No Reader is an Island

An overview of books about Rathlin (Part 1 - History)

Most of the books listed below are available from Northern Ireland libraries. You can view further details on these items and reserve copies via the online catalogue which can be accessed at  may also be obtained in second hand condition from or
The Rathlin Boathouse Centre referred to in the availability notes is situated in Church Bay, Rathlin and is generally open from the beginning of May until the end of August. Enquires may be directed to Moyle District on +44(0)28 2076 2225 or via email on
Rathlin’s Rugged Story, from an Islander’s Perspective (2000), by Augustine McCurdy, 2000, 99 pages.
Availability: Library, Rathlin Boathouse Centre, McListers of Ballycastle, author on
This illustrated overview of Rathlin’s history begins with useful information on the geological forces that shaped Rathlin, followed by short sections on the early periods of the island’s history, including the arrival of the first Mesolithic people, the Celts, the Vikings and the early Christians.
Cover of Rathlins Rugged Story - Reproduced with kind permission of A McCurdyAn elucidation and history of many of the island townland names are supplied along with data relating to the nature and economics of farm tenancies and practices. Instructive paragraphs on the construction of each of the lighthouses are concluded by a short history of the island Coastguard Service.
The most significant event in this history is the rescue by the Rathlin Coastguard (all of whom were volunteers) of the 14 man crew of the trawler ‘Shackleton’ on the March 1, 1930. A commemorative marble tablet donated by the trawler’s owners is still displayed in the parish hall. There are several pages devoted to Rathlin boats and the many small island ports that they sailed from.
The book concludes with a selection of songs and verse. The appendix includes a list of island emigrants to America. There are photographs throughout, many of Rathlin family groups.
The author was born and still lives on Rathlin.

Rathlin, Its Island Story(1996), by Wallace Clarke, fourth edition, Impact Printing (of Coleraine) Ltd, 200 pages.
The first edition of this book was published in 1971 by Volturna Press and entitled Rathlin – Disputed Island.
Availability: Library, Rathlin Boathouse Centre.
Rathlin, Its Island Story, is an impressively detailed chronological history of Rathlin from pre-historic times to the present (the postscript was added in 1993). The text is well researched and the chapter topics include the Vikings, the Byssets and Bruce, the Tudors versus the Scots, the Essex and Campbell massacres, and Rathlin under the Gages.
The volume includes a reasonable number of photographs, drawings and sketches, in addition to a map showing the distribution of Rathlin porcellanite axes through Ireland and Great Britain.
Complementing the wealth of information contained within the text are a number of worthwhile appendices. The first tells the story of a raid made on Rathlin in about 200 B.C. based on early texts including The Martial Deeds of Congal Clarineach.
The second contains a short paper by Dr A B Taylor on the meaning of the name Rathlin. Dr Taylor begins by stating that Rathlin is a very old island name and that its history is somewhat complicated. This is certainly borne out by the explanation that follows. At best the various roots of the name seem to suggest a word that suits a rugged island, though a definitive explanation of the meaning remains elusive.
The third appendix lists Rathlin place names with English translations, while the fourth contains the text of the Earl of Essex’s callous report to Elizabeth I following his treacherous slaughter of the island’s inhabitants.
The fifth appendix consists of a useful single page chronology and the last, a population table spanning the years 1675 to 1993, is followed by an extensive bibliography listing some 57 references.

A History of the Island of Rathlin, With Illustrations and Maps, 1851, by Catharine Gage
J Margaret Dickson, 1995, 121 pages.
Availability: Library only.
Although written in 1851 Catharine Gage’s history of Rathlin remained unpublished until 1995. The first half of the book covers the period from prehistory up until the time that the island became the property of the Earls of Antrim.
It is likely, however, that the modern reader will find the succeeding sections that deal with the Gage family’s relationship with the island most interesting. Of particular note are those paragraphs which detail the consequences of the 1847 famine.
The final chapter considers the natural history of the island, and comprehensive bird, fish and plant species lists are given.
The author has illustrated the text throughout and one of the final drawings is a Gage family tree, the root of which is occupied by Sir Reginald de Gage, a Norman knight who accompanied King William I to England.
Catharine Gage (1791 – 1852) was the eldest daughter of Ezekiel Davy Boyd of Ballycastle and married Robert Gage on the August 12, 1812. The Gage family owned most of Rathlin from 1746 up until the first quarter of the twentieth century.
The editor’s preface notes that the text came to her attention while trying to locate a local specimen of Grass of Parnassus, a species which she then learnt had been listed in Catharine Gage’s handwritten book. This led her to seek out a photocopy of the original and ultimately to publish it, some 144 years after it was written.

Rathlin Island, North of Antrim (1947), By Hugh Alexander Boyd, Ballycastle, J S Scarlett and Son, 72 pages.
Availability: Library only.
A short historical overview of Rathlin (in the preface the author states that the volume’s brevity is, in part, a consequence of high post war printing costs). There is some general history but much of the text is concerned with ecclesiastical matters, including details of Bishop Francis Hutchinson’s failed attempt to teach the islanders English with his bizarre ‘Raghery Catechism’ (the full story of which has recently been documented by Dr Andrew Sneddon from the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland).
A short chapter is devoted to the contemporary Gage family and the volume concludes with a brief bibliography and a bird list from 1892.

By Jonathan Mitchell