The spirit of Rathlin Island

“Oh many’s the day has come and gone,
this long and weary while,
since last I saw the flashing
of the lights on Rathlin Isle.“
Rachel Hughes.

On Sunday past Liz Weir and I took the Ferry from Ballycastle to Church Bay on Rathlin Island. It was a sunny day and fun to identify the main features along the Antrim coast with Fair Head towering above the sea and Mull of Kintyre and Donegal in the distance. Once on the island, we joined a group for an intro walk of Rathlin, lead by Kevin Mc Gowan.

Roaming Rathlin

The L-shaped Island is seven miles long and no more than 2 miles in width. It’s a vibrant working community with a population of about 160. Rathlin is popular with birdwatchers (biggest bird colony in Europe), geologists, walkers, botanists, divers and sea anglers. Visiting the island was like stepping back in time. I was struck by the natural beauty (flora and fauna, especially seals and hares, seabird colonies and its unique underwater marine life). I also experienced an immense sense of peace and tranquility which made me want to return again.

Rathlin has seen many changes over the years which have helped to sustain the unique island life. The island has endured losing many of its people. Sometimes whole populations were wiped out in the struggle for supremacy over this strategic stronghold of the seas. It’s an incredible example of a resourceful, resilient and adaptable island culture.

Today the island’s coastline is protected by 3 lighthouses. One is the only upside down lighthouse in the world. Only one of the 40 shipwrecks over the years was not a result of mother nature. The HMS Drake of Britain’s Royal Navy was torpedoed north of the island and eventually sank in Church Bay during WW1. A floating buoy marks the spot that is popular for divers today.

I was particularly drawn to the Kelp House, the seals and the cultural history displayed in the island’s Boathouse.

Island life has many advantages especially the rich seas surrounding Rathlin. During the famine years of 1845-1848 when life was really hard for the people of Ireland, the people of Rathlin survived on an abundant harvest of lobster, crab, mackerel, lithe or gashan. These can still be caught today.

Kelp Home

Links for a future visit:

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