Rathlin Island County Antrim Guide and Directory 1888

George Henry Bassett
The Book of Antrim

THE Island of Rathlin, at its nearest point, is over 7 miles from the mainland. It is about this distance north of Ballycastle, with which it has a connection Tuesdays and Fridays weekly by sail boat for the transit of mails and passengers. In winter, however, the sea is often so rough that the bravest boatmen are not able to make regular passages. During the summer season there are frequent trips from shore to shore. Rathlin is one of the show places which tourists should not fail to visit. Many writers have found names for this island, but it will be sufficient to quote that of Hamilton. He calls it Raghery, from Ragh Erin, the fort of Erin. The natives are known along the Antrim coast northwest of Ballycastle as Ragherymen. Rathlin is the name given to it by Ware, the t only being added. According to the Ordnance Survey it contains 3,398 3/4 statute acres, 30 1/2 of which are under two lakes, one at Ushet Point, and the other less than a mile from Bull Point. The island is about 7 miles in length, and at the centre about 2 miles in breadth. Rocks and stony pasture make up fully three-fourths, and the rest of the land is of medium quality. Mr. Robert Gage, J.P., is the present owner. He resides all the year round in a prettily-situated house on the verge of Church Bay, and farms a considerable portion of the island himself. The population in 1831 was 1,039. Of this number the greater part belong to the Roman Catholic faith, the remainder to the Church of Ireland. With the exception of some families in the Church Bay quarter, most of the people speak Irish and English. They live by farming and fishing, and are peaceful and inoffensive in their habits. Their amusements are few and simple, chief among them being that of dancing. The crops grown are beans, barley, and potatoes. Rents run at from ten shillings to twenty-five shillings per acre, and each tenant receives a certain portion of rocky land for nothing.

An industry of the islanders, at one time exceedingly profitable, was the burning of kelp. It is still maintained, though the prices realized are very much smaller. It is said that the tenants are able to get enough out of it yet to pay their rents. There are 8 draft nets used for fishing, each one being owned by 12 men. Pollock is the principal fish caught.

St. Comgall visited Rathlin for the purpose of founding a church, but was driven away by a band of soldiers. St. Columb in the 6th century succeeded in founding a monastery, which he gave over to the charge of St. Colman. There is, however, some doubt as to the person who really did build the monastery.

In 790 the Danes, in their first descent on the Irish coast, destroyed it and ravaged the island. The monastery was repaired, but in 973, on the second visit of the Danes, it was again destroyed and the abbot, St. Feradach, murdered.

In the 13th century King John made a grant of the island to Alan of Galway. Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, during the civil war in his own country, took refuge at Rathlin, and built a castle on a cliff, at the east side, facing the Mull of Cantyre, distant about 14 miles. He built and fortified a castle, of which there are small remains. The island was in possession of Scotch settlers, in 1558. Lord Deputy Sussex in that year drove them out, with great slaughter, and toward the end of the l6th century, it is said to have been uninhabited. Excavations in the centre of the island resulted in the discovery of brazen swords, spear heads, and a golden fibula of large size. Nearly the entire island has a substratum of basalt and white limestone. On the western side, the rocks rise to a considerable height, and on the eastern the basalt appears in various forms, including the columnar. Chalk predominates in the cliffs of the southern coast, producing charming effects in the view from Ballycastle. There is good duck and wigeon shooting.

Church of I.—Rev, David Kennedy
Grocers—J. Hunter, Jas. M'Cuaig
Light Keepers—Ptk. Keenan, Aw. M'Gonigle and Edw. Kennedy: Jno. M'Keighton, gunner
Post Master—Aw. Harbison
R.C.—Rev. J. O'Boyle, P.P.
Schl., Nat.—Mrs. B. Anderson
Spirit Retailer—Ml. McCuaig


Anderson, Alex., Craigmacagan
Anderson, John, Knockans
Black, John, Ballygill S.
Craig, Neal, Ballygill N.
Curry, Alex., Ballyconaghan
Curry, John, Churchquarter
Gage, Robt. (J.P.), Churchquarter
M'Cuaig, Jas., Ballycarry
M'Cuaig, Jas., Ballynoe
M'Cuaig, Jno., Roonivoolin
M'Cuaig, Ml., Demesne
M'Cuaig, Rt., Kinkeel
M'Curdy, Alex., Ballygill N.
M'Curdy, Jos., Ballygill S.
M'Curdy, Neil, Kinramer N.
M'Fall, Neal, Kinramer S.
M'Kay, Jno., Ballyconaghan
Morrison, Arch., Ballygill N.
Spears, Hugh, Knockans
Thompson, Mrs., Craigmacagan
Weir, Alex., Carrivandoon