Lights of Rathlin

East Light

The oldest of Rathlin’s lighthouses sits high above Bruce’s Cave at Altacarry Head. It has been flashing a warning to shipping since 1856 and is a vital component of the traffic separation scheme in the North Channel.


West Light
This upside-down light was a major feat of engineering when it was built, between 1912 and 1917. The top of Kebble Point was too high for the light to be effective, so it had to be placed some way down the cliff. The works needed a cable tramway and a pier, as well as the road across Kebble. The work cost £400,000 in 1912, equivalent to an amazing £17million today.


Rue Point

Sitting at the southern tip of Rathlin, only 2.5 miles from Fair Head, this light has been operating since 1921. Only 35 feet above sea level, it is now fully automated and has a 14 nautical mile range.

Rathlin Lighthouses

Memories of a Rathlin lighthouse keeper

Sponges, kelp & seals

Seal at Rue Point


Rathlin Island is one of the most important areas in Europe for sponges. In 2007, a team of scientists discovered 28 new species in the seas around the island during a six-week expedition, and three species which had never before been seen in the British Isles. Project director Bernard Picton, curator of marine invertebrates at the Ulster Museum’s department of zoology, said the findings confirmed the significance of the area for these small marine animals.

Sponges feed by filtering particles from the water and play a key role in the marine environment. There are about 15,000 species in the world yet only 400 of these have so far been found in the waters around Britain and Ireland.

Divers from the same team, from the Environment and Heritage Service and Ulster Museum, made another discovery in June 2007. A specimen of the rare Fan Mussel (atrina fragilis), Britain’s largest and rarest bivalve mollusc, thought extinct in Irish waters, was found off Rathlin. The mollusc is extremely vulnerable to pollution, trawling and dredging and this is a significant find, especially if a larger population exists.

Rathlin seabed fly-by

Old Kelp Store at Church Bay


A prominent feature of the waterfront of Rathlin’s Church Bay is the old kelp store (left). Until the 1930s, when artificial methods replaced it, kelp was a rich source of iodine and soda for glass and soap manufacture and the islanders made an income by gathering it. Once dry, the kelp was burned and the sites of 83 kilns have been found on the island – though 150 were recorded in the mid-19th century. Kelp production ended in Rathlin in 1938 – 25 years after the Antrim mainland.

Kelp on Rathlin

Parliamentary Debate, Dublin, 1938

Uses of kelp

Seal at Rue Point


A colony of about 100 seals can be found at Rue Point on the east of Rathlin. They are easy to approach but care should be taken not to disturb them, particularly in the breeding season. A boat trip is the best way to see the colony, as they will investigate the boats in their home environment,



Rathlin has been selected as a Special Area of Conservation:

SAC website

The threat of plastic

Rathlin Wrecks

Drake wreck

HMS Drake

Rathlin is surrounded by some 40 wrecks, the most famous of which is HMS Drake in Church Bay. Capable of a top speed of 23 knots, she was one of the fastest and heaviest cruisers of her time and was escorting a transatlantic convoy.

She was hit in Rathlin Sound by a torpedo from German U-Boat U-79 early on October 2, 1917, killing 19 of her crew. Her Captain, SH Radcliffe brought her into Church Bay but she was too heavily damaged to be saved and soon sank.

The SS Lugano and HMS Brisk were sunk during the same attack – probably by mines laid by U79 and the wrecks lie in Rathlin Sound just over a mile from each other. The technically challenging dive to the SS Lugano is considered one of the best in the British Isles. There was no loss of life on the Lugano but 31 crew died on HMS Brisk. Although her bow section sank, the stern section of the ship was towed into dock in Londonderry.

In 1962, the wreck of HMS Drake was hit by the Fleetwood trawler Ella Hewitt, which soon joined the cruiser on the seabed in the middle of Church Bay.

List of Rathlin wrecks

SS Tuscania, first US troopship to be torpedoed in WWI

The story of HMS Drake

Diving Rathlin’s North Wall

Sponges on Rathlin’s North Wall (video)

Diving on the SS Loughgarry (1min video)

Diving on the SS Loughgarry (excellent 5min video)