Wednesday, 26 July 2017


During the 12th century, Killyleagh and the other towns and villages around Strangford Lough were under threat from invasion by the Vikings.  But the area had already been conquered during the same century by Normans, including a Norman knight called John de Courcy, who came to Ireland from Somerset.  While there he built a number of castles with the aim of keeping the Vikings at bay, and one of these was Killyleagh Castle, believed to be the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland.  As well as its current permanent inhabitants the castle offers self-catering accommodation for tourists, and it is also used as a concert venue, with past appearances by Van Morrison among others.

The village lies in a tranquil setting on a small inlet on the western shore of the Lough, the pastel-hued cottages giving the waterfront an attractive appearance.  The town was recently reported as being the last predominantly Protestant settlement in the Strangford constituency, a contrast from the mainly Catholic Downpatrick just down the road.  Apart from a bomb in a Catholic-owned bar in 1975 the village escaped the worst of the Troubles and now has a prosperous air.  The parish church, in a slightly elevated position with views of the Lough, is dedicated to St John the Evangelist and lies on a site previously occupied by an old pre-Reformation church.  On the road into the village from Downpatrick is Delamont Country Park, with a seasonal miniature railway, a large heronry, camping facilities and the Strangford Stone, a modern-day megalith erected in 1999.

For events in the area, including the Killyleagh Summer Festival, see the town's Facebook page

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Photo by Bob Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 13 July 2017


The south-west reach of Strangford Lough narrows down to the Quoile River, and a short distance upstream lies the cathedral town of Downpatrick.  The name is appropriate in that the cathedral is said to be where St Patrick is buried.  Down Cathedral occupies a site with a religious past stretching back to the 12th century and incorporates parts of the 13th century Benedictine Abbey of Down.  Just across the river is another religious site, Inch Abbey, founded by John de Courcy as an act of repentance for his destruction of Erenagah Abbey.  The abbey is now a ruin, with buildings dating from the 12th and 13th centuries.  The Down County Museum is free to enter and is a rich source of local history, while the St PatrickCentre tells the story of the famous saint and includes an IMAX experience.

Like many cathedral towns and cities, Downpatrick has a range of attractions with something for everyone.  For arty types, the Down Arts Centre offers performances, exhibitions, classes and workshops.  Racing enthusiasts might want to check out what’s on at the town’s racecourse.  Railway buffs can take a trip on the Downpatrick and County Down Railway, the only full-sized mainline heritage railway in Ireland.  Wildlife watchers can head down to the QuoilePondage Nature Reserve, with a riverside path and a bird hide for observing our feathered friends.  Finally, for the religiously inclined, there are four holy wells known as the Struell Wells in nearby Struell, and our old friend St Patrick makes a lofty appearance on Slieve Patrick, where a pleasant walk leads up to a statue of the saint with wonderful views.

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Down Cathedral. Photo by Ross, via Wikimedia Commons