England Ireland Find Havens
England Ireland Find Routes

Killough Bay is a small bay located on Ireland’s northeastern coast, a mile and a half north of St John’s Point. The bay offers a drying pier and an uncertain settled weather anchorage, owing to its rocky bottom, and vessels that can take to the bottom can dry behind its little-used pier.

Killough Bay is a small bay located on Ireland’s northeastern coast, a mile and a half north of St John’s Point. The bay offers a drying pier and an uncertain settled weather anchorage, owing to its rocky bottom, and vessels that can take to the bottom can dry behind its little-used pier.

The bay offers good protection with its best being available to those who can dry behind its pier, except in developed southeast through east to northeast winds that cause a heavy scend behind the pier. Access to the harbour requires careful navigation owing to the bay being obstructed by many 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
September 19th 2022

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 is approximately 1 mile out from the west pier. It is set on the 304°T line of bearing of the castellated building at the root of the west pier in alignment with the ruin of the distant three-storey tower-house Castle Bright.

What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details for vessels approaching Strangford Lough from the north are available in 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 be difficult to discern.

  • Anchor in the outer bay on the transit about midway between the Water Rocks and Coney Island. Or continue into the harbour

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) - 1.2 nautical miles ENE
  2. Kilclief Bay - 6.1 nautical miles NE
  3. Cross Roads - 6.7 nautical miles NNE
  4. Dundrum Harbour - 7.1 nautical miles W
  5. Quoile - 7.2 nautical miles N
  6. Salt Island (South) - 7.4 nautical miles N
  7. Salt Island (Southwest) - 7.4 nautical miles N
  8. Brandy Bay (North Salt Island) - 7.6 nautical miles N
  9. Moore’s Point - 7.7 nautical miles N
  10. Strangford Harbour (Strangford Village) - 7.8 nautical 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) - 1.2 miles ENE
  2. Kilclief Bay - 6.1 miles NE
  3. Cross Roads - 6.7 miles NNE
  4. Dundrum Harbour - 7.1 miles W
  5. Quoile - 7.2 miles N
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What's the story here?
Killough Pier at the head of the bay
Image: Michael Harpur

Killough Bay lies about 1½ miles Northeast of Saint John’s Point and it is a south-facing bay with a drying harbour at its head. The harbour is protected by substantial piers extending from the town and Coney Island and the western town pier affords the best shelter. It was formerly a busy fishing harbour but long since obsoleted by neighbouring Ardglass which has taken over as a principal fishing port of the area. Despite having its pier rebuilt Killough Harbour is little used these days on account of having little depth of water alongside. Adjacent to the pier is a small village that stretches alongside an inner bay that is a tidal mud-flat and shingle bank at low water.

The inner side of the west pier
Image: Michael Harpur

The bay outside the harbour and west of Ringfad Point has a rock bottom and is encumbered with dangers. This makes it an unattractive anchorage except for a short stop in settled conditions. 2 metres and more can be had on the approch transit beyond a ⅓ of a mile of the pier. The pier is the domain of shoal draft vessels that can take to the bottom. Vessels drawing more than 3 metres may go alongside the west pier at high water and will most likely have the pretty pier to themselves.

How to get in?
The head of Killough Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

Convergance Point Seaward approaches are detailed in eastern Ireland’s coastal overview for Strangford Lough to Dublin Bay Route location. There are no off-lying dangers on the approaches to the Killough Harbour inlet. Keeping 200 metres off the rocks clears all dangers.

The small castellated structure at the root of the pier
Image: Michael Harpur

The entrance to Killough Harbour lies between the western point of Ringsallagh or Corbet Head and Ringfad Point on the eastern side and is about ¾ of a mile wide. Ringfad, between Killough and Ardglass, is distinguished by a conical hill on the southern edge of Ardglass that is surmounted by Isabella Tower. There is a water tower further southward and Ardglass church steeples to the north.

The ruins of Castle Bright
Image: Eric Jones via CC BY-SA 2.0
Initial fix location The Killough Bay initial fix, sets up the recommended approach from the southeast on a bearing of 304° T close to 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, 1½ miles from the castellated structure, may be difficult to see these days but the bearing off of the root of the pier is still good.

This bearing leads in close 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 perch and should be clearly visible. They only cover on the last quarter of the 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 on the southwest side of the bay are the Little and Big Plates, both drying, to 0.2 and 0.6 metres LAT, and the Carter Rock which dries to 1.3 at low water.

Carter Rock lies abreast of the stump windmill on the west shore. The rocky foreshore, above the remains of the mill, covers out to 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 ruin of the windmill as seen from the harbour area
Image: Michael Harpur

The dangers on the northeastern shore of the bay is the foul shore off Ringfad Point stretching out to a distance of 200 metres. A rocky ledge, known as Crane Point with part of it always showing, extends 400 metres southward of Coney Island. Two separately isolated rocky outcrop situated 400 metres offshore near this requires special attention.

Teh run into the pier from Ringfad Point
Image: Michael Harpur

Keeping to the 304° T transit clears all these dangers and has no less than 2.6 metres till south of Coney Island. 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.

The Pier and breakwater as seen from the south
Image: Michael Harpur

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, ¼ 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 inner face of the west pier
Image: Michael Harpur

The west pier affords the best shelter in the bay if a vessel can take to the bottom. To enter the harbour, run in on the transit, until immediately south of the 140-metre wide 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' with the 'loch', or 'lough' element thought to refer to the Killough Bay inlet. 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".

Ballynoe Stone Circle
Image: Philip Hay via cc BY SA 3.0

This is an ancient part of the coast as Ballynoe Stone Circle bears testament. The circle 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.

Sunset through the Ballynoe Stone Circle
Image: Tourism Ireland

Those hiking out to St John's Lighthouse will pass 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 with a lintelled west door, sloping jambs, antae (pillars) to the 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. Excavations in 1977 showed up graves that extended under these walls, indicating that an even earlier church existed in the early Christian period. The excavation also found a semi-circle of pagan burials near and around the church.

St John's Point church
Image: Tourism Ireland

From Norman times Ulster was ruled by a patchwork of independent kingdoms. Each was 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 rebellious nature of the deeply nationalistic area. The objective being to win over the "rude and barbarous Irish" to "civility" and "Protestantism". So he commenced the Plantation where English and Scottish Protestants came to Ulster and settled on land confiscated from the Gaelic Irish. This Plantation and the important ties to Scotland would shape Killough’s and Ardglass' future development.

Depiction of supposed Irish atrocities during the Rebellion of 1641
Image: Public Domain

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 and it would grow after the 1641 Rebellion badly damaged Ardglass.

Depiction of Portadown massacre took place in November 1641
Image: Public Domain

The Irish Rebellion of 1641 was an uprising by Irish Catholics who wanted an end to anti-Catholic discrimination, greater Irish self-governance, and partially or fully reverse the plantations of Ireland. They also wanted to prevent a possible invasion or takeover by anti-Catholic English Parliamentarians and Scottish Covenanters, who were defying the king, Charles I. It began as an attempted coup d'état by Catholic gentry and military officers, who tried to seize control of the English administration in Dublin Castle. However, their expected coup backfired and inadvertently degenerated into ethnic violence between the native Irish and newly arrived English and Scottish settlers. The subsequent suppression of the rebellion by the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland 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.

Killough is a tranquil harbour and village today
Image: Michael Harpur

When Ardglass suffered severe damage some of its 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 were 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 Killough to Castle Ward today. He established a salt works and made several 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 trading coasters 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.

Coney Island, opposite, is made famous in Van Morrison’s spokenword song of
the same name

Image: Michael Harpur

In 1793 after the outbreak of war between Great Britain and France, the growth 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.

Killough principal draw today is its small beach
Image: Michael Harpur

But the bubble burst when the war ended in the 1830s and 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.

The beach in front of the west pier
Image: Michael Harpur

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 on Castle Street. This fine, sycamore-lined main street with pubs, small shops and colourful cottages, is in many ways, one of the most attractive towns 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.

Saint John’s Point Lighthouse
Image: Rossographer via CC BY SA 2.0

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.

Killough Sunset
Image: Tourism NI

From a boating 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, and it makes it the ideal staging berth for 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 3 miles by road, offers better facilities and Downpatrick, 5 miles northwest, offers very good shopping and serves as a commercial and administrative centre for the locality.

Ulsterbus 16A stops in the centre of the village. Destinations Ardglass (Mon–Fri 9 daily, Sat 6, Sun 2; 5min); Downpatrick (Mon–Fri 9 daily, Sat 6, Sun 2; 15min).

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.

Aerials od Killough and Coney Island at low water

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