Housing in the 1800s

The vast majority of the people in Mourne would have lived in small rural cottages or houses situated along the main street in the town. Hanna’s Close is a good way to get feel for what life was like living in small rural cottages. This cluster of cottages were built in the 1600s by the Hanna’s who came to Ireland from Scotland around 1640. The dwellings were all built close together with only one door facing into the close and a few small windows at the back. This was to protect them from attacks. The Close is situated in the townland of Aughnahoory and in 1860 there were eight families of Hanna’s living in the Close.


Those families who were better off would have lived in bigger houses of higher value and those who were very wealthy would have lived in ‘Gentleman’s Seats’.

Gentleman’s Seats in Mourne in 1823

Heartsfort : Thomas Pottinger

Jane-Brook : James Marmion

Kilmorey House : Viscount Kilmorey

Loyalty Farm : Lt. Col. G. Matthews

Mournepark : John Moore

Prospect : Alexander Chesney

Summer-Seat : Rev. Lucas Waring

Shannon-Grove : Francis Moore

White Water Mill : W. C. Emerson

Bellhill : John Waring

[Info. on Gentleman’s Seats from the Hugh Irvine Collection]

An 1860 Report on the Kilmorey’s Mourne Estate

In 1860 a valuation and report was commissioned to evaluate the condition, managment and profitabilty of the Newry and Mourne Estates of Francis Jack Needham, 2nd Earl of Kilmorey.

This report was translated and published through a project between Newry and Mourne Museum and the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates. The report gives us a unique insight into the state of our locality during the 19th Century.

In 1860 Kilmorey did not occupy the home estates in Newry and Mourne as his father had left it in the hands of three trustees due to the 2nd Earls eccentric characteristics. Kilmorey’s cousin Octavius Newry Knox was entrusted with the task of carrying out the valuation and report. It seems that in the wake of the Great Famine the estate managers were looking to improve and modernise the rental capacity and profitabltiy of the Irish lands.

The Kilmorey property consisted of 38,923 Irish acres, with Mourne making up 31,037 acres. Half of the Mourne estate was mountain with the rest classed as mostly arable. In 1846 the total rental of the Kilmorey lands were estimated at £20,000 (roughly £882,000 today). It had only fallen to £18,930 (roughly £817,018.80 today) by 1860 showing that County Down had not suffered to a massive extent from the extremities of the famine, when compared with the rest of Ireland.

mourne park demesne

A map of the Mourne Park Demesne surveyed in 1812.

Mourne Park House had fallen into disrepair by 1860 and there was dry rot in several rooms, the water supply was unreliable and the sewage system needed improved. There were 5 cottages on the Mourne Park demesne; 3 houses occupied by William Duncan, John Moore and James Curlett, with James McBurney living in a labourers cottage. They were all in good enough repair.

mourne park house scanned

Mourne Park House. This photo was taken prior to 1892.

There were five main schools on the Mourne Estate; Kilkeel, Annalong, Cargenagh, Attical and Mourne Park. All schools were run in association with the Church Education Society and were well conducted and attended. The Kilmorey Arms Hotel was built by John Shannon in 1843, built of stone and slated with several outbuildings. There was a flax scutching mill in Tullyframe built in 1852 at a cost of £458.

The principal crops of the area were potatoes, flax, oats and wheat. Most of the land was arable but that which was mountainus or boggy could have been improved by a better system of cultivation. The soil was mostly light but there was a presence of clay and loam. Land of better quality was found nearer the sea. One of the main disadvantages of the estate was its distance from Newry town. Knox comments that ‘considerable improvements’ had been made by the tenants over the years and while it is of no great advantage to the landlord, ‘it is satisfactory to find that the condition of the estate is not retrograding.’

For a more detailled insight into the Newry and Mourne Estates of the Kilmoreys see A Report on a 19th Century Estate in South Down, published by Newry and Mourne Museum.

The Kilmorey Estate

In an 1810 rental the townlands of Mourne in the Kilmorey Estate were as follows;

‘Aghyoghill, Aughnahorry, Ballintur, Ballygowan, Ballykeel Beg, Ballyveagh More, Corcreaghan, Cranfield, Carginagh, Derryogue, Drumcro, Drumindoney, Drummon, Glassdrumman, Greencastle, Leitram, Magheramurphy, Magheragh, Maghery, Moneydoragh Beg, Moneydorragh More, Moyad and Tullyframe.’

The founder of the Kilmorey family’s Irish estates was Sir Nicholas Bagnal. He was granted the lands in Newry and Mourne in the 1500s. In 1673 his heir died leaving no male issue. His lands were transferred to his cousin Robert Needham.

NPG x120120; Francis Charles Adalbert Henry Needham, 4th Earl of Kilmorey by Bassano

The 4th Earl of Kilmorey

The earldom of Kilmorey was created for General Francis Needham in 1822. His son Jack Francis became the 2nd Earl and an absentee landlord when the estate was left in the hands of his three trustees. The 3rd Earl inherited the lands and title in 1880 and made Ireland one of his permanent residences.  He, his wife Ellen Constance Baldock and their family spent a lot of time in Mourne.

outside mourne park scanned mourne park demesne

Mourne Park House and a map of the Mourne Park Demesne

Mourne Park House

Mourne Park House was the family residence of the Needham Family. It was originally built in the early 19th Century as a two story building by Robert Needham, 11th Viscount Kilmorey. A third story was added sometime after 1820 and more extensions followed in 1859. It was listed as a ‘Gentleman’s Seat’ in 1812 and a description of its grounds were as below in 1864;

‘Mourne Park, the beautiful estate of the Earl of Kilmorey, the woods and grounds of which clothe the base of Knockchree (Hill of the Deer), 1013 ft. crowned on the summit with an observatory. Here the White Water is crossed…’ [1]

mourne park house

Mourne Park House.

The earldom of Kilmorey was created in 1822 for General Francis Needham (1748-1832). His son Jack Francis Needham inherited the title and became the 2nd Earl of Kilmorey after his father’s death. He was renowned for being a very eccentric and colourful person and this lead his father to leave the Mourne Park estate to his three trustees. As a result Kilmorey became an absentee landlord, with little interest in spending time in Ireland. The trustees of the estate were all married to three sisters of the 2nd Earl. [2]

people of mourne park house

The staff and servants of Mourne Park House.

In 1860, a son of one of the trustee’s Octavius Newry Knox carried out a detailed report on the estates belonging to Lord Kilmorey. In this report we can get a better picture of what life was like in Mourne at the time. Knox details the conditions of the land, lists the schools present in the area, discusses the use of sea wrack, along with including descriptions of prominent buildings in Mourne at the time. He also details the state of Mourne Park house and its grounds. The Lord Killmorey at the time was an absentee landlord and this is evident as the report suggests that the house is falling into disrepair. The Mourne Park mansion and premises were held by Captain Ramsay. Knox states the internal woodwork of the mansion is in need of painting and there are some signs of dry rot in the house, causing one part of the floor in a bed chamber to have fallen in. The water pipes supplying the house were also unreliable. [3]

The 3rd Earl of Kilmorey inherited the title in 1880 following Jack Francis’ death and spent a lot of time in Mourne Park. He married Ellen Constance Baldock in 1881. ‘Nellie’ Kilmorey was reported to have inherited ‘the Teck Emeralds’ from her lover Francis of Teck, the brother of Queen Mary.. The 4th Earl of Kilmorey who died in 1961 was the last Earl to live in the house and it has been passed down through the female line to the current owner Marion Needham Russell. Marion is a cousin of Richard Needham M.P., the 6th Earl of Kilmorey. [4]

lady kilmorey and children scanned enjoying the mourne park sunshine 2

Nellie Kilmorey and the family enjoying Mourne Park and the sunshine.

Over recent years Marion and her family had restored the house to some of its former glory and they used it as their home. Unfortunately a serious fire destroyed this beautiful house in May 2013, gutting it internally and destroying centuries of history.


This is a far cry from days gone by, when the mansion was used for extravagant parties, hare coursings, summer fetes and lavish entertainment for the visiting Earl and his guests. The house is steeped in history and can boast of royal guests such as King Edward VII and movie star Errol Flynn. [5]

inside mourne park house scanned inside mourne park house 2 scanned

Inside Mourne Park House

Photos belong to PRONI.

[1] A Report on a 19th Century Estate in South Down, by Newry and Mourne Museum.

[2] A Report on a 19th Century Estate in South Down, by Newry and Mourne Museum.

[3] A Report on a 19th Century Estate in South Down, by Newry and Mourne Museum.

[4] http://www.templetonrobinson.co.uk/brochure.php?p=TRLTRL60660

[5] http://www.mournepark.co.uk/

Aughnahoory Man Dies in Kilkeel Workhouse

Thomas Norris died in KIlkeel Workhouse on 10 May 1894. He was 78 years old when he died and he was a widower.

Norris was a carpenter. His effects of £33 were granted at Belfast to his daughter Mary Bingham of Aughnahoory (wife of William Bingham). This will was written two days before he died.

[Will available from PRONI]

The Royal Hotel

The Royal Hotel was owned by a Mr John Annett. It went on fire in 1890 and was badly damaged.


Wednesday December 17th, 1890. AN HOTEL ON FIRE An exciting scene was witnessed at Kilkeel, County Down, yesterday morning.  The Royal Hotel, which is kept by Mr. Annett, took fire at an early hour, and the flames speedily spread through the building, the inmates of which were all asleep.  When they were aroused, the means of escape from the upper rooms was cut off, and the proprietor, his wife, and the servants called for help from the windows.  A crowd soon collected, and Mr. Annett threw his son to some men below, who caught him safely.  Mr. Annett and his wife then leaped from the window, and reached the ground uninjured.  The servant girls were then seen at an upper window, from which they screamed frantically.  One of them jumped, and received such injuries that she is not expected to recover.  The other girl was rescued by means of a ladder.  The flames were not extinguished until much damage had been done. (From Raymond’s County Down Website)


John Rooney bought it in the late 1890s. He refurbished it turning it into a 29 room accommodation, sparing no expense.

Churches in the 1800s

The Old Church of St. Colman’s

This is the 15th Century church from which Kilkeel derives its name; ‘Church of the Narrow Place.’ In 1622 it was described as a ruin.

Between 1836 and 1940 it was used as a school, supported in the beginning by Kildare Street Society and then later by Lord Kilmorey.Under Kilmorey, the schoolmaster was paid £31 and then the Rev. Close added to this a further £9.

St Colmans Church 14th Century Kilkeel

Church of Ireland

Work on the church began in 1815 and cost £7000. This is equivalent to almost £300,000 in present day. A large sum of money was given by Lord Kilmorey to help cover some of the expenses. It was designed by Newry architect Thomas Duff. The transept was added in 1885 and the chancel in 1898.

Interior of Church of Ireland

The rector at this time was the Reverend Close. The fine church was grand and in good repair, but had no organ and was perhaps slightly too big for its congregation.

Clergy of the Church

  • 1826: John Forbes Close
  • 1883: Edward O’Brian Pratt
  • 1887: Thomas Haines Abrahall
  • 1890: Freemann Nathaniel Dudley
  • 1898: Henry McKnight [info. from Hugh Irvine Collection]

St. Colman’s Roman Catholic Church

Before this chapel was built the people worshipped outside at the place called Massfourth. Work on the building began in 1811 and was completed in 1818. It was replaced in 1870 at a cost of £5000. The 2005 equivalent of this amount was roughly £230,000.


Mourne Presbyterian

The date stone of the church is 1720, extant from a meeting house in the upper part of the present graveyard. The church built in 1756 replaced the original in Ballymageough. It was t-shaped and thatched. In 1831 it was replaced costing £800 (equivalent of roughly £40,000) and the church looked like the present building. The first known minister was Rev. Charles Wallace.

Mourne Presbyterian Church

Kilkeel Presbyterian

The congregation was being organised in 1822-23. In 1827 the Rev. John Allen was ‘called’ as its first minister. The church was then in Meeting House Lane.

kilkeel presbyterian church

From 1831 to 1874 the minister was the Rev. George Nesbitt and he was succeeded by the Rev. Robert White from 1875-1910. He lived in ‘Cromlech House’ and had a certain amount of medical knowledge. At this time the congregation did not have a manse. It is thought he got a lease of his house and farm from the Kilmorey Estate. Part of the farm was a field on the opposite corner from Knox’s Shop which was eventually sold by him to Mrs. Rooney, after whom the road was named.

The foundation stone of the new church was laid by the Countess of Kilmorey in 1894 and the building was completed and opened in 1897. The cost was £1006. This was roughly worth £60,000 in 2005. The pitch pine pews cost £45. Mr Eadie came as minister in 1911, staying until 1946.

The church was very poor in Rev. Eadie’s time and the congregation was very small. Mr Eadie had one son who died young, and two daughters. There was a chance of the church being closed in 1946. Money however appeared in the bank, as the Americans had rented the church hall during the war and they persuaded the Church to retain the congregation. They then called the Rev. G. S. McKeown as minister in 1946. He remained until 1954 when he was succeeded by Rev. S. L. S. Fullerton.

[Info. from Hugh Irvine Collection]

Moravian Church

The Moravian church and settlement was situated in Mourne Abbey, Kilkeel. The church was built in 1763 but sold in 1817 and used as a private dwelling.

Mourne Abbey

The minister at the time was Brother James O’Harrill, who died in 1807. In 1832 they moved to Newcastle Street and built the church and manse.

Food in the 1800s

Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. Why was the potato grown and consumed on such a widespread scale in Ireland?

Potatoes were quite reliable and could produce a very good harvest (when not blighted). It was a vegetable which needed little care or attention when growing, so it was ideal for the majority of the population. The potato formed the basis of the Irish peoples diet, and could be used along with some diary produce such as milk. When the crop failed however, this caused major problems all over Ireland.

Other food stuffs such a oats, poultry and beef were in plentiful supply but these were expensive items and were shipped abroad by English landowners.

According to the report on the Kilmorey Estate by Octavius Knox, the main crops grown in the Mourne district by local farmers were potatoes, flax, oat and wheat. Potatoes would have been the principle meal for most people. An advantage of living in Mourne was it closeness to the sea. People would have benefited from this as they could live off the sea if need be, as well as the land.

Traditional foods such as Irish Stew were popular even in the 1800s. Praise for it was captured in this poem from the 1800s,

Then hurrah for an Irish Stew
That will stick to your belly like glue.’

Irish Soda Bread

In the early and mid 1800’s, rural Ireland did not have a strong tradition of bread made by using yeast. All baking was done in the home and, in addition to having limited baking supplies, time was often at a premium. The use of baking soda as a leavening agent was quick, effective and it produced a much more consistent result than yeast did. It caught on quickly and made soda breads a staple of the Irish diet until commercial bread production began. Irish soda bread is still popular with the Irish, as well as with people of other nationalities from all over the world.

The original soda breads contained nothing more than flour, buttermilk, baking soda and salt. The buttermilk was leftover from the butter making process and the bread was almost always served with freshly churned butter. Today, the bread often contain additional ingredients such as sugar, butter, currants or caraway seeds, to enhance the flavour of the bread. Soda bread is heartier than most yeast breads and goes very well with soups, stews and meat dishes. Modern soda bread mixes are available for those with a busy schedule and are easy to make with a delicious result.


Stirabout was a mixture, something almost like porridge. According to the Kilkeel Board of Guardians for the workhouse, they gave the inmates stirabout made from Indian meal and butter milk which was left over from the butter making process, therefore it was readily available and meant that nothing would be going to waste. This would have been a cheap meal, something which labourers/peasants would have eaten when potatoes were not available. It would have little flavour but it was still a meal.


Soup was a good, easily accessible and relatively cheap meal for most people. A farmer in Mourne would have had all the necessary ingredients due to being able to grow them himself on whatever land he had; potatoes, vegetables, barley etc. It was simple and easy to make, and if consumed with some homemade bread or soda bread, it would have been a filling and relatively taste meal. If you were lucky, there could have been some scraps of meal thrown in as well.

Shopping for Food

For those who did not have access to ingredients first hand from farming etc. there were many places in Kilkeel they could visit to acquire their daily essentials such as butchers, bakers, grocers etc. These stores would have been small and run by local people, nothing like the chains of supermarkets were are used to visiting today. Many stores would have had multiple uses, being a grocers and perhaps a bakery at the same time.

Below is a list of all the grocers in the Mourne area in 1870;

  • Kilkeel: Thomas Baird, William Boyd, Neale Clarke, Arthur Crory, Robert Crutchley, Sarah Doyle, James Hagan, John Henderson, James McGinn, Moses Hill, George McKnight, Matthew Martin, Mary Minnis, James Morgan, Patrick Morgan, Ross Henry, Samuel Shannon, Maria Sloan, Samuel Woods.
  • Ballymartin: William Annett, John Higgins.
  • Ballygowan: James Cunningham.
  • Annalong: John Gibney, James Robinson.
  • Dunavan: James McCartney.
  • Glassdrummond: Francis McGreevy.[1]

Here is a selection of the bakers present in 1870s Kilkeel;

Daniel Curran, James Doyle, James Hagan (who was also a grocer listed above and a spirit dealer), James McCartan, Thomas McKee, Matthew Martin, James Morgan, Henry Ross and Maria Sloan.

As you can see some of the bakers above overlap with the grocer section, demonstrating how some traders were taking on many different roles in order to supply the public with food stuffs.


This is a photo of Bridge Street.  If you look closely at the left hand side of the street you can see Morgan’s Bakers. It is the building with the lowest roof.

Bradshaw’s General Directory of Kilkeel for 1819 lists Owen Feran and Francis Keirnan as butchers.[2]

Price of Food in the 1800s

In 1817, 12 stone of potatoes cost 6s6d and 7lb of meal cost 2s0d.[3]

In September 1846 the Board of Guardians were able buy a ton of oatmeal for £18.10.0 and a ton of indian meal for £13.0.0. The Board also advertised for tenders of supplying bread of a ‘coarse quality’ for the workhouse in 1846. They were received by Alexander Gordon, Matthew Martin and James Morgan. Gordon’s came in at 1&3/8 per lb and Martin’s at the same, whereas Morgan’s was priced at 1&1/2 per lb. [4]

[1] Slater’s Directory, 1870 from Hugh Irvine Collection.

[2] Bradshaw’s General Directory, 1820.

[3] PRONI T.1344 from Hugh Irvine Collection.

[4] PRONI, BG XVI/A/3, 1846 from Hugh Irvine Collection.

Education in the 1800s

Even though the 1800s seems like a long, long time ago, children still had to go to school. Education has changed a lot since this period though, and children back in these days would have learnt very different subjects to what we are used to today, such as the ‘Three R’s’: Reading, writing and arithmetic. School children would not have worn uniforms and there would have been severe punishments for anyone who misbehaved…the cane! People in Kilkeel would have been very glad of the opportunity to educate their children, which is evident from the number of schools in the area and the number of attendees.