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Set shortly after World War 2, a girl named Fiona goes to live with her grandparents in an Irish fishing village. While there, Fiona pieces together the story of how her family evacuated the nearby island of Roan Inish not so long ago, how her baby brother went missing, and how one of their ancestors married a selkie. When Fiona sees her brother near the shores of Roan Inish, she must find a way to get him back.

Tropes used in The Secret of Roan Inish include:
  • Angst? What Angst?: It isn't until approximately 80 minutes into the film that Fiona expresses any sort of angst over not having a mother.
  • Billing Displacement: The selkie is in only one scene yet is on the poster. Though Fridge Brilliance when you realise that she is the secret of Roan Inish.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The light from the story which Fiona sees from her bedroom window. The first indication that Jamie is living on the island.
  • The City vs. the Country: Done with a supernatural twist. Grandfather believes the seals punished the family for leaving the island.
  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: All the Coneellys wear some form of blue, representing them being descendants from selkies.
  • Disappeared Dad
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Fiona
  • The Faceless: Fiona's father. For the majority of his screentime, he's only shown from the shoulders down.
  • Foot Focus
  • Free-Range Children: Fiona and Eamon.
  • Genius Bonus: Anyone who understands Irish knows that Roan Inish translates as "island of seals", perfect name for an island that's home to selkie descendants.
  • Hair of Gold: Fiona, the blonde hair is a trait of the Coneelly family.
  • Half Human Hybrids: With a selkie.
  • Hard Work Montage: When Eamon and Fiona fix up the houses on Roan Inish.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: A few times, notably in Tadhg's story "her Irish was queer".
  • Magic Pants: Averted, notable for a family film. The selkie is shown completely naked when she sheds her skin and Jamie runs around with no clothes on whenever he's on land.
  • Magic Realism
  • Missing Mom
  • One-Scene Wonder: The selkie herself has no lines and barely ten minutes of screen time.
  • Parental Abandonment: Inverted. Eamon abandoned his parents who moved to the city. Played straight with the selkie abandoning her children.
  • Raised By Seals: Jamie.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Fiona and Eamon
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: In the Coneelly family every generation has one child with these features, as a mark of the selkie lineage.
  • Real Place Background: Filmed entirely in Donegal.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The selkie from the story, as it's mentioned she speaks archaic Irish to the islanders.
  • Scenery Porn: An inordinate amount of time is just spent on watching Fiona run around around the countryside.
  • Selkies and Wereseals
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The film ends with the seals letting Jamie rejoin the family because they have moved back to Roan Inish.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Gender Flipped at first with Grandmother stopping Grandfather from telling Fiona stories and going on about "stuff and nonsense". Played straight when Grandmother believes Fiona straight away when she tells her about Jamie, while Grandfather is in denial.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The selkie, though she can't change shape without her seal skin.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Jamie actually (even though he's five years old). He doesn't actually put on clothes during the whole film.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After Fiona goes to visit her grandparents, her father is never seen again and isn't even mentioned at the end. You'd think the family would let him know his son has been rescued and they're living back on the island.
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