Belfast Telegraph

Stormy assault leaves Rathlin facing early autumn

Autumn comes to Rathlin
Autumn comes to Rathlin
Autumn comes to Rathlin
Autumn comes to Rathlin
Autumn comes to Rathlin
Autumn comes to Rathlin
Autumn comes to Rathlin
Autumn comes to Rathlin
Autumn comes to Rathlin

By Lesley-Anne Henry

It may only be midsummer but visitors to Rathlin could be forgiven for thinking that autumn has come early.

A violent storm that blew sea water onto the trees and foliage on the small island off the Co Antrim coast has transformed what should be a lush, green landscape into a burnt, blackened and lifeless terrain.

As these pictures illustrate, the salt has caused leaves and firs to dry out and die, making Rathlin look like it has been fast-forwarded to October.

Lockie McQuilkin, Rathlin's oldest resident, said he has never experienced anything like this before.

"That gale on May 23 was so fierce it was blowing the salt water right over the island," the 88-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph.

"The salt has burnt all the leaves on the trees and has left them completely black. It is like what you would see in October. I never remember anything like it in May in my life."

Mr McQuilkin said even the hardy 'whin' bushes which were "nicely in bloom" with their profuse yellow blossoms have been affected by the unseasonable conditions. Fruit and vegetables have also suffered.

The dramatic transformation took less than 36 hours.

"It is so unseasonable," he added.

"The leaves will not come back on the trees until next year. It is weird to say the least."

RSPB warden Liam McFaul (40) said most of the foliage had been "zapped" by the salt.

"We had such a lush growing period with everything in full foliage but the force of the wind has just blown everything back," he said.

"It was like the storms we get here on a regular basis during the winter or early spring, before the leaves come on.

"Even the bracken is brown. It looks like someone has sprayed them with a herbicide, but they are just wind-burned.

"The most vulnerable birds would be the likes of the chaffinch or the blue tit, the normal garden birds."

Mr McFaul also said the autumnal conditions could have a devastating knock-on effect for wildlife later in the year when wild berries may be in short supply.


Rathlin is Northern Ireland's only inhabited island with a population of around 100 residents. It is six miles long and one mile wide and is home to the RSPB Seabird Centre, where puffins, guillemots and razorbills can be seen.

In 1306 Robert the Bruce took refuge on Rathlin after being driven from Scotland by Edward I.

While hiding in a cave he was inspired by a spider persevering to bridge a gap with its web and returned to fight successfully for his kingdom.

More recently the world's first commercial wireless telegraphy link was set up by Marconi between Rathlin and Ballycastle in 1898.

Belfast Telegraph

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