County Down takes its name from the county town of Downpatrick (from the Irish, Dún Pádraig, sometimes translated as “Patrick’s Stronghold”). The county’s ties to Saint Patrick begin in the township of Saul, where from he is said to have conducted his first mass in Ireland. They end in his death; his granite tomb, carved out of the Mourne Mountains, underpins the cathedral at Downpatrick where he is supposedly interned, alongside fellow patron saints Brigit and Columba.
County Down is also closely tied to the bordering county of Antrim and shares the same stretch of coastline along Belfast Lough. The city of Belfast is itself met at the peripheries, in the north of the county, while the shoreline of Lough Neagh, shared disproportionately with four other counties, borders the northwest.
Ards Peninsula, constituting a well-known area of conservation and the largest inlet in the United Kingdom, wraps protectively around Strangford Lough. The peninsula distinguishes itself by its minute fishing villages, petite little islands that closely frame the coast (at least one of which is accessible by a connecting bridge to the mainland) and solitary holiday resorts. In addition to miniature scenery and a strange beauty that only improves with the number of miles on the clock, this area of County Down is notable for the beautifying vision of a great number of 17th century ruins, which offer more to the eyes than they do to the brain. The highlight, the Nendrum Monastic Site, once a Christian monastery (possibly founded during the 5th century), is located on Mahee Island in the centre of the Strangford Lough.
Dundrum Castle, also in ruins, was built during the 13th century by John De Courcy to overlook both the Mourne Mountains and Dundrum Bay. Seen on the horizon, this mountain range and particularly the peak at Slieve Donard, the highest in Northern Ireland at 2,790 feet, seem to emerge from the Irish Sea, rising high above the south end of the town of Newcastle (a well-known seaside resort). A fascinating structure named the Mourne Wall, built between 1904 and 1923, encircles twelve mountainous peaks in the mountains at a stretch of 22 miles. Despite being situated almost directly south of Belfast (capital of Northern Ireland), these mountains are separated from the Republic of Ireland by a mere lough.
Unmissable Attractions County Down
1. Hillsborough Castle and Gardens (Opening Times: Saturdays from 10.30 a.m. – 4.00 p.m. in summer)
2. Hillsborough Courthouse (Opening Times: Monday to Saturday from 9.30 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.)
3. Hillsborough Fort (Opening times vary from season to season, but generally the fort is open Monday to Saturday from 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. and Sunday from 11.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. in summer)
4. North Down Museum (Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 10.00 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. and Sunday from 2.00 p.m. – 4.30 p.m.)
5. Grey Abbey (Opening times vary from month to month, but generally the abbey is open Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. in summer)
6. Somme Heritage Centre (Opening Times vary from month to month, but generally the centre is open Monday to Friday from 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. and Saturday from 11.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. in summer)
7. The Saint Patrick Centre (Opening Times: Monday to Saturday from 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. and St. Patrick’s Day from 9.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m.)
8. Down Cathedral, the burial place of St. Patrick (Opening Times: Monday to Saturday from 9.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. and Sunday from 2.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m.)
10. Tollymore Forest Park (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – sunset)
11. Castlewellan Forest Park (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – sunset)
12. Silent Valley Reservoir (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 6.30 p.m. in summer / Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 4.00 p.m. in winter). Prices: Car £4.50 / Coach £27.00 / Minibus £11.00 / Motor Cycle £2.00 / On foot £1.60 / Children £0.60