Church Bay, Rathlin

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Church Bay
County Antrim
Rathlin Island Northern Ireland 16.jpg
The habour, Church Bay
Island: Rathlin Island
Grid reference: D149510
Location: 55°17’33"N, 6°11’32"W
Post town: Ballycastle
Postcode: BT54
Local Government
Council: Antrim Coast and Glens

Church Bay is the only village on Rathlin Island, and Rathlin, lying off the north coast of County Antrim, is the only inhabited island of Northern Ireland. The village stands around the natural bay formed in the internal corner of this L-shaped island, and is the destination for the ferry across the sound from Ballycastle on the mainland. The ferry has just six miles to sail between Castle Bay and Ballycastle.

Just over 1000 people live in Castle Bay, though in season it is much swollen by visitors.


Vikings landed in Church Bay in the dark Ages: one of the first recorded attacks on Ireland was a raid on Rathlin in 795. Norse occupation has left behind a number of Norse graves, coins and intricate brooches.

Until the 1940s Rathlin used to export kelp from Church Bay. Seaweed was collected and put into stone kilns and burned until it turned into a "boiling mess". There were up to 150 kelp kilns at one time and the kelp was used to produce soda and iodine.

Early on 2 October 1917, HMS Drake, one of the fastest and heaviest cruisers of her time, while escorting a transatlantic convoy was hit by a torpedo from the German U-Boat U-79 in Rathlin Sound. The Drake made it into the bay before sinking with the loss of 19 crew.

In 1996, in order to facilitate the ferry service between Church Bay and Ballycastle, substantial improvements were made to the harbour, including a new slipway, mooring pontoons, lighting and an access ramp.

About the village

The Rathlin Island Ferry

Around Church Bay there is a diving centre; a popular activity due to the number of wrecks in and around the bay.

The island visitor centre and museum, the Boathouse, situated a short walk from the harbour in Church Bay, contains a wealth of artefacts, photographs and information about Rathlin's history and life on the island.

Outside links