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Rathlin Island

County Antrim, Northern Ireland

from Walking in Ireland


ABOVE: A ferry in Rathlin Island's small harbor. INSET BELOW: An abandoned fishing boat in Church Bay.

photoRathlin Ireland is Northern Ireland's only inhabited island, with about 70 human residents scattered across its 3,500 acres of sheep meadows, cow pastures, and bird cliffs. A tiny village and harbor at Church Bay are linked to the mainland by a ferry that takes 45 minutes to cross the 6 miles or roughly 10 km from Ballycastle; check the Rathlin Island Ferry Web site for timetables and fares. (Unless you're a local or have a permit, you'll need to leave your car in the fenced car park and travel with a pedestrian ticket.)

The most popular walk on Rathlin Island is to the Kebble Nature Reserve at the western end of the island. Unless you prefer walking uphill, take the public minibus from the ferry terminal to the lighthouse, then descend the steps to the observation deck that overlooks the bird stacks and cliffs. A volunteer from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is normally on hand to answer questions, sell books and gift items, and keep the free telescopes aimed at nesting birds.

After you've spent an hour or so at the bird cliffs, you can walk downhill along the road to the village and ferry landing at Church Bay. Total distance is about 5 miles or 8 km, and you'll descend 250 meters or about 800 feet during the 1Ĺ-hour journey.

Route card 18 of the Causeway Coast & Glens Walking Tours packet has a map and description of the sights along the way; the road is also shown on Ordnance Survey Discoverer Series map 5.

If you're staying longer than a day, you can stroll from Church Bay to the East Lighthouse at Rue Point on the southeastern tip of the island. (This is the lighthouse where Guglielmo Marconi pioneered the first commercial radio transmission in 1898.) Head north fom Church Bay, and you'll find the National Trust's Ballyconagan Waymarked Trails, which include a World War II Coast Guard lookout post that offers views of Scotland (which is only 14 miles away).

For more information, see:

RSPB: Rathlin Island

The Causeway Coast & Glens

Walking in Ireland: Resources and Web links


The Manor House is  a converted 18th Century "gentleman's house" with 12 bedrooms. Rates include a light breakfast of toast, cereal, and preserves; snacks, picnics, and "simple suppers" are available on request.

Other lodgings on Rathlin Island include the Coolnagrock Bed and Breakfast (3 rooms), the Rathlin Guesthouse (4 rooms), the Soerneog View Hostel (3 rooms), and Kinramer Cottage (two bunkhouse rooms with a total of 14 beds).

Daytrippers can spend the night in the historic seaside town of Ballycastle on the mainland; see the "Where to Stay" page at The Causeway Coast & Glens for Ballycastle hotel and guesthouse listings. Our small group stayed at La Mon Hotel & Country Club in Comber, just outside Belfast, since we had an early flight to Cork from Belfast City Airport the next day. We dined at Lisbarnett House, a cozy pub and restaurant in the village of Moneyreagh about 4 miles from Comber and 7 miles from Belfast. (The owner confided that the bar was recently used to host an interview on CNN.)

Other tips:

  • Rathlin Island has few public lavatories outside Church Bay, and there are no facilities at the bird cliffs (though loos are on the drawing board for summer, 2006). In Church Bay, you'll find lavatories at the pub, the cafť, and the Manor House.

  • If you have time, stop at the Boathouse Visitor Center across the bay from the harbor, where you can meet locals, see the Rathlin Community Quilt, learn about the island's customs and cluture, and shop for crafts or gifts.

Next page: More photos

Walking in Ireland - General Information:
Types of walking trips
Resources and Web links

Walks in Northern Ireland:
Giant's Causeway
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Rathlin Island
Guide: Chris Murphy

Walks in Southwest Ireland:
Roaringwater Bay
Sherkin Island
Heir Island
Cape Clear Island
Sheep's Head Way
Glengarriff Nature Reserve
Guides: SouthWestWalks Ireland

Related articles:
Molly Gallivan's Cottage and Traditional Farm
Bunratty Manor Hotel (Shannon Airport)