This small fishing port is located about eight kilometres from Ballycastle on the north Antrim coast. A natural, but shallow, harbour used by numerous fishing vessels who take some shelter from the Atlantic behind the islands and basalt stacks. It’s also perfectly situated between the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Giant’s Causeway.
Ballintoy literally translates from Irish as ‘town of the north’ and the harbour is separated from the village by a narrow twisting road leading downhill for 1.5 kilometres. The setting of Ballintoy Harbour made things difficult for HBO’s film crews as this is the location for the Iron Islands and Pyke in Game of Thrones and the process of moving all of the equipment and crew to the site takes several days whenever they need to use the port for a shoot.
While it might be most widely known as a fishing harbour (in both Northern Ireland and Westeros), Ballintoy was built by a shady character called ‘Graceless’ Stewart during the 1700s in order to ship cheap coal to Dublin but by the late 19th Century the main cargo were stones used for street paving in cities across Ireland and Scotland. Though no longer used for industrial exports and imports, there remains a lime kiln on the site as a reminder of Ballintoy’s legacy as well as part of the rail tracks used to transport rocks from the quarry. The kiln was used burn limestone for local farmers to remove the acid from the soil of their farms. You’ll also find a boat cave near the car park which was used for the construction, maintenance, and repair of fishing boats.
Yet the history of using this place for trade goes back much further than the current harbour, to at least the 1500s when the area enjoyed a booming trade with Scotland.
These days it’s a quiet port used occasionally by pleasure boats which offers superb views of Sheep Island, Rathlin Island, and beyond that, Scotland. Overlooking the harbour you’ll see Ballintoy Church which replaced an earlier chapel (itself built on the site of a castle) and was opened in 1813 and the most notable feature of the church is its 16 metre high tower which has been compared to Norman and even Mediterranean architecture. Originally, the tower supported a steeple but this was swept away during a storm in 1894.
Despite its isolated location, Ballintoy harbour is extremely popular with visitors, especially during the summer when the narrow road is clogged with cars though there is a reasonably sized car park by the port. They come for the wonderful views and landscape forged by volcanoes and time over millions of years. It’s also a good spot for walkers; if you time the tide correctly, you can trek to the eastern end of White Park Bay from Ballintoy Harbour and though they’re gone now, it’s believed there was once a fort on each headland along the way.
O’Rourke’s Kitchen by the harbour, named for a Donegal man who was stranded here by a storm and chose to say, is a good place to grab tea or coffee and homemade food.