Rathlin islanders learn to take strandings in their stride

By Niall Glynn


What is it like to live on a small island cut off from the mainland for days by the weather?

It is something that the people of Rathlin Island, six miles off the north Antrim coast, have had to get used to over the years.

The island's 125 residents were stranded for four days from Friday, as high winds meant Rathlin's ferry service was unable to sail to Ballycastle.

Michael Cecil, chairman of Rathlin Development and Community Association, said while the islanders were used to being cut off from Northern Ireland for a day or two, four days was out of the ordinary.

"It's something we do prepare for. Two days, three days, absolutely no problem, when it gets to four we don't expect that, people's provisions start to run out - milk and bread and other supplies start to run low," he said.

"Probably a bigger concern is elderly people or anybody who's on long-term medication - there probably wouldn't be as big a supply of that - and also if somebody became ill.

"It normally is pretty horrible at this time of the year, but it's been a long time since it's been four days in a row."

If there is a medical emergency the island has a helicopter and lifeboat service available, while Mr Cecil said Rathlin residents knew to stock up in preparation for bad weather.

"Most people living on the island have a very large freezer or maybe two freezers and the island shop is usually pretty well stocked up beforehand," he said.

"Weather forecasts these days are usually pretty accurate so you get a good read on it."

Mr Cecil said it was something the islanders had learned to take in their stride and the frequent strandings had engendered a strong community spirit.

"Especially the older generation, they've suffered far more in years gone by - back in the 50s and 60s there were periods of two or three weeks with no ferries. Everyone was more self-sufficient in those days," he said.

media captionThough the seas that surround Rathlin Island are mostly calm, they can be made into a maelstrom in a matter of minutes. Archive first broadcast January 1957

"It's probably no worse than if you're living in a remote area and heavy snow comes along and you can be cut off for a few days as well.

"If one person runs out of something, somebody else might have it and share it, nobody goes short or gets too desperate."

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