Marina Jane

by Colin Urwin
Audio version recorded by Colin Urwell

            After a storm in the year 1823, a boat washed up on the sand of Ballygally Bay. Lying in the bottom of it was a woman and in her arms a baby girl, little more than a day old. The woman was dead, but to everyone’s great surprise the infant was still breathing. She was taken in by a local family and miraculously not only survived, but thrived. The family christened her Jane, though she was always known as Marina Jane owing to the unusual way she arrived.

            Jane grew into a handsome young woman. She married a local tenant farmer; a man by the name of Park. To make ends meet Jane’s husband went to sea during the leanest months of the year. Nevertheless, by all accounts they lived quite happily, though it seems Jane never had any children.

            During one of her husband’s voyages Jane dreamt that he had been drowned. Her neighbours tried everything, but Jane could not be consoled. Night and day she walked up and down Ballygally beach with the spent surf breaking around her ankles, staring out to sea, in search of her husband’s ship. Soon the farm fell into neglect and, unable to meet her rent, the bailiffs came and evicted Marina Jane.

            After that she withdrew to the beach at Ballygally to maintain her vigil. With her bare hands she built a cabin from beach stones and driftwood and thatched it with seaweed. Weeks became months and months became years, but her husband never returned.

            Marina Jane survived by gathering shellfish from the rock pools and burning driftwood. The locals did what they could for her and she received a few coppers from the poor relief fund. Later she sold Dulse to the tourists, who were just beginning to explore the delights of the Glens of Antrim in coach tours out of Larne.

            By the late 1880s she had become something of a local curiosity and someone even took a photograph of her. In it Marina Jane sits outside her shack barefoot and in rags with a strip of cloth tied around her head. She looks like some exotic native of a far off land. Who knows, she might well have been, for no one had ever been able to discover from where she came.

            In December 1894 another great storm struck. It had been brewing all day and the locals pleaded with Jane to leave her cabin for one night, but she refused. The sky grew darker and darker and the clouds angrier and angrier until a fierce wind tore them to tatters and the heavens opened. Rain and hailstones lashed down and as the waves surged up over the beach wall Marina Jane’s cabin was swept away and her along with it.

            Jane Park, or whoever she was, perished. Her body was found the next day, washed up along the shore nearby. In her case it seems true that the sea giveth the sea taketh away…

Colin Urwin