Thursday, 17 February 2011



The first book that I remember reading was ‘The Coral Island’ by J.M.Ballantyne a classic adventure story of three cabin boys, Ralph, Jack and Peterkin who were washed up on a beautiful Polynesian island, the sole survivors of a shipwreck. I devoured the book and its colourful descriptions of the tropical island, following their idyllic lifestyle as they fished in the pools and discovered marvels of nature. I think I must have been about 12 years old and in my imagination I ran alongside the three lads and shared in their wonderment at this new and vibrant world of wild animals, luscious yams and bathing under crystal waterfalls ! The only possessions they retained were a broken telescope, an iron-bound oar and a small axe with which they managed to build a shelter and construct a small boat. The book was written before Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ and is said to have inspired William Golding’s later and darker novel ‘Lord of the Flies’. Of course not everything remained carefree and jolly for the boys as they had to deal with mad cannibals and blood thirsty pirates, but in all those trials I was at their side living each hair-raising moment from page to page ! Ralph Rover narrates the tale and I still thrill as I re- read the opening lines -" Roving has always been, and still is, my ruling passion, the joy of my heart, the very sunshine of my existence. In childhood, in boyhood, and in man's estate, I have been a rover; not a mere
rambler among the woody glens and upon the hill-tops of my own
native land, but an enthusiastic rover throughout the length and
breadth of the wide wide world…It was a wild, black night of howling storm, the night in which I was born on the foaming bosom of the broad Atlantic Ocean. My father was a sea-captain; my grandfather was a sea-captain; my great-grandfather had been a marine…Thus it was, I suppose, that I came to inherit a roving disposition." Those words bring me back to a draughty bedroom, lying under a mountain of blankets with just my head visible and cold hands clutching ‘The Coral Island’ while my child’s imagination basked in sunny climes and the exotic adventures of my three pals, Ralph, Jack and Peterkin..

Gerard O'Shea

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