Excitement is building for the re-opening of one of Northern Ireland's most iconic tourist destinations, the Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre.
Rathlin Island is Northern Ireland's only inhabited island and is also home to one of the UK's largest seabird colonies.
The RSPB NI Seabird Centre has recently undergone major refurbishment and will re-open to the public on Thursday, 24 March - just in time for the Easter holidays. The work has been made possible by a significant investment from the Commissioners for Irish Lights of over £600,000 thanks to funding from the European Union's INTERREG IVA cross-border Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.
Along with 11 other lighthouses around the Irish coast, Rathlin West Light is one of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland, all of which will offer unforgettable experiences and create a deep appreciation of the role of lighthouses and the maritime and seafaring story of the island of Ireland.
The refurbishment has seen a complete upgrade of the visitor centre and, for the first time, it will be possible to access the 'upside down' lighthouse built on Rathlin's cliffs.
In summer, the seabird colony is a real assault on the senses - the sight, sound (and smell!) of tens of thousands of birds, including puffins, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes, jostling for space is like nothing else.
Ahead of the re-opening next month Joanne Sherwood, RSPB NI Director, said: "Rathlin Island is a truly special place and home to all sorts of wonderful wildlife. We're thrilled that visitors to the West Light Seabird Centre can once again experience the spectacle of the seabird colony as well as now being able to explore the lighthouse to learn all about its rich history and the nature beyond its walls."
She added: "RSPB NI is delighted to have worked with SEUPB and Irish Lights on this unique project, which simply wouldn't have been possible without their support. We can't wait to re-open the Seabird Centre and welcome visitors to enjoy this fantastic place."
The lighthouse situated at the heart of the colony is a spectacular feat of engineering, clinging to the cliff face with the lantern gleaming red at its foot. It offers visitors a chance to explore this unique, yet fully operational 'upside-down' lighthouse and learn about its history, its people and the role of Irish Lights in maritime safety today.
Commenting on the announcement, Yvonne Shields, Chief Executive of Irish Lights said: "Irish Lights is delighted to be collaborating with RSPB NI on this project. The breathtakingly beautiful Rathlin West Light is a fantastic opportunity to discover navigation technology at work today, the maritime history and heritage of the island and past generations and the amazing bird life and natural history of Rathlin Island. Rathlin West Light is also connected through the Great Lighthouses of Ireland initiative to a necklace of other lighthouses around the coast of Ireland so visitors have a chance to connect to our rich maritime tradition at a range of spectacular locations around the coast and there is something for everyone."
Welcoming the re-opening of the facility, Gina McIntyre Chief Executive of the SEUPB, added: "The Great Lighthouses of Ireland is one of more inventive cross-border tourism projects supported under the INTERREG IVA Programme. It has the potential to attract a new wave of domestic and overseas tourists into the region, with all of the attendant local economic benefits that this brings, such as employment and business development. By opening in time for Easter it should ensure that the project can capitalise on the busy tourism season."
The Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre will be open from 10am until 5pm every day until the end of September. Admission is free for RSPB members, £5 for adults and £2.50 for children and other concessions.
Please note that while the main visitor centre is accessible, there is an 89 step descent to the viewing platform and a similar number of steps down through the lighthouse.