Rathlin Islanders tell us how the peace, quiet and pace of life stole their hearts

There aren’t many places as special in this wee part of the world as Rathlin Island – and those who live there revel in their way of life.

Anyone lucky enough to spend the day there after a ferry trip from Ballycastle will know all too well the peace and quiet with which they’re met after docking in its marina.

While the island is a haven for the famous Puffins, proudly guarded by the passionate RSPB crew when they land each spring – this tiny community fosters a whole host of people and small businesses only too happy to welcome visitors ashore.

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Belfast Live spent a day on Rathlin just as they were hoisting the sales on visiting season.

And while we were treated to all the weather one can imagine in a day, it did nothing to dampen the rural outpost’s charm. From the natural to the historic, shops, post office, chip van, pub, hotel, glamping pods and treks – there’s something there for everyone.

While its rolling hills might and nature walks and abundance of sea birds might be what attracted many to the place, those who love there also benefit from all the trappings of modern life with ASDA dropping your big shop off for the ferry crew to take over for you and an electric car and bikes islanders can share.

And that’s why locals, even if they move away for a while, always come back to the place they love.

Ferry skipper and Rathlin Development & Community Association’s Michael Cecil grew up on the island and met his now wife as she visited on camping holidays.

“When the sun is shining … it’s a beautiful place. It’s surrounded by nature and wildlife – nice and quiet,” he said.

“We enjoy that peace and quiet and the slightly slower pace of life, so that’s important.”

Shauna Cecil and her daughter Shannon, owners of The Hungry Seal
Shauna Cecil and her daughter Shannon, owners of The Hungry Seal

His wife Shauna, who runs the mobile fish and chip van with their daughter Shannon, added: “I used to come camping as a child for my holidays. Daddy used to take us over for two weeks every year.

“That’s about 30 years ago – 20 years married and I’m still here.

“It’s not that much different really,” said the Derry native. “The only thing is you have to be a bit more organized. You just have to make sure you’ve got extra stuff in the freezers and if you want to go somewhere and if the weather’s bad you just need to be a little bit prepared for disappointment.

Seals relaxing in Church Bay, Rathlin Island
Seals relaxing in Church Bay, Rathlin Island

“But nine out of 10 times, it’s not much different from anywhere else.”

Island resident Marina McMullan thinks it’s the perfect place to raise children: “Island life is unique. It’s completely different and I think now with the way things are going people want to get away and live somewhere like Rathlin.

Islander Marina McMullan
Islander Marina McMullan

“It’s a great place to bring up a family, there’s no doubt about it. Maybe you have your drawbacks, you’re restricted with sea or whatever and that rules your life but in this day and age you have all modern communication facilities. It does make island life much easier. “

Belfast native Tom McDonnell loved it so much, he decided to up-sticks and moved there.

Tom McDonnell from Belfast loved it so much he moved there
Tom McDonnell from Belfast loved it so much he moved there

“I used to do a lot of day tripping to Rathlin and then I volunteered for the RSPB way back in the early 2000s,” the ferry worker and keen amateur photographer told us.

“One summer’s evening the birds were singing, absolutely silent apart from the birds. What a night. Brilliant.

“I was lying up in an old field and I said to myself ‘this is for me’ and that started the whole process.

“It took a bit of time, then a few years afterwards I moved over, rented a house, worked on a farm. That was it.”

Mary O'Driscoll, owner of Rathlin's Manor House Hotel
Mary O’Driscoll, owner of Rathlin’s Manor House Hotel

Manor House Hotel owner, Mary O’Driscoll, hails from the south coast of Ireland but spends much of her time on Rathlin these days. But when she saw the premises go up for sale, lei said she and her husband di lei jumped at the chance to buy it.

“There’s a certain cosiness about it,” she added.

“We’re not isolated, we’re almost insulated at times. It doesn’t bother me.

“I think you need to be kind of complete in your own head to live in a little place or any little village anywhere, but in particular on an island because you are not going to get away very far from anybody.

“If you’re content on your own life and busy with what you do and can mind your own business for the most part – it’s a great place to live.”

When islanders are looking for entertainment, Shauna Cecil says “there’s always the bar – it’s a good place to go”.

“A lot of islanders love to meet up and go out for a wee bit of entertainment.”

“It’s usually a good night out,” added Shannon.

Rathlin Island - McCuaig's Bar
Rathlin Island – McCuaig’s Bar

Aside from celebrating life over a pint, Shauna says there are also “nice walks” and “you can always go away”.

“20 minutes takes you to Ballycastle where you can go and do something more exciting for the night but we’re usually quiet happy where we are,” she added.

Shannon, who left the island for boarding school and university but has since returned, added: “Everybody is so kind and if you need anything you just go to anybody and they’ll help you out as much as they can.”

Tom is also quite happy where he is.

“I can’t see myself going to the town or the city again like. I’m finished with it now. I’ve enjoyed the life so far. 15-16 years I’m here, so I can’t see me going anywhere else. “

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