Ireland on Film: The Secret of Roan Inish

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This month we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. So it seems as good of a time as any to spotlight set in Ireland. To kick things off, I have selected the beautiful and often overlooked The Secret of Roan Inish. Shot on location in Ireland, this is a real hidden gem that the whole family can enjoy.

The film follows Fiona (Jeni Courtney). She’s sent to live with her grandparents in a small Irish fishing village. Fiona’s grandfather regales her with tall tales of their family history, including their evacuation from their home on an island called Roan Inish. One of Fiona’s ancestor’s even cheated death at sea. Fiona explores the town and gets to know the locals. Through them, she hears personal accounts of one of her ancestors who legend has it married a Selkie (seals who can turn human). Supposedly, her baby brother washed out to sea in a cradle shaped like a boat and was raised by seals. One day, a mysterious boy appears on Roan Inish, and Fiona sets out to discover the island’d secrets.

The Secret of Roan Inish is fascinating in the way it weaves Celtic folklore into the story. It effortlessly tells stories of the past and present. Jeni Courtney is charming as Fiona, the film’s curious and plucky young heroine. The film is not only rich in its mythology, but we get a real sense of the village. There is not a wasted character or bit of dialogue to be found.

It’s impossible to write about The Secret of Roan Inish and not mention its rich visuals. Legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler photographed it. He captures the beauty of the scenery in Donegal and its seaside. The look of the seaside is enchanting and haunting with its mist and fog. It’s some of his best work, which is saying a lot.

Director John Sayles, whose credits include Lone Star and Men With Guns seems an odd fit for this material. But it’s a small masterpiece. There’s a real appreciation for Celtic mythology and the country’s beauty. The Secret of Roan Inish is an enchanting film that deserves a wider audience.

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