About Rathlin

Walking back to Church Bay

Between Ireland and Scotland

Rathlin Island lies six miles (10km) off Ballycastle harbour in Northern Ireland – although only just under two miles (3km) from Fair Head – and 16 miles (25km) from the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.

The island is about six miles (11km) miles long and its widest part is barely more than a mile (1.5km). Its small size belies the rugged and varied scenery, from near 500ft (150m)-high cliffs in the west to rolling lowland heath and lakes in the east.

The higher northern part of the L-shaped island is called Kinramer and the low-lying southern leg, Kinkeel. They are connected by the island’s only major road. Church Bay, the harbour and only large settlement, is in the corner of the L.

There are three lighthouses on Rathlin Island, a pointer to both its wild coast and its strategic importance at the narrowest point between Ireland and Scotland. The North Sea pours into the gap, hitting the tides of the Irish sea storming out, making a passage that is treacherous to shipping – there are at least 40 shipwrecks around the island – and spectacular to see. The mood of sea and sky changes every hour.

People have lived on Rathlin for at least 8,000 years, making it probably the first Irish island to be inhabited. Ancient axe heads (from 5,000BC), Bronze Age graves (3,000BC) and an Iron Age fort (500BC) are among the marks they have left behind. By the time of the Irish Famine in the 1840s, the population was more than 1,000 and the island is covered with reminders of life during those times. About 500 people left Rathlin Island in 1846 alone, bound for North America, on a ship financed by the Gage family.

The population of what is now Northern Ireland’s only offshore inhabited island has dropped to less than 100 people in winter, with numbers boosted in the summer – which also brings a growing number of tourists. Rathlin’s most recent famous visitor was undoubtedly Sir Richard Branson, who crashed near Bull Point in 1987 after a record-breaking Atlantic crossing by hot-air balloon. Branson and pilot Per Lindstrom were rescued from the sea by islanders and later presented the Rathlin Island Trust with £25,000.

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The meaning of Rathlin
The Greek geographer Ptolemy mentioned the island of ‘Rikina’ in 150AD. An Irish form of the name, Rechru, appears in the 6th-century Life of St Columba and may mean ‘Standing before Erin’ or ‘Fort of Ireland’. Rechru becomes Reachra (‘Place of many shipwrecks’) by the 8th century with the usage Reachrainn (the genetive form of Reachra), later Reachlainn, appearing. From this, the names Raghery and Rathlin came into common usage by the 1200s. The name Raghery is still used by natives of the island.

About this blog

This site is maintained by Kieran Meeke. If you have any comments or questions, please email me: ksmeeke(at)me.com

23 thoughts on “About Rathlin

  1. D’you spend much time there? I think I would, if it were part of my heritage. The Gallery is well worth a peruse, made me want to catch the next boat. Hated the story of the Essex massacre, though, makes you wonder whether some people are made of the same flesh and blood as we are.
    Cheers,
    C

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  2. My wife and I travelled to Ireland for our honeymoon two years ago, and just saw a special on Rathlin. We are dreaming of moving Rathlin with our future baby. :)

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    • Hi My husband and I are selling our home on Rathlin Island as our own children are all grown up now and do not wish to keep the house on in the future.I noticed that you have asked about buying a home on the island. We are selling through P J McILroy Estate agent in Ballycastle if you are interested.
      Thank you
      K Reilly

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  3. A most beautiful island and well worth the boat journey. A visit to the RSPB lookout is a must but is closed now until breeding time in the spring. Lovely little tea room on the island also.

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  4. Greetings from across the pond!
    I am presently living in N.J.. I just fell in love with the island and want very much to relocate there. Unfortunately, I haven’t the slightest idea how to start the process. Can anyone out there help?

    Thanks in advance. Maybe we’ll meet on the the Island.

    Jane

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    • Hi Jane,
      My husband and I are selling our home on Rathlin Island as our children are all grown up now and feel that they do not want to maintain the family home. We are selling through PJ McIlroys in Ballycastle if you are interested to relocate to the Island.
      Good Luck.
      Kathleen

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  5. Oh, it looks like a peaceful and beautiful place now. My ancestor’s the McCurdy’s lived there and in Antrim County and High Cairn (where no one lives anymore). I hear there are McCurdy’s still living in Antrim County. I wonder if they know much about the genealogy. Some of the McCurdy’s are descendants (through the wives) from the old Kings of Scotland, Stewart-Tutor lineage and through “Peggy” Cameron who was a great granddaughter to Royalty. Oh, yes, and some of the McCurdy’s (through McCurdy wives) are decended from Robert the Bruce too. And here I am in Minnesota, USA.

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    • Just saw this post Becky Sonnick. I am a McCurdy descendant too and have the family history. Visited Rathlin in 2005 to fill it out. Contact me if you are interested. I live in Michigan.

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      • Hi Rosemary my maiden name is Debbie McCurdy my ancestor’s also lived there I would love to know more about them.

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  6. I’m planning a trip to Ireland and will be visiting Rathlin Island, where my grandfather was from. Truly looking forward to it, especially after looking at the pictures and hearing the wonderful comments!

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  7. I have not been to Rathlin since around 1957, i was 10 years old. My father Fred James was a lighthouse keeper at the West Light or bull point twice, totalling 15 years. On my summer holidays 54-57, my mother would take my brother, Melville and myself there, we lived in Derry. I remember people like Bill Curry and “the king of rathlin” pub owner Tony McQuaid. I ended up in London in 1964 and now live in Sheffield, Yorkshire.The rathlin roads were awful, but i remember that the people were nice. I made a friend my own age, Douglas Cecil who did the boat run later on as he grew up, tragically I think he got drowned, like my own father who after his retirement from Tory Island got a job
    in Derry, took a job as a nightwatchman on a River Foyle dredger and drowned as he boarded the dredger and fell into the river on April 21st 1971. I am thinking of visiting Rathlin, i am sure there must be bed and breakfast places there. I hope all the friendly people are just the same. My name is Bill Jervis James.

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    • Hi Bill, just read your interesting letter on your late fathers posting on rathlin over 15 yrs as a lighthousekeeper and his tragic passing in 1971. my late father also served three tours of duty on rathlin and married my late mother a rathlin girl in 1943. I lived at rathlin east 1948-1953 and have visited the island almost every year since my departure with my parents, brother and three sisters to Donaghadee. co. Down.My late mothers home was at alley farm at the south end of the island and today i have a number of cousins still living on rathlin. Like you i moved to England in 1967 via loughborough, dover, and oldham and spent 38yrs to 2005, when i retired with my wife to Ballycastle, where my late parents had made their retirement home. please feel free to contact me and i will share my knowledge of rathlin with you. Your late father was a well respected lighthouse keeper on rathlin as was my own late father. My father was P J O’DONNELL [PADDY] and mother was Kathleen mc Mullan. Your friend Vincent Cecil was drowned and his brother Thomas also lost his life in a diving accident. They were school pals of mine at the rathlin school. Kind regards. patrick j o’donnell.p

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      • Hi Patrick, Not sure how old this post is, came across it by pure chance so hope that this message gets to you. My Uncle Frank was married to your mother Kathleen’s sister Rosetta McMullan. I am a “family tree” addict – and have magic memories of Ballycastle visits, and did meet your parents a few times. I have just found a photo of them with Rosetta and my sister on a visit in 1997 (in Rosetta’s front room) – you might like to have it. I live in Australia, and don’t think I will ever have the joy of visiting Ballycastle again – unless I win the lottery!! Great memories!! here’s hoping you can read this! Maggie McNab – Adelaide South Australia.

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  8. Hello Kieran,
    I was looking up rathlin island because our sailboat here in Canada is called Rathlin Gael. This is a great site and I enjoyed reading about Rathlin. Hope all the family is well.
    Denise

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  9. I live in Australia, but have ancestors from Ballycastle and Rathlin Island. My family’s oral history is that my great-great grandfather, Robert McHenry (or McKendry), was a lighthouse keeper on Rathlin Island. I don’t know exactly when; the only specific dates I have for him are that his children were born between 1851 and 1859, which is a general indicator of his age.
    I know that family oral history is not always reliable and would like to find out more about Robert. Does anyone know how I could go about researching this information?
    Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
    Catherine Quinn.

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  10. Hi just watching Simon Reeves in Northern Ireland. He was on Rathlin island and I noticed a gravestone with the name McCurdy which was my maiden name, can anyone tell me who the Rathlin McCurdy was

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  11. Please allow me to repeat an earlier post. I have direct McCurdy ancestors from Rathlin. I visited descendants, still in N.I., a few years ago and they shared the family tree. Feel free to contact me if you think you may be related. Just keep in mind, there are a lot of McCurdy lines. My addy is: arnholtr@charter.net

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      • To Debbie and others: I physically counted about 133 McCurdys noted as heads of family in the 1860 Griffiths Valuation of North and Mid-Antrim. They include those on Rathlin and also in townlands on the northern coastline facing Rathlin, such as Ballycastle. If you can’t find this free source, I’ll try to post it.

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  12. My name is Debbie McCurdy and I know my family lived here and would love it if anyone could tell me about our McCurdy family that is from here.

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