Islandmagee Visitors Guide

WELCOME TO ISLANDMAGEE ~ An ideal place to visit

View of Portmuck from Fishermans Leap Cottage

Islandmagee is a beautiful coastal and country peninsula situated on the east coast of County Antrim between the historic port of Carrickfergus and the port town of Larne. It is joined to the mainland at Whitehead midway between these two places, and an attractive raised causeway also gives access across Larne Lough.

Islandmagee provides excellent facilities for golfing, diving, horse riding, boating, bird watching, and a host of other activities.

Rugged basalt cliffs (The Gobbins) look east towards Scotland, which can be seen clearly on a good day, whilst gentle gradients on the west sweep down to the waters of Larne Lough. Safe sandy beaches nestle between the northern promontories whilst, at the southern end, a picturesque coastal walk from whitehead gives access to the headland known as Black Head.

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SAINT PATRICK

Christianity was probably introduced to Ireland from Gaul and Britain c.400AD. Although we no nothing about how, when and where these early missions were established we do know that Pope Celestine sent Palladius as bishop to the Irish believing in Christ in 431AD. However, it was St. Patrick’s mission that succeeded in firmly establishing Christianity in the northern half of Ireland. Our patron saint founded a church in Armagh in 444AD. More locally, St. Patrick founded churches at Glynn, near Larne, and at Kilcoan in  Rinn Seimhne (the old name for Islandmagee viz. the peninsula of the tribe called Seimhne). It is recorded that it was at Kilcoan that the disciple of St. Patrick, called Caomhán), was buried. Hence the name Cill (church) Chaomháin (of Caomhán) viz.Kilcoan. The foundations of this old church can be seen in the Kirk-land adjacent to Kilcoan House. Nearby, on the coast of Larne Lough, the rectory of the church and its ancient graveyard were situated where the White House stands today.

St JOHN’s CHURCH

St John’s Parish Church, situated in the townland of Ballyharry, was originally laid out in 17th century Scottish ‘T-shape’ Jacobean design. This was modified in 1827 by removing the transept to the north to leave the current simple rectangular church. Although a road sign gives its date of construction as 1595 there is no evidence for such an early date. It was not recorded in the Bishop’s visitation of 1622, a legal instrument, but is recorded as being in repair in 1657. This makes in one of the earliest Plantation era churches.

The present St John’s church is locally known as the “New Church” which distinguishes it from the  ancient church of Naomh Eoin (St John) situated to the south in the townland of Ballykeel. A graveyard and the walls of the old church are still standing. It was one of many throughout the country that were associated with the Knights of St John of Jerusalem.

As well as St. John’s Church there are three other active churches in the area, 1st and 2nd Islandmagee Presbyterian and Islandmagee Methodist each each with their own rich history.

FAMILY HISTORY

Churches and graveyards are a rich source of information on family history. Over the generations, emigration and the seafaring nature of the population carried sons and daughters of Islandmagee throughout the world.

Many old family names are recorded on the headstones of the ancient graveyards of Ballykeel, Ballypriormore and St John’s. These have been recorded in a book published by the Ulster Historical Foundation in 1977 and entitled “Gravestone inscriptions, Co Antrim, Vol.1, Islandmagee.

Islandmagee New Cemetery was established in1925 and a listing of burials on this land was published by the Larne branch of the Northern Ireland Family History Society in 2003 under the title “On Tranquil Land or Stormy Sea”.

The graveyards of Islandmagee reflect the strong maritime tradition of the area and headstones often the names of ships, epic incidents and exotic places.

HISTORICAL SNIPPETS

Smugglers

At one time, in the distant past, Islandmagee was well known as a haven for smugglers who stashed their contraband goods in the many caves of the rugged shoreline and in underground constructions in surrounding fields, This trade was at its height at the time of the English Corn Laws.

Kegs of rum and whiskey seem to have been the staple articles of the contraband trade, and occasional encounters took place between the smugglers and the preventative servicemen.

Coastguard stations were established on Islandmagee to deter the practice and to keep an eye on the coming and going of the locals.

Witches

One of the few Witchcraft trials in Ireland took place in Carrickfergus as a result of strange happenings in Islandmagee during 1710 and 1711.

Eight women were convicted of the offence and were sentenced to one year imprisonment and ‘to be four times pilloried’ on the castle green. As the result of the punishment one poor woman lost an eye. The offence of witchcraft was repealed in 1734.

A Book entitled “The Witches of Islandmagee” by Charles McConnell and published by Carmac Books (2000) is available from local retailers and Amazon.

Bed Chamber

A cave known as the Schoolmaster’s Bed Chamber is located at the shore close to Black Head. It was the “home” of an eccentric schoolteacher, named Thomas McCartney, who hailed from the Antrim Glens and set up a school at Fairview in the townland of Castletown.

For many years this lonely and wild retreat was his sole abode and even in the wildest of nights no remonstrance or coaxing could entice him to accept a bed in a neighbour’s house.

Brown’s Bay

Brown’s Bay is the most popular tourist spot on the “Island”. It has a beautiful, safe sandy beach nestling between the two northern promontories of Skenaghan point and Barrs Point. Skenaghan point, on the east of the bay, is a National Trust property and features a short walking route past the “rocking stone”. Looking to the north one gets a clear view of the “Maidens rocks” far out in the North Channel, and their two lighthouses, only one of which is now in operation.

The western side of Brown’s Bay is bounded by Barr’s Point that is home to a testing and picturesque golf course.

A footpath follows the road to the west past the golf course to another sandy beach at Ferris Bay. This bay is bounded at the western side by Ferris Point on which stands the lighthouse that guides shipping into the busy port of Larne.

A small harbour is situated on the Islandmagee side of the entrance to Larne Lough just opposite the port of Larne. It is a valuable launching site for sea going activities and is an excellent viewing place for those interested in the comings and goings of the large cross channel ferries. A small passenger ferry operates between the harbour and Larne. It can be summoned on request from the phone number displayed at the harbour.

Also, close to the harbour, is Ballylumford Power Station that provides one third of the electricity required by Northern Ireland.

Portmuck

Portmuck is situated at the north eastern corner of Islandmagee and is accessed by a steep and winding road. Drive slowly and take care!

The centrepiece of this beautiful area is the scenic little harbour, originally the home of a local fishing fleet, and its small strand where children can safely play. A rocky headland is popular with shore anglers. The harbour is bounded to the west by limestone cliffs that have often yielded prehistoric fossils.

The area is the site of an ancient abbey and castle. New walks have been constructed by the National Trust, which give stunning views out to sea and to Muck Island. The island is said to resemble the shape of s pig, thus its name derived from the Irish for Pig (muc). Muck Island is an important bird sanctuary with nesting seabirds

Millbay

Millbay is a quaint little hamlet situated on the shores of Larne Lough around the midpoint of the peninsula. Its limestone jetty was originally constructed for the export of limestone from the Ballytober quarry.

Gobbins

The Gobbins cliffs form most of the south-eastern side of Islandmagee. They are a mysterious place riddled with caves some of which are reputed to extend far inland.

The Gobbins were developed as a tourist attraction by The Belfast and Northern Counties Railways Company, whose engineer, Berkely Dean Wise, built a magnificent path along the base of these cliffs.

In those days Islandmagee was a major tourist destination for the large population of the greater Belfast area, who made good use of the Railway Companies facilities.

The path was gouged out of the sheer face of the cliffs, and the path sections were joined by a series of spectacular bridges. Opening in 1902, the Gobbins Path attracted tremendous interest, and trail loads of visitors travelled to take the walk and enjoy the magnificent views.

The maintenance of the path was neglected during the Second World War, and it fell into disrepair, sadly closing some years later.

Presently, an ambitious project by Larne Borough Council to facilitate the refurbishment of the Gobbins Cliff path is at an advanced stage. It is anticipated that this historic walk will again be accessible in the near future. The cliff bottom walk at the Gobbins is one of a very few of its kind in the world, most others being cliff top walks, and as such will provide a unique visitor experience.

It is appropriate to warn visitors that the Gobbins Cliffs, in their present state are unsafe for exploration, and until the new path is opened, should be avoided.

Muldersleigh

Muldersleigh hill forms a prominent feature at the southern end of Islandmagee, the summit offers 360° views of the area.

Looking south over the mouth of Belfast Lough one can see the North Down Coat, on a clear day the Mountains of Mourne and the Isle of Man. To the West the view extends many miles inland and to the North one can see the almost the whole of Islandmagee. The view to the east is across the North Channel to the coast of Scotland.

In ancient times the hill was capped by a stone fort, but now a challenging and popular golf course has pride of place.

At the southeast corner, a much photographed lighthouse stands atop the imposing basalt cliff of Black Head.

To the south west the town of Whitehead nestles under the brow of the hill and provides access to the start of a popular and scenic walk along the southern coastal extremity of Muldersleigh to the cliffs and caves at Black Head.

Larne Lough

Sandwiched between the coast of Co Antrim and Islandmagee, Larne Lough , as well as a sheltered anchorage is also a wetland of international significance, provides shelter, breeding sites and food, for a wide Variety of bird species. The Lough is an Area of Special Scientific Interest and a RAMSAR site (The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance). Larne Lough provides an ideal location for studying marine orientated wildlife.

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