Rathin Island, although technically not on the Causeway Coastal Route, is somewhere you should really try to visit. It is serviced by a modern catamaran ferry from Ballycastle and also some other smaller ribs that can be hired for the crossing. The main centre is Church Bay which has a pub, shop and accommodation, from there you can enjoy walks to Rue Point, Bull Point and Altnacarry lighthouses. Primarily Rathlin is an Island to enjoy on foot, there is a min bus from Spring to Autumn which takes visitors around the island.
Rathlin or 'Raghery' as my grandfather called it, lies like a stepping stone between North Antrim and Scotland, at its closest point is is only three miles from Fair Head and sixteen from the Mull of Kintyre. The eight mile long limestone and basalt island is steeped in history which is evident in the standing stones, cairns, passage tombs, cashels, ancient church and castle sites that speckle its landscape.
The island has lots to offer those who like to explore and discover, it is full of history and stories from the ancient unwritten past, one of the most famous is the story of Robert the Bruce, who while hiding in a cave on Rathlin was inspired by a spider to return and fight for Scotland. Over the centuries its strategic position has brought the island turmoil from warring Scots, Irish and English forces, as well as raids by the Vikings. A family whose name is synonymous with Rathin is the Gage family, the island was originally leased to the Reverend J Gage in 1746 and as landlords they made great improvement to the agricultural structure, building the harbour and buildings such as the manor house.
The island did not escape the affects of the potato blight which forced hundreds to leave, between famine and a drop in fish stocks around the island, the population halved within twenty years. A memorial plaque records the emigration of 500 islanders between the years of 1845 and 1848. One of these migrations was arranged by the Gage family, they helped provide the Napier, an emigrant ship that took islanders from Church Bay to St. Johns, New Brunswick where they settled around Lubec.
The island was also used by Marconi in his development of wireless telegraphy. The world's first transmissions from land to land across water was achieved between Ballycastle and the East lighthouse on July 6th 1898 by his two assistants George Kemp and Edward Granville, helped by John Cecil of Rathin who had been employed by Kemp.
The island was also part of the ancient kingdom of Dalriada the boundary of which stretched from Bushmills to Glenarm and over to Argyll and Bute in Scotland. The kingdom had originally expanded from constant raiding parties across the north channel by the Scoti, a tribe of people that not only gave Scotland its name but originally derived from there. Over thousands of years man has migrated back and forth between the North Antrim coast and the Scotish mainland and islands.
The kingdom reached its peak around 600 AD when King Aidan was in power, he had succeeded his uncle Congall, incidently it was Congall who gave Iona to Columba where he established a Christian settlement that sent monks out across Europe to spread the message of Christ. Before Congall another king of Dalriada, Fergus, had given lands at Armoy to St. Patrick who founded a monastic settlement there, Fergus also became one of the first Christian kings.
The wildlife and natural environment is something to behold, from the colony of seals basking on rocks at Rue Point to vast colonies of seabirds nesting at Bull Point or buzzards and hawks hunting above rare orchids on Altnacarry Head. It's shorelines and landscapes are a naturalist's paradise and its ambiance precious. The island also has a growing population of hares including the 'golden' hare, a variation that occurs locally and is living proof of the genetic link to the European mountain hare from which all our hares originate, these hares would have turned white in winter.
In recent years the underwater world around the island has been recognised as one of the most important sites for maritime life in europe, a study has discovered twenty eight new species of sponges, three of these species do not occur anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The north wall at the back of Rathlin drops vertically in places to 200 metres.
Many shipwrecks have taken place around the island which in summer attracts wreck divers from all over the world. The most famous being HMS Drake, a 14,100 ton First World War armoured cruiser which was torpedoed of the North Coast and sank in Church Bay.