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Sea of Moyle; Across the Sea, Eider Down

The Sea of Moyle was commissioned as part of the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival by the joint efforts of the Ballycastle Writers Group and the Fairhead Photographic Club. This piece was written to complement an exhibition of poetry and photographic artwork to be exhibited at the 2018 Rathin Sound Maritime Festival. These works were inspired by the landscape and folklore of the Rathlin Sound and the Sea of Moyle.

Kebble Lough, Rathlin, Sue McBean, McBean Music, Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival, Sea of Moyle, Fairhead Photographic Club,

Kebble Lough, Rathlin; Photo by Sue McBean

Growing up on the north coast of Northern Ireland, I was a frequent visitor to Rathlin Island. I found myself captivated by the landscape of the North Antrim Coast. It, its folklore and its musical traditions have profoundly shaped my creative output. So, it was a great privilege to be asked to compose a set of folk tunes to accompany an exhibition that celebrates the area that I know and love.


The track features sounds that I recorded in the area back in the spring of 2017. These sounds include the lapping of waves off a sailing boat in the Rathlin Sound and the sounds of sea birds recorded at Ballintoy Harbour. Whilst recording the sound of the waves on the boat, the Belfast Coast Guard came over the radio with a weather update. I left this in as I felt it ties these ambient sounds directly to the area. As well as the sounds of gulls, the bird song recorded at Ballintoy Harbour also includes the cooing of the Eider Ducks, and a rather tuneful Robin

Below are three of the photos from the exhibition reflect where my inspirations came from. Evita Browne Photography's Eider Down girl at Fairhead; Sue McBean's Moonlit Fairy Thorn; and Andrew Cameron Mitchell's Falcog Mhor Drontheim in Church Bay.

Geraldine Fitzgerald's poem Fionnghuala, one of the poems exhibited at the festival, was inspired by Evita Browne's Eider Down girl at Fairhead.

The set Sea of Moyle, is made up of two tunes: Across the Sea and Eider Down. Across the Sea is a slow air and was initially conceived as a call across the waves as a musical representation of the connection of the two communities celebrated in the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival that are separated by the Rathlin Sound. Eider Down, the second tune in the set, is a Jig and is named in reference to the Eider Duck and as a play on words with the highly sought-after down from the female duck during the nesting period to make quilts and duvets. The Eider Duck is a coastal bird resident in the northern coasts of Europe and Greenland. The bird is classified on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable and from 2000 until 2027 it is estimated that their population will have decreased by 30-49%. Still a popular sight in Northern Ireland, the bird can often be seen along the shoreline. It has an extremely distinctive cooing sound.



I wanted the piece to emerge from its surroundings so, setting the scene for the whole set, the field recordings and the tin whistle here invite the listener in to the magical landscape. These field recordings reoccur at various landmarks throughout the piece, anchoring the listener to the coast. With a strong tradition of sailing, I wanted the percussive sounds to sound like the wind dropping in and out of the sails.

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