Tag Archives: Prawn Festival

Prince Harry, Baron Kilkeel

The town of Kilkeel, in County Down, Northern Ireland, is an ancient settlement famous for its granite, its fishing fleet, the natural beauty of its mountains of Mourne that ‘sweep down to the sea’, and as from the 19th May 2018, its royal connection, as Prince Harry became on his wedding day HRH The Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel.

Albert Bridge / Departure from Kilkeel harbour

A trawler leaves Kilkeel harbour

Perhaps less well known is Kilkeel’s Prawn Festival, which began in 1963 and featured its own royals: not King Prawn, as might be hoped for, but the King of Mourne, and King Neptune who arrived, trident in hand, on a trawler. British Pathe shows some wonderful footage of the event in 1963. The event has been replaced in modern times by the Kilkeel Seafood Festival.

For more information and archive photographs of Kilkeel’s Prawn Festival see tracingyourmourneroots.com.

Although the new Baron and his wife, HRH The Duchess of Sussex, have yet to make a trip there, royal visitors are no novelty for Kilkeel. The Queen has made a visit, and in 2011 Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Kilkeel High School.

The parish of Kilkeel also boasts an estate designed for entertaining on a royal scale, although it is currently out of commission. Mourne Park, seat of the Earls of Kilmorey, is one of Northern Ireland’s grandest estates, built originally on 800 acres of land that was granted by Edward VI in 1552 to Sir Nicholas Bagnall, Marshall General of the Army in Ireland. It was rebuilt, in local granite, in 1806 by the 12th Viscount Kilmorey, Francis Jack Needham, who in reward for military service to the crown in America, and in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, was created Viscount Newry and Morne and Earl of Kilmorey in 1822.

On the death of the 1st Earl in 1832, his son, also named Francis Jack Needham, succeeded, and saw the estate through the famine years of the 1840s; the ‘famine wall’ on the estate was his means of providing extra employment. There is some evidence that the poor of the parish suffered less during those desperate times than elsewhere. A workhouse had been built in Newry Street, Kilkeel, in 1841, with a fever house added on soon afterwards, but the minutes of the Board of Guardians suggest that there was less starvation and fever than in other parts of Ireland.

Edward VII is said to have been a frequent visitor to Mourne Park, and other notable guests have included the Queen Mother and Errol Flynn. During the Second World War it was used as a planning base for the Normandy landings. However, the modern history of the house is one of sad decline. The subject of family dispute in the late 20th/ 21st centuries, the estate was put up for sale in 2008, at which point it had 17 bedrooms, 8 reception rooms, and a footprint of some 25,000 square feet, set in an estate of 140 acres. The house was still for sale when it suffered a catastrophic fire in 2013, which caused the main roof to collapse. It currently awaits a new future, which perhaps will dawn the more quickly now that Kilkeel has become such a focus of interest.