16 December 2010

Long Sheelah

The tide must have been low when a Google-sponsored satellite passed over Strangford Lough and took this photo. There is Long Sheelah, a pebbly island that is indeed long, and narrow. Even when viewed from outer space it is easy to intuit that there is not a blade of grass on this island. It looks pale and almost ghostly. Soon it will be under the tide again. Presumably, as Long Sheelah is a delicate piece of geology, it would not take a major shift in Strangford Lough’s rhythms to dissolve the island entirely. Yet on Google Maps Long Sheelah does appear substantial enough with its straightness and its gleam that contrasts the water.

From Google Maps, Long Sheelah is the white dash close to dead centre of this image. Click through for a closer look.

From the Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland. Click through for a closer look.

The Ordnance Survey’s Discoverer map of Strangford portrays Long Sheelah with a tone from halfway along the greyscale. It is indicated as half with us and half not, a part-time member of the landscape. Like King Cross’s platform 9¾, it seems intangible.

Long Sheelah is above water most of the time. In his book The Blue Cabin Michael Faulkner has given it some tangibility. He has walked it, he is probably one of the only people to do so regularly. Long Sheelah is “a thin sliver of shells and polished pebbles the length of a football field and the width, a mean high-water, of a medium-sized boat” (page 136). By describing the island Faulkner has played the avant-garde, opening up a space to the rest of us. A place that was right under our noses all the time. On his blog he mentions that since he wrote about Long Sheelah other locals have taken to sailing there and using it as a picnic spot. Like many explorers Faulkner likes to come home with treasure. He tells us that Long Sheelah is the best place on the lough to find the eroded remains of limpet shells. The crowns of the shells have been worn away leaving rings that his wife, the artist Lynn McGregor, strings up into wind chimes to decorate their veranda.