The Secret of Roan Inish

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The Secret of Roan Inish
A young, dark-haired woman stands against a gold background with a door and the film's title in the foreground
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Sayles
Produced bySarah Green
Maggie Renzi
Screenplay byJohn Sayles
Based onthe children's novel Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry
by Rosalie K. Fry
Music byMason Daring
CinematographyHaskell Wexler
Edited byJohn Sayles
Jones Entertainment Group
Skerry Productions
Distributed byFirst Look Pictures
Release date
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5.7 million[1]
Box office$6,159,269[1]

The Secret of Roan Inish is a 1994 American/Irish independent film of Irish magical realism written and directed by John Sayles. It is based on the novel Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, by Rosalie K. Fry.[2][3]

It is centered on the Irish and Orcadian folklores of selkies—seals that can shed their skins to become human. The story, set on the west coast of Ireland, is about Fiona, a young girl who is sent to live with her grandparents and her cousin Eamon near the island of Roan Inish, where the selkies are rumored to reside. It is a family legend that her younger brother was swept away in his infancy and raised by a selkie. Part of the film takes place in Donegal.


The story is told from the point of view of Fiona (Jeni Courtney), a young girl who is sent to live with her grandparents in an Irish fishing village.

Her grandfather weaves tall tales about the family's evacuation from their home on the tiny island of Roan Inish and his great-great-grandfather, who once cheated death at the hands of the sea.

As she meets other villagers, Fiona hears more personal stories about an ancestor who married a beautiful selkie (a half-human/half-seal), and more about how the sea stole her baby brother, Jamie, during the departure from Roan Inish.

Later, Fiona believes that she has found Jamie romping in the grass on Roan Inish, and she must convince the family of her vision.


  • Jeni Courtney as Fiona Coneelly
  • Eileen Colgan as Tess Coneelly
  • Richard Sheridan as Eamon Coneelly
  • Dave Duffy as Jim
  • Pat Slowey as Priest
  • Declan Hannigan as Oldest brother
  • Mairéad Ní Ghallchóir as Barmaid
  • Eugene McHugh as Bar Patron 1
  • Tony Rubini as Bar Patron 2
  • Mick Lally as Hugh Coneelly
  • Michael MacCarthaigh as Schoolmaster
  • Fergal McElherron as Sean Michael
  • Brendan Conroy as Flynn Conneelly
  • John Lynch as Tadhg Coneelly
  • Susan Lynch as Nuala the Selkie
  • Frankie McCafferty as Tim
  • Cillian Byrne as Jamie Connelly


In creating the film, John Sayles drew on original research of Celtic island lore and language, including the Blasket memoirs, a series vernacular memoirs collected in the 1920s and '30s from residents of The Great Blasket, an island off the Kerry coast evacuated by the Irish government in 1953 and made a national park in 1989.[4]

"Veteran cinematographer Haskell Wexler gives "The Secret of Roan Inish" an effortlessly elemental look. Without ostentation or self-consciousness, the film immerses you in the spume, fog and glare of the seaside life, with its temporal mysteries and its organic metamorphoses. Mason Daring's spare, traditional Irish score adds one more layer of melancholy atmosphere," noted Scott Rosenberg of SFGate.[5] Although in the original novel the story takes place in Scotland, the filmmakers decided to have the film take place in Ireland for practical reasons.[6] According to John Sayles in the director's commentary, most of the film was shot in Donegal, Ireland, with some scenes being filmed at the Isle of Mull in Argyll, Scotland.


Critical response[edit]

It holds a 95% "Certified Fresh" and average rating of 7.8/10 on review site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 44 reviews. Scott Rosenberg of SFGate describes it as being "a lot like the island it's named after: It seems to occupy a time of its own, cut off from the speed and overload of contemporary life and drifting to its own ancient rhythms." [5] Critic Stephen Holden, film critic for The New York Times, liked the film's direction. He wrote, "The Secret of Roan Inish is the first film directed by Mr. Sayles that could be described as visually rhapsodic. Photographed by Haskell Wexler on Ireland's rugged northwestern seacoast, it is a cinematic tone poem in which man and nature, myth and reality flow together in a way that makes them ultimately indivisible."[7]


  1. ^ a b Gerry Molyneaux, "John Sayles, Renaissance Books, 2000 p 216
  2. ^ The Secret of Roan Inish on IMDb
  3. ^ Graham, Kathryn (December 2000). "'Seaweed Soup: The Secret (ingredients) of Roan Inish'". The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  4. ^ Graham, Kathryn (December 2000). "'Seaweed Soup: The Secret (ingredients) of Roan Inish'". The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature. Retrieved December 30, 2017. …  Among these works are Tomas O'Crohan's The Islandman, Sean O'Crohan's A Day in Our Life, and Peig Sayers's An Old Woman's Reflections. …’
  5. ^ a b Rosenberg, Scott (March 17, 1995). "'Secret of "Roan Inish" is a slow, magical page'". SFGate. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  6. ^ Abbe, Elfrieda. "`Secret of Roan Inish' a windswept mystery (Milwaukee Sentinel, Mar 3,1995)". BNET. CNET Networks, Inc. Retrieved 2008-09-30.[dead link]
  7. ^ Holden, Stephen. The New York Times, film review, "John Sayles in the Land of Enchantment", February 3, 1995.

External links[edit]