Sand and Gravel in Mourne

In the early 1900s farmers began making more use out their land by extracting sand and gravel for their own use and to sell to the public. This was hard, laborious work, with most being done manually. In the late 40s machinery was first used. Loading shovels were becoming more common and the manual loading of lorries became a thing of the past.


In 1941 James Gordon opened his sandpit to supply sand for the construction of runways and hard stands at Bishops Court Aerodrome. Mr Gordon received 4 old pence per ton later increasing to 1 shilling. Around 1500 tons were delivered per week.


Sandpits were a common sight in the area, from Dunavil to Leestone, the whole way up to Atticall. The main sandpits in the area could be found at Leestone and Cranfield. These men and their companies transported sand and gravel all over Northern Ireland. Many of the sandpits that were operational during the 60s are still in business today.

Modern Stone and Granite Working

S McConnell and Sons

Stone and granite working has changed a great deal since the 1800s when everything was done by hand. Nowadays state of the art technology like CNC technology is used, combined with highly skilled stone masons and carvers.


Loading the Robinson’s lorry with granite in the 1960s, Annalong.

Kilkeel company S McConnell & Sons are one of Northern Irelands best known stone specialists, working with stone for over forty years.


Their impressive portfolio includes the Princess Diana memorial for Hyde Park along with the Armed Forces Memorial. The demanding design required 16,000 names to be cut into the walls of curved and straight limestone. The final dedication service took place in October 2007 and was attended by the Queen.


Their latest project have included the refurbishment of the Connaught Hotel in London along with the Bomber Command Memorial.



Kilkeel Prawn Festival

Kilkeel Prawn Festival was a massive event, which took place in Kilkeel during the summers. The festival began in 1962 and drew huge crowds to the harbour every year. It eventually became known as the Kingdom of Mourne Festival, which has been taking place for over 35 years.


Much has changed since the early days of the Prawn Festival. In 1963 the King of Mourne (Mr Archie Gordon) welcomed King Neptune to Kilkeel harbour who arrived in his trawler complete with trident! This festival drew huge crowds to the harbour during the 1960s and 70s. The Prawn Festival eventually turned into the Kingdom of Mourne Festival, taking place on Mourne Esplanade. The last year the Kingdom of Mourne festival ran was in 2013 as the GI Jive Festival replaced it in 2014.


Below you can read a newspaper article describing the success of the inaugural Prawn Festival in 1962.

15th June 1962
What might be described as an ‘historical’ event as well as an enterprising and most entertaining one, was the Kingdom of Mourne Development Association’s prawn festival on Saturday last, when, with the crowning of Mr. Archie Gordon, as King of Mourne, a most happy choice – the barony, which had been monarchless since Biorche reigned there in the third century, was duly restored to its former glory.
That the festival was a successful venture from every angle there can be no doubt. Designed to focus attention on Mourne as a holiday resort, it attracted an enormous crowd, of local sightseers and visitors from as far away as Belfast and Coleraine, and proved an attractive Whit weekend event.
Highlight of the festival was the arrival at he harbour of 85-years-old Mr. Archie Gordon aboard the gaily decorated 63-ft royal barge ‘Misty Mornin’, skippered by Mr. John Henry Doyle. As the vessel entered port to tumultuous cheering, a rocket was fired from the Coastguard Station to mark its arrival from the legendary island of prawns. Waiting to greet ‘His Majesty’ was Miss Caruth and the County Down dairy princess Miss Betty Gardiner of Newtownards. As Mr. Gordon ascended the iron rung ladder he was assisted ashore by Miss Caruth, and after posing for T.V. and press cameramen, he climbed eight steps carpeted in red to a specially constructed royal platform where he was crowned ‘King of the Kingdom of Mourne’. He was then presented with typical Mourne Products, strawberries, a basket of potatoes, dairy products, a block of Mourne granite, all welcome gifts and finally a dish of freshly caught prawns which he described as the best harvest of the sea. These gifts were handed over by Misses Kathleen McGreevy, Eilish Nee, Evelyn Morris, Margaret O’Hare and Margaret O’Kane. Miss Dorothy Glenny presented a bouquet to the Ulster Dairy Queen, while Miss Gardiner received a bouquet from Mamie Carr.
Afterwards the ‘King’ and his court were entertained to traditional dancing by girls from Kilkeel County Secondary Intermediate School and St. Columban’s School, Magheragh. A feature of the dancing was ‘The Prawn Reel’ devised by Mr. Joe Doran, principal of St. Columban’s School for the occasion. The Kilkeel Secondary pupils were under the supervision of Miss Doak.
The centre of attraction then switched slightly inland – to the Kilmorey Square – the parade from the Harbour being headed by Kilkeel Silver Band. There the ‘King’ presented the handsome Annett trophy to his port pilot Mr. Doyle, whose boat had landed the largest catch of prawns during a particular week. The trophy was generously presented to the Association’s Committee by Mr. Freddie Annett, auctioneer, Kilkeel. The five crew members Paddy Kearney, Brian McAleenan, Paddy McAleenan, Robert Cousins and P. Rodgers each received a silver plaque.
After the ceremony the ‘King’ mounted his 9-year-old mare Brownie and galloped down town home, proudly wearing his crown and flowing robes – a fitting conclusion to a memorable day’s fun and a creditable performance to a kingly man of 85 years.
Later in the evening a Prawn Dance was held in the British Legion Hall at the harbour. Here over 200 dancers enjoyed themselves. Supper was served, prawns and salad figuring prominently on the menu.
The three T.V. stations covered the event, U.T.V., B.B.C., and Telefis Eireann as well as two German film and T.V. units. Extensive coverage was also given in all Irish and Cross Channel papers, and the Association is to be congratulated on this its first public venture.

If you follow the link below you can watch footage of the Prawn Festival from 1963:

Extending the Harbour

The 1970s saw a substantial extension of the harbour to the west and the diversion of the river into its upper end. The new harbour opened in 1973. This expansion was due to the dramatic increase in the fishing industry and the herring trade boomed.

harbour 1960s

Congestion in the 1960s

harbour 1972 harbour 1972 or 3 harbour 1972 or 3 again

Extending the Habour in the 1970s

Today Kilkeel’s fishing industry remains a vibrant one, and the harbour is a hive of commercial activity with fish processing factories, marine engineer, ice factory, fish market, and ship repair works. A key tourism attraction, many visit the harbour to see the spectacular sight of the boats coming in after a fishing expedition.

Due to the growth of the fishing industry between 1960s and 2000, marine based industries boomed during these years to meet the needs of the fishermen. There are also several fish and prawn processing plants along the quay of Kilkeel Harbour.

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