Bound for Rathlin Sound

Organisers of the Maritime Festival tell us about the raft of events for all ages to enjoy between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island from May 26

Now in its fifth year, the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival has almost made itself a solid fixture along Northern Ireland's north coast, bringing festival goers and sea lovers a mixture of cultural and maritime-themed treats throughout its week-long event.

Taking place from Friday May 26 to Sunday June 4, events and activities are spread across both Ballycastle and Rathlin, as well as the dramatic and beautiful waters between them after which the festival is named.

'The festival will launch this Friday May 19 with the Currach Crossing, where two currachs from the two communities – Rathlin and Ballycastle – will row to Ballycastle Harbour then exchange gifts. It’s an old tradition from centuries ago,' explains Paul Kerrigan, the person in charge of organising the festival on the Ballycastle side.

'We will then officially open the following Friday (May 26) with the Blessing of the Boats, which is a very poignant point of the festival where we stop and reflect on those people who have lost their lives at sea over the years – not only at Ballycastle Bay but from all around the world.

'On the Ballycastle side, we a have a number of activities happening: from power boating to kayaking; display of a tall ship to cooking demonstrations; and viking displays to kids’ activities... There will be a very diverse and large amount of activities going on.'

Rathlin Sound 2017

A key feature of the festival will be the mixture of musical acts playing in intimate spaces on both sides of the water. Ballycastle in particular will be awash with sounds to set the pulses racing and help carry the festival atmosphere long into the night.

'On Saturday May 27, we will have Ballycastle band 30 Mile Limit playing, as well as local and traditional bands throughout the first weekend,' says Kerrigan. 'Music will be played in all sorts of venues across the town, including the public library, pubs and cafes.'

Another band playing on the same night is Amach Anocht whose modern take on traditional music is not only refreshing but is bound to get the crowds dancing into the wee small hours at The Marine Hotel, the chosen venue for Saturday night’s entertainment.

It's also where special guest Sharon Shannon will cap off the festival with her headline appearance on the final weekend. With enduring favourites like 'Blackbird' in her back catalogue, as well as songs from new album Sacred Earth released in February, the Irish trad star is expected to be a sellout show. Organisers have warned to book tickets well in advance.

As Kerrigan shares, it becomes apparent that the festival will not be shy of culinary treats either. 

'We work with local businesses who will be putting on maritime-themed menus during the festival,' he explains. 'Plus, on the weekend we will have 55 producers coming to sell fresh and wide-ranging local foods, arts and crafts along the waterfront. What’s more, North Coast Walking Food Tours will have its Ballycastle food tour during the week, then a 'Tastes of the Sea Aperitif' class with Women Next Door.

'Voted best place to live in Northern Ireland two years running, the festival really complements Ballycastle. It celebrates something we’re really passionate about, which is our maritime culture and we’re really looking forward to this year’s festival. I want to thank all our sponsors who have made so much possible.'

Looking to what's happening on Rathlin, organiser Michael Cecil describes how the island, which is home to roughly just 140 people, will project the more 'traditional' side to the festival with its unearthing of items recovered from nearby shipwrecks. There will then be several historical events such as the HMS Drake exhibition, which will feature images and stories from the Navy ship which torpedoed off the north of Rathlin, in commemoration of its 100th year anniversary.

Cecil also highlights the Rathlin Sunset Cruise, which will leave Ballycastle harbour on Sunday May 28 for a special and unique opportunity to enjoy a different perspective of the island. Like Sharon Shannon across the water, he's quick to point out the cruise as one of the festival's more popular offerings, and advises to book for this and any ferry crossings to the island before the week itself.

Rathlin Ferry Company

Bringing a magical and otherworldly twist to the festival, the Ardglass replica viking ship often attracts a great deal of attention when it sails to the island. 'Many yachts and boats come to enjoy this spectacle, some even from Scotland,' says Cecil. 'People then stay on the island beyond the week.'

'The original idea of the festival was to celebrate maritime culture and also to kickstart the tourist season so it is great to see this is actually happening.'

Of course, Rathlin too will play host to an impressive music line-up, including Antrim's own indie-folk purveyors Runabay at McCuaig's, one of the most remote pubs in Ireland. Other live entertainment will also centre around the quaint and cosy bar, from Irish traditional duo Full Shillin’ to the Armagh Rhymers, the folk theatre ensemble with over 30 years experience and who hope to perform on the seafront if weather permits.

If that's not enough, creative writers can soak up maritime literature expertise in a Waves into Words workshop with Waypoints author Ian Stephen, while a walking tour focused around food produced on the island promises that festival-goers will 'walk, eat, laugh and love Rathlin'. With all of that in store and more, the last part could apply to the whole festival. Whichever side you're on, there's a lot to love about this fast-growing event in a part of the world unlike any other.

To find out more information about the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival, see the full programme of events and bookings, visit