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