I Lost My Heart In ... Rathlin 
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Date: 1998-8-29  
Source: The Guardian 
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My father came from Rathlin island, so we were fortunate to go there for holidays as children and I still go yearly. It's a small island in an L-shape, about 11 miles long and three miles wide. It's between Ballycastle in County Antrim and the Mull of Kintyre; on one side you can see Scotland and on the other, Antrim and Donegal. Right on the harbour stands a big old manor house, now a museum about the island and the coast.

My father's family came from the upper end of the island. About 100 ships have gone down around the island, in the most treacherous part of the Irish Sea. But for me it's paradise. I'm from the heart of Dublin and going to Rathlin gives me a sense of freedom. From our house, you only have to walk a few hundred yards and you're looking down the most beautiful cliffs, out over to Ballycastle Bay. You're on your own. You can get up in the morning and not brush your hair or even wash your face. You can go an entire day without seeing another person. There are only 73 inhabitants now, and about three children at the school. I know all the islanders really well and they accept me. I'm not just a tourist, I still have cousins there. Everytime I go there, I'm going home. From April to the end of May, the island is very popular with birdwatchers, people come from all over the world to see the migrations. There's one shop, one pub, one Catholic church, one Protestant church, one tiny school and farmhouses. Daytrippers are the main visitors, but there are a couple of caravans and a B&B which is nearly always full.

Although the landscape is very rugged — hills, marshes, very bad farming land — to me it's beautiful. It's very green and not bleak in the spring and summer. There's a small hill just beyond the house, and on top of it, a stone shaped like a big armchair. I sit on this every time I go.

We walk everywhere, it's not a very long island. It can be a problem when you just want a pint of milk and have to go three-and-a-half miles to get it, but you do learn to plan your life better and walking becomes pleasurable. When I was a child, we'd drink milk straight from the cow with homemade butter and soda bread, and I'd take my bread and go up and sit on my stone and eat it.

I still do this every year and sit in the evening after dinner and look out on to the sea, feel the wind in my hair and it's the time when I feel most peaceful. It's a peace which I only feel when I'm on Rathlin island. Total contentment and total happiness. Part of me wants to stay there but it's not possible. You can get cut off. I've dedicated a song on my latest album, Haven For My Heart, to Rathlin.

Frances Black's UK tour begins on September 17