County Down

Down contains two significant peninsulas: Ards Peninsula and Lecale peninsula.The county has a coastline along Belfast Lough to the north and Carlingford Lough to the south (both of which have access to the sea). Strangford Lough lies between the Ards Peninsula and the mainland. Down also contains part of the shore of Lough Neagh. Smaller loughs include Lough Island Reavy.

The River Lagan forms most of the border with County Antrim. The River Bann also flows through the southwestern areas of the county. Other rivers include the Clanrye and Quoile.The mouth of Carlingford Lough from Knockree in south County Down There are several islands off the Down coast: Mew Island, Light House Island and the Copeland Islands, all of which lie to the north of the Ards Peninsula. Gunn Island lies off the Lecale coast. In addition there are a large number of small islands in Strangford Lough.

County Down is where, in the words of the famous song by Percy French, “The mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea”, and the granite Mourne Mountains continue to be renowned for their beauty. Slieve Donard, at 849 m (2,785 ft), is the highest peak in the Mournes and in Northern Ireland. Another important peak is Slieve Croob, at 534 m (1,752 ft), the source of the River Lagan.

Places of interest:

  • An area of County Down is known as the Brontë Homeland (situated between Rathfriland and Banbridge, where Patrick Brontëhad his church), after Patrick Brontë (originally Brunty), father of Anne, Charlotte, Emily and Branwell. Patrick Brontë was born in this region.
  • The city of Newry in the south of the county contains St Patrick’s (Church of Ireland, 1578), overlooking the city centre from Church street, on the east side of the city, which is considered to be Ireland’s first ever Protestant church.
  •  Newry is also the home of the first summit-level canal ever to be built in the British Isles.
  • Down is also home to Exploris, the Northern Ireland Aquarium, located in Portaferry, on the shores of Strangford Lough, on the Ards Peninsula.
  • The Old Inn in Crawfordsburn is one of Ireland’s oldest hostelries, with records dating back to 1614. It is predated however by Donaghadee’s Grace Neill’s which was opened in 1611. The Old inn claims that people who have stayed there include Jonathan Swift, Dick Turpin, Peter the Great, Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, former US president George H. W. Bush, and C. S. Lewis, who honeymooned there.
  • Scrabo Tower, in Newtownards, was built as a memorial to Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry.
  • Saint Patrick is reputed to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, reputedly alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba.
  • Saul, County Down (from the Irish: Sabhall meaning “Barn” – where Saint Patrick said his first mass in Ireland

Main article: Baronies of Ireland

  • Ards Lower (from the Irish: Aird)
  • Ards Upper
  • Castlereagh Lower
  • Castlereagh Upper
  • Dufferin (from the Irish: Duifrian)
  • Iveagh Lower, Lower Half (from the Irish: Uíbh Eachach)
  • Iveagh Lower, Upper Half
  • Iveagh Upper, Lower Half
  • Iveagh Upper, Upper Half
  • Kinelarty (from the Irish: Cineál Fhártaigh)
  • Lecale Lower (from the Irish: Leath Cathail)
  • Lecale Upper
  • Lordship of Newry
  • Mourne (from the Irish: Múrna)

Main article: List of civil parishes of County Down.
Main article: List of townlands in County Down.

The Down County Board administer gaelic games in the county. Down are the most successful team north of the border in terms of All-Ireland Senior Football Championships won with 5 in total. In terms of Ulster they share that accolade with Cavan who also have 5 titles.

They currently have four minor all Ireland titles (1977, 1987, 1999 and 2005), twelve Ulster titles (1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1978, 1981, 1991, 1994) and one under 21 all Ireland title (1979).

They have ten minor Ulster titles (1958, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1977, 1979, 1986, 1987, 1999), and nine under 21 Ulster titles (1958, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1977, 1979, 1986, 1987, 1999) following second on the table as Tyrone is first with 11.

County Down is also home to the No.1 ranked Golf course outside of the US, according to ‘Today’s Golfer’, Royal County Down, which is situated in Newcastle.
Currently ranked No.1 Golfer in the world, Rory McIlroy originates from Holywood, situated in the north of the county.

Popular Culture:
The county is named in the lyrics of the song Around The World, from the film Around the World in eighty days, which was an American top ten hit for Bing Crosby and UK top ten hit for Ronnie Hilton, both in 1957, although it was Mantovani’s instrumental version which was actually used in the film.

Further reading:

  • Harris, Walter (attributed). 1744. The Ancient and Present Stare of the County of Down…’Dublin.
  • The Memoirs of John M. Regan, a Catholic Officer in the RIC and RUC, 1909–48, Joost Augusteijn, editor, District Inspector, Co. Down 1930s, 1919, ISBN 978-1-84682-069-4.

(population of 75,000 or more at 2001 Census)

  • Belfast (east)
  • Newry (partially in County Armagh; has city status)

Large towns:
(population of 18,000 or more and under 75,000 at 2001 Census)

  • Bangor
  • Dundonald
  • Newtownards

Medium towns:
(population of 10,000 or more and under 18,000 at 2001 Census)

  • Banbridge
  • Downpatrick
  • Holywood

Small towns:
(population of 4,500 or more and under 10,000 at 2001 Census)

  • Ballynahinch
  • Carryduff
  • Comber
  • Donaghadee
  • Dromore
  • Kilkeel
  • Newcastle
  • Warrenpoint

Intermediate settlements:
(population of 2,250 or more and under 4,500 at 2001 Census)

  • Ballygowan
  • Castlewellan
  • Hillsborough
  • Killyleagh
  • Moira
  • Portaferry
  • Rostrevor
  • Saintfield
  • Waringstown


Royal Avenue, Belfast. Photochrom print circa 1890-1900.

At what date the county of Antrim was formed is not known, but it appears that a certain district bore this name before the reign of Edward II (early 14th century), and when the shiring of Ulster was undertaken by Sir John Perrot in the 16th century, Antrim and Down were already recognized divisions, in contradistinction to the remainder of the province. The earliest known inhabitants were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of pre-Celtic origin, but the names of the townlands or subdivisions, supposed to have been made in the 13th century, are all of Gaelic derivation.

In ancient times, Antrim was inhabited by a Celtic people called the Darini. In the early Middle Ages, southern County Antrim was part of the Kingdom of Ulidia, ruled by the Dál Fiatach clans Keenan and MacDonlevy/McDunlavey; the north was part of Dál Riada, which stretched into what is now western Scotland over the Irish Sea. Dál Riada was ruled by the O’Lynch clan, who were vassals of the Ulidians. Besides the Ulidians and Dál Riada, there were the Dál nAraide of lower County Antrim, and the Cruthin, who were pre-Gaelic Celts and probably related to the Picts of Britain.

Between the 8th and 11th centuries Antrim was exposed to the inroads of the Vikings.In the late 12th century Antrim became part of the Earldom of Ulster, conquered by Anglo-Norman invaders. A revival of Gaelic power followed the campaign of Edward Bruce in 1315, leaving Carrickfergus as the only significant English stronghold. In the late Middle Ages, Antrim was divided into three parts: northern Clandeboye, the Glynnes and the Route. The Cambro-Norman MacQuillans were powerful in the Route. A branch of the O’Neills of Tyrone migrated to Clandeboye in the 14th century, and ruled it for a time. Their family was called O’Neill Clannaboy. A Gallowglass sept, the MacDonnells, became the most powerful in the Glynnes in the 15th century.

During the Tudor era, numerous adventurers from Britain attempted to colonize the region; many Scots settled in Antrim around this time.

In 1588 the Antrim coast was the scene of one of the 24 wrecks of the Spanish Armada in Ireland. The Spanish vessel La Girona was wrecked off Lacana Point, Giant’s Causeway in 1588 with the loss of nearly 1,300 lives.

Antrim is divided into sixteen baronies. Lower Antrim, part of Lower Clandeboye, was settled by the sept O’Flynn/O’Lynn. Upper Antrim, part of Lower Clandeboye, was the home of the O’Keevans. Belfast was part of Lower Clandeboye and was held by the O’Neill-Clannaboys. Lower Belfast, Upper Belfast, and Carrickfergus were also part of Lower Clandeboye. Cary was part of the Glynnes; ruled originally by the O’Quinn sept, the MacDonnell galloglasses from Scotland took power here in the late Middle Ages and some of the O’Haras also migrated from Connaught. Upper and Lower Dunluce were part of the Route, and were ruled by the MacQuillans. Upper and Lower Glenarm was ruled by the O’Flynn/O’Lynn sept, considered part of the Glynns. In addition to that sept and that of O’Quinn, both of which were native, the Scottish Gallowglass septs of MacKeown, MacAlister, and MacGee, are found there. Kilconway was originally O’Flynn/O’Lynn territory, but was held by the MacQuillans as part of the Route, and later by the gallowglass sept of MacNeill. Lower Massereene was part of Lower Clandeboye and was ruled by the O’Flynns and the O’Heircs. Upper Massereene was part of Lower Clandeboye, ruled by the O’Heircs. Upper and Lower Toome, part of the Route, were O’Flynn/O’Lynn territory. Misc was first ruled by the MacQuillans. Later, the Scottish Gallowglass MacDonnells and MacAlisters invaded. The MacDonnells were a branch of the Scottish Clan MacDonald; the MacAlisters traced their origin back to the Irish Colla Uais, eldest of the Three Collas.

Islandmagee had, besides antiquarian remains, a notoriety as a home of witchcraft, and during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 was the scene of an act of reprisal (for the massacre of Protestants) against the Catholic population by the Scottish Covenanter soldiery of Carrickfergus.

Historic Monuments.

The antiquities of the county consist of cairns, mounts or forts, remains of ecclesiastical and military structures, and round towers.

There are three round towers: one at Antrim, one at Armoy, and one on Ram’s Island in Lough Neagh, only that at Antrim being perfect. There are some remains of the ecclesiastic establishments at Bonamargy, where the earls of Antrim are buried, Kells, Glenarm, Glynn, Muckamore and Whiteabbey.

The castle at Carrickfergus, dating from the Norman invasion of Ireland, is one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland. There are, however, remains of other ancient castles, as Olderfleet, Cam’s, Shane’s, Glenarm, Garron Tower, Red Bay, and Dunluce Castle, notable for its dramatic location on a rocky outcrop.

The principal cairns are: one on Colin mountain, near Lisburn; one on Slieve True, near Carrickfergus; and two on Colinward. The cromlechs most worthy of notice are: one near Cairngrainey, to the north-east of the old road from Belfast to Templepatrick; the large cromlech at Mount Druid, near Ballintoy; and one at the northern extremity of Islandmagee. The mounts, forts and entrenchments are very numerous.
The natural rock formations of Giant’s Causeway on the Antrim coast are now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Saint Patrick:
Slemish, about eight miles (13 km) east of Ballymena, is notable as being the scene of St Patrick’s early life. According to tradition Saint Patrick was a slave for seven years, near the hill of Slemish, until he escaped back to Great Britain.

Linen manufacturing was previously an important industry in the County. At the time Ireland produced a large amount of flax. Cotton-spinning by jennies was first introduced to Belfast by industrialists Robert Joy and Thomas M’Cabe in 1777; and twenty-three years later it was estimated that more than 27,000 people were employed in the industry within ten miles (16 km) of Belfast. Women were employed in the working of patterns on muslin.

Notable residents:

  • James Adair, (1709–1783), born in County Antrim, explorer, trader, and historian.
  • Charles Clinton Beatty (1715?-1772), born in County Antrim, noted clergyman in the New Jersey area.
  • John Bodkin Adams, (1899–1983), general practitioner born in Randalstown and suspected of killing 163 patients while practising in Eastbourne, England.
  • William Arthur, (1797–1875), born in Ballymena, noted antiquitarian and Baptist clergyman in the United States.
  • Joey Dunlop, OBE, (1952–2000), from Ballymoney, five time World Motorcycle Champion.
  • Sir John Jamison, (1776–1844), physician and naval surgeon from Carrickfergus who became an important pioneering landowner and constitutional reformer in New South Wales, Australia.
  • George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney (1737–1806), from Ballymoney, first British Ambassador to China in 1772.
  • Eva McGown, (1883–1972), chorister, pioneer, and hostess in Alaska.
  • John O’Kane Murray, (1847–1885), born in Antrim, physician and noted author.
  • James Nesbitt, (1965—), from Broughshane (though he lived near Coleraine for most of his teenage and adult life), notable actor.
  • Liam Neeson, (1952—), from Ballymena, notable actor.
  • Tony McCoy, (1974-), from Moneyglass, notable jockey.

Flora and fauna:
Records of the seaweeds of County Antrim were brought together and published in 1907 by J. Adams who notes that the list contains 211 species. Batter’s list, of 1902, contained 747 species in his catalogue of British marine algae.

Antrim are the only Ulster county to appear in an All-Ireland hurling final, the first of which was in 1943 losing to Cork and the second was in 1989 losing to Tipperary. In 1943 Antrim defeated both Galway (by 7-0 to 6-2) and Kilkenny (by 3-3 to 1-6) in the cramped surroundings of the old Corrigan Park, but disappointed in the All Ireland against Cork. Two years previously, Antrim had been graded Junior a year before, and had been beaten by Down in the Ulster final.

They were only competing in the Senior Championship because the Junior grade was abolished. Antrim hurlers featured strongly in Ulster Railway cup final appearances in 1945, 1993 and 1995. In hurling, the progression that began with Loughgiel’s success at club hurling level in 1983 (with players like 15-stone goalkeeper Niall Patterson) culminated in an All Ireland final appearance in 1989. Antrim’s first All-Star, Ciaran Barr, helped Belfastclub Rossa to reach the 1989 club hurling final and after a great show against Buffer’s Alley, Barr starred in a 4-15 to 1-15 All Ireland semi-final win over Offaly. The final was one of the poorest on record, as stage fright overcame the Antrim team. It was no flash in the pan: Antrim failed by just two points against Kilkenny in the 1991 All Ireland semi-final. Dunloy were back in the All Ireland club final in 1995, when they lost in a replay, 1996 and 2003 when they were heavily beaten.


  • Christy Ring Cup: 1
    • 2006
  • All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Championships: 1
    • 1970
  • All-Ireland Junior Hurling Championships: 1
    • 2002
  • All-Ireland Vocational Schools Championships:
    • 1971
  • National Hurling Leagues: 3
    • 1956 (Div 2)
    • 1970 (Div 2)
    • 2003 (Div 2)
  • All-Ireland Senior B Hurling Championships: 3
    • 1978
    • 1981
    • 1982
  • Walsh Cup: 1
    • 2008
  • Ulster titles: 136
    • Senior: 50 – 1900-01, 1903–05, 1907, 1909–11, 1913, 1916, 1924–31, 1933–40, 1943–49, 1989–91, 1993–94, 1996, 1998–99, 2002–09, 2010
    • Under 21: 24 – 1964, ‘65, ‘66, ‘67, ‘70, ‘72, ‘73, ‘74, ‘76, ‘78, ‘79, ‘80, ‘81, ‘82, ‘88, ‘89, ‘91, ‘92, ‘94, ‘95, ‘96, ‘98, ‘99, ’00, 2002, ’06
    • Minor: 52 – 1931, ‘33, ‘35-41, ‘45-56, ‘58-66, ‘69, ‘70, ‘86, ‘87, ‘88, ‘92, ‘93, ‘95-99, ’00, ’01, 2002, ’03, ’04, ’05, ’06, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
    • Junior: 14 – 1950-55, ‘57, ‘58, ‘59, ‘61, ‘63, ‘66, ‘68, ‘69
    • Intermediate: 5 – 1966, 67, 69, 70, 73

All Stars:

    • 1971: N Wheeler
    • 1988: Ciaran Barr
    • 1989: Dessie Donnelly
      Olcan McFetridge
    • 1991: Terence McNaughton
    • 1993: P. McKillen