Raghery map 008


The Society is indebted to Mr. P. M Bottomly, research assistant at the Public Record Office, Northern Ireland, for the following introductory note on the initial stages of the Ordnance Survey in Ireland. 

“In 1824 a Royal Commission, which had investigated problems of land valuation in Ireland, recommended that the entire island should be surveyed at a scale of 6 inches to one mile. The work started in 1825 and used up the entire resources of the Ordnance Survey, including three companies of Sappers and Miners (later called the Royal Engineers). In addition to more than 200 soldiers, there were about 2,000 civilian assistants, both English and Irish.

The Parliamentary Committee which got the Survey started was very economy-minded and tried to limit the Survey’s work to the bare minimum: their aim was to enable local taxation to be reorganised, as the County Rate was imposed unfairly because values areas of land were inaccurately reckoned. This was very different from the English survey where the aim was part military and part scientific. All that the Government wanted in Ireland was to have the townland boundaries accurately mapped: they advised against surveying field boundaries as this would be too expensive and slow, although in fact this restriction was later lifted. They even ordered the Ordnance Survey not to plot contour lines: it was not until the survey was well under way and railways were being built that the government realised the importance of gradients and ‘allowed contours to be included’. It says a great deal for Larcom’s powers of persuasion that the Memoir project got off the ground at all.”

Again the Society wishes to than the Officers of the Royal Irish Academy for kindly permitting the publication of this Memoir (BOX 15 Antrim XV, Rathlin Island Parish IX, 1-4).


Like the Memoirs previously published by the Society, the Memoir for the Parish of Rathlin consists of three different reports. The first was written by Lieutenant Thomas Hore in August 1830 and is here transcribed in its entirety. The other two are a rough and a fair copy of Lieutenant R. K. Dawson’s report, written in September 1835, which are here merged into one. A few short notes and extracts from the Rev. William Hamilton’s “Letters concerning the Northern Coast of the County of Antrim,” which appear on separate pages, have been omitted.

ordnance survey Rathlin 002

RATHLIN ISLAND (1904 O.S edition) Scale:1.5 inches to 1 mile.  Reproduced by courtesy of the Ordnance Survey Department.

Name: There has been a great variety of ancient names for this island. It is called Ricnea by Pliny, Ricina by Ptolemy, Riduna by Antonins, Ricarn and Ricrain by the Irish historians, Rachinda by Buchanan, Rechlin and Raghlin by Sir James Ware and Raghery by the inhabitants.

Situation: It is situated in the Atlantic, about nine British miles north of Ballycastle on the north coast of Antrim, is part of the Barony of Carey and County of Antrim. It is a Rectory and is in the diocese of Connor.


Ireland-Rathlin-Island L Shape

Figure and Extent Its figure is very peculiar, and would in a great measure resemble the letter “L” reversed, Church Bay being situated in the internal angle. Its extent from one extreme point to the other about eight the internal angle. Its extent from one extreme point to the other about eight and a half British miles and its average breadth is about one and a quarter miles. The parish contains 3,398 British statute acres.

Divisions: It is divided into twenty-two townlands, besides Roonivoolan lake containing thirty acres, situated in the south eastern corner or nearly —which is extra parochial.

Surface and Soil: The whole surface of this island which rises very abruptly from the sea to its full height, particularly on the north, presents a very bleak and cold appearance, particularly the north western portion which is the highest. Immediately at Church Bay and between that and the south east the ground ascends less abruptly than the remainder which, generally speaking, may be said to rise perpendicularly from the sea. The soil where it is arable, is generally speaking, good and thus some rich spots of cultivation in the valleys. But by far the greatest portion of the north western half consists of wild mountain grazing which is reckoned very good for fattening sheep. The south eastern half also consists for the most part of wild grazing ground, but is more rocky and barren.

Produce: The general and only crops are potatoes, oats and barley; of these barley is much more cultivated than the others.

Turbary: There is a very great scarcity of turbary in the island, which seems the greatest, if not the only, inconvenience the natives are subject to. What they have, also, is of an inferior quality.


Rathlin Island


Basalt: The whole surface of this island is basaltic and of a columnar tendency which latter is displayed on the outward coast and particularly on the east in the neighbourhood of Doom Here the pillars present a great variety of positions; the base is composed of columns perpendicular to the horizon; on the end of these several others appear in a bending form, while above the whole there are several lying in a horizontal position, the toute ensemble having a very grand picturesque appearance. There are several good quarries worked for building purposes, etc. and there is a particularly fine one in the townland of Roonivoolan which displays several tiers of columns placed horizontally on each other; in the coast of south Kinram­mar a whin dyke is visible.

Limestone: Almost the whole of the inner, or bay, coast of the island and a small part of the centre of the north, or outer coast displays an abundance of chalk filled with flints under the great basaltic stratum.

Kelp: The chief resource of this island consists in the extensive manufacture of kelp, which is exported in great abundance. It is chiefly manufactured by women and children. I have been informed that several tons of kelp have been known to be exported in one year.


Towns and Villages: There is no such thing as a town or village in the island, unless the several clusters of cabins in the different parts of the island can deserve the latter appellation. Church Bay has the appearance of a clean, cheerful, seaport village, but it consists of no houses, except a very neat set of buildings, lately erected for the officers and men of the Preventive Water Guard service and the residence of Mr Gage, which is a very pleasantly situated house, with a southern aspect in the townland of Church Quarter; about two hundred yards from this there stands an Established Church and about the same distance north of the latter there is a Roman Catholic chapel. There is also a Glebe House, now occupied as a school house, about four hundred yards east of the bay, for the residence of a Curate to the parish. There is no market, post or fair; there is a small pier constructed for the safety of fishing or trading boats.

Roads: There is one principal road leading from one extremity of the island to the other, that is to say from Kebble on the north west or west to Ushet on the south east. There are two leading from Church Quarter (one of them recently made) to) the east sea coast, a short distance southward of Bruce’s Castle; also another towards Bracken’s Cave. They are generally hard and rough, but this inconvenience cannot be so much felt here as it would be in other places as there are no vehicles of a better description than those necessary for the purposes of agriculture.

Rivers: There are a few small streams in this island rising from some of the scarce patches of bog. The principal one takes its rise from the bog in the townland of Ballynagard, and falls into the sea close to the church.

Bogs, Woods etc.: There is not a tree at present in the island, with the exception of a few immediately around the house of the Rector and Lord of the Soil, Revd. Mr. Gage, at Church Quarter, and even these show the effects of exposure to the sea blasts. Nor have I perceived any thing to indicate that there had ever been woods to any extent from the scarcity of the bog and the rocky nature of the surface, particularly in the south east half of the island.

Population: I have heard the population of the island estimated at about twelve hundred, being all of the original native stock. The English language is very little spoken amongst themselves. They are under the sway of the lord of the isle, Mr. Gage, the rector, who holds it by a lease in perpetuity from the Countess of Antrim: (Anne Katherine) and who, it is said, sometimes banishes his subjects to the Continent of Ireland, as a punishment and which is considered by them a very great one. A common expression among them, when going over the channel to Ballycastle, or any other port, is “I am going to Ireland.” They appear comparatively happy and comfortable, one of the principal studies, of their excellent landlord being to that end. Each townland is every year divided into lots, of one to each family, bearing different denominations. Each family is then supplied by the casting of lots with one of these portions.

Trading, Commerce, etc.: The manner in which the trade of this island is carried on is as follows. Two store houses have been built—one on the east coast, near Bracken’s Cave and the other on Church Bay west coast, five or six hundred yards south of the pier. At each of these Store Houses there is a regular weighing machine and a person to keep an account of all goods and their owners—stored. Here all the produce of the soil—which is principally barley—not wanted for immediate domestic use, is lodged till an opportunity of traffic, which is mostly with the Scottish people, occurs. Fuel being the principal want, boats from Scotland generally come to the island laden with coals, which they barter with these islanders for their grain and kelp. These opportunities of traffic do not occur regularly and are sometimes much wanted in which cases Mr. Gage takes from his tenants their grain in lieu of rent.

Antiquities: Near the north east corner of the island in the townland of history of which is that during the Civil Wars of Scotland between Robert Bruce and Balliol, the former fled to this island for shelter and fortifying himself in the castle which now bears his name, made a bold and successful resistance to the enemy.

Bruce's Castle. Rathlin

The antiquity of this fortress is not known, but it is supposed to have been well upwards of five centuries ago. Besides Bruce’s Castle the only discernible ruins are those of an old Danish Fort in the townland of North Ballygill, or rather it is a mound of considerable height, with a flat surface and it is supposed to be one of them.

Thomas Hore, Lieutenant, Royal Engineers, — 17th August, 1830. Natural features modern topography and social economy** endorsed “Forwarded to Lieutenant Larcom 17 September 1835” (signed). R. K. Dawson,  Lt R(oyal)


Hills: the island of Rathlin is almost entirely bounded by a range of precipitous cliffs varying in height from 445 to 51 feet above the level of the sea which washes their base. These cliffs support a summit very rocky and uneven. The highest ground is towards the north west extremity of the island and about the centre of its western portion the descent from this to its south east side is by a succession of abrupt and rocky steps. The surface of the entire island is broken with numerous craggy hills or bumps. Between these has are deep dells or hollows many of which form the beds of small lakes or ponds. The principal points are in Kenramer North townland 447, Flagstaff 407, and in Kebble townland 372 feet above the level of the sea.

Lakes: small loughs or ponds are unusually numerous in Rathlin, there being upwards of 70 throughout the island. Their average size is about one acre. At the southern extremity of the island is a lake which extends over 30 acres 1 rood 14 perches and its extreme depth is between 25 and 30 feet. Within one quarter mile of the north west coast is another which extends over 11 acres 2 roods 16 perches its extreme depth being about 20 feet. The other lakes are very inconsiderable and many of them become dry in summer. It would seem as if there had been a greater number of them formerly in the hollows before mentioned and that they have either subsided or been drained.

Rivers: there is no river and only one stream of any consequence. It flows from a lake (which becomes dry in summer) in Craigmacagan townland and after a course of about one-third mile empties itself into the sea in Church Bay. This stream affords sufficient water to drive a, mill in winter but becomes dry in summer.

Rathlin is well supplied with spring and soft water. There is a very remarkable well in Ballycarry townland at the north eastern point of the island. It is about 130 feet above the level of the sea and within 40 yards of the edge of the precipitous basaltic cliff at the coast. This well is not more than 10 inches deep and 18 inches square and is in a little rocky hollow on the acclivity of a hill and although at such an elevation above the sea it regularly ebbs and flows with the tide, its greatest rise or fall never exceeding 2.5 inches. The bottom of the well is rock and no cavity where the water might escape can be discovered. The water in it is brackish.

Bogs: There is no bog except at the bottom of the lakes which become dry in summer. It varies in depth from 2 to 10 feet but is rarely cut to the bottom owing to the water rising. Oak and fir trees of consider­able size are occasionally found in these bogs; the trunks are lying and separate from the roots which are standing near them. These trees seem to have been blown or broken down. Nuts probably acorns are sometimes found in these bogs. Very little timber however of any kind is now found in them.

Woods: The timber found in the bogs is the only evidence remain­ing as to the former existence of natural woods in Rathlin as with the exception of a very little planting there is not a tree in the island. The inhabitants assert that all the hollows and beds of the present lakes were at one time. covered with the finest timber and that Rathlin derived its name or one of its names from the quality of its timber, Rathlin or Raghery signifying the best spar in a ship. This however is very doubtful.

Coasts: There are 13 miles of coast encompassing Rathlin. With the exception of about half mile of sandy or shingle beach in Church Bay it consists of a wall of chalk and basaltic cliffs which vary in ‘height from 445 to 50 feet above the level of the sea. On the southern side of the northern portion of the island limestone appears under the basalt varying and improving the appearance of the coast by taking away from the gloomy and sombre look it would otherwise have. Except on the southern portion of the island the coast is almost wholly inaccessible. The cliffs along the northern side are perfectly so, being perpendicular and averaging 200 feet in height.

The principal headlands are “The Bull” at the extreme western point of the island 232 feet, Farganlack Point 350 on the north west of the island. Ininfidda west of the former 198, and Bruce’s Castle at the extreme east 67 feet above the level of the sea. Besides these there are several other very fine headlands along the north coast of the island.

The principal promontories are Rue Point at the extreme southern point of the island, and Ushet and Doon on its south east side. None of these are at all conspicuous as they do not exceed 30 feet in height. Rat the peculiar positions of the columnar basalt in the latter is remarkably curious.

The principal bays are Church Bay on the southern side of the island. It is sheltered from the easterly and northerly winds. The anchorage however is bad and the sea on this coast in general heavy and vessels rarely take advantage of this bay. There are three other small bays or creeks which are rocky and dangerous and afford. very little protection to shipping, several vessels having been within a few years wrecked in them.

Caves:There are several very fine caves along the coast. The finest is Bruce’s cave so called from Robert Bruce having taken refuge there for some days.

Bruce's Cave Rathlin


It is about 70 feet high at its entrance and about 25 wide. It can only be entered by a boat and that too in the calmest weather as there is generally a very heavy sea along that part of the coast. After proceeding for some distance into it by water a landing on a shingle beach is effected. Beyond this there are the foundations of a wall which in memory extended across the cave. There are also two smaller caves off it one on each side near its inner extremity. It extends for about 150 yards and becomes gradually, narrower and lower until it terminates. It is about a quarter of a mile north of Bruce’s Castle.

The scenery along the coast of Rathlin is very bold, wild and interesting and many days might be spent in exploring and examining the numerous caves and curious positions of the columnar basalt as there is no part of the coast of Antrim where it assumes such a variety of posi­tion. Near Doon Point in Archill Bay the columns are found beautifully per­fect and radiated like a fan; at Doon Point they are equally perfect but their upper joints inclining at a considerable curve. A day or two are not sufficient to examine the coast attentively as something curious or interesting presents itself at every step. The northern coast of Antrim from the Causeway to Torr Head is seen to great advantage from Rathlin and the view of the Scottish Islands and the coast of Cantire is extensive and magnificent.

Climate: The climate of Rathlin is healthy and the air pure. The usual time for sowing is from the latter end of March to the 30 April and the harvest sets in about the 12 September.


Towns: There is neither town nor village in the island. At the head of Church Bay are 8 neat houses erected by government for the accommodation of the coastguards which present the appearance of a cheerful sea port village.

Public Buildings: The church is a neat modern building 58 feet long by 28 wide. It would accommodate about 150 persons. At its western extremity there is a small square tower. It is situated in Church Quarter townland.  The Roman Catholic chapel is situated in the same townland about 250 yards north of the church. It is a plain substantial building 42 feet long and 20 feet wide and capable of accommodating 400 persons. There is a gallery in it.

There as a small quay or pier 90 feet long by 24 feet wide in Church Bay. Vessels of 40 tons can come up to it.

Gentlemen seats: That of the Rev. Robert Gage the rector and landlord of the island is a good modern house pleasantly situated at the head of Church Bay and enjoying a southern prospect and beautiful view of the northern coast of Antrim. There is a tolerable garden near the house.

The residence of the Rev. Valentine Griffith is situated in Demesne townland. It is a neat little one storey cottage comfortably fitted up.

Mill: There is only one corn mill and it constitutes the entire machinery
of the island. It is situated close to the shore in Kinkeel townland and is propelled by a breast water wheel 12 feet in diameter I foot 10 inches broad.

Communications: There is one main road five miles long which traverses the island from Kebble on the north west to Ushet at the south east extremity of the island. This road is in many places unavoidably hilly but is kept in repair at the public expense (under the Grand Jury laws).

There is no bridge and a few small pipes.

General appearance: Except along its coast the appearance of this island is very barren and uninteresting arising from the rocky and uncultivated state of the ground, the wretched appearance of the cottages of the lower class and the great want of planting.

(The vulcanic character and appearance of the island is deserving of notice. Refer to Mr. Ligar (initialled) R. K. D (awson) ).


Early improvements: The island of Rathlin was for ages subject to the migrations and hostile incursions of several Scottish clans who in many instances massacred all the inhabitants. The last migration which took place was in the year 1745 after the defeat of Prince Charles Edward Stuart when some of his adherents fled to Rathlin. Among these were the families of McCurdy and Black who almost form the entire population, the former family being equal In numbers to the rest of the inhabitants. When they came over there were only 6 families in the island. It is probable however that their civilisation has been caused almost exclusively by the residence of the rector (who is also the proprietor of the island and a magistrate) and the introduction of schools which coupled with the exertions of the clergy have no doubt raised them to their present rank in the scale of society.

Local government: There is one magistrate living in the island and from the influence he as its proprietor possesses over the inhabitants he is enabled and has succeeded in preserving social order. No such thing as crime outrage theft or an indictment or litigation of any kind being ever known here. There are 7 coast-guards.  There is neither illicit distillation or smuggling though both particularly the latter were carried to a tremendous extent at one time. There are no insurances of any kind.

Dispensaries: There is no dispensary nor is there a medical person residing on the island. The people are free from infectious or contagious diseases but are very subject to asthma and rheumatism occasioned by their exposure to wet and cold in cutting the sea wreck for the purpose of making kelp and also for manure.

Schools: The people seem desirous of having their children instructed and the introduction of schools has been attended with very beneficial results to the morals of the rising generation.

Poor: There is no regular provision for the poor except the collection on Sundays at church and chapel. On a certain night near Christmas a number of young men assemble at one extremity of the island, one of them in dressed in a sheepskin. They then commence blowing a horn and proceed to the other extremity of the island and visiting every house in it collect from each a, quantity of meal, potatoes or money in return for which they give the donors a piece of sheepskin. Having received something from every one they then make an equal distribution of what they have got amongst the poor, aged and infirmed and such a thing as mis-applying any of it has never been known.

Religion: There are about 134 Episcopalians and 900 Roman Catholics. The rector is supported by his tithes and glebe and £30 per annum from Primate Boulter’s fund. The curate has a salary from his rector and the priest is supported by his flock.

Habits of the people: The cottages of the lower class are with a few exceptions wretched in their appearance, though not quite so much so in reality. They are all one storey, thatched and built of stone, but very little mortar is used (in) their construction. Each house has generally two apartments and receives light from two small glazed windows. They are far from being comfortable but are rather cleanly. Potatoes, fish and a little meal form their articles of food. Turf is their principal fuel, but they suffer wretchedly from want of it, there being scarce being any bog on the island and they are obliged to cut the green sods for burning.

They dress rather comfortably, their clothes being mostly of home manufacture. They cannot be called long-lived, but would probably be so were they not exposed to such hardships in cutting wreck, which no doubt shortens their existence. The usual number in a family is 5. They do not marry very early. Their principal amusement is dancing and a little cammon (caman) playing at Christmas. They cannot be said to have any Patron’s Days. They are remarkably superstitious. Their traditions are number-less, but as these relate almost exclusively to the deeds of St. Columb, Robert Bruce, etc. they come more properly under the head of ancient history. One of them may be noticed. It accounts for the position and origin of Rathlin in the following manner, “The giant who built the Cause-way while engaged in that undertaking ran short of stones and had to send his wife to Scotland for an apron-full. On her way something happening her she let the stones fall into the sea and they formed the island of Rathlin.” This Is very well borne out so far as the stoney lumpy surface of the island is concerned.

There is nothing so peculiar to the inhabitants as their “sweating houses”. These are small houses about 6 feet high circular and about 4 feet in diameter. They are built of stone and are formed like a dome at the top, where there is an aperture about 18 inches square.  At the bottom is another aperture through which a man can with difficulty creep. Their mode of using them is as follows: they light a very strong fire in the house and keep it up for a considerable time. When they consider the house sufficiently heated they take out the fire and sweep it. As many as can possibly fit it by standing upright then creep in. The opening at the top is closed tight with sods as is also the one at the bottom. Those inside (being perfectly naked) remain there for a certain time which they decide on by certain indications and having perspired most profusely come out. This is said to be an infallible cure for rheumatic complaints etc. There are two of these houses on the island: one is a public and the other a private one. They contain about 8 persons packed closely. There are not any other peculiar customs nor is there anything peculiar in their costume or appearance.

Emigration: There is very little emigration; perhaps 9 on an average annually emigrate to America. A considerable number go to the Scottish harvests but return when they are over. Sometimes an   individual may settle there either from obtaining an offer of constant employment or some other accidental cause.

The island has not given birth to any remarkable person nor been the scene of any remarkable  event except those connected with its history and they are numerous.

Table of Schools:

Remarks: This is a private school where Gaelic is taught. The scholars pay one penny per week and it was established in 1835.

Townland Protestants Catholics Males Females Total
Cleggan      – 40 40   40

Remarks: This school is under the London Hibernian Society. The scholars pay one penny per week and it was established in 1827.

Townland Protestants Catholics Males Females Total
Cleggan    – 25   25 25

Remarks: This school is also under the London Hibernian Society. The scholars pay one penny per week, established in 1826.

Townland Protestants Catholics Males Females Total
Demesne     3 27 30    – 30

Remarks: This school is under the Kildare Place Society. The scholars pay one penny per week, established in 1824.

Townland Protestants Catholics Males Females Total
Church Quarter     15 40 40    – 55


Totals Protestants Catholics Males Females Total
      18 132 95    55 150

Additional Provision: Hedge (Barn) School: Pupils Paying 1shilling & 8 pence per quarter.  Not associated with any society.

Townland Protestants Catholics Males Females Total
Kennamore 1 13 8 6 14
Alexander Black   Schoolmaster

Additional Provision: Hedge (Barn) School: Pupils Paying 1s. 8d. per quarter not connected with any society.

Townland Protestants Catholics Males Females Total
Kirkeel 5 13 9 9 18
Elizabeth Campbell Schoolmistress


  1. My ancestor was Daniel McGowan born 24Dec1845 Rathlin and died in Lubec Maine USA 17Dec 1875. I would love to know more!

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