Friday, 20 September 2013

Rathlin Island Visited Part 1

Rathlin is an island with breathtaking scenery, wildlife, many species of birds, and some rare types of flora which I will tell you about over the coming days.

View of Rathlin Island

Last week I took 11 people to stay overnight on Rathlin Island travelling by public transport.  We are very fortunate in Northern Ireland when we reach 60 years of age, we have free bus and train passes as well as a free pass on the ferry to Rathlin.  After arriving by bus to Ballycastle, we had coffee and delicious scones at the Bay Cafe which overlooked the harbour. 

There are 2 ferries that alternate and we boarded the fast one which took about 35 minutes.  This photo above is of the other one which can transport cars, supplies and passengers etc (taken last year)

Rathlin is off the north coast of Ireland, its closest point is approx. 2.25 miles from Fair Head, County Antrim  . It is also the closest point to Scotland and is 11 miles from the Mull of Kintyre . It is roughly seven miles in length and covers a total area of 3500 acres.

Map of Rathlin Island

The reverse L-shaped island is 4 miles (6 km) from east to west, and 2.5 miles (4 km) from north to south. The highest point on the island is Slieveard, 134 metres (440 feet) above sea level.

Because of the closeness to Scotland it has often been at the centre of many an argument over ownership . It was finally settled in 1617 by a simple test that had also been applied to the Isle of Man, if a snake or other poisonous serpent could survive on the island it was taken as being part of the mainland . If it died then Ireland was the owner, Ireland finally was declared the true owner.

During our journey over, we saw Gannet, Black Guillemot, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Herring Gull flying by.  Most were to quick to photos but there is a Gannet below.

Spray from ferry
This is a very short video of our journey on the ferry and can be found at

On landing, the proprietors from the B&B and Hostel collected our overnight bags and we boarded a small bus to head for the bird colony at the 'Stacks' at the West Lighthouse.

During the bus journey, Bertie, the bus driver told us a bit about the island but it was too bumpy and noisy to record so here are some of the things he told us regarding Rathlin.

Rathlin was probably the first Irish island to become inhabited, it is presumed man arrived here somewhere between 6000 - 5000BC from Scotland . It can also claim to have a gruesome history as it was the scene of several major massacres of the population. 

Another claim for fame is that it is surrounded by some of the strongest tides, supported by the large number of boat wrecks lying in the waters around its coast . By 2500BC the islanders had built up a thriving export business in axes made from porcellanite . The raw material was found on the western side of the island and the finished product was mainly used for forestry type work .  Another rare material found in the limestone cliffs was flint and this contributed to the prosperity of the island, however things changed in 1800BC with the appearance of copper axes from Spain.

View overlooking Church Bay
In 1846, with a population of over 1000 on the island , nearly 500 people left the island in search of an easier life across the Atlantic . It was at this time the potato famine threatened the very existence of many rural communities throughout Ireland. 

Now there are only just over 100 people living on the island and the junior school has 8 pupils.

I tried taking a video on the bus but it was too bumpy however this video shows you when we arrive at the West Lighthouse.

In extraordinary feats of engineering, several spectacular lighthouses were built among the rocky cliffs of the island.  There are three lighthouses, West, East and South, but they still managed to have an unrivalled collection of historical shipwrecks around the coast.  One of the most famous was HMS Drake, the flagship of the British Navy during World War One, which was torpedoed, and sank in Church Bay.  The lighthouse you saw on the video is the West Lighthouse which is an " upside down" lighthouse!

Drawing of West Lighthouse
It was built half way down a 300' cliff face with the lantern room at the base of the accommodation tower, instead of the top.  

Building started in 1912 and  materials were landed at a purpose-built jetty and hauled up the cliff face, then drawn by horse and cart to the site.  The building work cost £400K and was completed in 1919.  In 1983, engines were removed from the Generator Room and replaced by electrical generators and the Lighthouse keeper was redundant then.  In 1995 the foghorn was removed as now they used modern satellite navigation and in 1996 mains electricity was connected.

Rathlin is of international importance as a seabird colony and as you can see from the video above there are thousands of birds that come here and have been doing so for thousands of years.

Tomorrow, I will show you more Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Puffins that all breed here.

My group at the Visitor Centre after arriving by bus at the West Lighthouse

Thank you for visiting and I hope you will tune in tomorrow for the next installment!

PS For all people who commented yesterday on any of my posts, I thank you.  Most of my replies have disappeared. again.


  1. This sounds like an awesome trip. I would love to see the seabird colony. Looking forward to your next post. Great photos, have a happy weekend!

  2. HI Eileen Very glad you liked the post. it is an awesome place. Thank you for your comments. Margaret

  3. Enjoyed this post Margaret...such a lovely group with you. Couldn't access the videos 'private' ..

  4. You certainly get to visit some cool places.

  5. HI Frank Yes it is wonderful to have these places so near. Thanks for comment. Margaret

  6. Hi Eillen Second attemptto reply! Thanks for comment. it is a wonderful place. Margaret

  7. Sorry, I have now changed the video to public.
    Thanks to Eileen, Frank and Carole for their comments. Replies to you are still disappearing. Yes this is a wonderful place. Lots more to come in future posts. All have a great weekend.
    Hope you all read this before it disappears again! Margaret

  8. it sounds like a rough life on that island, perhaps! thought the test for ownership was unique!

  9. Really enjoyed this post Margaret. I've heard a little about the island previously; an amazing place for birds.
    I'm going to have to visit the land of my ancestors again.

  10. Super photos - what a beautiful place.

  11. What a beautiful place, with plenty of birds.

  12. Very pretty great shots! Thanks for visiting my blog my internet is down waiting on a new modem. So I may be down for a few days unless I go where they have WiFi. Enjoy your weekend.

  13. I love the story of the test for ownership. It looks like everyone had a great experience.

  14. What a trip, the Church Bay is gorgeous! I would love the see the lighthouses and birds and go on this tour.

  15. You blog is increasing the number of number of places I would like to visit - although the airfare is rather prohibitive!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  16. Sounds like a neat trip. Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting, too. Look forward to reading more of your postings.

  17. HI This is my last try to reply to all of the above bloggers. To. Eileen, Carole(thanks for alerting me about the video), Frank, Tex, Keith, CT, Bob, Saun, Bailey, Ginny and MArcia, amny thanks for you comments. I know from them that you enjoyed this first ppost about Rathlin Island adn I hope you all will enjoy the rest. Margaret

  18. Great videos and I love hearing the birds in the background-I once lived on a little island, I'm glad we didn't have fog horn. I'd be worried if our comments were disappearing ;-)...

  19. Delighted to say the Manor House is in operation again - I stayed there last night and it was excellent.It is a magical island.

  20. Delighted to say the Manor House is open for B&B and evening meals for residents. I stayed there last night and it was excellent.

  21. That is really amazing! To be able to see all those birds together and know this is where they mate and have young ones. Very interesting!