Rathlin Island

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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.

The population of what is now Northern Ireland’s only offshore inhabited island has dropped to around 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.

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This site is maintained by Kieran Meeke. Please leave any comments below.

45 thoughts on “Rathlin Island

  1. bob mccouaig 2017-05-28 / *

    Maggie McNab of Adelaide
    My ancestors are from Rathlin and there were a number of intermarriages between the McCouaigs and the McCurdys, eg Esther McCouaig and Frank McCurdy circa 1850 and Michael McCouaig and Mary E McCurdy in 1887 on Rathlin.
    I keep in touch with one of this Michael’s children, Louchie, who is still on the island.
    Be happy to communicate re these and any other intermarriages
    Bob McCouaig

    Like

    • Maggie McNab 2017-05-31 / *

      Hi Bob,
      My connection to the McCouaigs is via Rosetta McMullan (1915-2012) wife of my favourite uncle Frank McNab (b. Glasgow 1909 – d Ballycastle 1985).
      Rosetta was born on Rathlin Island to Peter McMullan (1875-1940) and Rose Anne McCouaig (b. 1876 – d?). As far as I know, Rose Anne McCouaig’s parents were Robert McCouaig and Rose McCouaig (1829-1915). In turn Robert McCouaig’s parents were Henry McCouaig and Annie Horan and his wife Rose Anne McCouaig’s parents I think were John McCouaig (1803 -1887) and Florence McCouaig (these were “Ushet” McCouaigs).
      I am a bit vague about this info, have gleaned it from various places. What a pity that, like many, my interest in the family tree came after our “older generations” had passed on. I wouldn’t mind some more info on the history of Rathlin – and of course the McMullans and McCouaigs.
      I have such magic memories of time spent in Ballycastle with Frank McNab and Rosetta McMullan – but that was back in the 1970s before the days of the Rathlin Ferries, and I never had the joy of actually being on Rathlin Island. It is on my “bucket list” – who knows – maybe one day!
      Where do you live?
      Greetings from South Australia.
      Maggie McNab

      Like

      • Geraldine mcmullan 2017-06-13 / *

        My great granda William McMullan was born on the island. He married Marie Wilkinson, also from the island, then moved to Coatbridge, Scotland, early last century.
        All my granda’s siblings were born there but my granda Pat was born in Coatbridge.
        I was told we have connections (McGurdy, McCurk, Wilkinson, Blacks) and some of the family are still there.
        Any help would be appreciated, thank you.

        Like

      • Brenda 2017-06-14 / *

        Hi Geraldine,

        I’m a novice with this internet communication and will keep this short to test the water .Please let me know if this gets to you as a “normal” email”.

        My ancestry goes back to a James McCouaig who had several brothers and sisters including Robert McCouaig b1829 d 1909 who married Rose McCouaig of Ushet b1829 d1915 on Rathlin on26 feb 1874. As far as I know, they had 2 children…Henry (Robert’s father’s name) and Rose Ann b1876.

        This Rose Ann married A Peter McMullen I believe which seems to fit your ancestry.

        My particular interest at the moment is trying to find out more of the histories of the two McCouaig families (Henry’s ancestors and Rose’s father John’s ancestry) on Rathlin and before Rathlin.

        I live in south Australia

        I look forward to hearing from you.

        Regards

        Bob

        ________________________________

        https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.js

        Like

    • Robert McCouaig 2017-06-05 / *

      Maggie
      I have details of Henry and Annie’s family and many of their descendents. My current interest is in their ancestors and when and why their ancestors came to Islay and where from.
      Islay seems to feature in this, but other places of interest include Skye and the Applecross Peninsula.
      I live in Glenelg, Adelaide, as distinct from Glenelg on the Scottish mainland opposite Skye!
      Feel free to contact me by email…mccouaig@hotmail.com.

      Like

  2. Mary Theresa Cox 2017-03-08 / *

    Hello again
    After some more research it looks like my great grandfather was also a light house keeper at Ballycarry recorded on the 1901 census. His name was Leonard V Stocker married to Mariann (May) Stocker. Their children at that time were: Susan, May, William, Leonard & Adelaide. I continue to research the Stocker lighthouse keepers & would welcome any information from interested parties… It really is getting very interesting.
    We hope to visit Rathlin in the future, something I’m really looking forward to.
    Take care now…..Mary T

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Harry Hammond IV 2017-02-21 / *

    Hi I’m a Citizen of Northern Ireland and Canada I’m interested in work for accommadtion on Rathlin I would like to learn local language I’m used to living on small islands and am 44 with Military Police and Kitchen Porter and Farming God bless Thank You

    Like

  4. Mary Theresa Cox 2017-02-02 / *

    LOOKING FOR INFO ON THE CHRISTIE FAMILY. (I’m a Stocker grand child, lighthouse family)
    Hello I’m an interested person in our long family history of lighthouse keepers. Mostly the Stockers. My g g grandmother was Susie Alice Christie born either in 1836 or 1841 on Rathlin Island. She married Henry Aquilla Stocker around 1854 in Inver Antrim. We know very little about her. Her father was Isaacs Christie. We think she died in Liverpool but have no dates. My g g grandfather Henry’s history is limited too, we know he died in 1917 in Liverpool. So he could have been a keeper on Rathlin and met my g g grandmother Susie. They had 6 children one of them being my great grandfather Leonard V Stocker who spent his life as a lighthouse keeper and we believe he served as a navy man in WWI. It’s a lot to ask if anyone on Rathlin may have any knowledge of the Christie family as it’s so long ago. I would be forever grateful if anyone can help. You never know we might be related :-). Very best wishes from Mary Theresa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hector Deane 2017-05-16 / *

      The 1901 census confirms that my paternal grandmother, Adelaide Elizabeth Stocker, was born on Rathlin Island. The census states that she was then 30 years of age.
      She trained as a nurse and, while working in Dublin, met and married my grandfather circa 1895. Otherwise, I know little or nothing about the Stocker family.

      Like

  5. Chris McCouaig 2016-10-18 / *

    Hi Margaret,
    I am sorry I haven’t been back to see your email. My McCouaig family descends from Henry McCouaig/McQuaig/McQuig and Annie Horan through their second son James (1812-1894) who married Elizabeth Davis(1827-1893) on 20th August, 1845 and their son Robert (9/3/1856-1913) who married Elizabeth McQuat in Lanarkshire Scotland .

    Possibly your line also descends from Henry and Annie through their daughter Esther(1826-1901) who married Francis (Frank) McCurdy/McKirdy before 1855. I have a list of the other siblings if you are interested. Frank and Esther’s son John (1860-1920) was a ship’s master sailing with his uncle Alexander McCouaig (1825-1907) another son of Henry and Annie.

    I live in Melbourne, Australia. One of Robert and Elizabeth’s sons, Ernest, emigrated to Melbourne in early 1900’s and had a son Ernest (1913-1996), my father. Another of their sons, Robert, emigrated to Canada around the same time. He lived in British Columbia and Hawaii. He spelt his surname ‘McCuaig’ after he arrived in Canada.

    Unfortunately the variation in spelling the surname makes it a little more difficult to trace our descendants. Another descendant living in New Zealand spells his ‘McQuaig’ .

    If you have any ideas on why the variation I would be interested in finding out. My information has come directly from family members including a visit by my brother to Rathlin and meeting with extended family there as well as visiting the cemetery there and making notes from the gravestones. Have also had emails from descendants of some of the other children of Henry and Annie. If you think I can help you in your search please email, I will try and reply more promptly.

    Kind regards, Chris

    Like

    • Geraldine mcmullan 2017-06-13 / *

      My great granda William McMullan was born on the island. He married Marie Wilkinson, also from the island, then moved to Coatbridge, Scotland, early last century.
      All my granda’s siblings were born there but my granda Pat was born in Coatbridge.
      I was told we have connections (McGurdy, McCurk, Wilkinson, Blacks) and some of the family are still there.

      Like

  6. Chris 2016-04-03 / *

    Hi Debbie,
    My ancestors are the McQuaigs (various spellings abound including McCuaig and my own McCouaig) who have lived on Rathlin Island since the mid-1700s. Esther McQuaig 1826-1901 married a Frank McKirdy (McCurdy), born 1819 shoemaker, Ballycarry, Rathlin Island .
    Their children, Anne Jane 1856-1939, Mary 1858, John c1860-1920, Margaret 26/8/1860, Henrietta 1862, Esther 1865. Lots of McCurdy’s on Rathlin in years past. The 1766 Religious Survey showed 35 McCurdy families (Catholic) on the island. However most families have since emigrated. Andy Keogh had a very good site on the people of Rathlin and provided gravesites, and early Census details.

    Like

    • Margaret Arnholt 2016-04-19 / *

      Hello Chris. I have McCuaigs ( McCouaig) marrying McCurdys too. We should talk.

      Like

  7. Debbie McCurdy 2016-01-08 / *

    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.

    Like

  8. Rosemary Arnholt 2015-12-04 / *

    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

    Like

    • Debbie McCurdy 2016-01-13 / *

      Rosemary I sent you a email I hope you received it

      Like

      • Rosemary Arnholt 2016-01-13 / *

        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.

        Like

      • Ashley 2016-10-08 / *

        Hi Debbie my grandads doing his family tree and he’s looking for mccurdy family information

        Like

    • John McCurdy 2016-10-25 / *

      I am John McCurdy and am looking for info on the McCurdy line. I would appreciate and clues as I am a total beginner in ancestry research.

      Like

      • Ricardo Bronze 2016-11-27 / *

        there is a john mccurdy on rathlin, is this the same john?

        Like

  9. Jeannie Hendra 2015-11-29 / *

    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

    Like

    • Kieran 2015-11-29 / *

      Hi Jeannie, please see the notes above about the family.

      Like

      • Jeannie Hendra 2015-11-29 / *

        Hi kieran I’m very new at this can’t see the notes above DOH

        Like

  10. Catherine Quinn 2015-10-03 / *

    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.

    Like

  11. Denise 2013-11-24 / *

    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

    Like

  12. Bill James 2013-08-10 / *

    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.

    Like

    • patrick j o'donnell 2015-02-08 / *

      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

      Like

      • Maggie McNab 2015-06-06 / *

        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.

        Like

  13. ulsterphotosimages 2013-05-03 / *

    Nice photos of a beautiful island

    Like

  14. Melinda 2012-11-02 / *

    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!

    Like

  15. Becky Sonnick 2011-11-15 / *

    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.

    Like

    • Rosemary Arnholt 2013-02-24 / *

      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.

      Like

      • Debbie McCurdy 2016-01-08 / *

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

        Like

      • John Alexander McCurdy 2016-10-25 / *

        I am a McCurdy and live in Texas. I spend every summer in Eastport, Maine. I have found many graves in Maine that the grave marker says “from Rathlin Island” . I would like to research my ancestors. Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

        Like

    • Ronnie 2016-08-07 / *

      I worked in rarthin island do you know Anita Mccurdy, been trying so hard to get in contact with her but no joy so far, my name is Ronnie I drilled water Wells there , can you help me get in contact with her please

      Like

      • Joe 2016-12-18 / *

        Hi Ronnie,
        I used to work on Rathlin as well but i dont know Anita, sorry,
        All the best now.
        Joe

        Like

  16. Jane Leslie Coombs 2011-05-13 / *

    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

    Like

    • Kathleen Reilly 2015-03-21 / *

      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

      Like

    • Mary Lou Stilwell 2016-02-25 / *

      Hello, Ms. Coombs-just seeing this a bit late (it’s 2016) but wondered how you made out with your relocation to Rathlin?? I have often wanted to do much the same thing. I grew up in Toms River, NJ and now live in Augusta, Georgia, but have been hankering to move to anywhere in the UK for a number of years now. I’d like to know how you got on.

      MLStilwell

      Like

  17. Maureen 2010-09-08 / *

    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.

    Like

  18. Typegeek 2010-06-14 / *

    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. 🙂

    Like

    • K Reilly 2015-03-24 / *

      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

      Like

      • Leanne 2016-03-06 / *

        Hi can u tell me how many bedrooms is in ur propery and also what about schools on the island. Many thanks

        Like

      • K Reilly 2016-10-19 / *

        Hi Leanne sorry just saw your question. The house had 2 bedrooms. Yes there is a small well equipped and well run primary school on the island.

        Like

  19. C 2010-04-04 / *

    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

    Like

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