Rathlin Island, County Antrim

Rathlin Island, County Antrim

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Amidst the rugged landscape of this natural island, you can let your mind wander and discover a tranquility and beauty that is so unexpected.

Rathlin Island is an island off the coast of County Antrim - one of Northern Ireland’s northernmost points - and only 25 km form the southern tip of Scotland’s peninsula. It is the only inhabited offshore island of Northern Ireland. The six miles long, one mile wide, "L" shaped isle is nowadays home to a small population of around 100 people. For visitors there is accommodation to suit all needs, a pub and restaurant to while away a few hours in the evening and Little Treasures gift shop to pick up that special souvenir.

Rathlin is of prehistoric volcanic origin and is home to hundreds of seals and tens of thousands of seabirds. These birds spend most of their lives at sea, and only visit sites like Rathlin and its bright chalk cliffs for the brief summer breeding season. RSPB Seabird Center is spectacularly situated at the West Light, about five miles from the harbor, and provides stunning views.

The wildlife and scenery are famously excellent, and there are several beautiful walks both on and off-road to enjoy.The best short walk on the island is through the National Trust’s Ballyconagan Nature Reserve to the Old Coastguard Lookout on the north coast, with great views along the sea cliffs and across to the Scottish islands of Islay and Jura. Rathlin is also popular with scuba divers, who come to explore the many wrecked ships in the surrounding waters.

The island was raided by Vikings in AD 795 and suffered again in 1575 when Sorley Boy MacDonnell sent his family here for safety only to have them massacred by the English, along with most of the inhabitants. The island’s most illustrious visitor was Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, who spent some time in 1306 in a cave on the north-eastern point learning a lesson in perseverance. Watching a spider’s resoluteness in repeatedly trying to spin a web gave him the courage to have another go at the English, whom he subsequently defeated at Bannockburn.

A ferry service operates from Ballycastle, County Antrim that will take you to the island both with and without car. During the summer season, there are up to 10 sailings in each direction, on two vessels.

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