The Secret of Roan Inish

Cover of "The Secret of Roan Inish"

Cover of The Secret of Roan Inish

The Secret of Roan Inish, directed by John Sayles, is an enchanting tale that deals with Irish folklore and the power of myth, stories and struggles. From the beginning, the film presents itself from a child’s point of view, that lead character Fiona is a ten year old girl living in Ireland during the 1940’s. Once returned to lived in a small village near Roan Inish by her father, she learns about her family heritage and the colorful stories that lead her to seek her baby brother. The movie contains many human elements, as the story incorporates family ties and history, myth, loss and restoration of hope. The setting of the film helps create a mood of mythical enchantment where Irish myths come alive. Local legends tell of silkies, wonderful creatures who are seals in the water, and beautiful women on land.

As Fiona starts to discover as she talks with the townsfolk, especially to Tadgh, a dark haired fisherman who tells her the story of a young man who marries a silkie called, Nuala. She turns out to be a mysterious and seductive creature who is half woman, half seal. When Liam marries Nuala, it’s a way to account for why some in her family have dark hair and eyes. Nuala had Liam build a bassinet that was like a boat because she told him the sea would rock their children, just as if it were a parent. However, the pull of the sea was too strong and Nuala eventually left the family and returned to life as a seal.

The cradle turns out, a family heirloom, linked to the selkie woman and to Jamie’s dark features; as well as the presence of the sea and the seals who still interact with humans on the island. On the day the Coneelys left Roan Inish, the sea and the sky joined forces to hold onto Jamie. Jamie goes rocking into the mist where, under the darkening skies is given up for lost. The relationship was ruptured when the Coneelys left Roan Inish. The seals didn’t want them to go and held their infant Jamie to maintain its link to them. Tadgh assures her that Jamie isn’t missing, just visiting another branch of the family. Fiona’s determination to return to the island is not a mere connection to her homeland, but a pact with the selkies in exchange for her brother’s return.

The sea has long been personified by the Coneely clan and Fiona reenergizes this impulse. Sean Michael had been washed up on the shores of Roan Inish after a shipwreck. He is found unconscious by a group of women on the shore of Roan Inish, a small island off the coast. They warm his body for many days by tying him to a cow and finally awakes, reporting that a seal came to his rescue and he rode it to the mainland. All these stories fuel her determination to search for Jamie, and in the end she is determined in getting him to separate from his seal guardians and return to the family. Though it may be that her attentiveness is what leads to the seals helping to return Jamie to his family.

On one level, “Secret of Roan Inish” is about the relationship between humans, seals and other animals. On another level, it’s about the power of stories to help a family process the ups and downs in its fortunes. Sean Michael receives guidance from a seal, and the later story of the Selkie, as well as Jamie’s connection with seals, suggests that seals have been assisting the dark ones of Roan Inish for generations. Fiona too feels some connection to them. However, Jamie is too young and undeveloped to carry enough consciousness. For a while, Tess and Hugh lost their psychological ideas about the goodness and magic of the sea and nature. They had been dazzled by the myth of progress and the movement toward the city. They had turned away from their heritage on Roan Inish. With the help of Fiona and the seals, the family returns to their home, where finally they bring Jamie back to the Coneelys and make him stay there.

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