Rathlin Island

If you are craving that feeling of a life less complicated... Rathlin Island should be on your destination list. Rathlin Island has incredible natural beauty and flora and fauna found no where else on earth. Lighthouses are a favourite for visitors from May to Sept.

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Rathlin Island Map

Rathlin Island (Reachlainn)

As our lives becomes more and more busy it is a delight to find a place that echoes a time gone by and provides a safe and relaxing environment. If you're craving a feeling of a "life less complicated", Rathlin Island should be on your destination list!

Rathlin's dramatic cliffs, vast array of birds, wildlife and wildflowers plus the coastline and lighthouses attract many visitors, especially between May and September.

Just 6 miles north of the Antrim Coast and 11 miles west of Scotland this rugged, backwards L-shaped island, a special biodiversity conservation area, is the most northerly point of Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Rathlin Island - A Place Apart

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Where is Rathlin Island?

Rathlin is small island, only 4.5 miles from West to East and 3 miles from the North East to the the southern most point. Memorable views of Scotland can be seen from different parts of Rathlin on clear days. Rathlin Island is home to around 150 people, with the number of inhabitants on the increase.

Reaching Rathlin:

You have a choice of two ferries across to the island, leaving from Ballycastle Marina. The foot passenger ferry (Rathlin Express RE) takes 25 minutes and the new passenger and vehicle ferry (Spirit of Rathlin) takes 40 minutes. You need to be there 15 minutes before departure and it is advisable to book tickets in advance.



The Journey to Rathlin

The boat trip itself offers gorgeous views as you cross the Straits of Moyle, made famous by the Irish legend of the Children of Lir, who, having been transformed into swans by their jealous stepmother, were bound to swim on the Sea of Moyle for 300 years!

Getting around Rathlin:

Ramble around Rathlin on foot, cruise by bicycle or hop on one of two island operated minibuses!

Connect with nature through a variety of walks that take you the length and breadth of the island. Find yourself immersed in the beauty of the spectacular cliffs, impressive heritage listed lighthouses, renown bird sanctuary, unique wildlife and a sense of laid back island life.

Rathlin Rambling:

There are 8 trails around Rathlin which can be either self guided or you can hire a guide to lead you. You can also hire bikes on the island, but is advisable to book in advance. You can bring dogs as long as they are kept on a lead.

Roonivoolin Walk:
4 miles, circular route.
Cliff Top and Lakeland walk.

Keeble Cliff Walk:
1.9 miles circular route.
Cliff, coast and Lakeland scenery.

Kinramer North Walk:
2.1 miles circular route.
Stunning walk with fabulous views of the sea cliffs on the north of Rathlin island.

Kinramer Trail:
1.9 miles circular route.
South of the island, views of dramatic sea cliffs and of Ballycastle beyond.

Rathlin Trail:
4 miles linear route.
The amazing nature walk including the RSPB seabird viewpoint and island coastal scenery.

Ballyconaghan Trail:
1.8 miles circular route.
Open hillside and farm track on the north of the island with fabulous views to Scotland


Paid guide: rathlinwalks.co.uk

Bird life on Rathlin:

Northern Ireland’s largest seabird sanctuary is found on Rathlin island and is watched over by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). You can see a variety of birds, who come to Rathlin to nest. Puffins are one of the favourites along with kittiwakes, gannets, razorbill, auks, fulmar, guillemot and even golden eagles on occasion.

The Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre offers excellent views of puffins from the main viewing platform. You can also view seals, oystercatchers, ringed plovers and more. Binoculars and telescopes are available and there are picnic tables, toilets with disabled access and a visitor centre.

Find out about the best seasons for birdwatching:

Rathlin's Wildflowers:

During spring and summer drench your senses in colour yellow gorse blossom and the purple tones of heather. Orchids and primroses are also prevalent.

Lighthouses and shipwrecks:

The rocky shoreline, strong tides and intense winds, makes it difficult to land ships. Subsequently Rathlin Island has over 90 shipwrecks, occurring between 1558-1981.

HMS Drake, which sank in 1917, is a listed monument and popular diving site. There are lots of great diving opportunities.

In an endeavour to prevent further loss, three lighthouses were built, the first in 1856. These spectacular maritime heritage properties, located on the Southern, Western and Eastern points of Rathlin, are all listed monuments.

Rathlin West Light Lighthouse:

Commonly referred to as Ireland's only upside down lighthouse, This icon was recently refurbished and is now open to the public to peer into it's past. This lighthouse is a remarkable engineering achievement and a must see as it stands impressively into the cliff edge. When it was erected in 1919, a special pier and an inclined railway was built to facilitate its elaborate construction. It was automated in 1983. Visitors can access the main area but to view the lighthouse itself you must descend around 90 steps, plus more inside the lighthouse itself. The Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre is located here.


Rathlin East (Altacarry)

Rathlin's eastern lighthouse is it's oldest, built in 1856 and de-manned in 1995. The upper light is still active. In 1898 this lighthouse was chosen by Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, electrical engineer and pioneer of long-distance radio transmission. He set up a wireless link between Rathlin Island and Ballycastle as all cargo ships from America and Canada had to pass by Altacarry on their way to the ports of Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow. The lighthouse keepers recorded all passing ships and the Marconi transmission systems enabled this information to be relayed quickly to London.

This lighthouse is made even more famous because Robert the Bruce, Scotland's King in 1306, took refuge in the caves underneath. It is here were the phrase 'if at first you don't succeed try try again' was coined. The King watched as a spider tried determinedly to construct its web, succeeding only after 7 attempts. The indomitable spirit of the spider led the King to return home and fight for Scotland!

Rue Point Lighthouse

Built in 1921 this Lighthouse sits at the southern tip of Rathlin. Fair Head on the Antrim Coast, is only 2.5 miles from Rue Point. This listed monument is now fully automated.

'The keepers may have gone, but their legacy – the lights – still shine out like old friends, evoking memories of what used to be'
Peggy McFaul

Rathlin's past:

Many of the Rathlin natives have families on the island for generations. Rathlin Island is steeped in history with archeological evidence dating from the late Mesolithic and Neolithic period's of the Stone Age. It is thought that Rathlin was the first Irish island to become inhabited with Scottish settlers arriving around 5500BC. There is more evidence from the Bronze Age, Medieval and Post-Medieval periods. It wasn't always as peaceful on Rathlin Island as it is nowadays, even a brief look at its history will show that. The communities have had to endure many hardships and tragedies over the years. It is not a history were we can look back and be proud of our behaviour as human beings. However the Spirit of Rathlin Island herself and the ancestors of people who have chosen her shores as their sanctuary on the planet seem strong and faithful.

Rathlin today:

Today Rathin seems rich in community spirit and island pride. Visit Rathlin for a day trip or stay for longer. There is a choice of accommodation suit everyone. There are also a few shops, Post Office, several eateries, an outdoor gym, Visitors Centre, ATM and children's playground.

Rathlin Visitor Centre:

The Boathouse is Rathlin's Visitor Centre and Museum and is located near the harbour in Church Bay. Here you can find out information about tours, trips, activities and events plus in depth isights into past life on Rathlin. Seasonal Opening Hours.

Events on Rathlin:

Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival, end of May/June, is centred on Rathlin Sound, the body of water between Rathlin Island and Ballycastle.
The festival includes Talks and Tours, Traditional Boats, Tall Ship, Live Music, Exhibitions, Have-A-Go activities and Artisan Market. www.rathlinsoundmaritimefestival.com

Rathlin Festival, in July.
A week of family fun including music, model yacht races, drama, children's entertainment, home made raft racing and more...

The Rathlin Code:

Visitors are welcomed on Rathlin, but are requested to follow the Rathlin Code. The code, drawn up by the Rathlin Development & Community Association, is designed to protect the human and wildlife on Rathlin today and for future generations.
Your code of conduct on Rathlin Island:

  • Enjoy the Island and respect its life and work
  • Take your litter home or use the bins provided
  • Take care on the roads - drive carefully, cycle on the left, walk on the right
  • Guard against all risk of fire
  • Avoid damage to walls and fences
  • Keep your dogs on a lea
  • Protect all domestic animals, wildlife, plants and trees
  • Respect the residents’ privacy and property
  • Leave Rathlin as you found it – or better!
  • Visit respectfully

The Enchanted Island


'To Rathlin's Isle, I chanced to sail
When summer breezes softly blew
And there I heard so sweet a tale
That oft I wished it could be true

They say at eve when rude winds sleep
And hushed is every turbid swell
A mermaid rises from the deep
And sweetly tunes her magic shell

And as she plays, rock, dell and cave
In dying falls her sounds retain
As if some choal spirits gave
Their aid to swell her witching strain

And summoned by that dulcet note
Uprising to the admiring view
A fairy island seems to float
With tints of many a gorgeous hue

They also say if earth or stone
From verdant Erin's hallowed land
Were on this fairy island thrown
Forever fixed it then would stand

But if for this some little boat
In silence ventures from the shore
The mermaid sinks, hushed is the note
The fairy isle is seen no more'



Map to Rathlin Island:

Tap the markers for information or pinch and zoom to pan around the map.