"COUNTY DOWN, a maritime county of the province of Ulster, Ireland, is bounded on the E. and S. by the Irish Sea, N. by the county of Antrim and Carrickfergus Bay, and W. by the county of Armagh. It extends from 64° 0' to 54° 40' N. lat., and from 5° 18' to 6° 20' W. long, and comprises an area of 612,495 acres, of which 514,180 are arable, 78,317 uncultivated, 14,385 in plantations, 2,211 in towns, and 3,432 under water. Its greatest length, N.E. and S.W., is 51 miles, and greatest breadth, N.W. and S.E., 38 miles. On the coast are Carrickfergus Bay, Lough Strangford, or Lough Conn, Killough, Dundrum, and Carlingford bays. This county, together with a small part of Antrim, was anciently known by the name of Ulladh, or Ulidia, the original of the name of Ulster. The ancient inhabitants are supposed to have been the Voluntii of Ptolemy; but at what period they settled in Ireland is unknown. As no other writer mentions them, they were in all probability, soon incorporated with the natives, of whom the chief families were the O'Nials, Magensies, McCartanes, Slut Kellys, and McGillimores. The first settlement of the English in this part of Ulster took place in 1177, when John de Courcy, who accompanied Strongbow, rendered himself master of Downpatrick, where he made his chief residence. It was originally divided into two shires, Down and Newtown, or the Ards, to which sheriffs were regularly appointed until 1333, when the English authority was overturned throughout Ulster, owing to a revolt of the Irish at the murder of William de Burgh. By the attainder of Shane O'Neill, who was slain in the rebellion of 1567, Iveagh, Kinelarty, Castlereagh, and Lower Ards fell into the hands of the crown. The colony led over by Sir Hugh Montgomery, settled chiefly about Newtown-Ards and Grayabbey, and by their industry and enterprise soon raised that part of the county to a very flourishing condition, which rendered invaluable services in the wars subsequent to the rebellion of 1641. The forfeitures consequent on that rebellion, and the war of revolution, deprived almost all the old Irish and Anglo-Norman families of their estates.
Down is divided into 11 baronies: Lower and Upper Ards, Lower and Upper Castlereagh, Dufferin, Lower and Upper Iveagh, Kinelarty, Locale, Mourne, and Newry Lordship. It contains 70 parishes, and possessed a population of 299,866 at the census of 1861. It comprises the following market towns: Downpatrick, the county town and seat of the bishopric of Down, Connor, and Dromore; Newtown-Ards, Banbridge, Donaghadee, Bangor, Rathfriland, Portaferry, Newry (part of which is in the county of Armagh), Comber, Dromore, Gilford, Holywood, and Warrenspoint. It is at present represented by four members; two for the county, and one each for the boroughs of Downpatrick and Newry. The local government is vested in a lord lieutenant, 19 deputy-lieutenants, and 120 other magistrates, and the usual county officers. The chief feature of the country consists in its variety of charming scenery. Its mountainous district comprises all the barony of Mourne, the lordship of Newry, and a considerable portion of the barony of Iveagh. The mountains rise gradually till they terminate in the towering peak of Slieve Donard, 2,796 feet. To the N. of this nucleus is the detached group of Slieve Croob, 1,755 feet. The principal islands off the coast are Copeland Islands, Burial Island, Green Island, and Bard Island. There are other numerous smaller islands off Downpatrick, mostly uninhabited, and chiefly used for pasturage, and some are finely wooded. The coast is low, rocky, and dangerous, and almost, excepting Lough Strangford, destitute of good anchorages. Bangor, Donaghadee, Tara Bay, Lough Strangford, Killough, Dundrum, Carlingford, and Warrenspoint are the chief harbours. The lakes are numerous but unimportant; those of Aghry, Erne, Ballyroney, Shark, and Loughbrickland, in Iveagh; Ballinahinch, in Kinelarty; and Ballyclonagan, in Lecale, arc the principal. The soil of the county is productive. 7 is numerous hills are seldom too high to be completely cultivated, and at the same time afford excellent means of drainage. The great attention paid to tillage has brought the land to a high state of agricultural improvement, especially in the district between Moira and Lisburn. The prevailing corn crop is oats; wheat is sown in every part, and attains great perfection in Lecale and Castlereagh. Barley and flax are much cultivated; as also are turnips, potatoes, and other green crops. Owing to the inequality of the country, considerable tracts of flat pasture land are uncommon, but on the sides of the rivers are excellent and extensive meadows, annually enriched by the overflowing of their waters. Butter is made in large quantities for exportation. The linen manufacture is the staple trade of Down. It had its first great impulse from the settlement of French refugees (in consequence of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes), who, by introducing the improved machinery of the Continent, raised the manufacture to a high degree of importance. The branches now carried on are fine linen, cambrics, damasks, and other descriptions of household linen. Cotton has latterly made great progress. Weaving is carried on in the houses of small farmers, but not for exportation. Leather tanning is practised to a large extent. Kelp was formerly made in considerable quantities along the coast. Off the coast of Bangor all kinds of flat fish, oysters, cod, and herrings are taken. With the exception of the Upper Bann, all the rivers of Down discharge their waters into the Irish Channel. The river Lagan, for nearly half its course, has a direction nearly parallel to the Bann, turns eastward at Magheralin, and, passing by Lisburn, falls into the bay of Belfast. There are also the Newry river and the Ballinahinch, the former of which rises near Rathfriland and falls into Carlingford Bay, and the latter, bringing down the waters of several small lakes, empties itself into Lough Strangford. This county enjoys the benefit of two canals: the Newry, which connects Carlingford Bay with Lough Neagh, and admits vessels of 50 tons into the heart of Ulster; and the Lagan, which extends from the tideway at Belfast along the northern boundary of the county, and enters Lough Neagh near that portion of the shore included within its limits. The geographical situation of Down is extremely favourable as regards its climate; for the vicinity of the sea prevents the continuance of frosts, and the insulated position of the mountainous tract confines the rains and heavier mists to that part of the county where they are least felt; while the general unevenness of the land carries off surface waters and prevents damp. Its geological [features are strongly marked. Granite and clay-slate are the prevalent rocks. Towards the sea slate-quarries are common. Limestone boulders are discovered along the E. shore of the Bay of Belfast. Marl is raised in Downpatrick. Copper ore has been found in several parts; and lead at Bangor and near Dundrum. In the N.E. of the county coal, has been observed. Chalybeate spas occur at Newry, Dromore, and at various places in the Ards. Of the Pagan antiquities of Down the most remarkable is a stone cromlech, enclosed in a circular ditch, called the Giant's Ring, half-way between Lisburn and Belfast. On the summit of Slieve Croob is an extraordinary cairn, or sepulchral pile of stones, 80 yards round at the base and 50 on the top. Along the Armagh boundary of Down there extends a great earthen rampart, called the Danes' Cast. Its origin is quite unknown. Of the Anglo-Norman military antiquities of the county, Dundrum Castle is the most important; it is situated on a rock over the bay, and consists of a circular keep, with numerous outworks. It is said to have been built by De Courcy for the Knights Templars, who occupied it till their suppression in 1313. Green Castle is also a place of great note in the early history of Ulster. There are numerous remains at Ardglass. The rains of the fortifications erected by General Monk for the defence of Scarvagh, Poynty, and Tuscan' passes, into Armagh, still exist. The principal ecclesiastical remains are at Downpatrick, but others are still extant at Grayabbey, Moville, Newry, and Castlebuoy. Down is the see of one of the chief bishoprics of Ireland, and was founded as early as the 5th century by St. Patrick. In 1442 the union of Down with the see of Connor took place, and it was still further augmented by the diocese of Dromore in the reign of William IV. The principal seats of the nobility and gentry are Mountstewart, the seat of the Marquis of Londonderry, lieutenant and custos rotulorum; Ards, Cashelmore, of M'Stewart, high sheriff; Hillsborough Castle, of Lord Arthur Hill; the castle of Lord Annesley; Castleward, of Lord Bangor; Belvoir Park, of Sir R. Bateson; Holywood, of Lord Dufferin; Tullamore Park, of Lord Roden, &c. Down is well supplied with roads. The great northern road from Belfast to Dublin, Belfast to Donaghadee, Belfast to Downpatrick, and from Downpatrick to Newry are the most important. The Ulster railway, from Belfast to Armagh, passes through Moira in this county; another line runs from Belfast to Holywood; and a third to Downpatrick, passing through Newtown-Ards, with a projected extension to Donaghadee. These lines form part of the County Down railway. Anniversary or commemoration days are still celebrated in this part of Ireland, both by Protestants and Catholics, with great rivalry, frequently occasioning a breach of the peace. The Eve of St. John's (or Midsummer) Day, is likewise celebrated with considerable pomp. On this night the people march to the bonfires in military array, and frequently with firearms; when arrived at the spot where the celebration is to be kept, the young people dance round the fire, and it is the practice still for the children to jump through the flames. In some districts the peasantry carry the live coals from this sacred fire, and scatter them through their corn and potato fields to prevent blight. These ceremonies are believed to be older than Christianity, and to he a remnant of the worship of Baal, or the Sun, which on this day crosses the equatorial line. At the midsummer assizes, held at Downpatrick on the 20th July, 1863, a curious case connected with this festival came before the presiding judge, Mr. Justice Hayes, who, on proceeding to pass sentence of three calendar months' imprisonment on seven Roman Catholics for attending one of these celebrations, observed, "that he did not wish to interfere with the ancient and simple amusements of, the people, which might have in them something of a religious character, but he would deal with their conduct as an offence against the Processions Act, and if they had not marched to the bonfire in military array and with firearms, perhaps they would not have been indicted.""
[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)]
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2018