Kilclief Village is home to two of the string of lovely beaches on the Lecale Coast. Park at the Council-run carpark and cycle off towards Ballyhornan to find a secluded beach of your own. This village is the Hurley capital of East Down
Kilclief's history is embedded with that of the Lecale Coast. This is shortly to be published at the following link, and has been described as having a better story line than the 'Game of Thrones' - www.ardglass.eu/maritime-heritage/history . Lecale was once the base of the Uliaid Gaelic Kings of Scotland and Ireland whose fleet was based in Strangford Lough and ruled parts of Northumbria and the Isle of Man.
352BC to 150AD Records from the voyages of Pytheas of Massalia in Greece in the latter half of the 4th century B.C. were added to by Ptolemy in his map of AD 150 which showed Dúnum for the local Gaelic Dál Fiatach, who were Kings of Ulster (Ulaid) for at least 1000 years of recorded history up to the Norman invasion. Some like the Magennis family and MacCartans survived as chiefs until the Plantation in the 1600’s. Ulaid surnames are the most common on the electoral register in Lecale today. For instance the MacCartans and Magees alone have nearly 500 names.
In one of the earliest recorded events in Irish history, in 350AD The Ulaid fall back to Downpatrick, then called ‘Dún Lethglaise’ making it the new Ulster capital. Follows the defeat by the Oirghialla of the Ulaidians (Ulstermen) and the destruction of Eamhain Macha their ancient capital since about 700BC and mantioned in the epic tale of Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Tain Saga of Cucullan). The most common Oirghialla name on the local electoral register is Kearney with 202 entries.
In 432AD Saint Patrick is swept past Kilcleif by the force of Strangford’s narrow, landing at the Slaney River just below present day Raholp. The local Dal Fiatach chieftain, Dichu Mac Trichim, was quickly converted and gave him a barn for holding services called ‘Sabhall Phádraig’, meaning "Patrick's barn”. (barn=Sabhall=Saul) By 460AD Churches had been founded at Dún Lethglaise the Dál Fiatach capital (now Downpatrick) and other Ulaid centres like Kilclief where a monastery was founded. In 563 with Founding Iona, St. Columba sets off a wave of missions to the barbarian tribes in England, France, Germany, Central and Northern Europe as part of the ‘Golden Age’ of Saints and Scholars of popular history. Many local Kilclief Saints like Eogan, Niall, Caelan, Caolán, Colman and Mochoe with saints like St Thornan of nearby Ballyhornan played a big role in missions in following 6 centuries founding religious institutions and places of learning throughout Northern Europe.
In 637 Domhnall O’Neill defeated the Ulaid king Congal at the battle of Moria – the biggest battle ever fought in Ireland. Congal is killed and henceforth the O’Neills become the dominant clann in Ireland and Dál Fiatach retreat to Ulaid base in Downpatrick and Lecale. Disastrously, the O’Neills fleet also won the Battle of the Mull of Kintyre on the same day. As a result, O’Neill forces occupied Antrim and cut off the local Ulaid from their strength in Scotland. About 10% of the local electoral register reflects O'Neill names with Martin, Donnell and Neill being the most common.
700 Origin of Lecale / Leath Cathail. Around 700 Dál Fiatach territory in East Down is divided into 3 ‘halves’ with Leath Cathail (Cathal’s Half ) becoming a subdivision of the ancient kingdom of Uladh. In the following centuries several Lecale sub-chiefs, often called Cathal, were recorded as being killed in battles defending the area from Vikings, O’Neill’s and Normans.
The annals record the local Lecale chief Cathal MacTommaltaig. slain by the Norse in 853. Locals battled successive Viking invasions over 150 years – killing both a King of Denmark and a King of Norway. 1002 Sitric (Sigtrygg II Silkbeard Olafsson), King of the Danes of Dublin, passed through the mouth of Strangford Lough with a fleet and plundered Kilclief Church and monastery with considerable loss of life and taking many captives.
1022 Sitrics Dublin Viking fleet sailed north again against the Ulaid, only to be destroyed in a naval battle against King Niall O’hEochaidh’s Ulaid fleet off this coast, after which many Norse crews and ships were taken prisoner. 1026 Niall then gathered his forces and leaves Lecale a for a sea-assault on Dublin, devastating the Viking city. This epic feat was made easier by the death of the O’Neill high King to whom the Vikings of Dublin were now in vassalage to, and the failure of the Irish sub-kings to agree on a replacement.
1100’s The defeat of the Vikings locally saw an Irish Ulaid renaissance in this area. The lands associated with the various monasteries were consolidated into larger dioceses at the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111. The Ulaids lands were devided into the diocese of Dromore, the diocese of Connor and locally the diocese of Down.
In 1177 a surprise attack by Normans under De Courcy ended with the capture of 70% of Ulaid lands and turned the Lecale Coast into a Norman stronghold for 250 years. Norman names make up about 10% of the local electoral register with the most common being Fitzsimons at 345. The Normans also defeated the Irish High King Brian O'Neill when he tried to expel them in 1260.
In 1315 The Norman Lecale Coast was devastated by the Bruce Armies supported by the O'Niells and Irish chiefs trying to wrest Ireland from the English, expel the colonists and set up the Scottish King's brother Edward King of Ireland. (In those days both the Scottish and Ulster Irish shared a common language and culture). Ultimately the Scots of the Western Isles occupied Lecale.
In 1413 Kilclief castle was built when the Scottish were driven out by the English whose principal local representative was the Bishop of Down who lived at the castle. It was followed by up to 23 other Castles around Lecale as the Anglo-Normans came under pressure from the O'Neills and surviving Ulaid sub-clans like the Magennsis's and MacCartans. Lecale ultimately fell back into Gaelic hands in the 1470's under the O'Neill kings of Ulster until the plantation.
In 1534, the Act of Supremacy ultimately passed ownership of the Lecale churches including St St Caelan's in Kilclief into the new Anglican Catholic Church, though most locals stayed with the Catholic Church. In 1622 St Caelan's was in ruins but was rebuilt in 1839.
Although the plantation and subsequent rebellions of 1641 and 1689 removed ownership of land from local Anglo-Norman and Gaelic lords, the ordinary people of Lecale were mostly not driven off the land as in North Down and became tenants to the new Anglo landlords during the times of the penal laws up to the 1800's and ultimately Catholic emancipation in the 1800s.
With the fading of the 'Penal Laws' open air services where finally displaced in 1785 when the parish priest Rev. John Fitzsimons built St Malachy's. It replaced several small unofficial chapels in the area where Mass was also held in houses & fields. It cost £200 and was paid for by subscription. It was capable of seating 280 people and there was a sundial on one of the walls. A 'hedge school' was held in the chapel. The parish priest in 1807 was Rev. Robert Denvir & Rev. Richard Teggart in 1818 & Rev. Patrick Maginn in 1842-1892. A gallery was added to increase its capacity in 1830. This very old chapel was replaced by a newer church in the next field in 1941 . This in turn was abandoned as unsafe in 1970 and another built nearby on the Bishopscourt Road which is where the majority of the population of the area are to be found today.
Kilclief's GAA club is one of the oldest in Down and has won the Down Senior Hurling Championship on many occasions including 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1925, 1954, 1955 and 1956. They also feild impressive football and Camogie teams from its scenic pitch on Strangford's narrows and is still winning trophies - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fijB-6vt6qs
Kilclief's helmet and colours https://www.oneills.com/kilclief-koolite-helmet-green-red.html