Kilkeel (from Irish: Cill Chaoil, meaning 'church of the narrow')[2][1] is a small town, civil parish and townland (of 554 acres and 6521inh) in County Down, Northern Ireland. It is the southernmost town in Northern Ireland. It lies within the historic barony of Mourne.[3] Kilkeel town is the main fishing port on the Down coast,[4] and its harbour is home to the largest fishing fleet in Northern Ireland.[5] It had a population of 6,541 people at the 2011 Census.[6] The town contains the ruins of a 14th-century church and fort, winding streets and terraced shops. It lies just south of the Mourne Mountains.

Trawler departing Kilkeel (1of6) - - 1141805.jpg
Kilkeel Harbour and Mourne Mountains
Kilkeel is located in County Down
Location within County Down
Population6,541 (2011 Census)
CountryNorthern Ireland
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townNEWRY
Postcode districtBT34
Dialling code028
PoliceNorthern Ireland
FireNorthern Ireland
AmbulanceNorthern Ireland
UK Parliament
NI Assembly
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 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 'Murphy's plain'), and extends into the neighbouring townlands of:[7]

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

Altogether there are 69 townlands in the civil parish and barony.[8]


'Narrow Church'
Kilkeel c.1907

Kilkeel takes its name from the old church overlooking the town, it being the anglicised version of the Gaelic 'Cill Chaoil' meaning "church of the narrow place". The name may be drawn from the church's location on a narrow site between the Aughrim and Kilkeel rivers.[1] The church was built 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.

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.

The Mary Joseph (N55) is now in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra.[9][10]

A local history group, set up in the 1980s and covering both the town of Kilkeel and the Mourne region, has produced a set of seven periodicals called The 12 Miles of Mourne. A book on Hanna's Close, a clachan of houses in Aughnahoory townland one mile outside of Kilkeel, that covers the history of the region up to 1798, was self-published in 2008.[11]


  • Fishing is a major industry in Kilkeel, with Kilkeel Harbour the home port for the largest fishing fleet in Northern Ireland.[5]
  • There are fish-processing factories around the port, pleasure angling off the piers and lobster farming along the coastline.[citation needed]
  • In recent years Collins Aerospace (previously known as BE Aerospace and Rockwell Collins) has become the largest employer in the area. Its Kilkeel facility, which manufactures aircraft seats for a worldwide customer base, employs over 800 people.[12]


The town is also known as the location where the 19th-century serial killer William Hare died.

Robert Hanna VC


On Census day (27 March 2011) there were 6,541 people living in Kilkeel (2,557 households), accounting for 0.36% of the Northern Ireland total.[6] Of these:

  • 21.27% were aged under 16 years and 15.15% were aged 65 and over;
  • 51.49% of the usually resident population were female and 48.51% were male;
  • 54.00% belong to or were brought up in a 'Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related)' religion and 40.99% belong to or were brought up in the Christian Catholic denomination;
  • 54.67% indicated that they had a British national identity, 27.60% had a Northern Irish national identity and 20.29% had an Irish national identity (respondents could indicate more than one national identity);
  • 35 years was the average (median) age of the population;
  • 8.93% had some knowledge of Ulster-Scots and 8.82% had some knowledge of Irish (Gaelic).


The town of Kilkeel has a strong Unionist heritage. In 2001, the ward of Kilkeel Central was recorded as 69% Protestant (21% Catholic, 10% other), and the ward of Kilkeel South was 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, Mourne and Down District Council which is recorded in the 2011 census as being 72.32% from a Catholic religious background and 23.91% from a Protestant religious background. In the district 44.31% indicated that they had an Irish national identity, 30.39% had a Northern Irish national identity and 28.53% had a British national identity. For more details see: NI Neighbourhood Information Service



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

There are five Gaelic Athletic Association 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.

One of the most recognised sports teams in the town is Kilkeel Hockey Club. They play 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 Men's 1st team have just recently been awarded the Anderson Cup in the Anderson Cup final at the Stormont pitches in Belfast which was a great achievement for the club and also for the town.

The most senior football team is Valley Rangers Football Club of the Mid-Ulster Football League. Other local teams include Balleyvea FC, Kilkeel Athletic and the Mourne Rovers. There are two local golf courses, Kilkeel Golf Course and Cranfield Pitch and Putt.

Peerage titleEdit

Baron Kilkeel is a title in the peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created on 19 May 2018 by Queen Elizabeth II as a substantive title for her grandson Prince Harry on the occasion of his marriage to Meghan Markle.[14] It is named after the town of Kilkeel.[14] The full title and designation of the barony is "Baron Kilkeel, of Kilkeel in the County of Down".[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Place Names NI – Home".
  2. ^ "Cill Chaoil/Kilkeel".
  3. ^ "Kilkeel". IreAtlas Townlands Database. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  4. ^ "Minister McIlveen shares desire for confident fishing industry". Northern Ireland Executive. 9 August 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2022. At Kilkeel, the largest fishing port...
  5. ^ a b "Kilkeel Harbour". Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  6. ^ a b "Census 2011 Population Statistics for Kilkeel Settlement". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  7. ^ "Northern Ireland Placenames Project". Archived from the original on 1 October 2010. Retrieved 12 June 2010.
  8. ^ "Cill Chaoil/Kilkeel". Placenames Database of Ireland. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  9. ^ O'Sullivan, Aidan; Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2.
  10. ^ "Mary Joseph". Archived from the original on 18 September 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
  11. ^ Hanna, R.K. (2008). Hanna of the Close – from Scottish Origins to 1798. Sheffield: Self-published.
  12. ^ Weir, Claire (7 May 2014). "B/E Aerospace workers given pledge over US sale plan". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  13. ^ "Information". Gaelscoil na mBeann. 2012. Archived from the original on 20 July 2013. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  14. ^ a b "Harry and Meghan appointed Baron and Baroness of Kilkeel". Belfast Telegraph. 19 May 2018. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  15. ^ Press Association (2017). "Baron of Kilkeel is Prince Harry's Northern Irish title". Windsor Observer. Retrieved 19 May 2018.