ARDGLASS, a sea-port, post-town, and parish, in the barony of LECALE, county of DOWN, and province of ULSTER, 5½ miles (S. E. by E.) from Downpatrick, and 80¾ miles (N. N. E.) from Dublin; containing 2300 inhabitants, of which number, 1162 are in the town.
This place derives its name, signifying in the Irish language "the High Green," from a lofty green hill of conical form, called the Ward, and situated to the west of the town: from the remains of several castles it appears to have been formerly a place of some importance.
Jordan's Castle is memorable for the gallant and protracted defence that it made during the insurrection of the Earl of Tyrone, in the reign of Elizabeth, and derived its present name from its loyal and intrepid proprietor, Simon Jordan, who for three years sustained the continued assaults of the besiegers, till he was at length relieved by the Lord-Deputy Mountjoy, who sailed with a fleet from Dublin and landed here on the 17th of June, 1611; and after relieving the garrison, pursued the insurgents to Dunsford, where a battle took place, in which they were nearly annihilated; and Jordan was rewarded for his services by a concordatum from the Queen. The port of Ardglass appears to have been in a flourishing condition from a very early period; a trading company from London settled here in the reign of Hen. IV., and in the reign of Hen. VI. it had an extensive foreign trade and was superior to any other port in the province of Ulster. At that time the town had received a charter of incorporation, was governed by a mayor, and had a port-admiral and revenue officers.
Hen. VIII. granted the customs of the port, then worth £5000 per annum, to Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, in whose family they remained till 1637, when, with certain privileges enjoyed by the port of Carrickfergus, they were purchased by the crown, and the whole was transferred to Newry and Belfast, from which time the trade of Ardglass began to decline and the town ultimately became only a residence for fishermen.
It was formerly the property of a branch of the Leinster family, of whom the last resident, Lord Lecale, sold the manor to W. Ogilvie, Esq., who had married the Dowager Duchess of Leinster, and under whose auspices the town recovered its former importance; at his decease it descended to his heir, Major Aubrey W.
Beauclere, its present proprietor.
The town is pleasantly and advantageously situated on the eastern coast, and on the side of a hill overlooking the sea, and is well known to mariners by two conspicuous hills, one on the west, called the Ward of Ardglass, and the other on the east, called the Ward of Ardtole. Mr. Ogilvie, on its coming into his possession in the year 1812, built entire streets, a church and school-house, and an elegant hotel; he also constructed hot, cold, and vapour baths; built and furnished lodging- houses for the accommodation of visiters, and ren- dered it one of the most fashionable watering-places in the North of Ireland. The town in its present state consists of one long street, nearly of semicircular form, from which several smaller streets branch off: in front of the inner bay is a range of excellent houses, called the Crescent; and there are many good houses in front of the harbour, adjoining which is a long range of building in the castellated style, called the New Works, although they are so old that nothing is known either of the time or the purpose of their erection. They form together a line of fortifications, 250 feet in length from east to west, and 24 feet in breadth, close to the shore; the walls are three feet in thickness and strengthened with three towers, one in the centre and one at each extremity. These buildings were originally divided into thirty-six apartments, eighteen on the ground floor and eighteen above, with a staircase in the centre; each of the lower apartments had a small arched door and a large square window, which renders it probable that they had been shops occupied by merchants at some very early period, possibly by the company of traders that settled here in the reign of Hen. IV. About the year 1789, Lord Chas. Fitzgerald, son of the Duke of Leinster, who was then proprietor, caused that portion of the building between the central and the western tower to be enlarged in the rear, and raised to the height of three stories in the castellated style; and from that time it has been called Ardglass Castle, and has been the residence of the proprietor of the estate. It was formerly called Horn Castle, either from a great quantity of horns found on the spot, or from a high pillar which stood on its summit previously to its being roofed; and near it is another castle, called Cow'd Castle, signifying the want of horns, from a word in the Scottish dialect, of which many phrases are still in use in the province.
In a direct line with Ardglass Castle, and due west of it, are Cow'd Castle above noticed, and Margaret's Castle, both square ancient structures having the lower stories arched with stone; and on the north-west side of the town, on a considerable elevation, are two other castles, about 20 feet distant from each other, the larger of which is called King's Castle and the smaller the Tower; they have been partly rebuilt and connected with a handsome pile of building in the castellated style. Jordan's Castle, previously noticed, is an elegant building, 70 feet high, standing in the centre of the town, and having at the entrance a well of excellent water. The surrounding scenery is beautiful, and the air salubrious; the green banks of Ardtole and Ringfad, on the north and south sides of the bay, overhang the sea, where ships of the largest burden can approach within an oar's length of the bold and precipitous rocks that line the coast.
From the Ward of Ardglass is a delightful prospect extending from 30 to 40 miles over a fertile country: on the south-west, beyond Killough and the beautiful bay of Dundrum, are seen the lofty mountains of Mourne rising in sublime grandeur; on the east, the Isle of Man, and on the north-east, the Ayrshire mountains of Scotland, in distant perspective, appearing to rise from the ocean, and embracing with their extended arch more than one half of the horizon. During the fishing season the view of the sea from this place is rendered peculiarly striking and animated by the daily arrival and departure of vessels, and the numerous shoals of mackarel, pollock, and other fish visible on the surface of the water for miles. There are no manufactures; the labouring classes being wholly employed in the fisheries off the north-east coast, of which this place is the common centre. During the season there are frequently in the harbour, at one time, from 300 to 400 vessels from Donaghadee, Carlingford, Skerries, Dublin, Arklow, and the Isle of Man, but principally from Penzance, on the coast of Cornwall. The boats come regularly into the harbour to dispose of their fish, which is quickly purchased by carriers, who take it into the interior of the country, and by merchants who cure it; but chiefly by masters of sloops and small craft, who wait in the harbour for the arrival of the fishing boats, and proceed directly to Dublin or Liverpool to dispose of the herrings fresh. These sloops usually perform two trips in the week, and the masters frequently make from £20 to £50 by each cargo. The harbour is admirably adapted for trade and steam navigation; and, since the erection of the new pier, is sufficient to accommodate steamers of any tonnage, and there is sufficient depth of water for vessels of 500 tons burden, which can enter at any state of the tide. There is an inner harbour, where a quay and pier have been erected for the accommodation, of the fishing vessels; it is called Kimmersport, and is capable of accommodating a great number of fishing-boats, exclusively of other vessels of 100 tons burden; but the sea recedes from it at low water. On the quay are capacious stores for corn, in which an extensive trade is carried on. Adjoining the outer harbour a pier was completed, in 1814, at an expense of £14,000. The new pier was constructed in 1834, at an expense of £25,000, by Mr. Ogilvie, under the superintendence of Sir John Rennie: it extends 300 feet from the extremity of the old pier into deep water, and is 20 feet broad; it is built of large blocks of stone from the Isle of Man, hewn and dressed, forming a breakwater, and affording a beautiful promenade embracing fine views of the Isle and Calf of Man. A handsome lighthouse is now being erected on the pier, which is connected with the land by a very capacious wharf covering nearly an acre of ground, with a basin of semicircular form, beyond which are the quays for the colliers. The harbour is situated in lat. 54° 15' 20" (N.), and Ion. 5° 35' 20" (W.); and the trade of the port is rapidly increasing. There is a patent for a market and four fairs. A constabulary police force, and a coast-guard station, forming one of the seven that constitute the district of Newcastle, have been established here. A manorial court is held for debts and pleas to the amount of £100.
By an order in council, dated Oct. 19th, 1834, the townlands of Jordan's Crew and Kildare's Crew, formerly belonging to the parish of Ballee, and the townland of Ross, formerly in the parish of Kilclief, were permanently united to this parish, which now comprises 1137¼ statute acres, according to the Ordnance survey.
The lands, which are all arable, are very fertile and in a profitable state of cultivation; there is not a rood of waste land or bog. At a short distance from the town, and near the shore, are extensive quarries of good rubble stone, from which were raised the materials used in the construction of the numerous buildings lately erected in the parish, and partly in the building of the pier, for the easier conveyance of which a rail-road, a quarter of a mile in length, was laid down. The living was formerly a perpetual curacy, and the rectory formed part of the union of Ballyphilip and corps of the chancellorship of Down, which union was lately dissolved on the recommendation of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and Ardglass is now an independent rectory and benefice, in the diocese of Down, and in the patronage of the Bishop; the tithes amount to £130. The church was built on the site of an ancient edifice, the late Board of First Fruits having granted £800 as a gift and £400 as a loan, in 1813: it is a handsome edifice, with a tower and spire 90 feet high. In digging the foundation, an oblong stone, broader at the top than at the bottom, was found near the place of the ancient altar, and is still in the churchyard: it has at the top a dove sculptured in relief; in the centre the crucifixion; and on each side a shield of arms. Underneath are some lines in curiously raised letters of the old English character, from which, though rendered almost unintelligible by intricate literal combinations, it appears to have been dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Jane O'Birne, in 1573. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners have lately granted £130 for the repair of this church.
The glebe-house was built in 1815, a quarter of a mile from the church, at an expense of £500, of which £450 was a gift and £50 a loan from the late Board of First Fruits. The glebe contains three plantation acres. In the R. C. divisions this parish is united with Dunsford, by which latter name the union is generally known. Each has a chapel; that of Ardglass is a very neat edifice, built in 1829 on a spacious site given by Mr. Ogilvie. There is a school under the Trustees of Erasmus Smith's Charity, in which are about 90 boys and 80 girls; also four private schools, in which are about 60 boys and 50 girls, and a dispensary.
About half a mile to the north-east of the town, ona hill in the townland of Ardtole, are the ruins of an ancient place of worship, called the old church of Ardtole, of which the eastern gable, with a large arched opening, and the two side walls, more than three feet in thickness, are remaining, and are of strong but very rude masonry. In Ardtole creek, on the north-east side of the bay, is a natural cavern with a large entrance, which gradually contracts into a narrow fissure in the rock, scarcely admitting one person to creep through it; the elevation is very great, from which circumstance the townland probably derived its name Ardtole, signifying "high hole:" some persons have penetrated a considerable way into this cavern, but no one has explored it fully. Ardglass formerly gave the title of Earl to the family of Cromwell, and subsequently that of Viscount to the Barringtons.
from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.