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The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

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Young Fiona lives with her grandparents in a small fishing village where she takes an active role to unravel the mysterious secrets.



(book), (screenplay)
1 win & 9 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Jeni Courtney ...
Pat Slowey ...
Oldest brother
Mairéad Ní Ghallchóir ...
Eugene McHugh ...
Bar Patron 1
Tony Rubini ...
Bar Patron 2
Mick Lally ...
Eileen Colgan ...
Richard Sheridan ...
Micheal MacCarthaigh ...
Fergal McElherron ...
Sean Michael
Brendan Conroy ...


10-year-old Fiona is sent to live with her grandparents in a small fishing village in Donegal, Ireland. She soon learns the local legend that an ancestor of hers married a Selkie - a seal who can turn into a human. Years earlier, her baby brother washed out to sea in a cradle shaped like a boat; someone in the family believes the boy is being raised by the seals. Then Fiona catches sight of a naked little boy on the abandoned Isle of Roan Inish and takes an active role in uncovering the secret of Roan Inish. Written by John Oswalt <jao@jao.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The secret's out! See more »


Drama | Family | Fantasy

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for some moments that may be disquieting to small children | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

3 February 1995 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Le secret de Roan Inish  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$3,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Near the end of the film, when the seals push the cradle-boat back into the sea, you can clearly see a hand at the top left corner of the frame grab the cradle and pull it. See more »


Tess: Stuperstitious old man!
[goes to the fireplace to put out the peat-fire]
Tess: I rake this fire as the pure Christ rakes us all... with Mary at the foot and Brigid at the head. And may the eight brightest angels from the City of Grace preserve this house and all its people till the coming of the day.
[Crosses herself]
See more »

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User Reviews

Charming and full of wonder
24 July 2002 | by See all my reviews

The Secret of Roan Inish is a departure for John Sayles, in that his normal cynicism and mildly jaundiced eye is replaced by the completely credulous child's view, and his film is all the more charming because of it. In essence, this is a children's movie, and only through Sayles' brilliance are we adults allowed in.

Roan Inish is a deserted island off the coast of Donegal, where Fiona's mother died and her baby brother was lost at sea. Her father has moved to the city but Fiona is sent back to live with her grandparents for her health. Her grandparents live on the coast opposite Roan Inish, having moved off the island at the same time. In fact, the Conneelys have a very special bond with Roan Inish, as Fiona starts to discover as she talks with the local townfolk, especially to a dark and brooding relative named Tadhg. Tadhg tells her about the selkie -- a shapeshifter of Irish lore who is half-seal and half-human -- and why Roan Inish is so important to the family. From that, Fiona must unravel the mystery of what happened to her baby brother.

I don't want to spoil any of the story, so rather than recount any more of the plot, I'll just tell you that all the performances are wonderful. Mick Lally as the grandfather especially shines, as does Eileen Colgan as the grandmother. Jeni Courtney is terrific as young Fiona and Richard Sheridan as Eamonn, her young cousin, is very good too. In fact, I couldn't pick out any bad performances at all.

The Secret of Roan Inish features some beautiful Irish music, both instrumental and Irish-language, and of course features lush cinematography of the Donegal area and coast. Beautifully shot, wonderfully written and performed, and masterfully directed, The Secret of Roan Inish will delight everyone in the family. Don't hesitate to buy or rent this one.

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