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Killough Harbour

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Killough Bay is located on Ireland’s northeastern coast, one and a half miles north of St John’s Point. The bay offers an uncertain anchorage, owing to the rocky bottom. A little used drying fishing harbour, situated at the head of the bay, affords the best protection. Although offering an outside anchorage and deep water approaches on a high tide, with depths in excess of three metres, berthing behind the pier is only suitable for vessels that can take to the hard.

Killough Bay offers good protection for vessels that can take to the hard, except in developed southeast through east to northeast winds. Adverse weather conditions cause a heavy scend behind the pier. Access to the harbour requires careful navigation owing to the bay being obstructed with dangers.
Please note

A vessel should not approach Killough Bay in any developed onshore conditions.

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Keyfacts for Killough Harbour
Waste disposal bins availableShop with basic provisions availableSlipway availablePublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPharmacy in the areaBus service available in the area

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterSet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pier

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

2 stars: Careful navigation; good visibility and conditions with dangers that require careful navigation.
4 stars: Good; assured night's sleep except from specific quarters.

Last modified
July 18th 2018

Summary* Restrictions apply

A good location with careful navigation required for access.

Waste disposal bins availableShop with basic provisions availableSlipway availablePublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPharmacy in the areaBus service available in the area

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterSet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pier

Position and approaches
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Haven position

54° 15.140' N, 005° 38.190' W

This is set on the head of the west pier.

What is the initial fix?

The following Killough Bay Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
54° 14.505' N, 005° 36.890' W
This waypoint is approximately 1 mile out from the west pier. It is set on the 304°(T) line of bearing of the building at the root of the west pier in alignment with the ruins of a three-storey tower-house Castle Bright. Following the 304°(T) bearing, clearly marked on Admiralty Standard Chart 633 ‘Plans on the east coast of Ireland’, in along the bay’s northeastern side leads into the anchoring area.

What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details for vessels approaching Strangford Lough from the north are available in the northeast Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location. Details for vessels approaching from the south are available in eastern Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Strangford Lough to Dublin Bay Route location.

  • Track in on a bearing of 304° T of the castellated building at the foot of the west pier. This can be aligned with the ruins of Castle Bright tower house but this may not be discernible.

  • Anchor in the outer bay in transit about midway between the Water Rocks and Coney Island.

Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to Killough Harbour for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Ardglass Harbour (Phennick Cove Marina) - 0.8 miles ENE
  2. Kilclief Bay - 3.8 miles NE
  3. Cross Roads - 4.1 miles NNE
  4. Dundrum Harbour - 4.4 miles W
  5. Quoile - 4.5 miles N
  6. South of Salt Island - 4.6 miles N
  7. Between Rat & Salt Island - 4.6 miles N
  8. Brandy Bay - 4.7 miles N
  9. Moore’s Point - 4.7 miles N
  10. Strangford Harbour (Strangford Village) - 4.8 miles NNE
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Ardglass Harbour (Phennick Cove Marina) - 0.8 miles ENE
  2. Kilclief Bay - 3.8 miles NE
  3. Cross Roads - 4.1 miles NNE
  4. Dundrum Harbour - 4.4 miles W
  5. Quoile - 4.5 miles N
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Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

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How to get in?

Killough Harbour is an old drying fishing harbour at the head of a bay encumbered with dangers. Adjacent to the pier is a small village that stretches alongside an inner bay that is a tidal mud-flat and shingle bank. T

The bay is entered between Ringsallagh, or Corbet Head, on the southwest side and Ringfad Point on the northeast, a distance of just over half a mile apart.

Convergance Point There are no offlying dangers on the approaches to the inlet. Keeping 200 metres off the rocks clears all dangers. The promontory of Ringfad, between Killough and Ardglass, is distinguished by a conical hill surmounted by Isabella Tower, as well as a water tower and Ardglass church steeple. These marks point out the harbour for seaward approaches.

Initial fix location The Killough Bay initial fix, sets up the recommended southeast approach on a bearing of 304° T close Ringfad Point in the northeastern side of the bay. Keeping the castellated building at the foot of the west pier aligned with the ruins of Castle Bright tower house provides a line of transit. The latter Castle Bright may be difficult to see these days but the bearing is still good.

This bearing leads into the southwest of Ringfad Point and to the northeast of Water Rocks, situated immediately outside the bay. The Water Rocks, in the outer part of the bay, are marked by a red mast and should be clearly visible. They only cover on last quarter flood and dry to 3.1 metres. Be careful not to drift too far to the northeast as foul ground extends 200 metres from Ringfad Point.

Within the Water Rocks the dangers in the southwest side of the bay are the Little and Big Plates, both drying to 0.3 metres at low water and the Carter Rock that all dry at low water. Carter Rock lies abreast of a windmill stump on the west shore. The rocky foreshore above the mill stump uncovers to the distance of 300 metres. Towards high water, when there is no swell in the bay, these inner rocks are of less concern as they are well covered.

The dangers on the northeast shore of the bay is the foul off Ringfad Point stretching out to a distance of 200 metres. A rocky outcrop extends to the southwest of Coney Island, and a reef extending south from Crane Point with a separately isolated ledge situated 400 metres offshore requires special attention.

By following the transit into the bay a vessel clears all these dangers. The transit passes approximately 400 metres to the northeast of the Little and Big Plates, and the Carter reef on the port side. It passes 200 metres southwest from the dangers off Ringfad Point and 100 metres from an isolated ledge and rocks off Coney Island to starboard.

Haven location Anchor in the bay to the south of Coney Island, about midway between the Water Rocks and Coney Island keeping on the Castle Bright lead-in transit. It is best to anchor further out owing to the rocky nature of the bottom. Coney Island Bay, a quarter of a mile northeast, may also be used in suitable conditions. Land at the west pier at high water behind which the church and the village of Killough can be seen on the western shore of the bay.

The west pier affords the best shelter in the bay if a vessel is set up to take to the hard. Vessels drawing more than 3 metres may go alongside the west pier at high water. To enter the harbour, run in on the transit, until immediately south of the opening to the inner harbour. This is situated between the rubble that remains of the ruined pier on Coney Island and the head of the west pier. Then haul up towards the harbour, and run in alongside the west pier.

Why visit here?
Killough derives its name from Irish Cill Locha meaning ‘church of the loch’. There is no trace today of the original church that gave the area its name. However in 1878 O’Laverty noted ‘A few perches to the west of the mill of Killough, a little knoll, on which a few stones are marked with crosses, arrests the eye of the curious, and points out the old cemetery of Knockavalley (the hill of the road); but about the church that once stood there nothing is known, though it gave its name to the town of Killough – ‘the church of the lough’ – which grew up beside it’. The ‘lough’ element is thought to refer to the Killough Bay inlet.

From Norman times Ulster was ruled by a patchwork of independent kingdoms. Each ruled by a chieftain and bound by a common set of legal, social and religious traditions. The Catholic Russell family held the manor of Killough and little happened here under their dominion. This was all set to change at the beginning of the 17th-century when the ‘Plantation of Ulster’ began. King James I believed that a colonisation of Ulster would quell the rebellion and win over the 'rude and barbarous Irish' to 'civility' and Protestantism, and so he started the Plantation. English and Scottish Protestants came to Ulster and settled on land confiscated from the Gaelic Irish. In 1641, observing the rise of the Parliamentarians, these settlers instigated a rebellion to secure control of Ireland for the king. Their expected coup backfired and inadvertently turned into a bloody rising of Ulster’s rebel Catholic elements on Protestant settlers who they massacred in large numbers. The subsequent suppression of the rebellion resulted in the wholesale confiscation of land owned by both the Anglo-Normans and the Gaelic Irish. One-quarter of land in County Down changed hands amongst which were the Russell family who lost their holdings in the area and Killough.

But it was this ‘Ulster Plantation’ with the important ties to Scotland, that would shape Ardglass and Killough’s future development. Alongside the Plantation the ‘Ulster ports’ began to rise in prominence. The Lowland Scots settlers maintained close links with their kinsmen in Scotland, and trade between Ulster and western Scottish ports thrived. William Pitt was appointed as Customer of the ports of Newcastle, Dundrum, Killough, Portaferry, Donaghadee, Bangor and Holywood in 1625, further driving the development. Ardglass was the busiest of the Lecale ports during this period, followed by Strangford but Killough took its fair share. When Ardglass suffered severe damage in the 1641 Rebellion some of the trade switched to Killough and it began to develop. The population in 1659 was 21, but by 1846 it had risen to 1148. For a brief period in the early 19th century, Killough was amongst the busiest of all the ports.

The village and port seen today was largely initiated by Michael Ward in the 18th century. Born of the family Wards of ‘Castle Ward House’ he constructed the first harbour here. This was to avoid having to pay harbour dues in the adjacent Strangford Harbour, and a straight road still runs from Castle Ward to Killough today. He established a salt works and made a number of improvements to the harbour and village. Ward renamed the area ‘Port Saint Anne’ in honour of his wife. The port was known as that for a short time but this new name did not take hold. Nevertheless by the time of his death in 1743 Killough was one of the busiest trading ports in Ulster with an active windmill, lime kiln and brickworks in the immediate harbour area. Fifteen ships and twenty boats engaged in fishing operated out of the port underpinning a considerable coastal trade with the principal ports in the Irish Channel. The chief exports then were corn and live cattle whilst its imports were coal and salt.

In 1793 after the outbreak of war between Great Britain and France, the growing of cereals in the district of Lecale increased substantially. The original harbour facilities were vastly inadequate for the heightened level of activity and Killough harbour had to be expanded. Between 1821 and 1824, Michael Ward’s son, the first Lord Bangor, built extensive new quays. Designed by the legendary architect Alexander Nimmo these are the quays that can be seen today; the 182 metres pier on the Killough side, and a shorter disused 30-metre pier on the Coney Island side. Behind this bustling harbour, the village prospered with wealthy grain merchants constructing imposing houses in Castle Street. From their stores in the town, narrow lanes ran down to the quays. Then, in the 1830s, the war ended and the bubble burst. A post-war depression caused grain prices to fall. The wealthy merchants, who had overstretched themselves, soon found themselves in difficulty and one-grain store after another closed. The bustling harbour slowly became idle and the population of the village collapsed over time. The trading and fishing port became derelict, and over the past century, the superior harbour of Ardglass became the principal fishing port.

Today only a few local fishing craft use the harbour, but little happens in Killough. What remains today of the busy trading era are the merchant houses set in Castle Street. This fine, sycamore-lined main street with pubs, small shops and colourful cottages, is in many ways, one of the most attractive in County Down. There are three interesting little churches in the village; a Church of Ireland, a Methodist and a Roman Catholic, plus Victorian cottages and almshouses. Outside the village, the low, rocky shore gives way to rough grassland before cultivated fields that stretch further inland. In the summer a wide variety of flowers cover the fields and hedgerows making it very beautiful.

Hikers will find the Lecale coast features many interesting paths. Killough’s offers a nice walk out to Saint John’s Point Lighthouse. A road leads to it but it is best accessed by a coastal path leading off Fisherman’s Row, near the old coastguard station, where it will be found about 2.4 km, 1.5 miles, south by southwest of the village. The lighthouse was originally commissioned in 1844 to the design of George Halpin. The height of the tower was later tripled in 1893. It was painted white with black bands until 1954 when it was repainted in its present highly distinctive black and yellow colour scheme. Close by on the highly distinctive St. John's Point are the ruins of a preceptory of the Knights Hospitallers.

On the way to the lighthouse, a walker passes the lonely ruins of the early 10th or 11th century St. John’s Church. This small church marks the site of an early establishment associated with Eoan (John) son of Cairland, and in medieval times it was a chapel. It is an excellent example of a small pre-Romanesque Christian church. It has a lintelled west door, sloping jambs, antae (pillars) to east and west and a south window. At the roadside, outside the enclosed area, there is a balluna, an elongated hollowed stone used as a font, and a Holy Well. This stone church was almost certainly preceded by a wooden church but the site was sacred long before this. An excavation found a semi-circle of pagan burials near and around the church.

Hikers who are prepared to stride-out will find the Ballynoe Stone Circle interesting. This is situated 8 km, 5 miles or an hour and a half’s walk, inland from Killough and is thought to be one of the finest stone circles in Ireland. The site is believed to date from the late Neolithic through to the earlier Bronze Age periods as it seems to span several different building phases. Its 35 metres diameter of outlying stones, in a north-south alignment, are closely paralleled to the circle at Swinside in Cumbria to which it is thought to have been built as a counterpart. The site appears now as a large circle of closely-spaced stones with some outliers, surrounding an oval mound. Its outer ring consists of stones up to 1.8 metres high and it was thought to be originally surrounded by a ditch. Three pairs of stones stand outside the circle at varying distances, the nearest pair at the west side forming a kind of entrance 2.1 metres wide. Excavations in the 1930s showed that the mound has a man-made cairn at its core. Large cists were found at the east and west ends of the mound which contained cremated bones that were dated back to before 2000 BC.

From a sailing point of view, like Ardglass, Killough offers quick and straightforward seaward access at any stage of the tide. This makes it a very good lunch stop location for yachts northbound or southbound in the Irish Sea. Add to this its location, just six miles south of the Strangford Lough entrance and twenty miles northeast of Carlingford, makes it the ideal staging berth to time a favourable tide entrance into either of these loughs.

What facilities are available?
Killough Harbour has facilities for tie-up and waste disposal but little else. The small village, on the west side of the bay, has basic shopping to cater for a population between 500 and 1,000. Nearby Ardglass, a distance of three miles by road, offers better facilities and Downpatrick, five miles northwest, offers very good shopping and serves as a commercial and administrative centre for the locality. Ulsterbus 16A serves Killough and Ardglass.

Any security concerns?
Never an issue known to have occurred in Killough Harbour. However in an open harbour normal security provisions should be adhered to.

With thanks to:
Fred Curran, Custodian of Ardglass Marina. Photography with thanks to Ardfern, Eric Jones, Eamoss, Judy Byrne, Michael Parry and Albert Bridge.

A Helicopter flight over Killough, St. John's Point, the north end of Dundrum Bay and Ardglass

Scenes of St. John's Point Lighthouse set to poetry

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