County Down

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County Down
Contae an Dúin (Irish)
Coontie Doon/Countie Doun (Ulster-Scots)
Down arms.png
Mourne Country
Absque Labore Nihil  (Latin)
"Nothing Without Labour"
Island of Ireland location map Down.svg
Country United Kingdom
Constituent Country Northern Ireland
Province Ulster
Establishedearly 16th century
County town Downpatrick
  Total961 sq mi (2,489 km2)
  Rank 12th
Highest elevation2,790 ft (850 m)
  Rank 4th
Time zone UTC±0 (GMT)
  Summer (DST) UTC+1 (BST)
Postcode area
Contae an Dúin is the Irish name, Countie Doun [2] and Coontie Doon [3] are Ulster Scots spellings.

County Down (Irish : Contae an Dúin) is one of the six counties of Northern Ireland, one of the nine counties of Ulster and one of the traditional thirty-two counties of Ireland. [4] [5] It covers an area of 961 sq mi (2,490 km2) and has a population of 552,261. [6] It borders County Antrim to the north, the Irish Sea to the east, County Armagh to the west, and County Louth across Carlingford Lough to the southwest.


In the east of the county is Strangford Lough and the Ards Peninsula. The largest town is Bangor, on the northeast coast. Three other large towns and cities are on its border: Newry lies on the western border with County Armagh, while Lisburn and Belfast lie on the northern border with County Antrim. Down contains both the southernmost point of Northern Ireland (Cranfield Point) and the easternmost point of Ireland (Burr Point).

It was one of two counties of Northern Ireland to have a Protestant majority at the time of the 2001 census. The other Protestant-majority County was County Antrim to the north. [7] However, as of the 2021 Census, it is now the only county in which there is a Protestant background majority, as Antrim has Protestant background plurality. [8] In the 2021 census, Ards and North Down had the highest number of "No Religion" responses (30.6%) for Northern Ireland. [9]

In March 2018, The Sunday Times published its list of Best Places to Live in Britain, including five in Northern Ireland. The list included three in County Down: Holywood, Newcastle, and Strangford. [10]


County Down takes its name from dún, the Irish word for dun or fort, which is a common root in Gaelic place names (such as Dundee, Dunfermline and Dumbarton in Scotland and Donegal and Dundalk in Ireland). [11] The fort in question was in the historic town of Downpatrick, originally known as Dún Lethglaise ("fort of the green side" or "fort of the two broken fetters"). [12] [13]


1885 map, with the county divided into baronies Picturesque Ireland - a literary and artistic delineation of the natural scenery, remarkable places, historical antiquities, public buildings, ancient abbeys, towers, castles, and other romantic and (14780216352).jpg
1885 map, with the county divided into baronies

During the 2nd century the region was home to the Voluntii tribe, according to Ptolemy. From the 400s–1177 County Down formed a central part of the kingdom of Ulaid. Ulaid was a frequent target of Viking raids in the eighth and ninth centuries, however fierce local resistance prevented the Norse from setting up permanent settlements in the region. In 1001 a fleet led by Sigtrygg Silkbeard raided much of the region in retribution for the Ulaiden's refusal to offer him sanctuary from Brian Boru the previous year.

The region was invaded by the Normans in 1177. From the 1180s–1600s the region saw waves of English and Scottish immigration. In 1569 the Irish Parliament passed "An Act for turning of Countries that be not yet Shire Grounds into Shire Grounds". [14] In 1570 a commission was issued in pursuance of that statute "to survey and make enquiry in the countries and territories ... that are not shire ground, or are doubtful to what shire they belong; to limit and nominate them a shire or county; to divide them into countries, baronies or hundreds, or to join them to any existing shire or barony" "for the countries or territories of Arde, [lower-alpha 1] as well this side Blackstafe [lower-alpha 2] as the other side, Copelande islands, [lower-alpha 3] the Dufferin, [lower-alpha 4] Clandeboy, [lower-alpha 5] Kilultoghe, the Glynes [lower-alpha 6] with the Raughlines, [lower-alpha 7] Momerie and Carie, [lower-alpha 8] the Rowte M'William (McQuillan) [lower-alpha 9] and all lands between lough Coine [lower-alpha 10] and lough Eaghe, [lower-alpha 11] and the water of Strangforde and the Banne. [lower-alpha 12] To certify their proceedings before the 1st August." [15] [16] The county was privately planted during the Plantation period (16th–17th centuries). During the Williamite War in Ireland (1689–1691) the county was a centre of Protestant rebellion against the rule of the Catholic James II. After forming a scratch force the Protestants were defeated by the Irish Army at the Break of Dromore and forced to retreat, leading to the whole of Down falling under Jacobite control. Later the same year Marshal Schomberg's large Williamite expedition arrived in Belfast Lough and captured Bangor. After laying siege to Carrickfergus, Schomberg marched south to Dundalk Camp, clearing County Down and much of the rest of East Ulster of Jacobite troops.


Mourne Mountains Mournes wiki.jpg
Mourne Mountains

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 and Castlewellan Lake near Castlewellan, Clea Lough near Killyleagh, Lough Money and Loughinisland near Downpatrick and, within the Mourne Mountains, Silent Valley Reservoir, Ben Crom Reservoir, Spelga Dam and Lough Shannagh.

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.

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 at least seventy islands (several inhabited) along with many islets – or pladdies – in Strangford Lough, [17] although folk tradition says there are 365 islands in Strangford Lough, one for every day of the year. [18]

County Down is where, in the words of the song by Percy French, "The mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea", and the area around the granite Mourne Mountains continues to be known for its scenery. Slieve Donard, at 849 m (2,785 ft), is the highest peak in the Mournes, in Northern Ireland and in the province of Ulster. Another important peak is Slieve Croob, at 534 m (1,752 ft), the source of the River Lagan.

Places of interest

King John's Castle on Carlingford Lough. King John's Castle Carlingford - - 985692.jpg
King John's Castle on Carlingford Lough.






Historical population
[22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27]


(population of 75,000 or more at 2001 Census) [28]

Large towns

(population of 18,000 or more and under 75,000 at 2001 Census) [28]

  • Bangor (officially a city)
  • Dundonald
  • Lisburn – the eastern suburbs of the city lie partly in County Down but mainly in County Antrim (officially a city)
  • Newry – in counties Armagh and Down, divided by the Clanrye River (officially a city)
  • Newtownards

Medium towns

(Population of 10,000 or more and under 18,000 at 2001 Census) [28]

Small towns

(Population of 4,500 or more and under 10,000 at 2001 Census) [28]

Intermediate settlements

(Population of 2,250 or more and under 4,500 at 2001 Census) [28]


(Population of 1,000 or more and under 2,250 at 2001 Census) [28]

Small villages or hamlets

(Population of less than 1,000 at 2001 Census) [28]


Religious Background in Down (2021)
ReligionPer cent
Protestant and Other Christian
Other faiths

As of the 2021 census, County Down had a population of 552,261, making it the second most populous county in Northern Ireland. [6]

Community background and religion

Religion or religion brought up in (2021 Census) [29]
Religion or religion brought up inNumber%
Protestant and Other Christian296,22853.54%
None (no religion)70,04612.66%
Other religion8,4641.53%

National identity

National identity (2021 Census) [30] [31] [32] [33]
National identityNumber%
British only208,52337.69%
Irish only102,17418.47%
Northern Irish only120,00321.69%
British and Northern Irish only58,25610.53%
Irish and Northern Irish only9,8201.78%
British, Irish and Northern Irish only12,6052.28%
British and Irish only4,4210.80%
Other identity37,4596.77%
All Irish identities131,14323.70%
All British identities290,52452.51%
All Northern Irish identities204,27636.92%


The county was administered by Down County Council from 1899 until the abolition of county councils in Northern Ireland in 1973. [34] County Down is now served by the following local government districts:



A steam train on the Downpatrick and County Down Railway travelling through the Ulster drumlin belt near Downpatrick. A Passing Steam train - - 350110.jpg
A steam train on the Downpatrick and County Down Railway travelling through the Ulster drumlin belt near Downpatrick.

Former railways within the county include the Great Northern Railway of Ireland and Belfast and County Down Railway both of which were formed in the 19th century and were closed (or amalgamated) in the 1950s. The Downpatrick and County Down Railway operates a short section of the former Belfast and County Down line as a heritage railway between Downpatrick and Inch Abbey.

Northern Ireland Railways operates the area's modern rail network.


Association football

In association football, the NIFL Premiership, which operates as the top division, has three teams in the county: Newry City F. C., Ards F.C. and Warrenpoint Town F.C., with Banbridge Town F.C., Bangor F.C. and Lisburn Distillery F.C. competing in the NIFL Championship, which operates as levels two and three.

Gaelic games

The Down County Board administers Gaelic games in the county. Down is the most successful team north of the border in terms of All-Ireland Senior Football Championships won with five (1960, 1961, 1968, 1991 and 1994) 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, twelve Ulster titles and one under 21 all Ireland title (1979). The Ards peninsula is a hurling stronghold.


County Down is also home to the No.1-ranked golf course, Royal County Down Golf Club, in not just Ireland, but the entire Great Britain, according to Today's Golfer . [35] [36]

Former No.1 golfer in the world, Rory McIlroy, [37] originates from Holywood, which is situated in the north of the county.

"Star of the County Down" is a popular Irish ballad.

The county is named in the lyrics of the song "Around the World", from the film Around the World in 80 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. Rihanna's video "We Found Love" was filmed there in 2011, causing complaints when the singer removed her clothes to reveal a bikini. [38]

The Ulster singer Van Morrison has made reference to the County Down in the lyrics to several songs including "Northern Muse (Solid Ground)", "Mystic of the East" and the nostalgic "Coney Island", which names several places and landmarks in the county. Van Morrison also covered "Star of the County Down" with the Chieftains as a part of their collaboration album Irish Heartbeat .

C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was inspired by the Mourne Mountains. There is a Narnia trail in Kilbroney Park, in Rostrevor. [39]

Sam Hanna Bell based his novel of Ulster rural life, December Bride (1951) in the Ards peninsula. A film version of the novel, also called December Bride , was produced in 1990 and released in November 1991.

Several areas of County Down served as filming locations for the HBO series Game of Thrones including Castle Ward (Winterfell), [40] Inch Abby (Riverlands), and Tollymore Forest Park. [41]

The Academy award winning short film The Shore (2011) was filmed in and around Killough bay by director/writer Terry George and his daughter Oorlagh. The film starred Ciaran Hynds, Kerry Condon and Connleth Hill. [42]

Notable people

See also


  1. Ards (territory)
  2. Blackstaff River
  3. Copeland Islands
  4. Dufferin (barony)
  5. Clandeboye
  6. Glens of Antrim
  7. Rathlin Island
  8. Cary (barony)
  9. Route, County Antrim
  10. Strangford Lough
  11. Lough Neagh
  12. River Bann

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Downpatrick</span> Town in Northern Ireland

Downpatrick is a town in County Down, Northern Ireland. It is on the Lecale peninsula, about 21 mi (34 km) south of Belfast. In the Middle Ages, it was the capital of the Dál Fiatach, the main ruling dynasty of Ulaid. Its cathedral is said to be the burial place of Saint Patrick. Today, it is the county town of Down and the joint headquarters of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. Downpatrick had a population of 11,545 according to the 2021 Census.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Newtownards</span> Town in County Down, Northern Ireland

Newtownards is a town in County Down, Northern Ireland. It lies at the most northern tip of Strangford Lough, 10 miles (16 km) east of Belfast, on the Ards Peninsula. It is in the civil parish of Newtownards and the historic baronies of Ards Lower and Castlereagh Lower. Newtownards is in the Ards and North Down Borough. The population was 29,677 in the 2021 Census.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Strangford Lough</span>

Strangford Lough is a large sea lough or inlet in County Down, in the east of Northern Ireland. It is the largest inlet in Ireland and the wider British Isles, covering 150 km2 (58 sq mi). The lough is almost fully enclosed by the Ards Peninsula and is linked to the Irish Sea by a long narrow channel at its southeastern edge. The main body of the lough has at least seventy islands along with many islets (pladdies), bays, coves, headlands and mudflats. Historically it was called 'Lough Coan', while 'Strangford' referred to the narrow sea channel. It is part of the 'Strangford and Lecale' Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Strangford Lough was designated as Northern Ireland's first Marine Conservation Zone in 2013, and has been designated a Special Area of Conservation for its important wildlife.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bangor, County Down</span> City in Northern Ireland

Bangor is a city and seaside resort in County Down, Northern Ireland, on the southern side of Belfast Lough. It is within the Belfast metropolitan area and is 13 miles (22 km) east of Belfast city centre, to which it is linked by the A2 road and the Belfast–Bangor railway line. The population was 64,596 at the 2021 Census. Bangor was granted city status in 2022, becoming Northern Ireland's sixth city.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Killyleagh</span> Village on Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland

Killyleagh is a village and civil parish in County Down, Northern Ireland. It is on the A22 road between Belfast and Downpatrick, on the western side of Strangford Lough. It had a population of 2,787 people in the 2021 Census. It is best known for its twelfth century Killyleagh Castle. Killyleagh lies within the Newry, Mourne and Down district.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carryduff</span> Town in County Down, Northern Ireland

Carryduff is a small town and townland in County Down, Northern Ireland, about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south of Belfast city centre. It had a population of 7,173 people in the 2021 Census. Most of the settlement lies within the townland of Carryduff, although part of it extends into the neighbouring townlands of Killynure and Mealough.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Holywood, County Down</span> Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Holywood is a town in the metropolitan area of Belfast in County Down, Northern Ireland. It is a civil parish and townland of 755 acres lying on the shore of Belfast Lough, between Belfast and Bangor. Holywood Exchange and Belfast City Airport are nearby. The town hosts an annual jazz and blues festival.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Belfast and County Down Railway</span> Former Irish railway linking Belfast with County Down

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ards Peninsula</span> Geographical area on the island of Ireland

The Ards Peninsula is a peninsula in County Down, Northern Ireland, on the north-east coast of Ireland. It separates Strangford Lough from the North Channel of the Irish Sea. Towns and villages on the peninsula include Donaghadee, Millisle, Portavogie and Portaferry. The large towns of Newtownards and Bangor are at the mainland edge of the peninsula. Burr Point is the easternmost point on the island of Ireland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roman Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor</span> Latin Catholic diocese in Northern Ireland

The Diocese of Down and Connor, is a Latin Church ecclesiastical territory or diocese of the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland. It is one of eight suffragan dioceses in the ecclesiastical province of the metropolitan Archdiocese of Armagh. The See is vacant; Bishop Donal McKeown is currently the Apostolic Administrator pending the appointment of a new bishop.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Newry, Mourne and Down</span> Local government district in Northern Ireland

Newry, Mourne and Down is a local government district in Northern Ireland that was created on 1 April 2015 by merging Newry and Mourne District and Down District. It covers most of the southeastern part of Northern Ireland. The local authority is Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. The principle population centres are Newry in the south of the district, and Downpatrick in the north; both these urban areas were seats of previous council areas.

The High Sheriff of Down is the Sovereign's judicial representative in County Down. Initially an office for lifetime, assigned by the Sovereign, the High Sheriff became annually appointed from the Provisions of Oxford in 1258. Besides his judicial importance, he has ceremonial and administrative functions and executes High Court Writs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lecale</span> Place in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Lecale is a peninsula in the east of County Down, Northern Ireland. It lies between Strangford Lough and Dundrum Bay. In the Middle Ages it was a district or túath in the Gaelic Irish kingdom of Ulaid, then became a county in the Anglo-Norman Earldom of Ulster. Later it became a barony, which was split into Lecale Lower and Lecale Upper by 1851. Its largest settlement is the town of Downpatrick. Other settlements include Ardglass, Killough and Strangford. The peninsula has a high concentration of tower houses. Much of it is part of the 'Strangford and Lecale' Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Downtown Radio</span> Radio station in Newtownards, County Down

Downtown Radio is a Hot Adult Contemporary music radio station based in Newtownards, County Down, that serves all of Northern Ireland using a network of AM, FM and DAB transmitters.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Castlereagh Lower</span> Place in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Castlereagh Lower is a historic barony in County Down, Northern Ireland. It was created by 1841 with the division of Castlereagh into two. The barony roughly matches the former Gaelic territory of Uí Blathmaic, anglicized Blathewic. It is bordered by three other baronies: Ards Lower to the east; Dufferin to the south; and Castlereagh Upper to the west and south-west. Castlereagh Lower is also bounded by Belfast Lough to the north and Strangford Lough to the south-east.


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Further reading