Rathlin Island, the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland, rests on the waters between Scotland and Ireland.
Rathlin Island is six miles long, one mile wide, “L” shaped and six miles across the Sea of Moyle from Ballycastle. It is a rugged and picturesque island steeped in a rich history, vibrant mythology, maritime heritage and diverse wildlife.
Rathlin has long associations with both Scotland and Ireland. It once lay at the heart of the ancient Dal Riada Kingdom. Robert the Bruce, a 13th century Scottish King was exiled for fighting for his country’s freedom and took refuge in a cave on Rathlin Island. While there he pondered his next move and was inspired by a tiny spiders determination to spin a web. The spider tried 6 times to swing to a nearby rock to secure his thread and failed, just as Robert the Bruce had been defeated 6 times in his pursuit to free Scotland from the English. On the 7th attempt the spider succeeded and Robert the Bruce resolved to return to Scotland.
Rathlin hosts three lighthouses, one of which is home to a Seabird Centre. All three lighthouses, Bruce’s Cave, and many shipwreck sites can be seen on a full circumnavigation of Rathlin Island.
Upon landing on the island itself visitors will find a scenic harbour with a Boathouse Visitor Centre. Here visitors can discover some of the exciting history of Rathlin and its people, learn about present day island life and see some artefacts from shipwrecks around the island. There are many walks on the Island including along the shore to Mill Bay where you may see some of the resident seals basking or at play. Cycle hire is another way to enjoy the island or take a bus trip.
Close to the harbour there is a cafe, restaurant and public house where you can relax, dine and enjoy refreshments or even live music. The local Co-Op also offers delicious freshly made snacks to go if you want to picnic on the beach or eat while exploring.
From April to July is puffin season and as well as seeing them from the sea, you can also visit the Seabird Centre which is open to the public from Easter and has the added bonus of being a real working lighthouse. As well as Puffins other breeding seabirds include guillemot, kittiwake, razorbill and fulmar. Rathlin Island is also home to Northern Ireland’s only pair of breeding chough and more recently corncrake.
Seals and seabirds are not the only non-human inhabitants of the island. Rathlin is home to the beautiful Rathlin Golden Hare which displays a distinct genetic variation producing individuals with blue eyes. Whilst hare colonies in other locations in Ireland have declined, Rathlin remains a stronghold for Irish hares.
Rathlin also boasts a rich and varied biodiversity of which its residents are very proud and protective. Much of the island and its surrounds have now been designated as Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs), Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA). Rathlin is included in the Antrim Coast & Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and a European Marine Site Management Scheme (EMSMS) was added in 2013.
Before leaving Rathlin visitors can peruse the beautiful locally made gifts and crafts in the Rathlin Gift Shop or drop by the ‘Breakwater Studio’ which features the work of local artist Yvonne Braithwaite.
We can tailor a private charter to Rathlin Island to your needs. It may include;
- Bruce’s Cave
- Ushet Port
- West Light Seabird Centre
- Full Circumnavigation
- Landing on Rathlin
Below are some Private Charter ideas
Bruce’s Cave Experience
Get onboard at Ballycastle and relax as our fast RIB boat glides across the bay to explore the East coast of Rathlin Island. Our first sight is the Rue Lighthouse, then Ushet Port where you will be treated to the loud snorts, whistles and barks of the seals. Many laze on the shore but some more inquisitive seals will venture closer to the boat to investigate. When we reach Bruce’s Cave you will be captivated by the sounds of the seabirds in the cave as well as on the rocks and water outside it. Seals are often seen in and around this cave as well. Towering beside it is the East Lighthouse, steeped in history and featuring in old and modern literature. You will be treated to a magnificent view of Fairhead while returning to Ballycastle. This imposing cliff face towers above the sea and once seen you will not be surprised to know it featured in the HBO series Game of Thrones.
Duration: 2 hours
Premium Experience: Includes use of Whaly vessel with Skipper to explore Bruce’s Cave *subject to weather and absence of seals inside cave
Around the Sound
This is a unique adventure designed to give you and your friends or family an insight into this special and distinctively Northern Irish area. Come and see things you’ve never seen before, hear stories you’ve never heard, taste the salty air, feel the wind on your face, and listen to the seabirds as you gaze skywards. This experience will give you a sense of connection to this seascape of the Sound of Rathlin, and the landscape of the island.
We leave from Ballycastle and follow the coast to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge where you will hear stories of fishermen and salmon and see the caves, the Fisherman’s Cottage and rope-bridge from below. Here the water is a mesmerising turquoise and if it’s calm, you can jump right in. Feel the wind in your hair as we blast across the sound to the West Lighthouse on Rathlin, passing Sheep Island on the way. Our fast powerboats provide an invigorating and exciting way to travel. The West, or Upside Down Lighthouse, is also a Seabird centre, so prepare to be immersed in the sounds of birds and feel the swell of the ocean.
A gentle cruise along the coast of Rathlin allows you to appreciate the rugged white limestone cliffs and hear stories of the Scottish miners. You will see bird nesting sites and the crystal clear sparkling waters where the kelp is farmed. Step onto the island and explore for an hour or so. Walk the beach, visit the gift shop or enjoy a pint at McCuaigs Pub. Take time to marvel at the historic maritime items displayed inside the islands only public house.
Your experience isn’t over yet. As you leave Rathlin and Church Bay you will pass the Rue Lighthouse before reaching Ushet Port. Here you will hear and see the seals of Rathlin. As the boat gently lingers at Ushet the more curious seals will come closer to investigate. On your return to Ballycastle you will see the very imposing cliff faces of Fairhead where scenes featuring dragons from Game of Thrones HBO series were filmed.
Duration: 3 – 4 hours
Premium Experience: Add on the East Lighthouse and Bruce’s Cave for a full Rathlin Experience
Not suitable for small children or dogs
Rathlin Full Monty
Leaving from Ballycastle you will cruise along the coast to Kinbane Castle and Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge before crossing the Sound of Rathlin to make a full circumnavigation of the island, allowing you to see Rathlin’s beautiful coastline, all three lighthouses, seals at Ushet Port and Bruce’s Cave before landing on the island for an hour during which you can explore, visit the island pub McCuaig’s, dine or have your own picnic. This very full experience is a real adventure which takes in all the elements of the other Rathlin experiences; both Bruce’s Cave and Around the Sound, as well as the hidden coastline of Rathlin that is not normally seen.
Duration: 4 hours plus
Not suitable for small children or dogs
Rathlin Water Taxi
Fast RIB to Rathlin Island from Ballycastle and pick up at designated time.
Private Charter (minimum price based on 6 passengers)
Pre-booking is essential.
Call or message now to plan your Rathlin Experience.