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Kilkeel Parish, County Down


Ir. Cill Chaoil perhaps ‘church of the narrow place’


Town is on Co. Down coast, 13km ESE of Rostrevor

bar: Mourne

It seems certain, in view of its ecclesiastical connections, that the first element of Kilkeel is Irish cill (anglicized kil-) ‘a church’ and it is interesting that in the historical spellings it is sometimes supplanted by the Scots equivalent, kirk (Kirkeil etc, 1692)).  Almost all the historical forms indicate that the second element is derived from Irish caol and this seems plausible enough.  However, it is difficult to translate this caol as it is possible to interpret it as an adjective, a common noun or a proper noun.  The first possibility Cill Chaol ‘narrow church’ seems to have been rejected by almost all who have concerned themselves with the meaning of the name. There are a number of reasons for this, not least the fact that the name has been recorded from Irish speakers in Omeath as Cill a’ chaoil and Cillidh Chaoil.  Furthermore, the Irish form Cill an Chaoil appears in a composition by the South-East Ulster poet Art Mac Bionaid c. 1840 and is also recorded in the OSNB where it is translated ‘church of the strait’. 

There is no trace of the definite article in the historical spellings of Kilkeel from 1369 up to the beginning of the 19th century and it is possible that Cill an Chaoil superseded an earlier Cill Chaoil, identical in meaning but without the article. The Irish word caol can mean a narrow stretch of water but as there is no such feature in the area a plausible suggestion is that as the medieval church of Kilkeel (see ASCD 304) is situated in a comparatively narrow area of ground at the confluence of the Aughrim and Kilkeel Rivers (J 3014), Cill Chaoil should be interpreted as ‘church of the narrow place’.


Additional Information

See also the town of Kilkeel

Historical name form

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Parish in 1851
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