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Ballycastle is situated on the northeast coast of Ireland about four miles to the west of Fair Head and tucked into the western corner of Ballycastle Bay. The small town and harbour offers a marina, alongside berths in the outer harbour, or in fair conditions the option to anchor outside the harbour in the bay.

Ballycastle is situated on the northeast coast of Ireland about four miles to the west of Fair Head and tucked into the western corner of Ballycastle Bay. The small town and harbour offers a marina, alongside berths in the outer harbour, or in fair conditions the option to anchor outside the harbour in the bay.

The marina is enclosed behind substantial rock breakwaters which give complete protection. The outer harbour is subject to swell from north or north-westerly quadrants and the bay can only be used in settled or offshore conditions. Although clear of strong tidal streams the bay can be subject to sudden swell. The harbour and bay afford safe access in all reasonable conditions at any stage of the tide as there are no dangers in the immediate harbour vicinity and its pierheads have lights.
Please note

The direction and velocity of the tide should be the central feature of any navigation planning in this area. The tidal streams in Rathlin Sound can attain 6.5 knots at springs. For those approaching from the south the roughest water may be experienced between Fair Head and Torr Head, where just off Torr Head the Ebb runs up to 9 knots during Spring tides. However, if the tides have been well studied and embraced, a well-found yacht should have no difficulty sailing this area in conditions of up to Force 4 or 5.

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Keyfacts for Ballycastle
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360° view of Ballycastle

Aerial overview of the harbour and its surrounds (i)

Aerial overview of the harbour and its surrounds (ii)

About Ballycastle

Ballycastle derives its name from the Irish Baile an Chaistil meaning "town of the castle". The townland was named from a medieval castle that was situated in the middle of the present town on the site of which another castle was erected in 1609 by Randal Mac Donnell, 1st Earl of Antrim. These castles were situated very close to where the Holy Trinity Church is today, near 'The Diamond' where all Ballycastle roads converge, but no trace of the former castle remains today and very little of the later Mac Donnell castle.

Ballycastle has been a significant landing-place since ancient times. A small hamlet grew up at the mouth of the little River Margie which flows into the sea east of Ballycastle. The river’s name originates from the Irish An Mhargaigh meaning ‘the boundary river’ and the hamlet was known as ‘Margietown’. An ancient fort would have existed here and the area was sometimes called ‘Market Town’, and later ‘Port Brittas’.

St. Patrick came here in the 5th century and founded the Rathmudhain. Ramoan, monastic settlement. The old graveyard at Ramoan stands on the original site but the ruins seen today are that of a later building. The oldest surviving building in the area is that of the Bonamargie Franciscan Friary. Its name is derived from the Irish Bun na Margaí meaning ‘foot of the river Margy’ which describes its location close to the east bank of the river. The friary was established in 1485 by Rory MacQuillen and built of red sandstone, granite and dark basalt. It was shut down in the 1530s as part of Henry VIII’s dissolution of monasteries. The church was burned in 1584, but the McDonnells, who acquired the friary in 1559, added a private chapel next to the ruin in 1621. Locked vaults hold the remains of the celebrated chieftain, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, who was interred here in 1590 along with other Earls of Antrim.

The legendary Clan leader Sorley Boy was born here in 1505, when it was known as Port Brittas, and his clan held Antrim by force of arms during his tenure. On the Kinbane headland that projects into the sea two miles to the west of Ballycastle, his brother Colla McDonnell built Kinbane Castle in 1547 and died within its walls in 1558 more than thirty years before Sorley Boy. Sorley Boy was constantly at war with the crown forces sustaining terrible losses. A horrendous example of which was recorded by the Earl Of Essex, who described Sorley Boy MacDonnell haplessly watching Essex’s massacre of his entire family on Rathlin from Ballycastle ‘likely to run mad from sorrow’. Early in the seventeenth century Sorley Boy’s son Randal MacDonnell became clan leader. Although he had fought the crown with the O'Neill clan as a rebel for some years, in 1602 he deserted the lost cause and became reconciled with the Government.

He received the honour of knighthood and became the owner of vast estates stretching from Coleraine to Larne. Later he was created Viscount Dunluce and ultimately became first Earl of Antrim. When he built a castle in the centre of the old town it took on the name of Ballycastle. Sir Randal, though a Catholic, planted his own lands in County Antrim with Protestants, most of them Presbyterians, and was an effective manager. But after the rising and subsequent defeat of the native Irish chieftains in 1641 Ballycastle was reduced to a deserted town. In 1699 the tenements of the town occupied merely an area of three acres.

Rebirth came in the eighteenth century through Colonel Hugh Boyd who has created the town that exists today. Under his guidance, the town flourished and the population returned. Boyd brought economic prosperity to the area by investing in local natural resources. By the middle of the century he had coal mines, ironworks, salt pans towards Fair Head and tanneries, a brewery, soap works, bleach works and glass works around the town. The latter produced bottles, window and plate glass and was situated on Glass Island; between the old harbour and the Margie River. Local natural resources such as limestone producing chalk, sand, sea water, fireclay and seaweed that was burned to make kelp producing many useful chemicals, were all used to facilitate these industries. A pier and safe anchorage was also built here in 1748 but was subsequently damaged in storms. Several harbours followed and were washed away over the centuries until the present substantial harbour was set in place.

Today Ballycastle is a charming town where the old seafront shops and bars look out across the marina and harbour. It is a small uncrowded town surrounded by dramatic scenery. Situated on the most north-easterly tip of County Antrim, it has the spectacular Fair Head to the east, Kinbane Head with Colla McDonnell’s castle to the west, plus a blue flag beach ‘The Strand’ reaching out eastward from the harbour along the south of the bay. Out to sea are views across to Rathlin Island and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, whilst behind is the northern mainland limit of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area- two of which Glentaisie and Glenshesk converge here. With such varied scenery all-round, one is compelled to pursue and explore the natural beauty at hand.

Immediately of interest will be the slopes of the easily climbed Knocklayde which is 517 metres high crowned by Carn na Truagh, ‘the cairn of sorrow’. This is a massive heather covered mountain inland from Ballycastle and just off the Moyle Way footpath. It is an ideal destination to completely take in the scenery. Here you will also find Glentaise, the most northerly of the Nine Glens of Antrim, situated at the foot of Knocklayde mountain, and also a forest which is worth visiting. There is also an attractive cycling route from Ballycastle to Cushendun, via Torr Head, that offers spectacular views and scenery. The whole of Moyle, the North Channel, may be seen from the road above Torr Head. Every year, on the last Monday and Tuesday of August, Ballycastle hosts a 400-year-old traditional folk music festival ‘Auld Lammas Fair’ in ‘The Diamond’ town square.

From a cruising perspective Ballycastle has it all; spectacular surrounding mountain ranges, forests, glens, lakes and coastline plus a secure 74-berth marina where a yacht may be left in security. It is an ideal northern base to explore the Antrim Coast Road, and Glens of Antrim, as well as the Causeway Coast.

Other options in this area

Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Alternatively here are the ten nearest havens available in picture view:
Coastal clockwise:
Church Bay - 3.3 miles NNE
Murlough Bay - 2.7 miles E
Torr Head - 3.8 miles E
Cushendun - 5.2 miles SE
Cushendall - 6.4 miles SE
Coastal anti-clockwise:
Ballintoy Harbour - 3.1 miles WNW
Portballintrae - 6.6 miles W
Portrush Harbour - 8.9 miles W
The Lower River Bann - 10.9 miles W
Seatons Marina - 9.9 miles WSW

Navigational pictures

These additional images feature in the 'How to get in' section of our detailed view for Ballycastle.

360° view of Ballycastle

Aerial overview of the harbour and its surrounds (i)

Aerial overview of the harbour and its surrounds (ii)

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Add your review or comment:

Jim Williamson wrote this review on Jun 16th 2012:

The brand new toilets and showers at the harbourmaster's office are excellent. Computer broadband is available. Visitors pontoons are not marked but the harbour master indicated that, if coming in when the office is not open, to use any of the hammerheads or the east side of the pontoon facing the harbour entrance though this is preferably left for longer yachts.

Average Rating: *****

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