Killyleagh, County Down, Northern Ireland Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Killyleagh, County Down, Northern Ireland

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When David Healy slammed a little round ball into the back of a net at 9.34pm on Wednesday 7 September, 2005, giving his home team a 1-0 win over England, he became a Northern Ireland sporting legend. The previous person to score a goal for Northern Ireland against England had been Terry Cochrane, back in 1972. Both these chaps are from the same village in County Down - Killyleagh1. The name comes from the Irish Cill Ó Laoch, and, rather appropriately, means 'Church of the Descendants of the Heroes'.

Killyleagh Castle

The village is dominated by the imposing presence of Killyleagh Castle - the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland. The castle gates are usually kept open so that visitors may admire and take photographs, although a sign does point out that it is a private residence. The grounds of the castle are often used for entertainment purposes; a music festival is held here every few years, and usually features much home-grown talent, including recently one of Northern Ireland's most famous sons, Van 'The Man' Morrison. Open air theatre is another treat, although the weather is not the most reliable.


Killyleagh is about 25km south of Belfast, and lies on the shores of Strangford Lough, the largest tidal inlet in the UK. At each tide, 350 million cubic metres of water pass through a narrow channel 0.5km wide2. Its unique features make it a heavily-protected environment - it is an area of outstanding natural beauty and of special scientific interest.

County Down is famous for its drumlins - sometimes referred to as 'basket of eggs' countryside. Drumlins are a peculiar geographical feature formed during the Ice Age, which result in many little rounded hills (think Teletubby Hill, or Frodo's Shire); the imposing Mountains of Mourne stand guard in the background.


Many of the local activities are based on the water. There are a number of sailing clubs in the vicinity, and boat races are a common sight on the Lough. Ringhaddy nearby is renowned as a diving training ground. The harbour often has fishermen trying their luck for mackerel, but usually catching the wrong kind of sole3.

Social History

Killyleagh first prospered as a coaching station, and some of the buildings still standing today originated as places where horses, their drivers and passengers could get some rest along their journey. One of these has been turned into a pleasant pub with an award-winning restaurant in the cellar, known locally as 'The Duff', although it also counts a police station as one of its former uses. The village has also been home to a bottling plant, coal importers, and a linen mill - the latter was a very important part of Northern Ireland's economy during the early 20th Century. In more recent times it had become rather run-down, but was designated as an area of special development needs, and financial incentives have brought new housing developments to the area, with their accompanying owners breathing life into the local economy.

Famous People

Aside from the two football legends already mentioned, one of the most famous people to have been born in Killyleagh is Sir Hans Sloane (1660 - 1753), who is honoured with a statue and a square near the harbour named after him, as is Sloane Square4 in London. Sloane was a botanist and archivist, whose collection and library formed the basis for the British Museum. He also advised on the beneficial medicinal properties of quinine and chocolate5.

The Reverend Edward Hincks, Irish Assyriologist and one of the decipherers of Mesopotamian cuneiform, was appointed rector of the Church of Ireland in Killyleagh in 1825, and he held that position for the remaining 41 years of his life.

HRH Prince Andrew was given the title Baron Killyleagh6 on the occasion of his marriage to Sarah Ferguson in 1986.

Nearby Attractions

The nearest big town is Downpatrick, where you can visit the reputed grave of Ireland's patron saint, St Patrick. Castle Espie is a wildfowl reserve about 12 miles to the north of the village. There is a well regarded aquarium at Portaferry. Delamont Country Park is one mile outside the village, and the estate of Castle Ward, owned by the National Trust and home to Northern Ireland's annual outdoor opera festival, is five miles away.

1Pronounced 'kill-ee-lay'.2A ferry crosses these turbulent waters between Strangford and Portaferry every 30 minutes, weather permitting.3In other words, a piece of leather from the bottom of a shoe, as opposed to a type of flatfish.4Which gave its name to the 'Sloanes' of the 1980s.5Gin and tonics all round!6Pronounced in this context 'kill-ee-lee'.

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