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Rathlin West Lighthouse: a beloved upside-down beacon off the coast of Northern Ireland

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A trip to picturesque Rathlin, the only developed island off the coast of Northern Ireland, offers several things including wildlife, a medieval history and more.
Three lighthouses guide boats along Rathlin, and the seafaring excitement begins as soon as you leave the shores of Ballycastle.
The island is home also of one of the largest seabird colonies in the UK.
Every year over 250,000 seabirds such as guillemots (which only come on land to nest and can dive to a depth of 180 metres underwater), razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars (a grey and white seabird related to the albatross that can live for up to 40 years) and puffins return to breed here. Moreover, on the idyllic island, Northern Ireland’s only pair of breeding great skua may also be spotted close to West Light.

Whether you love wildlife, are a bit of a history buff or simply want to experience life on an island and feel the wind in your face, Rathlin West Light is the place for you.
Known as Ireland’s only “upside down” lighthouse, its red paraffin light sits at the base of the lighthouse rather than atop it to radiate through the low-lying fog that hugs the island.
The lighthouse was built into the cliff face between 1912 and 1917. A special pier and an inclined railway from the pier to the cliff top had to be built to facilitate its construction.
First lit in 1919, lightkeepers lived in the lighthouse until it was automated in 1983.
The lighthouse’s fog signal, dubbed the “Rathlin Bull”, could be heard from more than 30km away. The signal was instituted in 1925, and designed to blast four 1.5-second horns at 60-second intervals.
It was removed in 1995 after 70 years of service.

Located just 11 miles from the tip of the Kintyre Peninsula on Scotland’s southwestern coast, Rathlin was also a site of refuge for Scotland’s famous king, Robert the Bruce. Exiled after losing a battle to the English in 1306, he hid out in a small cave on Rathlin to deliberate his next move. The war-weary king toyed with giving up the fight for Scottish independence until he noticed a small spider toiling to weave a web. According to the legend, the Scottish king watched the spider try and fail to anchor its web to a nearby rock six times—the same number of Robert the Bruce’s failed attempts at Scottish victory. The king made a deal with himself: if the spider failed a seventh time, he too would give up the fight. Needless to say, the spider found success on its seventh try, and King Robert returned home to fight—and win—the pivotal Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, by which Scotland was granted independence in 1328.

Rathlin West Light is one of 65 lighthouses operated by the Commissioners of Irish Lights around the coast of Ireland and continues to provide a vital role in maritime safety still today. Today, the electric light remains in use at night and during the day when visibility is poor.

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