Ancestry UK

Kilkeel, Co. Down

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Kilkeel Poor Law Union was formally declared on the 29th July 1839 and covered an area of 127 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 16 in number, representing its 10 electoral divisions as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

Co. Down: Ballykeel, Bryansford (2), Fofanny (2), Green Castle (2), Kilkeel (2), Killowen, Maghera, Mourne Park (2), Mullartown, Rosstrevor (2).

The Board also included 5 ex-officio Guardians, making a total of 21. The Guardians met each week on Wednesday at noon.

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 26,833 with divisions ranging in size from Killowen (population 1,163) to Kilkeel itself (3,544).

The new Kilkeel Union workhouse was erected in 1840-1 on a 7.5-acre site at the north side of Newry Street in Kilkeel. Designed by the Poor Law Commissioners' architect George Wilkinson, the building was based on one of his standard plans to accommodate 300 inmates. Its construction cost £4,050 plus £767 for fittings etc. The workhouse was declared fit for the reception of paupers on 16th August 1841 and admitted its first inmates on 1st September. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1930 map below.

Kilkeel workhouse site, 1930.

The buildings followed Wilkinson's typical layout. An entrance and administrative block at the south-west contained a porter's room and waiting room at the centre with the Guardians' board room on the first floor above.

The main accommodation block had the Master's quarters at the centre, with male and female wings to each side. At the rear, a range of single-storey utility rooms such as bakehouse and washhouse connected through to the infirmary and idiots' wards via a central spine containing the chapel and dining-hall.

During the famine in the mid-1840s, a 40-bed fever hospital was erected at the east of the site. A dispensary was located on the roadside to the east of the workhouse.

Kilkeel fever hospital from the south, 2003.
© Peter Higginbotham.

At the 1901 census, the population of the Union was 19,131.

The fever hospital survives as part of Mourne District Hospital which opened in 1927.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 2 Titanic Boulevard, Titanic Quarter, Belfast BT3 9HQ. Holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1839-1944); Dispensary minute books (1852-98); Indoor relief lists (1927-43); etc.


  • The Workhouses of Ulster by Michael H Gould, 1983.
  • The Workhouses of Ireland by John O'Connor (Anvil Books, 1995)


  • None.

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