Andy McInroy: Caves of Rathlin

Photographer Andy McInroy has created some impressive images of sea caves on the Antrim coastline (as part of a larger portfolio of landscapes in Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Rathlin Island merits its own pages on his website with atmospheric shots of cave interiors. He also relates many fascinating tales, with plenty of legends and a few good ghost stories.


What inspired you to visit Rathlin?
I had seen some beautiful photographs of the Rathlin shoreline and, when I was getting into my Antrim sea caves project, it seemed like a logical place to finish my story. What really interests me is to be able to tie a cave photograph to a story, legend or old etching. The caves of Rathlin have these in abundance. Bruce’s cave in particular interested me very much, although Oweynagolman cave (above), which lies closer to the castle, may be a more likely place for Bruce to have visited.


Which was the most interesting cave?

Oweynagolman is a fascinating place – not only because of its possible connection with Bruce but also to an old story told on Rathlin which refers to it as Avaragh, the cave of the Children of Lir. The physical description of the cave matches my photograph with its obvious protective bar across the mouth. This bar is said to have been put there by a wise woman of Rathlin.

Oweynagolman is a perfect example of a classic basalt cave: it’s cavernous, beautifully shaped and it is a proper active sea cave, requiring a deep wade to enter. It has a real atmosphere about it.




Some caves are quite dangerous to get to. Did you have any close calls?

Some are, yes, and I would not encourage people to enter the caves in my project without doing their homework. I took no chances on Rathlin, as I appreciate the remote nature of the cliffs and caves there. What we did at Dunkerry Cave on the Runkerry headland on the mainland was certainly risky.

We entered that massive cavern armed with a toy dinghy bought in Lidl supermarket for £40. However, on that adventure I was guided by an experienced sea-stack climber from Orkney who has a string of epic first ascents to his name both in Scotland and on the sea stacks of Donegal.

Dunkerry was a frightening undertaking, but we managed the risk as much as we could and everything went exactly to plan. Riding down the swells of the channel into Dunkerry in the dinghy is an experience I will never forget.



Have you explored all of the caves?

When I started this project I thought that there might be five caves in all of Antrim that might make a good photograph. How wrong I was. The more I dig, the more of these amazing places I find. There are probably enough caves on Rathlin alone to keep me busy for a lifetime.

Many of the caves of Antrim are not marked on the maps, most are rarely visited by anyone other than the odd inquisitive kayaker. My ‘to do’ list is actually bigger now than it was at the start of the project.

All photos on this page copyright of Andy McInroy

Angela Ginn: Rathlin landscapes

Rathlin Landscape Series, 2008

Angela Ginn graduated from Goldsmiths College, London, returning to Belfast in 1990. Her oil paintings of the Northern Irish landscape have been exhibited regularly in Ireland and Europe. She was Artist in Residence for Belfast City Hospital for three years and part of a three-year residency with Kids’ Own, in the Multimedia Maps project. Here, she tells us about the inspiration she found on Rathlin…

Angela Ginn

When did you first visit Rathlin?

In 1996, with my niece Stacey, who was around seven years old at the time. We were staying at Whitepark Bay for the week and took a day trip over.


What were your first impressions?
It felt very special to me to be crossing the sea to get there. The  crew on the ferry all seemed very exotic and ‘island looking’. My niece is not at all outdoorsy and she soon wanted to leave but the trip whet my appetite to return.


Tell us about the residency on Rathlin…

I have spent the last seven summers on Rathlin, from 2001 – 2008. My residency came about because Ann Henderson and myself were working on an art project together in Sligo and she knew that I had rented an Irish Landmark Trust  cottage in Randalstown every year  in which to paint. When Alison and Liam McFaul restored their outback barn, beside the Camping Barn, they were open to the possibility of an artist using it as a studio. Ann invited me over to the island and introduced me to Alison, who showed me the barn. I loved it and booked it for two weeks later that summer. I stayed for five weeks that year and for two to four months in the following years.


How was the weather?

The weather varied from year to year, day to day and hour to hour! I never minded what the weather was like as I was always so happy to be there, it wasn’t important to me. Although if it was warm and sunny, of course, the island was especially wonderful. I thrived in the physical space, the beauty of the landscape, the surrounding sea and all those skies were just magical. I never ever became complacent about the pleasure of opening my door in the morning onto a field and the marvel of the expanse beyond it.

Landscape Series

Was four months long enough? Were you glad to leave or would you like to have stayed longer?

Four months was a great length of time for me. It gave me plenty of time to paint, rest, socialise, dander about and just ‘be’. I always found it hard to go, to end my summer adventure and to say goodbye to my dear friends. My awkward departure technique is usually to take a notion in my last week and make a speedy and quiet exit. I do love my  artist in residency work back over the water and, on my return to Belfast, I always enjoy getting back to work with the children and the groups  again. I also always needed to earn some money again by that stage.

What was the best thing about Rathlin?

The stunning beauty of the island itself. The colours and the light. The physical space, the skies and being surrounded by the sea. I also enjoyed being part of the summer island community and spending time with friends there and attending the daily/nightly events and gatherings. I am particularly partial to a ceili and to ‘Shoeing the Donkey’ with Loughie Mc Q.

Aqua VII

What did you miss most?

Nothing. Once I got settled in my barn, I was always loath to leave. I only ever left to attend to business or something important. Most of my friends and family became regular annual visitors and looked forward to visiting me there too.


Is there a piece of music that reminds you of Rathlin?

That has to be ‘Fear A’ Bhata’. All Teresa’s beautiful renditions – and also those of the Black family – will always take me there.

Kids Own project

Alison and Liam McFaul’s
Kinramer Camping Barn

Ann Henderson

Paul Quinn: Rathlin Walks

View near the East Light

Paul Quinn is an experienced walking guide who can show you around Rathlin. His friendly, no rush walking tours will suit all abilities and his wide knowledge of its birds, plants and rich history will help you to appreciate this wild and spectacular island. A selection of walks – mainly on roads or established tracks – will suit groups from two to 40 people.


Paul Quinn

How long have you been visiting Rathlin?
I have been a regular visitor for 30 years. On my first visit I walked the entire coastline of the island.


What is its appeal to you?
Rathlin is the same, but different.


Tell us an interesting fact.
When the weather is fine, you can hear the North West 200 motorbike race in Portrush from Kebble.


Any myths about the island you’d like to dispel?
All islands have similar climates. So it’s not possible to say whether you are on Rathlin or Rhodes.


Is there a question about Rathlin you can’t find an answer to?
Why are the seabird colonies declining and can we do anything to halt that?


What’s been your rarest sighting on Rathlin?
A Marsh Harrier in summer 2008.


What’s your most recent discovery?
The RSPB has acquired some new land at Roonivoolin. The name is from the Irish: point of the gulls.


Is there a question about Rathlin you can’t find an answer to?
Why are the seabird colonies declining and can we do anything to halt that?


Where WAS Bruce’s Cave?
Why couldn’t he content himself with a castle? The island is in danger of getting blighted with Scottish holiday homes.


Who has been your most unexpected guest?
A diffident women, perhaps in her 50s. I discovered that she had climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and descended and ascended from the Grand Canyon in one day. She had also unintentionally caused a shut-down in poteen production when she was mistaken for a customs officer.


Had any wee adventures?
That would be the polite extended-family group. They didn’t look like hell-raisers, but one section refused to leave the bar and I had to return without them.


Have you seen any ghosts on Rathlin?
No – but many years ago I blamed one for the theft of some sausages from my tent.  How did they vanish and why was nothing more valuable stolen?  I couldn’t figure out who was in my tent. The next day I saw a few grey dog hairs at the bottom of the zip and, perhaps connected to that, a small confident terrier around the tent!

Rathlin Writers

The Call

The call came he was there
The challenge was great but would he dare
To cast aside all hesitations
To take his chance, no reservations

To seize and forge the dream he sought
Indifference around he fought and fought
To make his world a better place
To live content with God’s great grace

A man who faced all-conquering seas
Yet rose again to fortune seize
The battles fought his liberation
The prize achieved his jubilation

With mediocrity all around
A man like this can still astound
We grieve and remember him
And his almighty heart within

Mary Cecil

Obituary of Tommy Cecil


The Harsh Winds of Rathlin: Stories of Rathlin Shipwrecks by Tommy Cecil. ISBN 0-948154-65-9

Rathlin’s Rugged Story: from an Islander’s Perspective by Augustine McCurdy. ISBN 0-948154-54-6. Rathlinman’s books

A History of the Island of Rathlin by Mrs Gage. ISBN 0-948154-87-X

Flora of Rathlin Island by Margaret J Dickson

Rathlin: Its Island Story by Wallace Clark. ISBN 0-948154-76-4

Birds of Rathlin by Gerry Bond

Rathlin Island: As I Knew It by Alex Morrison. ISBN 0-948154-33-11-11

Rathlin Island and the Modern World (ebook) by W Forsythe


The Friends of Rathlin Island by Stewart Dalby. ISBN 0-9780954423391

Turbulent Priests by Colin Bateman. ISBN: 0-9780006498018

Rathlin Writers Festival