Rathlin Island is the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland, with a rising population of now just over 100 people. The reverse L-shaped island is 4 miles (6 km) from east to west, and 2.5 miles (4 km) from north to south. The highest point on the island is Slieveard, 134 metres above sea level. The island is 15.5 miles (25 km) from the Mull of Kintyre, the southern tip of Scotland‘s Kintyre peninsula.
Rathlin Island is a Special Area of Conservation in Northern Ireland (SAC), and a Special Protected Area (SPA). It is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills – about thirty bird families in total. It is a popular place for birdwatchers, with a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserve offering spectacular views of Rathlin’s bird colony. The RSPB has also successfully managed natural habitat to facilitate the return of the Red-billed Chough. Northern Ireland’s only breeding pair of choughs can be seen during the summer months. It is also home to seals, golden hares, and other flora and fauna rarely seen on the mainland. There are numerous Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) on the Island – including the Coast, because of the importance to birds, and Kebble, which is also a Nature Reserve, because of the importance of its heathland.
The cliffs on this relatively bare island are impressive, standing 230 feet (70 m) tall. Bruce’s Cave is named after Robert the Bruce, also known as Robert I of Scotland: it was here that he was said to have seen the famous spider ‘try and try again’! The island is also the northernmost point of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Recently the Maritime and Coastguard Agency of the United Kingdom and the Marine Institute of Ireland undertook survey work in the area north of County Antrim, updating Admiralty charts. In doing so a number of interesting submarine geological features were identified around Rathlin Island, including a submerged crater or lake on a plateau with clear evidence of water courses feeding it. This suggests the events leading to inundation – subsidence of land or rising water levels – were extremely quick. Marine investigations in the area have also identified new species of anemone, rediscovered the fan mussel (the UK’s largest and rarest bivalve mollusc – thought to be found only in Plymouth Sound and a few sites off the west of Scotland) and a number of shipwreck sites, including HMS Drake (1901), which was torpedoed and sank just off the island in 1917.