False-colour NASA Landsat image showing Rathlin, the County Antrim coast and Kintyre
Rathlin Island shown within Northern Ireland
|Population||75 (2001 Census)|
|Irish grid reference|
|– Belfast||47 miles|
|District||Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||Northern Ireland|
|UK Parliament||North Antrim|
|Website||Rathlin Development & Community Association's official website|
Rathlin is the only inhabited offshore island of Northern Ireland, with a population of around 125 people, and is the most northerly inhabited island off the coast of Northern Ireland. The reverse L-shaped Rathlin 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. Rathlin is 15.5 miles (25 km) from the Mull of Kintyre, the southern tip of Scotland's Kintyre peninsula. It is part of the Moyle District Council area, and is represented by the Rathlin Development & Community Association.
A ferry operated by Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd connects the main port of the island, Church Bay, with the mainland at Ballycastle, 6 miles (10 km) away. Two ferries operate on the route - a fast foot-passenger-only catamaran ferry called "Rathlin Express" and a larger ferry, owned by the Scottish Government, called "MV Canna" which carries both foot passengers and a small number of vehicles, weather permitting. Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd won a six-year contract for the service in 2008 providing it as a subsidised "lifeline" service. There is an ongoing investigation on how the transfer was handled between the environment minister and the new owners.
Rathlin is one of 43 Special Areas of Conservation in Northern Ireland. It is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills – about thirty bird families in total. It is a popular place for birdwatchers, with a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserve offering spectacular views of Rathlin’s bird colony. The RSPB has also successfully managed natural habitat to facilitate the return of the red-billed chough. Northern Ireland's only breeding pair of choughs can be seen during the summer months. The cliffs on this relatively bare island are impressive, standing 70 metres (230 ft) tall. Bruce's Cave is named after Robert the Bruce, also known as Robert I of Scotland: it was here that he was said to have seen the legendary spider which is described as inspiring Bruce to continue his fight for Scottish independence. The island is also the northernmost point of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Recently the Maritime and Coastguard Agency of the United Kingdom and the Marine Institute Ireland undertook bathymetric survey work in the area north of County Antrim, updating Admiralty charts (Joint Irish Bathmetric Survey Project). In doing so a number of interesting submarine geological features were identified around Rathlin Island, including a submerged crater or lake on a plateau with clear evidence of water courses feeding it. This suggests the events leading to inundation - subsidence of land or rising water levels - were extremely quick. Marine investigations in the area have also identified new species of anemone, rediscovered the fan mussel (the UK's largest and rarest bivalve mollusc - thought to be found only in Plymouth Sound and a few sites off the west of Scotland) and a number of shipwreck sites, including HMS Drake (1901), which was torpedoed and sank just off the island in 1917.
Rathlin was probably known to the Romans, Pliny referring to "Reginia" and Ptolemy to "Rhicina" or "Eggarikenna". In the 7th century Adomnán mentions "Rechru" and "Rechrea insula" and these may also have been early names for Rathlin. The 11th century Irish version of the Historia Brittonum states that the Fir Bolg "took possession of Man and of other islands besides - Arran, Islay and 'Racha' " another possible early variant.
Rathlin was the site of the first Viking raid on Ireland, according to the Annals of Ulster. The raid, marked by the pillaging of the island's church and the burning of its buildings, took place in 795 (The burning of Reachrainn by plunderers; and its shrines were broken and plundered.)
Robert the Bruce sought refuge upon Rathlin, owned by the Irish Bissett family, in 1306, staying in Rathlin Castle. Originally belonging to their lordship the Glens of Antrim, the Bissetts were later dispossessed of Rathlin by the English, who were in control of the Earldom of Ulster, for welcoming Bruce. Later, in the 16th century, it came into the possession of the MacDonnells of Antrim.
Rathlin has been the site of a number of massacres. On an expedition in 1557 Sir Henry Sidney devastated the island. In July 1575 the Earl of Essex sent Francis Drake and John Norreys to confront Scottish refugees on the island, and in the ensuing massacre hundreds of men, women and children of Clan MacDonnell were killed. Also in 1642 Covenanter Campbell soldiers of the Argyll's Foot were encouraged by their commanding officer Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck to kill the local Catholic MacDonalds, near relatives of their arch Clan enemy in the Scottish Highlands Clan MacDonald. This they did with ruthless efficiency throwing scores of MacDonald women over cliffs to their deaths on rocks below. The number of victims of this massacre has been put as low as one hundred and as high as three thousand.
In the later 18th century kelp production became important with Rathlin becoming a major centre for production. The shoreline is still littered with kilns and storage places. This was a commercial enterprise sponsored by the landlords of the island and involved the whole community.
A 19th century British visitor to the island found that they had an unusual form of government where they elected a judge who sat on a "throne of turf".
The island formerly boasted a population of over one thousand in the 19th century, and its current permanent population is around 125. This is swelled by visitors in the summer, with most coming to view the cliffs and their huge sea bird populations. Many visitors come for the day, and the island has around 30 beds for overnight visitors. The Boathouse Visitors' Centre at Church Bay is open seven days a week from April to September, with minibus tours and bicycle hire also available. The island is also popular with scuba divers, who come to explore the many wrecked ships in the surrounding waters.
Recently, the RNLI Portrush lifeboat, the 'Katie Hannan' grounded itself after a large swell hit the rear end of the vessel on breakwater rocks just outside the harbour on Rathlin while trying to refloat an islander's RIB. The lifeboat has now been handed over to an outside salvage company.
In July 2013, BT Ireland installed a high-speed wireless broadband pilot project to a number of premises. The first deployment of its kind in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, 'wireless to the cabinet' will deliver 80Mbs to users.
Tievebulliagh mountain near Cushendall features a Neolithic stone axe factory, and a similar one is to be found in Brockley (a cluster of houses within the Townland of Ballygill Middle), and features the same porcellanite stone. The island was also settled during the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. There is also an unexcavated Viking vessel in a mound formation.
Gallery of panorama photos
Rue Point on the south leg of Rathlin Island looking towards Fair Head
The island seen from Torr Head with Fair Head visible to the left
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rathlin Island.|
- Conservation in the United Kingdom
- Northern Ireland
- List of islands of Ireland
- List of islands of the United Kingdom
- List of civil parishes of County Antrim
- Chadwick, Hector Munro (1949) Early Scotland: the Picts, the Scots & the Welsh of southern Scotland. Cambridge University Press.
- Watson, W. J. (1994) The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland. Edinburgh; Birlinn. ISBN 1-84158-323-5. First published in Edinburgh; The Royal Celtic Society, 1926.
- Beagmore stone circles and alignments and Cregganconroe court grave NI Department of the Environment. Retrieved 2012-10-15.
- "The official website of the Rathlin Development & Community Association". Rathlin Community. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
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- "Bruce's Cave". Bruce Rathlin 700. The Ulster-Scots Agency. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
Verifying Rathlin Island's connections with King Robert the Bruce
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It’s a famous story, but is it true?
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- Wilson, Ian (2011) HMS Drake. Rathlin Island Shipwreck. Rathlin Island: Rathlin Island Books. ISBN 978-0-9568942-0-5
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- The official website of the Rathlin Development & Community Association.
- Current weather conditions.
- The RSPB's Rathlin Island Seabird Centre
- The website of publishing company Rathlin Island Books
- The website of Rathlin Islander and local historian, the late Gusty McCurdy.
- Ferry information for both ferries.
- Information on and pictures of Rathlin Island
- Basic information about Rathlin
- Landscapes Unlocked - Aerial footage from the BBC Sky High series explaining the physical, social and economic geography of Northern Ireland.
- The History of the Sea Caves of Rathlin
- Scuba Diving Rathlin Island Information about the dive sites around Rathlin Island.