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Trawler departing Kilkeel (1of6) - - 1141805.jpg
Kilkeel Harbour and Mourne Mountains
Kilkeel is located in County Down
Kilkeel shown within County Down
Population 6,338 (2001 Census)
Country Northern Ireland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town NEWRY
Postcode district BT34
Dialling code 028
Police Northern Ireland
Fire Northern Ireland
Ambulance Northern Ireland
EU Parliament Northern Ireland
UK Parliament
List of places
Northern Ireland
54°03′32″N 5°59′31″W / 54.059°N 5.992°W / 54.059; -5.992Coordinates: 54°03′32″N 5°59′31″W / 54.059°N 5.992°W / 54.059; -5.992

Kilkeel (from Irish: Cill Chaoil, meaning "church of the narrow"[2][3]) is a small town, civil parish and townland (of 554 acres and 6521inh) in County Down, Northern Ireland. It lies within the historic barony of Mourne.[4] Kilkeel town is the main fishing port on the Down coast, and its harbour houses one of the largest fishing fleets in Ireland. It had a population of 6,887 people according to the 2011 Census. The town contains the ruins of a 14th-century church and fort, winding streets and terraced shops. It is located in the heart of the Mourne mountains


Kilkeel town sits on a plain south of the Mourne Mountains, west of where the Kilkeel River flows south into the North Channel. The town is centred in the townland of Magheramurphy (from Irish Machaire Mhurchaidh, meaning 'Murphy's plain'), and extends into the neighbouring townlands of:[5]

  • Derryoge (from Irish Doire Ríóg, meaning 'Ríog's oak wood')
  • Drumcro (from Irish Druim Cró, meaning 'ridge of the fold/enclosure')
  • Dunnaman
  • Kilkeel (from Irish Cill Chaoil, meaning 'narrow church/church of the narrows')

Altogether there are 69 townlands in the civil parish and barony.[6]


Picture of "Narrow Church"

Kilkeel takes its name from the old church overlooking the town, it being the anglicised version of the Gaelic 'Cill Chaoil' meaning "Narrow Church" or "The Church of/in the Narrow Place." The name may be drawn from the church location on a narrow site above the town.[citation needed] The church was constructed in 1388 and dedicated to "St Colman Del Mourne." It was thought to be the principal Church in a group which included Kilmegan and Kilcoo despite the fact that Kilkeel was very sparsely populated in the Middle Ages. There are references to Kilkeel as a Christian settlement as far back as the 11th century. Kilkeel is the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Mourne.[citation needed]

The cemetery attached to the church was used for burials until 1916. The last burials at the cemetery were victims of a collision between two steamers the Retriever and the SS Connemara in Carlingford Lough.

On 30 May 1918 a fleet of Kilkeel fishing boats was sunk by the U-boat UB-64 under the command of Otto von Schrader. The boats sunk, 12 miles off the coast of County Down, included the Jane Gordon, Cyprus, Never Can Tell, St Mary, Sparkling Wave, Lloyds, Marianne Macrum and the motor vessel Honey Bee. Only two boats, Moss Rose and Mary Joseph, were not sunk and the crews returned to port on those boats.[7] The Mary Joseph (N55) is now in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

A Local History Group that covers both the town of Kilkeel and the Mourne region was set up in the 1980s producing a set of seven periodicals called "The 12 Miles of Mourne". A book on Hanna's Close, a clachan of houses in Aughnahoory townland 1 mile outside of Kilkeel, that covers the history of the region up to 1798 was self-published in 2008.[8]


  • Fishing is a major industry in Kilkeel, with Kilkeel Harbour the home port for the largest fishing fleet in Northern Ireland.
  • There are fish-processing factories around the port, pleasure angling off the piers and lobster farming along the coastline.[citation needed]
  • Whitewater Brewery (established 1996) brews and sells Belfast Ale.
  • In recent years BE Aerospace has become the largest employer in the area. Its Kilkeel facility, which manufactures aircraft seats for a worldwide customer base, employs over 800 people.[9]


2011 Census[edit]

Kilkeel is classified as a small town by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (i.e. with population between 4,500 and 14,000 people). On Census day (29 April 2011), there were 6,887 people living in Kilkeel. Of these:

  • 26.2% were aged under 16 years and 18.2% were aged 60 and over;
  • 48.4% of the population were male and 51.6% were female; and
  • 3.5% of people aged 16–74 were unemployed.
  • 41.0% were from a Catholic background and 54.0% were from a Protestant background


The town of Kilkeel has a strong Unionist heritage. But while, in 2001, the ward of Kilkeel Central was recorded as 69% Protestant (21% Catholic, 10% other), the ward of Kilkeel South was only 37% Protestant (55% Catholic, 7% other).

Religious breakdown of wards in and around Kilkeel -from 2001 census data

Kilkeel now sits within the administrative area of Newry and Mourne, which is recorded in the 2001 census as being 80.6% Catholic. For more details see: NI Neighbourhood Information Service


  • Gaelscoil na mBeann is a bilingual primary school that uses the Irish language as its primary medium of instruction while English is introduced at Primary 3.[10] The school teaches the Northern Ireland curriculum. It was established in 2010 by a group of local people and parents who wanted Gaelic-medium education for their children. The school gained recognition and funding from the Department of Education in 2012.
  • Naíscoil na mBeann is an Irish-medium Pre-school which takes children aged 3+ years to prepare them to enter primary school. It was founded in 2008 and lead to the inception of Gaelscoil na mBeann, the Irish-medium Primary school in Kilkeel.
  • Brackenagh West Primary School
  • Grange Primary School
  • Holy Cross Primary School
  • Kilkeel High School
  • Kilkeel Primary School
  • Mourne Independent Christian School
  • St Colman's Primary School
  • St. Columban's College
  • St. Louis Grammar School
  • Mourne Grange Village School


Most popular sports in the Kilkeel area include Gaelic football, soccer, fishing, golf, hockey, hurling, and swimming.

There are five G.A.A. clubs in the local area which include An Ríocht, Longstone, Atticall, Ballymartin, and Glasdrumman. Each club boast impressive facilities including playing fields, sports halls, fitness suites, bar facilities and cater for a wide range of cross community activities above and beyond GAA sporting activities. These include Youth clubs, Mens Sheds (Pensioners), Walking clubs, Yoga, Basketball (Kilkeel Elks' home court is in An Ríocht Hall) and many more. All five teams have a strong presence in the Down GAA calendar through the various leagues and field teams at every age group from U6 through to senior level.

Kilkeel Hockey Club plays at McAuley Park, fielding three men's teams and two ladies' teams. Kilkeel is the only hockey club in Mourne, drawing players from the whole of the Mourne area, with Annalong providing a considerable number of its players.

The most senior football team is Valley Rangers F.C. of the Mid-Ulster Football League. Other local teams include Ballyvea, Kilkeel, Kilkeel Athletic and the Mourne Rovers. With the exception of Kilkeel Athletic, the local football clubs play in the SK Holmes Newcastle League.

There are two local golf courses, Kilkeel Golf Course and Cranfield Pitch and Putt.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kilkeel, County Down". 
  2. ^ Placenames Database of Ireland
  3. ^ Placenames NI
  4. ^ "Kilkeel". IreAtlas Townlands Database. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  5. ^ "Northern Ireland Placenames Project". Archived from the original on 1 October 2010. Retrieved 12 June 2010. 
  6. ^ "Cill Chaoil/Kilkeel". Placenames Database of Ireland. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  7. ^ O'Sullivan, Aidan; Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2. 
  8. ^ Hanna, R.K. (2008). Hanna of the Close - from Scottish Origins to 1798. Sheffield: Self Published. 
  9. ^ "B/E Aerospace workers given pledge over US sale plan". Belfast Telegraph. May 7, 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "Information". Gaelscoil na mBeann. 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2013.