The government officially recognised the area of Ramore Head and the Skerries as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (A.S.S.I.) in 1996. This means that the area cannot be damaged by mining, mineral extraction, dumping, construction or the introduction of any new species. The Portrush Rocks are an important part of the scientific interest in the area.
Ramore Head is a headland, which is a coastal feature formed when a coastline is discordant, with areas with soft rock and hard rock exposed to the erosion of the waters. The hard rocks, such as the igneous ‘dolerite’ rock which Ramore Head is made of, erode much more slowly than softer rocks surrounding it, leaving a protruding and steep headland. Dolerite is an igneous rock, which means it was formed through volcanic activity.
The word ‘igneous’ comes from the Latin word ‘ignus’ and is also known as ‘fire rock’. As molten magma rises to the surface of a volcano, it is rapidly cooling. It is called ‘lava’ once it comes to the earth’s surface and cools further. After time, it changes its temperature and pressure, so it cools, hardens and crystallises, Dolerite is in a sub-section of igneous rocks called ‘Hypabyssal’ (subvolcanic) Igneous Rock. This means that they form under the earth’s surface in fissures such as sills at a shallow to medium depth within the earth’s crust. With Hypabyssal, the magma cools slightly slower than the lava cooling on the surface (as it gets hotter the closer you are to the earth’s core), meaning the crystals are bigger than those on the extrusive igneous rocks and the rock is usually coarser. The crystals in Dolerite are too small to see with the naked eye, but they are visible in other igneous rocks such as granite, which is used as a decorative feature and in many kitchens due to its being a hard rock and decorative element thanks to the larger crystals and mineral grains.
The Skerries are a chain of very small islands immediately offshore, East of and a continuation of Ramore Head, although now separated by erosion from it. In 1996 the islands were designated as part of the Ramore Head and The Skerries Area of Special Scientific Interest. Each island has a name, and the list includes Little and Big Carr, Middle and West Isle, North and South Island Ean, the Otter Isles, Winkle Island, Castle Island and Black Rock. These bleak, rocky islands are uninhabited and ideal for supporting a diverse ecological habitat, the most significant of which are the breeding birds, such as the Kittiwake, Black Guillemot and Eider Duck. A common myth is that they were the final resting place of the Great Auk, a seabird which became extinct in 1852. It looked rather like a penguin, but they were not biologically related. The penguins were named by sailors who saw the similarities to the Great Auk, whose Latin name is Pinguinus impennis.
The Skerries Road is the name for the stretch of water on the landward side of the chain of islands. Since medieval times, the calm water has been used to shelter ships who needed to escape bad weather or needed a place to take on cargo, crew or passengers. In the 1700s & early 1800s, newspaper articles advised people emigrating from Ireland to find better lives abroad that their ship would depart from “the Skerries Road, off Portrush” before sailing for America.
In 1858, there was a proposal to build a ‘Harbour of Refuge’ at the Skerries Road. The plan was to form the whole chain of islands into a continuous breakwater, leaving an open channel between Ramore Head and the western islands. This was anticipated to create more business in Portrush as a commercial port, but the idea was abandoned as the ports at Coleraine and Londonderry feared they would lose business and did not support the project.
The Skerries Road was also the site of a sea tragedy in December 1863 when the coal ship Providence sank as crowds on the shore watched. Six men were lost.