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Kilclief Parish, County Down


Ir. Cill Chléithe ‘church of wattle’


Townland is on the coast, 10.5km E of Downpatrick

bar: Lecale Lower

The present Church of Ireland parish church in the village and townland of Kilclief marks the site of the medieval parish church and also of an early Irish monastery. In a source which deals with the genealogies of early Irish saints and dates from the year c.1125 we find a reference to Eogan i Cill Chlethi, i.e. ‘(Saint) Eoghan in Kilclief’, to Niall i Cill Chlethi, i.e. ‘(Saint) Niall in Kilclief’ (CSH 136.2), to Caelan Cilli Clethi, i.e. ‘(Saint) Caolán of Kilclief’ (CSH 238), to Colman o Chill Chleiticch ‘(Saint) Colman of Kilclief’ (CSH 662.224) and to Mochoe Cilli Cleithe, i.e. ‘(Saint) Mochoe of Kilclief’ (CSH 707.844). O’Laverty (i 124) informs us that the building of the church of Kilclief is attributed to St Patrick and that Saints Eoghan and Niall referred to above were brothers and chosen by Saint Patrick as caretakers of the church. However, the main saint associated with Kilclief is the aforementioned Caelan (Modern Irish Caolán) of which Mochoe is a hypocoristic or affectionate name. According to O’Laverty (i 125) this was probably the Caolán or ‘Caylan’ who founded the monastery of Nendrum of Mahee. Kilclief is also well documented in the Irish language in early non-ecclesiastical sources, for example in AD 935 the Annals refer to orgain Cille Clethe do mac Barith ‘the destruction of Kilclief by the son of Barith’ (AFM ii 632) and in AD 1001 we are informed that the Norse king Sitric, son of Amhlaiebh plundered Cill Cleithe agus Inis Cumhscraigh, i.e. Kilclief and Inch’. The name of the church of Kilclief is recorded as ecclesia de Killecleth in a grant of lands to the Abbey of Down in c.1183 (Grant of Bishop Malachy (EA) 164) and as Kirkeleth in the Papal Taxation of c.1306 (Eccles. Tax. 38)  The term cill in Kilclief may refer to the entire monastic unit, rather than to a single church and the final element, i.e. ‘wattle’ may refer to a wattle fence surrounding the monastery. Near the church are the remains of Kilclief Castle, a 15th-century tower house which was formerly a manorial residence for the bishop of Down (EA 218).  The parish was remarkably dispersed in that it had no less than 4 detached portions in the 1851 Census, represented by the townlands of (1) Ross, (2) Carrowdressex, (3) Ringreagh and (4) Rossglass and Commonreagh, but all were later reassigned to other parishes.  Thus it lost all its land in the barony of Lecale Upper and is now entirely within Lecale Lower.


PMcK, 2009; with additions PT, 2012.

Additional Information

See the townland of Kilclief for historical forms of this name

Historical name form

Old FormRef. DateReference
Killcleefe1657Inq. Down (Reeves1) 111
Lecale Lower
Parish in 1851
Place name ID
Place name type