Situated against the dramatic backdrop of the Mountains of Mourne in Co Down, Kilkeel harbour today is home to a predominantly shellfish-orientated fleet of prawn trawlers and scallop dredgers.
Highly restrictive fisheries management measures for the Irish Sea led to a dramatic switch from whitefish to shellfish less than 20 years ago.
Before this watershed, Kilkeel was home to a significantly more balanced fleet, including semi-pelagic trawlers that regularly landed a good mix of whitefish, including hake, cod and haddock into their home port.
Kilkeel harbour, like nearly all other fishing ports in Britain and Ireland, has experienced a number of major changes down the years.
For many years, herring caught by local and visiting boats was an important mainstay of the port, during which time sailing drifters were replaced by motorised vessels, before these, in turn, were superceded by pair-trawlers.
Seine netting was also important at Kilkeel, before demersal trawling became more popular, initially for whitefish and now prawns.
The development of Kilkeel harbour as it stands in its present form today is comparatively recent.
The harbour was first started in the 1850s and a pier was built in 1868, with further improvements in 1872. The harbour could only accommodate 24 boats in the 1880s. In 1885, the South Pier was constructed, followed in 1886 by the Old Dock. In 1916, this was extended to form the inner basin. There was further largescale expansion in 1955 when the foreshore on the north side was replaced by a long quay, part of which is home to today’s fishmarket.
(All photographs courtesy of Lenny McLaughlin).
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