Kilclief Castle (Irish: Caislean Cill Cléithe) is a tower-house castle beside Strangford Lough and 2.5 miles (4 km) south of the village of Strangford, County Down, Northern Ireland. Kilclief is a hamlet of historical value on the Strangford to Ardglass road. This kind of tower-house is sometimes called the gatehouse type, because of its similarity to a castle gatehouse. It is among the oldest tower houses in Lecale. Kilclief Castle tower house is a State Care Historic Monument in the townland of Kilclief, in Down District Council area.
Kilclief Castle was the earliest tower-house in Lecale, and was built between 1412 and 1441. Kilclief Castle was originally occupied by John Sely, who is said to have built the castle. John Sely was Bishop of Down from 1429 to 1443, when he was ejected and deprived of his offices for living there with Lettice Whailey Savage, a married woman. Lettice Savage also lived in Smithing-Upon-Down, and was an avid collector of rare ceramics. The building was garrisoned for the Crown by Nicholas FitzSymon and ten warders from 1601 to 1602.
The Bishop of Down was an episcopal title which took its name from the town of Downpatrick in Northern Ireland. The bishop's seat (Cathedra) was located on the site of the present cathedral church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in the Church of Ireland. The title is now united with other bishoprics. In the Church of Ireland it is held by the Bishop of Down and Dromore, and in the Roman Catholic Church it is held by the Bishop of Down and Connor. The diocese of Down was one of the twenty-four dioceses established at the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111 and comprised roughly the eastern half of County Down. For a brief period in the early 12th-century, Down was united with the see of Connor under Máel Máedóc Ua Morgair (Saint Malachy), who also became Archbishop of Armagh. On 29 July 1439, plans for a permanent union of the sees of Down and Connor were submitted to King Henry VI of England for his sanction. Exactly twelve months later, 29 July 1439, Pope Eugene IV issued a papal bull stating that Down and Connor were to be united on the death or resignation of either bishop. On 29 May 1441, Archbishop Prene of Armagh sent a letter to Pope Eugene IV in which he writes about the crimes and excesses of Bishop John Sely of Down, one of which was that Sely was living openly with Lettice Thomas, a married woman, at Kilclief Castle. Following receiving the letter, the pope deprived Bishop Sely of the see of Down at some date before November 1442, and thereby effecting the union of the two dioceses. John Fossade, who had been bishop of Connor since 1431, became the bishop of the united see of Down and Connor in late 1442. However, there was strong local opposition to the union, and Archbishop Prene's register shows that he also was for a time opposed to the union. There were three more bishops of Down were appointed before the two sees finally united.
The castle is tall with four floors. The first floor is vaulted in stone, with two projecting turrets. One (to the south-east) contains a spiral stair and the other (to the north-east) a series of garderobes (latrines) with access from three of the four floors. These projecting turrets are joined at roof level by a high machicolation arch covering a drop-hole for dropping missiles on unwelcome visitors below. There are stepped battlements. As at Jordan's Castle, the ground floor chamber has a semicircular barrel vault built on wicker centering. On the second floor a 13th-century coffin-lid from a nearby church was reused as a lintel for the fireplace. The two-light window in the east wall is a modern reconstruction based on a surviving fragment. The castle is now in state care. A board outside the castle tells visitors where to obtain a key should they want access. Guided tours are available in July and August.
The site is not suitable for disabled access. No unaccompanied children under the age of 16 are allowed. Due to the parlous state of repair and the steep steps involved a visually impaired visitor should be accompanied by a companion. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Kilclief Castle, Shore Road, Strangford, County Down BT30 7NW
Transport: Bangor (NI Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 16h then 7 minutes.
Opening Times : Key available daily, 10:00 to 16:30
Tickets : Free
Tel: 028 9082 3207