Rathlin Island’s Maritime Heritage gets Enhanced Protections

A number of historic sites on Rathlin Island including the World War 1 wreck HMS Drake and the island’s three iconic lighthouses have been designated as listed sites by the Department for Communities. 

Rathlin Island off the coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Credit Northern Ireland Tourist Board

The shipwreck of HMS Drake, which lies in Church Bay, has been designated a scheduled historic monument. A heavy armoured cruiser built between 1899 and 1902 she was designed for scouting and commerce warfare. The Drake was sunk by a torpedo strike from a German U-boat in October 1917. Despite being later damaged by a fishing trawler that now lies wrecked across her and subsequent clearance operations, the vessel remains are considerable with elements such as anchors, guns and steering gear clearly visible to divers.

rathlin island lighthouse hms drake

Wreck of the HMS Drake A popular site for divers on the Antrim coast (Credit Wessex Archaeology)

Liam McQuillan, Senior Archaeologist, Department for Communities said: “The designation of HMS Drake affords it recognition as a site of national importance and is key towards preserving an important marine heritage asset for present and future generations. The move to protect this shipwreck also accords with the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which deems WWI military remains to be of cultural, historical or archaeological interest; and shows that Northern Ireland is committed to ensuring that significant marine cultural heritage assets are given the protection deserved.”



It is recognised that the Drake is a popular dive site and this move to protect the wreck will not mean the imposition of an exclusion zone and/or licensed diving which might otherwise hinder responsible public access. Divers will still be allowed access the wreck but will not be able to remove anything from it.

Rory McNeary, Senior Marine Archaeologist, DAERA said: “We fully recognise that the wreck is a popular dive site and draws divers from all over the UK, Ireland and beyond and makes a valuable contribution to the local marine economy. We would actively encourage divers to visit the site, but to take photos rather than souvenirs, so that what remains of the wreck will be there for future divers to enjoy. By affording the wreck protection we hope it will become a focus for understanding, exploring and appreciating the world of 1914-18 and the often overlooked war at sea as well as broaden public participation with underwater heritage.”

rathlin island lighthouse hms drake

Rathlin West Light Home to the RSPB seabird centre

In addition to the wreck the three lighthouses on the island will be designated as listing buildings. For over 150 years there has been at least one lighthouse on the island acting as a vital navigational aid for passing seafarers. The earliest of the three lighthouses,the East Light, dates to 1856 was designed by George Halpin. The lighthouse is unique in having two lanterns to improve its visibility in the fog, an upper occulting light and lower fixed light.

The West Light is a particularly unique, it is Ireland’s only ‘upside-down lighthouse’. It was built between 1912 and 1917 at the top of Kebble Point. The cliff was too high for the light to be effective so it had to be placed some way down the cliff, making the lighthouse upside down.

rathlin island lighthouse hms drake

Rathlin West ‘upside-down lighthouse’  (Credit Great Lighthouses of Ireland)

The third lighthouse on the island, South Light, was built at Rue Point in 1921. It’s octagonal in shape and set at sea level on the exposed rocks acting as a warning for ships passing Rue Point.

The listings include the lighthouses and their associated structures including the light keepers houses and engine rooms, demonstrating the social aspect of light keepers and their families and how they lived on the island.  

About the Author

Ann Robinson
Has a passion for coastal heritage and maritime history. Loves sharing the best of the Irish coast online. Contact me ann@coastmonkey.ie or follow me on Twitter @AnnRobinson22

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