspiration, the Midwinter Comics Retreat crowd, led by the painfully missed wunderkind Debra Boyask.

Leaning Over Rathlin - by Ellie Rose McKee

Leaning Over Rathlin – by Ellie Rose McKee

I want to do another one of these soon. It’s proving a bit of a chore finding venues to accommodate more than six while keeping a low price. I think these things are worth chasing though, particularly in a time of mass unemployment.

If you’d like to be part of a N. Ireland Spring creator’s retreat, drop me a line. It’s safer than Facebook to use the comments function below.

And you can read the piece I wrote on Rathlin, an alternate take of the weekend at Skypen.

Rathlin Island Evening Stroll

Reminder: https://andy-luke.com/shop/ has original arts from £10, and copies from just 30p.

So yeah, I was first inspired to Rathlin after reading about it in the graphic novel Troubled Souls by Ennis & McCrea years ago. The central character has himself in a bloody spot and thinks back to craic on the rock with friends, lighting fires and jumping on top of them in beer-fuel, trouser legs catching. For all it’s faults, (and I’m sorry John) McCrea’s paints (on his 1st book) are some of my favourite of his comicbook career. He brings out lovely greens and reds, there’s texture and beautiful flow – it’s a classical fine artist’s comic through and through. Romanticism, impressionism, it’s the painting on the wall to a child. The one page sequence with Rathlin housed the idea in my mind firmly, a grail place.

In 2000 Ennis got married and Warren Ellis was among those attending the stag on Rathlin Island. Check out  the audio file, Beer and the Garth Ennis stag party (5 mb, 5:09) for Warren’s re-telling of the event. It’s a pretty good description of Rathlin. (The text version is here)

So, I crossed the five currents of water-ways. The trip from Ballycastle was 25 minutes, with alternating services at 45 minutes transporting cars. Islanders or long stay visitors only. Jennifer McCurdy, a long-term resident, picked me up at the harbour and gave me a long tour around permanent facilities — the fabled McCuaig’s Bar & Bruce’s Kitchen Cafe, Emma’s Chip Ahoy, the decorated garden I’d seen from the boat:


Soerneog View Hostel was about twenty minutes walk out, while the other accommodations and most houses were in the close proximity central street.  It was more a private rent-able accommodation than what I think of as a hostel. Check out my Marie Schrader bedclothes.


Stepping outside, Rathlin impresses instantly.

Rue Lighthouse is one of three marking the seven mile island, away from the harbour and populace of a hundred. So I went that way.



There’s the weird juxtaposition going on: the mass expanses of (BIG) country, fields and trees everywhere, but knowing that it’s limited. It seems to roll in front, but a mile over there….I could see Arkill Bay, Doon Bay (North Channel) the Sea of Moyle (Atlantic Ocean)

This is as close to wilderness as it comes. Halfway between the madness of Wuthering Height’s Heathcliff, sure to feature as a Game of Thrones location. Not a soul around yet though, and I began texting Mum eager that she and Dad take advantage of this Europe-sque outbound paradise. Halfway through, I jump at a hellish scream. Some weird fat partridge,pheasant or grouse bloodcurdling yell flies out away from under a dense hedge-row and across the field. In front of it, a brown hare, the bird pursues. Little bastards.







That’s Ushet Lough there, halfway between the hostel and the shoreline. The walk takes an hour, except when I got there, large bulls and cows wandered about the shoreline, one giving me the evil eye. It was already dark, but as I told Judy, I could have taken it. In a fight, if we were to, which we wouldn’t, because the animals of Rathlin and I are such good friends we’d never fight.




Halfway back, I saw people!



At the hostel, I oven cooked my pizza, drank some lemonade and whiskey and at 9pm wandered back outside for a quick walk to the harbour. There were no streetlights, which made it a bit of a challenge, but I’d reviewed the road footage while inside and it was familiar. Then I banged my leg into the garden gate and the neighbours must have heard it. Oops.

Travelblog finishes tomorrow.