IT IS the island whose disputed ownership between Scotland and Ireland ultimately came down to a test on whether a snake lived or died. 

But four centuries after its Irish fate was sealed and in Brexit's tailspin, residents of Rathlin are again looking east as the potential lifeline for their EU status, with some islanders pleading: “Take us with you Scotland.” 

In the past fortnight a campaign has been building on Rathlin, which lies just 12 miles west of Kintyre, for a re-establishment of its historic Scots connections.

A future Scots referendum, they claim, would secure the European funding which has dragged Rathlin it into the 21st century with a modern harbour, connections to the National Grid and almost doubled its population in . 

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Described by those behind Rathlin Scotland as "only half-joking", the campaign has however distilled the feeling of flux and uncertainty felt by the island's 145 residents and the options being discussed about their post-Brexit future.

A spokesman for the campaign said: "In the immediate aftermath of the referendum result, people on Rathlin talked, like people all over the UK, of little else. 

"And very quickly talk turned, only half jokingly, to new ways of thinking about the island’s relationship with its neighbouring islands. A unilateral declaration of independence worked for some, but others looked east and north to Rathlin’s historic friends in Scotland."

Rathlin's connections with Scotland run deep. It lays the most credible claim as the location for where Robert The Bruce had his legendary encounter with the spider pre-Bannockburn, played a key role in the ancient kingdom of Dalriada and witnessed clan massacres of the Macdonalds by the Campbells decades before Glencoe. 

The connections are also much more current. 

Novelist and film-maker Margot McCuaig's father was an islander who left seeking work in Scotland in the 1950s.
Schooled and brought up in Glasgow, Margot now splits her time between the city and Rathlin.

She said: "Brexit is thee talking point on the island and no-one appears supportive of the Referendum decision. They're wondering where this leaves them. A fortnight on, people who you bump into at the harbour, in the shop or the pub, the topic hasn't changed.

"And now the younger people especially are beginning to question what their future is. Their situation has changed regarding freedom of movement and are upset that things might be different."

Michael Cecil, the Glasgow-born chairman of Rathlin's community association, points to a neat illustration of both Rathlin's place in the world and the geography underpinning the accelerating diplomatic relations between Dublin and Edinburgh. 

He said: "From Fair Head (in nearby County Antrim) the Scottish islands and mainland, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic are all in view, with us in the middle. It's been a stepping stone."

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In the past, he said, when feeling neglected by the authorities in Belfast, Rathlin has looked with envy at how Scotland has managed its islands, from the ferry services to energy supplies and schooling. Meanwhile, a maritime festival has reestablished the seafaring links of old with Islay, Jura and Gigha to the north and Campbelltown to the east.

Amongst the current options discussed is for the island to become a Jersey-like tax haven.

The Herald:

He said: "Rathlin folk talk jokingly about becoming independent and what the benefits of that could be. We've also told the civil servants in the past we'd consider moving our allegiances. 

"In the last few years we've felt well looked after but if Brexit doesn't work out people will look with seriousness at our options."

Renowned folk musicians the Black family, and most notably sisters Mary and Frances, are Rathlin's closest thing to royalty. Recently made a member of the Irish Senate, loosely based on the House of Lords, Frances Black has spoken of the "devastating" impact of Brexit, hailing the impact of the EU on Rathlin's revival.   

But from the inside she has witnessed a "definite energy" between Scotland and Ireland after last month's vote.

The Herald:

The acclaimed songstress said: "I've had a couple of conversations about this, mostly from within my own family and the thing which settles Rathlin's status for me is some kind of post-Brexit union of Ireland, north and south, with Scotland. Can you imagine that? Given all the other scenarios being talked about is it that hard?"

The Rathlin Scotland spokesman added: "In 2007 during his first visit to Northern Ireland as First Minister, Alex Salmond noted the bonds that echoed down the years between these islands, and in response to Ian Paisley’s recognition that Rathlin had been ‘at times an island of Scotland, at times an island of Ulster and Ireland’, Salmond rejoined that he’d like to have Rathlin back again. 

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"Could the time for this have unexpectedly arrived in the febrile atmosphere of Brexit Britain? Stranger things have happened. One thing is sure; many on Rathlin have just one thing to say across the North Channel: take us with you Scotland."


RATHLIN'S close association with Scotland stretches back to the early medieval period and far beyond, and in particular to the kingdom of Dál Riata, which encompassed much of western Scotland, and north-eastern Ireland, with Rathlin's role pivotal. 

A stop-off point for the Celtic Christian monks sailing north to Iona, in 1306 it is said Robert the Bruce sought refuge upon Rathlin, owned by the Irish Bissett family, staying in Rathlin Castle.

It was also scene of the power struggles of the MacDonnells of Antrim and witnessed massacre at the hands of Covenanter Campbell soldiers in 1642. A century before Sir Francis Drake was sent to confront Scottish refugees on the island, and in the ensuing massacre, hundreds of men, women and children of Clan MacDonnell were killed.

In 1617 a legal action for the ownership of Rathlin was taken by a Scotsman named Crawford of Lisnorris. Crawford’s case rested on the claim that Rathlin had been granted to his ancestor in 1500 by James IV. The dispute ultimately came down to the introduction of a snake to the island.

With St Patrick’s banishment of snakes from Ireland, if the serpent were to survive, the island must belong to Scotland.

The unfortunate animal did not last long, and Rathlin’s Irish status was sealed.
Rathlin was also the location of the world's first commercial wireless telegraphy link, established by employees of Guglielmo Marconi between the island and Ballycastle on the Irish mainland.

More recently, Richard Branson crashed his hot air balloon into the sea off Rathlin Island in 1987 after his record-breaking cross-Atlantic flight from Maine.

Branson later returned to the island and presented the Rathlin Island Trust with £25,000 towards the renovation of its landmark Manor House.