The kelp industry

Beach boundaries at Strangford Lough

The kelp industry has significant commercial importance to the area. Records show the landowner could sell the rights to harvest seaweed from different areas of the shore.

Kelp grid created to farm seaweed
Kelp grid created to farm seaweed on Strangford Lough

Kelp Grids

Seaweed only grows on a hard surface; therefore, large, sandy bays would not have been very good for growing seaweed. However, some 18th-century entrepreneurs found that if they collected stone boulders from the rocky shore and placed them on areas of sand, they could create the perfect conditions to 'farm' seaweed. These boulders tended to be placed in regularly spaced lines, forming what have become known as 'kelp grids'. Sometimes it takes a while to get your eye in to recognise these. Good examples can be found in Greyabbey Bay, near the shores of South Island or between Mid and Chapel Islands. At low tide, you can even spot one from the road on the northern side of Kircubbin.
 
The remains of a kelp kiln at Strangford Lough
The remains of a kelp kiln at Strangford Lough

Kelp Kilns

The seaweeds would have been cut about once every three years, leaving part of the plant still attached to ensure its re-growth. After spreading on the fields to dry, it would have been gathered into a simple stone pit to burn. The remains of some of these 'Kelp Kilns' can still be seen on many of Strangford’s islands. South and Chapel Islands have good examples.
 
Kelp houses were built to keep the kelp safe and dry
The remains of a kelp house on Strangford Lough

Kelp Houses

Once the kelp cooled, it was extracted from the kilns and stored until a large enough quantity was amassed to make it worth selling. Simple stone structures known as 'Kelp Houses' were built to keep the kelp safe and dry. Over the years, most of these kelp houses have disappeared, no doubt their stones being used for other purposes. However, on some of Strangford Lough’s islands, these kelp houses have remained quite intact. Examples can be seen on Darragh Island and Boretree Island.
As you drive along the Portaferry road, lookout for the occasional line of large boulders which would have marked the boundaries between the kelp industry areas.