Kilkeel is situated in the heart of the Kingdom of the Mournes.
It is renowned for its thriving fishing industry, which can be experienced through a visit down to the harbour. It is home to one of the largest and best equipped fishing fleets in Ireland, with fresh fish available all year round.
The Nautilus Centre and Mourne Maritime Visitor Centre provide visitors with the opportunity to learn about the local fishing and maritime heritage, see how nets and boats are mended and also sample some of the local catch, which is mainly king prawns.
Kilkeel offers a wide variety of activities, for example Kilkeel Sports Centre and swimming pool, Kilkeel 18 hole golf club, and the stunning Silent Valley reservoir which is just three miles from Kilkeel.
Kilkeel harbour is a relatively new harbour, with harbours at Annalong and at Derryogue (now gone) preceding it in importance. The harbour was first started in the 1850s and a pier was built in 1868 with further improvements in 1872. The harbour could only accommodate 24 boats in the 1880’s. In 1885 the South Pier was constructed, followed in 1886 by the Old Dock. In 1916 it was extended to form the inner basin. There was further expansion in 1955 and the improvements continue to this day, with the installation of floating pontoons to accommodate small boats and a new slipway completed in 2008.
Originally herring was the catch and then whitefish like cod and haddock. In the 1950s they first started fishing for prawns or “creepy crawlies” as they were known locally. Now tprawns are the major catch, with an increase in catching crabs and lobsters. In recent years aquaculture is on the increase with the growing and harvesting of oysters and mussels in Carlingford Lough.
In the early days schooners traded with Liverpool, Scotland , Cornwall and Kinsale, trading goods such as potatoes, grain, granite and importing coal, etc. Kilkeel also was home for local boat builders and cooperages, as well as all the related trades needed to maintain boats.
There have been many seafaring disasters over the years, including the great fishing tragedy of 1843 when 73 fishermen were lost off the County Down coast, 27 of which were from Mourne. Then there was the Connemara and Retriever collision in Carlingford Lough in 1916 when 94 souls were lost. During the First World War in 1918 a German submarine sunk a number of local fishing boats, after allowing the fishermen to escape safely to the shore. There is memorial to all those lost at sea in front of the Nautilus Centre at Kilkeel Harbour.
Cranfield had early links with the aeronautical industry when Captain Alcock landed his plane on Cranfield East Beach in 1933 to visit his aunt who lived in one of the houses along the shore bank. He was one half of the famous partnership of Alcock and Brown who were the first to fly the Atlantic. During the Second World War 600 acres of ground was requisitioned to create Greencastle Airfield, or the aerodrome, as it locally known. Here American troops were stationed and also at Mourne Park. It was an important servicing, maintenance, storage and training depot for planes and the American Army Air Force. Indeed, General Patton addressed the troops and Mrs Roosevelt, the Present of America’s wife, officially opened the facility on 11th November 1942. The famous Memphis Belle landed for repairs during the War. 37 homes were demolished to build the aerodrome. You will see walls in the locality made from the broken up runways around Cranfield.
The Mourne Mountains are the source of the famous Mourne granite. It was exported around the world in the last couple of centuries and indeed Liverpool is largely paved with Mourne Granite. Mourne was home to many skilled stonemasons. There are a number of local granite firms who have many years experience in working the stone, including Linton’s, Robinson’s, McConnell’s and Cunningham’s, to name a few. McConnell’s now work on international commissions, having made Princess Diana’s Memorial in London and work on the 9/11 Memorial in New York.
The Old Church of St Colman’s and Graveyard:
The Old Church represents the historic monument from which Kilkeel takes its name, translated to mean “The Church of the Narrow Place”. Its location, on an elevated narrow site, would appear to confirm this. Dating back to the 14th century, the church was dedicated to St Colman and was known in 1388 as “St Colman Del Morne”. Within the grounds of the church there is a defaced equal armed medieval cross, which stands beside a granite socket stone, which was traditionally used as a wart well for curing warts. A detailed historical description of the tradition, folklore and structure of the church and surrounding graveyard are available on the interpretive boards in the graveyard.
Mourne Presbyterian Church:
Mourne Presbyterian Church was completed in 1831 at a cost of £850, replacing an old thatched three corner church which was built in 1756 and a former meeting house constructed in 1736 at the upper end of the present graveyard. The present church has been improved and renovated on several occasions. Within the grounds, in front of the church, is an old sundial which was presented to the congregation in 1757 by the son of the first known Minister of Mourne, Rev Charles Wallace. In 1923 a War Memorial was placed in front of the church. A marble figure representing a soldier with arms reversed stands on a granite base and marble pedestal. Adjoining the church is a lecture hall which was opened originally as a school in 1853. This building is now used as a church hall.
The Church of Christ:
The Church of Christ the Redeemer, Church of Ireland was consecrated in the year 1815. It stands between Newry Street and Mountain Road. It has been considerably improved since it first opened. Tablets in the church include one to the soldier and explorer General Francis Rawdon Chesney of Packolet House, Ballyardle. He was born at Ballyveagh, Annalong in 1789 and died at Packolet just outside Kilkeel in 1872. He devoted the last 20 years of his life to literary and scientific pursuits, including the furtherance of the great project of the Euphrates line to India and the surveyance of the feasibility of the Suez Canal which now links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. He is buried in the cemetery at Christ Church. The graveyard also contains graves of many other local notables, including the Kilmorey family and Robert Scott (d 1961) who won a VC in the Boer War.
St Colman’s RC Church (Massforth):
The Church of St Colman (Massforth) Roman Catholic Church stands about a mile from Kilkeel on the Newry side of the town. It is close by the Mass Rock used in the Penal days and replaced an earlier small chapel. It was completed in 1879, replacing an older building dated 1810, and was designed by architect John O’Neill & Byrne. In the field behind the cemetery there is a “Kistavaen” or “Giants Grave” which is of significant archaeological interest.
Other Sites of Interest
Hanna’s Close is a cluster type settlement or ‘clachan’ of eight restored cottages with lanes, steps and paths maintained as they had evolved over several centuries. This type of settlement pattern was the norm in late medieval Ireland but was gradually replaced by scattered individual farms as enclosures progressed from 1650 onwards.
Haulbowline (Cranfield) Lighthouse:
Haulbowline is a main sea light and also serves to guide vessels from seaward through the entrance channel into Carlingford Lough. It is built on a wave-washed rock, exposed only at low tide.
The lighthouse was built after a request was made in 1817 to the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin (the Belfast Board) by the merchants of Newry to replace the 1803 Cranfield Point Lighthouse due to the latter’s poor position in marking the dangerous rocks at the entrance to Carlingford Lough and also its inadequacy for the guiding of vessels at the west end of the Lough. Cranfield Point Lighthouse tower subsequently became a victim of coast erosion and tumbled into what had become the foreshore in the early 1860s. The lighthouse keeper’s cottage remained and was later converted into a private residence and can still be seen today, identified by its characteristic tall black chimneys.
At the end of Greencastle Street the public house “Jacob Halls” is the site of one of the oldest houses in the town, which was known formerly as O’Hagan’s and dates back to the 1700s. At the bottom of Newry Street (John Quinn Limited; McErlane) at numbers 4-6 are two listed buildings which date back to 1790. Originally a three-storey five-bay house with one extra at the western end, the ground floor is now in shops fronts but the upper floors are all Georgian-glazed. The house was the former home of Dr Adderly.
There are still the remains of Greencastle Pier where many local people started their long journeys to America, Canada or Australia. They would have sailed across Carlingford Lough to Greenore and then took a boat to Liverpool and then onwards. The Pier is now privately owned.
The Crawtree Stone Dolman:
This dolman in Kilkeel came to be known as The Crawtree Stone. Heading out of the town on Newcastle Street there is a mini-roundabout. From the car park at Asda store you can see a laneway and it is located there on private ground.
The dolman, a Neolithic portal tomb approximately 5000 years old, has a massive capstone, which is estimated to weigh 35 tons. The capstone is believed to be one of the biggest in Ireland. Excavations carried out at the turn of the century unearthed various bones and pottery. From Kilkeel going towards Rostrevor you will see a brown sign for Kilfeaghan Dolman on the right hand side of the road.
Also nearby: Greencastle Royal Castle | The Silent Valley and Mourne Wall