Down Main Towns


The picturesque seaside town of Annalong is at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. Ireland’s most striking cornmill is to be found in this village, built in the 1800’s. It is one of Ulster’s last working watermills. Why not be transported to this bygone age by producing your own flour and oatmeal! No matter what the weather, Annalong has something to offer. You can launch a boat, follow the Marine Park trail, enjoy a cup of coffee in the cafe, or take a walk through the exhibition at the Visitors Centre.

Ardglass with its magnificent harbour is one of the three major fishing ports in Northern Ireland. Water based sports and sea angling are popular. The former Ardglass Castle is now home to Ardglass Golf Club, which plays host to the annual Heart of Down Golf Tournament, organised by Down District Council. Jordans Castle an imposing ruined 15th century tower house is open to visitors during the summer season. Ardglass has benefited from the new Ardglass Marina Complex opened in 1996, with berthing facilities for 83 vessels, perfect for exploring the South Down coast and on the rushing waters of Strangford Lough. Ardtole Church a ruined late medieval church is situated on hilltop overlooking the sea and the Isle of Man.

A few km inland from Comber and set amid a typically rural scene, is the village of Ballygowan. The village is a minor market centre for the surrounding rural district, with increasing importance as a residential village for commuters travelling mainly to Belfast. ‘Baile Mhic Gabhann’, translated to English means ‘townland of Mac Gabhann’.

Ballyhalbert is located along the Ards Peninsula and is home to an 800 year old castle mound, a standing stone and the ruins of an old church and there is evidence too of Ballyhalberts early trading connection, the locals here speak with an accent as broad as any Scot. There is a fine sandy beach and a harbour 1km from the village which has become a centre for water skiers. Off Burr Point, the most easterly point of Ireland, is Burial Island, now a nesting site for terns but formerly a place of Danish Burial. ‘Baile Thalboid’ this translated into English means ‘Talbots Homestead’.

A busy market town on the North East corner of Down District, Ballynahinch was laid out by the Rathdown family in the first half of the 17th century. Windmill Hill is famous as the site of the Battle of Ballynahinch in June 1798. Ballynahinch Community Centre has facilities for basketball, badminton, tennis and outdoor playground. Just outside Ballynahinch is Spa Golf Club, host to the annual Heart of Down Golf Tournament organised by Down District Council. Riding facilities are available at Ballynahinch Riding Centre

Located 8km along the coast from Millisle is Ballywalter, a busy port in the early 17th century, and the harbour still dominates the village, giving it character and vitality. Nearby is Ballywalter Park which surrounds a group of 18th century farm buildings including one of Ulsters finest Victorian houses. Just south of the harbour is the Long Strand, a wide stretch of shore giving safe bathing and an ideal base for watersports. Kiddies play facilities are provided along with tennis courts for the more active. Inland ruins of Temple Finn (White Church) and to the south, Balligan Church dating back to 1704. ‘Baile Bhaltair’, this translated into English means ‘Walters Homestead’.

At the centre of the District is the chief town and administrative centre of Banbridge situated in the townland of Ballyvally which, in Irish, means ‘the townland of the road’ referring to the road which crossed the River Bann on its way to Newry. The great hill on the south of the river presented a huge problem to the horse drawn Royal Mail coaches of old who threatened to bypass the town which would have resulted in lost trade. The action taken as a result of this threat can be seen today in a feature that makes Banbridge like no other town in Ireland. In 1834 the wide main street was divided into three sections with an underpass cut out into the middle to lower the hill and a bridge built over the gap. The bridge is called the Downshire Bridge, also known locally as ‘The Jinglers Bridge’ while the underpass is known as ‘The Cut’.

Bangor is a pleasant traditional seaside resort with a little light industry, it is very much a dormitory town efficiently linked by road and rail with Belfast 12 miles away. Boating and yachting (4 yacht clubs), sea angling and golf are main leisure preoccupations. The sandy beaches are safe for bathing.

Camlough is another of the small villages on the outskirts of the historic and bustling town of Newry. Camlough is situated near Bessbrook and the slopes of the mythological Ring of Guillion. Among these mountains is the beautiful Camlough Lake. Amenities include pike fishing, watersports and walks to the many viewpoints located around the area.

Carrowdore Village boasts the widest main street in Ireland nearly 300 metres between buildings, and has a magnificent castle built on a 17th century site. Each summer enthusiasts flock to the district for the Carrowdore 100 Motor Cycle Race. ‘Ceathru Dobhair’, this is Irish for ‘quartet of the water’. Population, census figures for 1991 are 556.

Carryduff is located between Belast and Strangford Lough. The Ulster Way passes a short distance away and there is a Nature Reserve and several historic sites in the vicinity.

Castlewellan, situated between the Mournes and Slieve Croob Hill, is proud of its heritage. The Castle, in Scottish Baronial style, was owned by the powerful Annesley family who built the town during the 18th century. The Castle is now a conference centre. Castlewellan Forest Park is one of the most popular Forest Parks in Northern Ireland, attracting many visitors to its world famous arboretum, and the lake is famous for Brown and Rainbow Trout also plays host to major rowing competitions between QueensUniversity and Universities in the Republic of Ireland. Castlewellan Fair Days in May and November attract large crowds. Down District Council organise Walking Festival first weekend in August. Riding centres nearby include Wood Lodge and Mount Pleasant.

Clough village situated on the busy A24 between Newcastle and Belfast is home to Clough Castle which is an excellent example of Anglo Norman earthwork with mount (motte) stone tower and outer enclosure (bailey) in a commanding position in the centre of the village.

The primary role of the village of Cloughey is geared to relaxation. It has a wide beach and acres of sand dunes. On the landward side, an excellent 18 hole golf course, tennis courts, children’s play facilities and a modern hotel provide a focus for the visitor, as well as the families who arrive at weekends to occupy the holiday homes that are a feature of the area. Of historical interest is Kirkistown Castle, built around 1622 and now undergoing renovation works. ‘Clochaigh’, translated from Irishmeans ‘stony place’. Population, census figures for 1991 are 647.

Comber is another plantation town that owes its development to the Industrial Revolution. Flour milling and distilling developed in the 19th century but the towns oldest industry is the spinning mill dating back to 1863 and regarded as one of the best examples of its kind in Northern Ireland. Famous names abound here such as the Andrews family who own the mill have held high office in Northern Ireland since it was founded in 1922, and Major General Sir Robert Rollo Gillespie, whose statue stands in thesquare distinguished himself in a spectacular attack on a hill fort in the Himalayas. Comber has a relatively dry climate with a high sunshine average, making it ideal for arable farming and giving it the reputation of being, the Garden of Ulster.

This village is off the busy road to Newtownards, 3km from Bangor. Before the dual carriageway was laid, the main road used to run through the village street, but visitor traffic is now largely limited to golfers en route to the two 18 hole championshipcourses of Clandeboye Golf Club. The most challenging of North Downs six golf clubs, Clandeboye, attracts top class golfers and sporting greats including World Class Formula One racing driver, Eddie Irvine, who comes from Conlig. There are lovely walks in the wooded countryside around the village. You may even catch a glimpse of antlered deer grazing among the woodland plants. They are part of a herd long established in the neighbouring Clandeboye Estate.

Located on the southern shores of Belfast Lough is the village of Crawfordsburn. The Ulster Way passes through the town, the popular seaside area of Helen’s Bay is a short distance away on the coast. The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is the vicinity.

Crossgar, five miles due south of Saintfield, a small hamlet in the nineteenth century has now grown into a lively village, well known for its fine restaurants and pubs which provide excellent food and lively entertainment. Perhaps the most dominant and striking feature of the village is to be found at the southern end – Tobar Muire Monastery of the Passionist missionary order. Here, within the Victorian walled garden, you’ll find the Ulster Wildlife Centre which was opened in1992 by Sir David Attenborough. The Trust is a charity dedicated to promoting conservation of wildlife and natural habitats in Northern Ireland. The Centre boasts a magnificent Victorian conservatory containing some grape vines planted as far back as the last century. Crossgar also boasts a fine nine-hole golf course where members can enjoy a testing round of golf.

Donaghadee an interesting seaside town with a lighthouse and a very big harbour, is the nearest Irish port to Great Britain. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century Donaghadee was a major port that offered the only safe refuge from the treacherous reefs on this coast. In the expectation that the town would remain the mail packet station for Scotland, the harbour was greatly enlarged in 1820.

Downpatrick is the administrative centre of the historic Down District, and with a population of 10,113, has the highest populous in Down. There are many sites to visit in this town and its surrounds. Downpatrick is home to Down County Museum, Down Cathedral and adjacent to it is the final resting place of Saint Patrick, along with Saint Brigid and Colmcille. Downpatrick Race Course is home of the Ulster National, and plays host to a series of meetings throughout the year. Due to open in 2001 is the centre dedicated to Saint Patrick, the Saint Patrick Ulster Centre.

The village lies near the source of the River Lagan at Slieve Croob highest peak of the lovely Dromara Mountains. The river runs swiftly under a well-weathered stone bridge through this little town, which is a good base for exploring the unspoilt countryside. The wholesome environment has nurtured many centenarians and inventors such as tractor millionaire Harry Ferguson. A number of pleasant pubs, each with a welcoming atmosphere, make this an ideal place to stop for something to eat.

Dromore is the district’s second largest local town. It is situated 14km south – west of Omagh and has roads leading to Enniskillen, Irvinestown, Trillick, Drumquin and Fintona. As a local town it functions as a market and service centre for its hinterland. In particular the building and building/agricultural suppliers’ trade exerts an extensive influence on commerce. It also functions as a residential centre and dormitory town for people working elsewhere and as a local service centre with recreational facilities.

Dundonald is located a short distance from Belfast city and home to the Dundonald International Ice Bowl. ‘Dun Donaill’, translated from Irish means ‘Donalls fort’. The fort can be seen near the Church Of Ireland parish church.

Dundrum’s famous landmarks are De Courcey’s Castle (028 543111), built by Norman John De Courcey in 1177 on an elevated site overlooking Dundrum Bay, and nearby Murlough Nature Reserve (028 43751467), owned and managed by The National Trust. Murlough is Ireland’s first Nature Reserve, featuring thousands of acres of sand dunes, and harbouring a stunning diversity of plant and animal life. For disabled visitors to this National Trust property there is a boarded walkway. Located between Newcastle andDundrum is Maghera Church and Round Tower (028 543111), a ruined tower marking the site of important early monastery, founded by 6th century Saint Donard.

Visiting Grey Abbey is an excursion into a world of tranquillity. Surrounded by an 18th century parkland at one end of Greyabbey village, the 12th century church and cloister of a Cistercian monastery looks impressive. The monks were self-sufficient, farming their estate – and the medicines from their garden would have been used for animals as well as people. Guide and exhibition site.

The village of Groomsport is picturesque situated around its small harbour with sandy beaches on both sides and fishing boats that still use the harbour regularly. The village, with a population of approximately 2,838 has a recreation ground with two football pitches, and a village hall situated in the historic boathouse at the harbour which dates back to 1884. A bus service link the village with Bangor which is only a few kilometres away.

The Hill family built the village of Hillsborough, starting with the fort in 1650, a fine example of an artillery fort, but with pretty additions in the 18th century. Surrounded by parks, Hillsborough has lots to see in a small space. Start at the Courthouse in the middle of the Square and be shown the full range of possibilities.

Hilltown, built on the river Bann, is the ‘Gateway to the Mournes’. The little town is renowned for its pub life.

Holywood is a affluent satellite town of Belfast. The clock tower of its old priory, dating from the thirteenth century, is floodlit at night. An abbey founded in woods here in AD620 by St Laiseran was connected with the larger Abbey at Bangor.

In Kilkeel, which has the largest and best-equipped fishing fleet in all of Ireland, fresh fish is available all year round. The fish market held weekly on Friday at the harbour is a tourist attraction. Kilkeel is the Kingdom of the Mournes and annually hosts the Kingdom of Mourne Festival. Within Kilkeel, there are many amenities including Kilkeel Swimming Pool, Kilkeel Sports Centre or Kilkeel Golf Club, an 18-hole golf course in Mourne Park. The Nautilus Centre situated on the idyllic quayside at Kilkeel, paints a picture of the fishing industry in this era and tells the story of Kilkeel. The well known Silent Valley and Silent Valley Visitor Centre is just 5km from Kilkeel and tells the history of the dams being built.

Killinchy is beautifully located on the west bank of Strangford Lough. There are watersports provided nearby, the Ulster Way passes by the village.

Once a busy port engaged in the export of grain during the 18th century, Killough Harbour was built by the Ward family. The sycamore tree lined street is a replica of the avenue leading from Castle Ward, home of the Ward family. Nowadays, Killough Harbour is used by small fishing boats and pleasure boats. Nearby is the award winning Blue Flag Beach at Tyrella (028 44828333), which attracts thousands of visitors yearly to its miles of sandy beaches and sparkling clean water.

Killyleagh on the shores of Strangford Lough boasts a large harbour which caters primarily for pleasure craft. Dominating the skyline is Killyleagh Castle, an amazing Loire style chateau with a riot of turrets and battlements rising like a fairytale vision towering over the town. Killyleagh Castle is the oldest inhabitated castle in Ireland dating back to the 1600’s. Killyleagh Castle is open by prior arrangement for groups. Located close by is Delamont Country Park – way marked walks overlooking Strangford Lough. Situated in the park is Strangford Stone 100ft megalith and miniature railway – popular with all the family.

Located about halfway between Portaferry and Newtownards on the lough shore, Kircubbin is a relatively new village dating back to the middle of the last century. It is an important commercial and service centre, with an attractive little harbour. Just outside the village is the tiny church of Innishargie, the mother church of Mid Ards and the most interesting, unrestored building in the area. Its ties go back to the early church in Ireland, with a clear link to the Order of Saint Benedict in AD 1200.A 13th century gravestone from Innishargie, known locally as the Black Abbey, is preserved at nearby Greyabbey. ‘Cill Ghobain’, translated from Irish means ‘Saint Gobans Church’. Population, census figures for 1991 are 1,098.

Located 3km along the coast road from Donaghdee is the seaside village of Millisle. This was originally a fishing village but is now the base for a number of large caravan sites and holiday homes which double the permanent population of 1400 every summer. The main attraction is the fine strand beside the village where Ards Borough Council has opened a beach park. Millisle itself has a number of amusement arcades as well as picnic areas and children’s play facilities. Just inland from the village is the restored Ballycopeland Windmill. A popular feature for tourists especially children.

Though small, Moira feels like a real town, with a town hall, built about 1800, a wide main street lined with red berried rowans and eighteenth century blackstone houses divided by carriage archways. Built mostly by Sir Arthur Rawdon, whose famous formal gardens have vanished, the town has a habit of winning civic flower awards. For most of the year the place is a mass of flowering shrubs, roses, flowerbeds and hanging baskets. On the north side, a long grassy avenue terminates in Moira parish church, a rather top heavy but most appealing building of 1723 where William Butler Yeats was curate in the 1830’s. The communion rails came from the staircase of the Rawdon mansion. Looking down from the church, the lawns seem to continue unbroken, into the flowerbeds and trees of the old Rawdon demesne but they are in fact bisected by the busy A3 trunk road. The road opposite Station Road leads to Berwick Hall, a thatched yeoman’s house of 1700. Moira was the scene of a victory in AD637 by the King of Tara over Comgall, King of Ulster.

Newcastle is a lively seaside resort situated approximately 48 km south of Belfast and 139 km north of Dublin. The town is set within a stunning natural environment with the Irish Sea on one side and the magnificent Mourne Mountains on the other. Newcastle is located within the Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with a stunningly beautiful coastline. The surrounding area is blessed with forests, lakes and rivers and a host of historical features. There is a variety of accommodation available together with a large number of eating places and public houses in close proximity. Newcastle is home to the world famous Royal County Down Golf Club – very popular links course. The area is popular for crafts.

The old historic town of Newry, is the Gateway to the North on the East Coast of Ireland and nestles between two areas of outstanding natural beauty – the splendid Mountains of Mourne in South Down and the Ring of Guillion in South Armagh. The town houses two of the oldest churches in Ireland built in the 1800s and has much to offer the prospective visitor, with its reputation as one of the best provincial shopping towns in Ireland. Hill Street, the traditional retail centre of the town, offers a plethora of brand names with many family owned businesses continuing to trade side by side. Indeed many bargains can be found in its colourful and historical variety market, which celebrates its 450th Birthday in the millennium.

Newtownards a manufacturing and market garden town a bit inland from the head of the lough, dates from the thirteenth century when a Dominican priory was founded by Walter de Burgh.

Portaferry has a beautiful site on the east side of the entrance to Strangford Lough. The long, low waterfront of cottages, terraces, pubs and small shops is best appreciated from the car ferry which takes you crabwise across the narrows to Strangford village in barely five minutes.

From the square at Rathfriland on top of a steep hill, five streets with stepped terraces fall away sharply on all sides. Before the combustion engine, the cheery residents usually walked home, getting out of their traps and carts to spare the ponies. The town has a mid-week variety market in the square and 3 livestock sale days a week. During the nineteenth century potato famine, the market house (1770) was used as a soup kitchen though Rathfriland was spared the worst, since cereals as well as potatoes were grown locally. Four substantial Presbyterian churches are testimony to past differences of opinion. The old Quaker meeting house is now a scout hall, and the small shop with pointed windows on the first floor was originally the town’s Methodist chapel. A very prominent funnel shaped water tower occupies the high point in the riverless town, near the site of a sixteenth century Magennis castle, now vanished. This part of County Down has distinguished connections with pioneer Canada. The intrepid Catherine O’Hare, mother of the first European child born west of the Rockies was herself born in Rathfriland in 1835. She and her husband, Augustus Schubert, joined 200 Overlanders who went west in search of gold, and blazed the trail for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Rathfriland has not yet erected a memorial to this remarkable woman, though in Kamloops city park British Columbia is named after her, and Armstrong also has a monument.

The road into Rostrevor winds past a tall granite obelisk erected in memory of Major General Robert Ross. He was commander of a small British force which captured Washington in 1814 after unexpectedly defeating the Americans at Bladensburg. Palm trees and mimosa flourish in the mild climate of Rostrevor. There are oak trees in the square, nice old houses, and a long seafront.

Saintfield, on the northerly point of the Down District, has become a desirable place to live due to its quality of life and easy commuting distance with Belfast. The town has been a regular winner in the Ulster and Britain in Bloom competitions which have involved the entire community. Evidence of its charm can be seen by the colourful fragrant displays of flowerbeds, windowboxes and hanging baskets. Saintfield has several welcoming little tea rooms and eating places, traditional village pubs and curio and antique shops.

In the west of the district along the Newry/Portadown canal is the historic village of Scarva where King William’s army of 30,000 men camped in June 1690 before marching south to meet the forces of King James at the Battle of the Boyne the folowing month. Each year a sham fight and pageant takes place on 13 July on the old training ground used by King William’s army before they marched to victory at the Boyne.

Seaforde lies in the south Down area just to the north of the famous Mountains of Mourne. There are several forest parks in the area, nearby Downpatrick has a racecourse.

An area of astonishing beauty both in an out of the water, Strangford Lough lies between the great arm of land that forms the Ards Peninsula in the east and the main body of County Down in the West. This 15 mile long sea haven, scattered with small islands is home to migrant birds, common and grey seals and other marine animals. Its maritime wildlife is among the richest in Europe making it Northern Ireland’s first Marine Nature Reserve as wel as An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an Area of Special Scientific Interest with six National Nature Reserves within its reaches. Just south of Strangford village is Cloghy Rockys, a great vantage point for seals. In summer some 20% of the Irish seal populations can be found basking along this part of the shore at low tide.

The founder of Waringstown built himself a two storey Jacobean-style gentleman’s house, one of the first unfortified houses in Ireland (1667). A third storey was added later. A handsome flaky pink painted mansion with tall Tudor revival chimneys, it looks solid enough but is actually built of mud and rubble. Across the road are seven curious terraces in sets of three and four houses, with scalloped garden walls and railings-some of Waring’s seventeenth century cottages rebuilt in 1930’s style. The Waring fortune was founded on linen and Dutch style houses were built along the main street for the weavers, most of whom came from Flanders. The present white-washed houses with flowerbeds, though modern, have a certain harmony. A yeoman’s house built 1698, now a restaurant, founded in 1851, fields a strong team. The big house and the parish church (1681) had the same designer, James Robb, chief mason of the King’s works in Ireland. The church’s Jacobean interior is largely of ancient oak-roof, panelling, choir screen and a notable pulpit.

The port at Warrenpoint handles container traffic and substantial coal, timber, paper and grain tonnages, with a regular service to Rotterdam. When Newry port closed in the 1970s, this harbour was enlarged, and the town has an animated waterfront, long promenade, and a spacious square used mostly as a carpark but also for fetes and occasional markets.