County Down

Close to the offices of Ireland Luxury Tours is County Down.

County Down is Ireland’s most easterly county, in the province of Ulster, one of six counties of Northern Ireland.  The name comes from the Dun, or fortification, which also forms part of the place-name Downpatrick, which is the county capital.  The town is also named after St. Patrick, who worked in the area in the fifth century, and died at Saul in County Down (though where he is buried is unknown).  In ancient times, the county formed part of the kingdom of Ulidia, or the Ulaidh people, divided between the Dal Fiatach in eastern Down and the Ui Echach in the west of the county.  Viking settlements have left little trace, but the Norman invasion left its mark on the county.  The Norman John de Courcy, who overran the county late in the twelfth century, built castles at Dundrum and Greencastle.  Four centuries later, Down was further colonized by Scots planters who added to the racial and religious mix.  Bordered by Belfast Lough on the north and the Mourne Mountains to the south (rising to a height of 2,796 feet at Slieve Donard), the county has both highlands and undulating terrain of plain and low hills.  The long and lovely inlet, Strangford Lough, separates the Ards Peninsula from the main body of the county.  In the inlet is Mahee Island, with its excavated early Christian monastery at Nendrum.  Bordering on Strangford Lough’s shores is Mount Stewart House, the eighteenth-century mansion of the Marquess of Londonderry, set in one of the finest gardens in Ireland.  Dolmens, (e.g., Legananny), castle like Dundrum, abbeys such as Inch, as well as churches old and new, dot the Down landscape.  The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra splendidly conjures up the past of this historic county.  The first canal in Britain or Ireland was built in County Down between 1731 and 1742, linking the town of Newry with Lough Neagh.  The county also has majestic scenery, and attractive coastal towns and villages, including Rostrevor, Ardglass, and Strangford.  Newcastle has a fine championship golf course “where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea,” in the words of the famous song by Percy French.  Holywood and Bangor (the site of another early monastery) are now practically suburbs of the city of Belfast and make up a considerable proportion of the population of the northern part of the county.  Distinguished natives of Down include: Sir Hanes Sloane (1660-1753), founder of the British Museum; Captain Francis Crozier (1796-1848), second in command to Sir John Franklin in the ill-fated search for the northwest passage; John Butler Yeats, artist and father of the poet W. B. Yeats and the artist Jack B. Yeats; and the composer Sir Hamilton Harty.

Well worth seeing on any tour of Ireland.