Glossary entry for
The following extracts are from A Journey Through Lecale by John Magee.
It is a book of approx. 90 pages featuring a collection of photographs taken
around the 1920s/30s and which are held at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
at Cultra, Co. Down.
The Lecale district is a flat peninsula lying between Strangford Lough and
Dundrum Bay, and bounded on the west by the Quoile and Blackstaff rivers and
the marshes which until recent times almost surrounded the low hill on which
Down Cathedral stands. It derives its name from the Irish Leath Chathail:
Cahal's territory, but in the early annals it was frequently referred to as
Magh-Inis: the insular plain. To this day [...] it is known to some of the
older country people as Isle-Lecale.
A journey through Lecale takes one to some of the most varied and interesting
scenery in Ireland, encompassing as it does the historic cathedral town of
Downpatrick, where St. Patrick is reputed to be buried, the protected plant
and animal life of the River Quoile pondage basin, drumlins with its
megalithic tombs, raths (pre-historic hill forts) and stone castles, and the
delightful coast with its coves, headlands and strands, stretching from
Strangford through Ardglass and Coney Island, to Tyrella and Dundrum.
Coney Island, is not an island as most people think, but is actually a group
of cottages which are just off the winding road between Ardglass and
Killough [photograph shows Coney Island cottages, circa sometime between 1910 and 1930]. Its name is derived from the gaelic coinin: a rabbit, and
originated from the fact that rabbits abounded in the sandhills. Originally
the cottages were occupied by inshore fishermen, who sheltered behind the
pier enclosing Killough harbour. The fishermen are gone now, and their
cottages are refurbished and occupied during the summer months by visitors.
It is an area were peace and tranquility reigns. The surroundings are
magnificent, with the Green Road and Bella's Tower to the north, the
coastguard house and St. John's Point lighthouse to the south, and the blue
outlines of the Mourne Mountains on the skylines.
St. John's Point is a rocky headland, on which over the years many ships were
wrecked. A lighthouse with a fog horn was built in 1844. In 1893 the
lighthouse was raised to its present level and houses were built for the
lightkeepers and their families. in 1954 the buildings were renovated and in
1980 the entire system was electrified. Despite the lighthouse, coastal
hazard remain, and many in Lecale still remember the Georgetown Victory
troopship with 1,500 on board, which was wrecked on Killard Point on 1 May
Ardglass, which is a lively fishing village, derives its name from the Irish
ard glas : the green hill, probably a reference to the conical elevation, now
known, as The Ward, to the west of the town. During the nineteenth century
Ardglass became a centre of the east coast fishing industry. Population in
1851 was around 1,000, but by the turn of the century this had dropped to
about 500, although this has increased over recent decades.
Killyleagh is a small town on Strangford Lough to the north of the Lecale
district. Shrigley is a village about a mile and a half outside Killyleagh on
the Saintfield Road on the way to Belfast.
Well that is the geographical location of "Coney Island". Many people
have been confused as to the route that Van seems to have taken on his
journey. I would say from the start this has largely been caused by the
fact that Van changed the words in the first line from what is printed
in the album. Had he sung the original words, it would have made more
In the song Van sings "Coming back from Downpatrick" which gives the
impression that he is heading back home to Belfast which is to the north
of Downpatrick. However when he sings "stopping off at St. John's
Point" things become confused as St John's Point is to the south of
Downpatrick. If he had sung the original word "Coming down from
Downpatrick" all would have made sense.
What some people have also tried to do is follow his route. This is not
entirely possible, but why should it be. Do we always when telling
someone about a trip always cover things in strict sequential order.
Allow him a bit of artistic licence.
Contributed by Van list member Blair
More information available at:
Van references in:
Part of the van-the-man.info unofficial website