Rathlin Island  (from Irish:  Reachlainn  ) is an island and the parish off the coast of County Antrim and the northernmost point of Northern Ireland.


Rathlin is the only inhabited offshore island Northern Ireland, with a growing population of about 145 people, and is the northernmost inhabited island off the coast of Ireland. The inverted 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 meters (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 Causeway Coast and Glens council area, and represented by Rathlin Development & Community Association.  [2]

Town Country

Rathlin is part of the traditional Baroni Cary (around town Bally), and the district Moyle. The island is a parish and is divided into 22 townlands:

townland Area acre [3] 
Ballycarry 298
Ballyconagan 168
Bally Gill USA 244
Bally Gill North 149
Bally Gill South 145
Ballynagard 161
Ballynoe 80
Carravinally (Corravina Beg) 116
Carravindoon (Corravindoon) 188
church Quarter 51
Cleggan (Clagan) 202
Craigmacagan (Craigmacogan) 153
demesne 67
glebe 24
Kebble 269
Kilpatrick 169
Kinkeel 131
Kinramer North 167
Kinramer South (Kinramer) 173
Knockans 257
Mullindross (Mullindress) 46
Roonivoolin 130


A ferry operated by Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd connects the main port of the island, Church Bay, with mainland at Ballycastle, 6 miles (10 km) away. Two ferries on the route – a quick foot passenger only catamaran ferry called “Rathlin Express” and a larger ferry, owned by the Scottish Government, called “MV  Canna  “, carrying both foot passengers and a small number of vehicles, weather permitting.  [ 4] [5]  Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd won a six-year contract for the service in 2008 as a subsidized “lifeline” service.  [6]  there is an ongoing investigation on how the transfer was handled between the environment minister and the new owners.  [7] 


Rathlin is a prehistoric volcanic origin, which have been created as part of the British Tertiary Volcanic Province.  [8]

Rathlin is one of 43 Special Areas of Conservation in Northern Ireland. It is home to tens of thousands of sea birds, including guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills – about thirty bird families in total. It is a popular place förfågelskådare, with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserve with spectacular views of Rathlin’s bird colony. The RSPB has also managed natural habitat to facilitate the return of the chough. Northern Ireland’s only breeding pair of choughs can be seen during the summer months. The cliffs on this relatively barren island is impressive, standing 70 meters (230 feet) high. Bruce’s cave  [9]  is named after Robert Bruce, also known as Robert I of Scotland: it was here that he was said to have seen the legendary spider. As described as inspiring Bruce to continue their struggle for Scottish independence  [10] The  island is also the northernmost point of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  [11]

2008-09, the Coast Guard in the United Kingdom and the Marine Institute Ireland implemented bathymetric survey work in the area north of County Antrim, update Admiralty charts (Joint Irish bathymetric survey Project) .By doing so a number of interesting underwater geological identified around Rathlin Island, including a submerged or the crater lake on a plateau with clear evidence of the rivers that feed it. This suggests the events that led to the flooding – ground subsidence or rising water levels – was extremely quick.Marine research in the area has also identified new species of anemone, rediscovered fan mussel (the UK’s largest and rarest mussels – thought to be found only in Plymouth Sound and a few places off the West of Scotland) and a number of shipwreck sites,  [12] [13]  , including HMS Drake (1901),  [14]  , which was torpedoed and sank just off the island 1917th 


Rathlin probably known to the Romans, Pliny refers 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 name for Rathlin.  [15]  The 11th century Irish version of History Brittonum indicates that the Fir Bolg “took the man and other islands except -. Arran, Islay and ‘Racha’ ‘another possible early variant  [16]

Rathlin was the site of the first Viking raid on Ireland, according to the Annals of Ulster. The raid, marked by the looting of the island’s church and the burning of its buildings, took place in 795 (  Burning of Reachrainn of looters, and its shrines were broken and looted.  )

In 1306, Robert Bruce sought refuge on Rathlin, which is owned by the Irish Bissett family, staying in Rathlin Castle, originally belonging to their domination in the Glens of Antrim. The Bissetts later displaced by Rathlin by the English, who were in control of the Earldom of Ulster, to welcome Bruce.Later, in the 16th century, it came into the possession of Macdonnell in 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 the Scottish refugees on the island, and in the ensuing massacre, hundreds of men, women and children in the Clan MacDonnell was killed.  [17] [18]  Also in 1642, Covenanter Campbell Foot soldiers in Argyll encouraged by his commander 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 lots of MacDonald women over cliffs to their death on the rocks below.  [19] [20]  The number of victims of this massacre has been as low as a hundred and as high as three thousand.  

In the later 18th century, kelp production became important with Rathlin become an important center of production. The shoreline is still full of ovens and bins. This was a commercial venture, sponsored by the landowners on the island and encompassed the entire society.  [21]

A 19th century British visitors to the island found that they had an unusual form of government where they chose a judge who sat on the “throne of turf”.  [22]

The world’s first commercial wireless telegraphy link was formed by employees Guglielmo Marconi between East lighthouse on Rathlin to Kenmara House Bally July 6, 1898.  [23]

More recently, Richard Branson crashed his hot air balloon in the sea off Rathlin Island in 1987 after his record flight across the Atlantic from Maine.  [Citation needed ]  

The island formerly boasted a population of over a thousand in the 19th century, and its current permanent population is about 125. This swelled with visitors in the summer, with most going to see the cliffs and their huge seabird populations. Many visitors come for the day, and the island has around 30 beds for overnight visitors. Boathouse visitor center at Church Bay is open seven days a week from April to September, minibus tours and bike rentals also available. The island is also popular with divers who come to explore the many wrecked ships in the surrounding waters.

Rathlin Island dialect of Irish are now extinct, and could have been described as intermediary form between the other Irish and Scottish dialects.

On 29 January 2008 the RNLI Portrush lifeboat, the “Katie Hannan,” grounded after a big swell hit the rear end of the ship on the breakwater rocks just outside the harbor on Rathlin while trying to retrieve an islander RIB. The lifeboat was handed over to an outside salvage company.  [24] [25] 

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 Ireland, “wirelessly to the cabinet” will deliver 80Mbs to the user. [26]

After Brexit referendum June 23, 2016 is Rathlin residents consider being a part of Scotland, to remain within the European Union.  [27]


Tievebulliagh mountain near Cushendall has a Neolithic stone ax factory, and a similar one is to be found in Brockley (a cluster of houses in the townland of Bally Gill USA)  [28]  and has the same porcellanite stone. The island has also been settled during the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.There is also a unexcavated Viking vessel in a mound formation.  [29]

Gallery of panoramic photos

  • views of Rathlin Island seen from the boat to Bally
  • panorama of Rathlin Island Harbour
  • panorama of Rathlin Island
  • panorama of Rathlin Island
  • views of Rathlin Island beach
  • Rathlin Island harbor


  • Rathlin Island Seafront
  • Rathlin Island rocks
  • Rathlin Island Seafront
  • Rathlin lighthouse
  • Rathlin Island harbor
  • Rathlin Island harbor
  • Rathlin Island harbor
  • Rathlin Island beach
  • Rathlin Island beach
  • Rathlin Island beach
  • Rathlin Island rocks
  • Rathlin Island cliffs and lighthouse
  • Rathlin Island Harbour
  • Rathlin Island from Bengore Head on the North Antrim Coast
  • Rathlin Island Ferry
  • Rue Point on the south of Rathlin Island looking towards Fairhead
  • The island seen from Dry Headmed Fair Head visible to the left
  • Rathlin Island Ferry at Ballycastle

See also

  • References Conservation in the UK
  • northern Ireland
  • List of islands in Ireland
  • List of islands in Great Britain
  • List of civil parishes in County Antrim
  • Chadwick, Hector Munro (1949)  Early Scotland Picts, Scots and Welsh in southern Scotland  . Cambridge University Press.
  • Watson, WJ (1994)  The Celtic place names in Scotland  . Edinburgh;Birlinn. ISBN 1-84158-323-5. First published in Edinburgh; Celtic Royal Society, the 1926th