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Kilkeel facts for kids

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Trawler departing Kilkeel (1of6) - - 1141805.jpg
Kilkeel Harbour and Mourne Mountains
Kilkeel is located in Northern Ireland
Population 6,338 (2001 Census)
  • Newry, Mourne and Down
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
  • South Down
List of places
Northern Ireland
DownCoordinates: 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") is a small town, civil parish and townland (of 554 acres) in County Down, Northern Ireland. It lies within the historic barony of Mourne. 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.


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:

  • 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.


Kilkeel narrow church
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.

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. 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.


  • Robert Hill Hanna (1887–1967), born near Hanna's Close, was an immigrant Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross. He was a Company Sergeant-Major in the 29th (Vancouver) Bn., Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I when on 21 August 1917, he led a courageous action at Hill 70 Lens, France.
  • Gerald O'Donovan, novelist
  • Robert Nugent, Brigadier General, commander of Union Army's Irish Brigade, US Civil War.

2011 Census

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.


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).

Kikleel ward chart
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

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