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  • Writer's pictureJim Brown

Island of Adventure

Updated: Apr 17

When I was young, summer boat trips to the Copland Islands were regular daily events with up to six boats operating out of Donaghadee and the smaller port of Groomsport. I can recall various expeditions with my family to both the Main Island and also Mew Island to view nesting birds, but it was the Main Copland Island which we kids liked best, for there was more exploring to be done there.

The poem attempts to capture some of the childish excitement of those summer expeditions and tips its hat to some of the literature of our upbringing, Treasure Island, Swallows and Amazons, Robinson Crusoe and of course one of Enid Blyton’s most famous books,”  The Island of Adventure” is the title of this poem.

Times changed and the number of boat trips dwindled, and I believe the last one stopped operating around the millennium. As far as I know, it is no longer possible to visit the islands as a day tripper.

I have always wanted to write a poem using the same rhyming sequence and rhythm of Robert Service’s great poem, “The Cremation of Sam Mc Gee”, which at first glance might not seem to have a connection to childhood, but it was a favourite of my fathers and he could recite most of it from memory. As a result, we were well steeped in the epic tale of arctic adventure it recounts and that easy flow of the rhyming narrative.

My childhood memory is of Donaghadee Harbour glistening white, and full of boats which is not the situation now. Maybe it only ever glistened white in my imagination, but the boats have defiantly dwindled and there was no sign of any anglers casting from the pier on my last visit. However, the harbour is still a marvel of marine engineering incorporating French designs and the vision of architect John Rennie.  The Lighthouse still proudly sits at the harbour entrance and across the sound lies the blanket of land that is the Main Copland Island.

Down to the sea at Donaghadee

To its harbour bright and fair,

Where boats in line, rock in time,

To the breeze stirring the salty air.

Wind humming masts, fishermen’s casts.

Scotland smudging the briny miles.

For a family trip, on a mighty ship,

To the well imagined Copeland Isles.


"All aboard" - afloat in a sturdy boat,

The Miss Ruth, a lady of the sea,

Casting ropes astern, the propeller churns,

Frothing foam against the Quay.

A pure white quay, sculptured to be

Like a layered French wedding cake,

And we surge away, bright and gay,

The lighthouse bobbing in our wake.


Outward bound on the Copeland Sound,

Under the blue vault of a summer sky.

Our finger tips have silver drips,

As we skim the water surging by.

Whoops of delight, tinged with fright,

As a big wave pitched the Lady Ruth.

But our ruddy boatman, with leathered hand,

Flicked the wheel with knowledged reproof.


Over the bow it looms up now,

Our adventure isle is looking really grand.

Coasts of rocky shale, coves sandy pale,

Rimming the green crumpled blanket of land.

And the cottages white in the brilliant light,

Belie the hardships of lives long past.

But to the excited child, this land gone wild,

Makes us all real Crusoes at last.


Just before noon, not a minute too soon,

We moored in a sheltered bay.

Then all overboard on a rickety gangboard

To explore this island of play.

Mum’s brought a picnic, and we are pretty quick,

To get it all spread out on a rug.

Sandwiches of tomato and spam, scones and jam,

Lemonade gulped from a plastic mug.


When we could eat no more, we set off to explore,

While the grown-ups sit and chat.

With sticks for tools, we hunt through pools,

For crabs and this and that.

Squeals of delight when in the water bright,

We find a big one hiding under a rock.

With many a shout we fish it out,

And sneak it into daddy’s sock!


What a hoot it would be just to see,

Him leaping when it nipped his toe.

But it didn’t go that way, adults are to savvy,

Instead they wanted to pack up and go

For a silly old walk with lots of talk

So we tramped off for the far shore.

Other islands to view, Lighthouse and Mew,

Yes, this was bound to be a bore!


Yet the stories Dad told, of the days of old,

Turned the whole thing into a blast.

Past the old graveyard, weathered and scoured,

By endless hard winters long past.

Tales of contraband; smuggling to the mainland

Then the talk turned to pirates and plunder,

Imagining as we rove, that we will find treasure trove,

Maybe even Long John “by thunder”!


But as it turned out, it was the things all about,

Which I remember to this day,

Building a den in an old sheep pen,

With driftwood from the bay.

Rabbits and yellow whin, a Basking shark fin,

In the waters off the headland.

Dad spotting Eider duck and the Isle of Muck,  

With his Swallows and Amazons band.


The day rolled quickly past, and all too fast,

Our time ashore drew to a close.

So we made our way, back to the sheltered bay,

Into which Lady Ruth would nose.

And so sun-burnt red and with sleepy head,

We sailed back across the Copland Sound,

From our island in the sea, just off Donaghadee,

That childhood happy hunting ground.


Jim Brown,  1996 -March 2021.


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