Day Trip to Rathlin Island

above, the East Lighthouse 
Ireland is surrounded by a number of little islands, from the iconic Aran Isles covered in stone walls to the striking Skellig Michael which was recently the setting for a major blockbuster film (Star Wars, anyone?). One day maybe I'll be able to say I've visited most of them, although some are harder to explore than others and require private boat charters to get to. More accessible and a must-see for anyone exploring Northern Ireland is Rathlin Island. It's a historic island with regular ferries across making it ideal for a day trip, particularly in the summer when the puffins are gathering on the sea cliffs. We recently went across to spy on the puffins, razorbills, guillemots, and kittiwakes stirring up a ruckus at the Seabird Centre and West Lighthouse. It's a hilly four mile walk or bike ride from the harbour to the Seabird Centre, but a regular bus runs from the ferry to the centre in peak season making the trip a short, scenic ride down the island's narrow roads. As delightful as the bird watching we also thoroughly enjoyed the walk through the West Lighthouse; it's a unique upside-down construction with the bulb at the bottom of the tower (see here). My favorite detail though was the Lightkeeper's room kept in similar conditions to the original. In cheerful, retro colors it looked like something out of a Wes Anderson film. After touring the lighthouse and getting your fill of the seabirds the bus will drop you back off at the harbour where you can manage a shorter walk to the east side of the island to look for wild hares and seals. At the harbour you'll also find a pub, restaurant, shops, and museums--all of which can be a rarity on some of the smaller islands. Many islands today don't have a permanent population, but Rathlin is home to around 150 people year round. In the evenings after the last ferry leaves it's easy to imagine how quiet the island gets in winter, but at this time of year it's a popular destination for day trippers looking for an escape from the mainland.
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