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Updated 05/15/2014



Lecale (from Irish Leath Cathail, meaning "Cathal's half"), is the name of a peninsula and several different historical territorial divisions all located in the east of modern-day County Down, Northern Ireland.  It is an area of historical and geographic significance, bounded by the Quoile Marshes (now drained, but formerly extensive), the Blackstaff River, the Irish Sea and Strangford Lough. It has an oddly isolated position, virtually cut off from its hinterland, but open to invasion and influence from the east and south.  Anciently it was the name of the ancient Irish district of Leath Cathail. As Ladcathel it was a county of the Earldom of Ulster, and later the name of the former barony of Lecale, which was then split into Lecale Lower and Lecale Upper by 1851.  More anciently Leath Cathail was known as Magh Inis, meaning the "island plain", with the name "Isle Lecale" still used in the area. 

St. Patrick landed at the Slaney estuary on his return to Ireland. A large granite statue of him looking into the rest of Ireland at Raholp today overlooks the site. He died at the Abbey of Saul where he began his mission and was administered his dying communion by Bishop Tassach of Raholp. His remains were carried to Downpatrick, known then as Dun Dhá Leath Glais, which lies within Lecale Upper.

Brigid of Kildare's relics were brought to Downpatrick for safekeeping from Danish plunderers in 835 and Saint Columba was brought here from Iona in 877. The frequent burning of Downpatrick caused them to be buried in the abbey yard and the site was forgotten about until 1185. Upon rediscovery John de Courcy had them reinstated in a tomb within the abbey on the 9th June 1186 by Cardinal Vivian.  The abbey was desecrated by Lord Leonard Grey in 1538 and he was executed three years later for his callous actions. It appears that the relics of the saints remained intact until 1790 when the building was being remodeled as Down Cathedral. Accounts given record that the tomb was vandalized and the relics were scattered over the abbey yard prompting the Downpatrick people to hurriedly bury them at their present site.