Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Isle of Mary Rose

J M Barrie wrote the play Mary Rose between 1912 and 1920. He conceived the idea for the play—which is based on Celtic legends of faeries and Tir nan-Og, the Land of Everlasting Youth—while staying at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle on the shore of West Loch Tarbert. The story concerns the two strange disappearances of Mary Rose from The Island that Likes to be Visited. At age eleven Mary is left on this small island while her father is fishing. When he returns she’s nowhere to be found. Several weeks later she reappears with absolutely no memory of where she’s been, and no sense that any time has passed. Later in the story we learn a similar event had happened before, when a two year old boy had disappeared from the island; a boy who had yet to be found.

An Island in Loch Voshimid
Eleven years later Mary Rose visits the Hebrides with her husband and two-year-old son, a son supposedly born while her husband was away. The island calls again ‘but no one can hear it but those for whom it is meant.’ It is meant for her, and this time she disappears for twenty-five years. When she returns from that long absence we find she has not aged, and it seems to her as if only an hour has passed.

Loch Bhoisimid lies in the Harris interior, four miles north of Amhuinnsuidhe. The tradition on Harris is that an island in this loch had been the inspiration for Barrie’s mystical island. In the play the island has two trees, a pond, and a small hill—perhaps one of the faerie knolls of Celtic legend? It is also said to be an island that comes and goes, where again we have an item from Celtic mythology, the floating island. At the end of the story, a final bit of legend appears, when a piece of iron (her son's knife) holds open the trap to the faerie world.

I visited Loch Bhoisimid in 1998, on a long walk from Bogha Glas to Miabhaig via Kinlochresort (see Book 2, chapter 17). The water level was low at Bhoisimid, and I was able to cross stepping stones to a small island that seemed to like being visited (see photo below). I'd like to think it was the island that inspired Barrie, but no one really knows what island he had in mind, or if indeed it was any specific island.

Alfred Hitchcock dearly wanted to make a movie version of Mary Rose, but he could never convince a studio to do it. Even so, he commissioned a screen play, which you can read here. And listen to this link for an hour-long BBC radio play performed in 1991. 

Next time you are on Harris be sure to read the play and then make the walk to Bhoisimid. Better yet, take the play with you and read it on a little island that likes to be visited. Just don't fall asleep.

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