Rathlin Island Walking Tours
with Paul Quinn
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August 2008 - What if cowboys had been given microphones?

The weather is still a topic of conversation this month, and more about that soon. Four groups have booked, but one cancels at short notice. The first group has only two people. They have been married some time and this is by way of a celebration. Since some weeks have elapsed since we made the arrangements, I call to check that we are still on target. We are. I travel over on a Friday and enjoy the evening by going for a walk. I am delighted to see Grass of Parnassus and retire to bed.

 

My accommodation is buffeted by gales all night and the rain never stops. I am to meet up with the folk at 9 am, at the harbour. I arrive on time, with the weather not letting up. Here they are, though. The arrangement is that we will be together for most of the day, but I feel that, for the first time ever, I should give the folk the option of cancelling and just walking away. I do that, but to their credit, they say that we should press ahead.

 

All day the wind is Force 6 or 7 and the rain is constant. At times it is difficult to walk, but we manage to chat non stop. It seems that my guests are no strangers to wilderness travel so there is no way that I can give up first. Despite the conditions, the day is great fun. It turns out though that the rain was so awful that the newly constructed and engineered motorway underpass in Belfast flooded to depth of 20 feet.

 

A short while later and I meet with a small group of women of differing nationalities: French, Canadian and Ghanaian. This is a novel situation for me as my commentary must be translated (not by me) into French. As we sit in the shelter of the coastguard hut eating our lunch my friends tell me that during their trip to Ulster they intend to see the peace walls in Belfast. One of them wants to see Free Derry Corner. They are curious about how we live in Northern Ireland. Another subject to get their attention is cattle, because they stop to take lots of photos of grazing beasts. It is another time when the conversation is wide ranging and for me there is food for thought.

 

August is finishing and I arrive in Ballycastle to find a Ferris Wheel in the harbour car park. This is because tomorrow starts the Lammas Fair and the town will be bunged with people looking for a bargain, or maybe wanting to buy or sell horses or ponies. The group that I am meeting is already at the ferry terminal. We have a problem, however. The boat is still at Rathlin and the ramp will not work properly. All we can do is wait, but the delay is not too bad and we get to the island only about 40 minutes behind schedule. Our route takes us along the shore then up towards the East Light, where I tell folk about Robert the Bruce. A microphone and portable PA system have been provided so that my words can be heard clearly. I am not convinced that this represents an improvement over simple shouting, but go along with the plan. There seems to be no noticeable difference in how the message affects the humans but the adjacent livestock are galvanised into action… a case of the herd heard? Whenever I stop and speak, cattle moo and gallop stiff-legged around the field. I don’t think they like it. What would it have been like if cowboys had been given microphones?
© 2008 Paul Quinn. All Rights Reserved. Additional title photography © Andy McInroy