Downpatrick (from Irish: Dún Pádraig, meaning 'Patrick's stronghold') is a small town about 21 mi (34 km) south of Belfast in County Down, Northern Ireland. It has been an important site since ancient times. 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 10,822 according to the 2011 Census.
As the largest town in the Lecale area, Downpatrick is a commercial, recreational and administrative center for the locality and serves as a hub for the nearby towns and villages. Within a 30 minutes drive from Belfast, the location serves as a commuter town for a large number of people. The town has a number of primary and post-primary schools educating students from all over the east Down area.
Downpatrick is also famous because its history of St Patrick, even though the town had been named after him, it is believed during the 5th century he had lived in Downpatrick and is currently buried in Down Cathedral.
Downpatrick is characterised by the rolling drumlins that are a feature of the Lecale area and a legacy of glaciation during the Pleistocene, the Down drumlins themselves are underlaid by Ordovician and Silurian shales and grits. Its lowest point lies within the marshland surrounding the north east of the town, recorded as being 1.3 ft (0.40 m) below sea level. Downpatrick is approximately 22 miles (35 km) from Belfast and has a regular bus service to the city.
An early Bronze Age site was excavated in Downpatrick on the Meadowlands housing estate, revealing two round houses. One measured over 4 metres in diameter and contained a hearth in the centre, while the other round house was over seven metres across.
Some archaeological evidence indicates a Neolithic settlement at the Cathedral Hill site, which otherwise appears to have been unoccupied until the late Bronze Age. It then had an undefended settlement at least on the south west of the hill top.
Downpatrick or Duno is one of Ireland's most ancient and historic towns. It takes its name from a dún (fort), which once stood on the hill that dominates the town and on which Down Cathedral was later built. Ptolemy, about the year AD 130, includes it (in Latin) as Dunum in his list of towns of Ireland.
The Gaelic name of the town was Ráth Celtchair (anglicised 'Rathkeltair') named after the mythological warrior of Ulster called Celtchar (in modern Irish: Cealtachair), who resided there and who fought alongside Ulster King Conchobar mac Neasa (anglicised Conor Mac Nessa). He is mentioned in the Ulster Cycle and, in particular, the Táin Bó Cuailgne. The name was superseded by the name Dún Lethglaise then Dún Dá Lethglas, which in turn gave way, in the 13th century, to the present name of Dún Phádraig (anglicised as Downpatrick) – from the town's connection with the patron saint of Ireland.
Saint Patrick was reputedly buried here in 461 on Cathedral Hill, together with Saint Brigit and Saint Columba. Down Cathedral was later constructed on this spot. His grave is still a place of pilgrimage on St Patricks Day (17 March each year). The Saint Patrick Visitor Centre in Downpatrick is purpose-built to tell the story of St Patrick.
From the seventh century the dominant power in Ulster was the Dál Fiatach so much so that the title "Rí Uladh" could simultaneously mean "King of Ulster" and "King of the Dál Fiatach". County Down was the ancient centre of the Dál Fiatach lands, and the chief royal site and religious centre of the Dál Fiatach was at Downpatrick from where they ruled Ulster for centuries.
In 1137, St. Malachy after resigning as Archbishop of Armagh, separating the two dioceses and appointing another as Bishop of Connor, became the Bishop of Down. He administered the diocese of Dún dá leth glas (Down) from Bangor and introduced a community of Augustinians (canons) to Dún dá leth glas dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. He repaired and enlarged Down Cathedral.
After having received a grant of Ulster from King Henry II of England, Norman Knight John de Courcy set out from Dublin in early 1177 to take possession of it. He marched north with a force of 20 knights and 300 men and reached Downpatrick four days later. Downpatrick was an open ecclesiastical town of the old type, and the invaders rode in and surprised it in the small hours of 2 February. De Courcy attacked the fortress and administrative centre of Rath Celtair (the Mound of Down), defeating and driving off Rory MacDonlevy (Ruaidhri Mac Duinnshleibhe), King of the Dál Fiatach and Ulster (Ulaid).
In 1183, John de Courcy brought in some Benedictines from the abbey of St. Werburgh in Chester (today Chester Cathedral) in England; he built a cathedral friary for them at Downpatrick. This building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1245. De Courcy reputedly found not only the bones of St. Patrick on Cathedral Hill but also the bones of St. Brigid and St. Colmcille (St.Columba). In the presence of the Papal Legate, Vivian, Cardinal-priest of Santo Stefano Rotondo (also Santo Stefano al Monte Celio), the relics were reburied on 9 June 1186.
In 1260 Brian O'Neill, King of Tír Eoghain (Tyrone) and who had been acknowledged as High King of Ireland by Hugh O'Conor of Connacht and Tadhg O'Brien of Thomond) marched to Downpatrick, a centre of English settlement. Allied with a Connacht force under Hugh O'Conor, he fought the foreigners in the Battle of Down. The battle took place outside the city of Down and O'Neill, eight Connacht lords, and many others died. The death of O'Neill and defeat of the Irish was lamented by the Cenél nEógain bard Gilbride MacNamee (Giolla Brighde Mac Con Midhe)(1210–1272) in a poem.
Following the rebellion of Shane O'Neill in 1567, Downpatrick fell briefly into Irish hands before being re-taken by Sir Richard Morrison (Moryson).
On 21 January 1575, Franciscans John Lochran, Donagh O'Rorke, and Edmund Fitzsimon were hanged by Protestants at Downpatrick.
Four main thoroughfares are shown converging on a town plan of 1724, namely, English Street, Scotch (now Saul) Street, Barrack (now Scotch) Street, and Irish Street. Topography limited expansion of the town. The basic early-18th-century street plan continued largely unchanged until 1838 when Church Street was built, followed by Market Street in 1846.
The condition of the town was greatly improved in the 18th century by a land-owning family named Southwell. The first Edward Southwell was responsible for building a shambles in 1719 and paving of the streets, which started in 1727. In 1717 he built a quay and grain store at Quoile Quay, contributing to the economic expansion of the town. The second Edward Southwell was responsible for building Southwell School in 1733.
Down County Infirmary was established in a house in Saul Street in October 1767, where it operated for seven years. It was moved to Barrack Lane (now Fountain Street) where the former Horse Barracks was purchased in 1774 for £150 for use as the Infirmary. It was used until the new Infirmary (later known as the Downe Hospital) was opened in 1834.
In June 1778, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism famously preached both in the new preaching house in Downpatrick and in The Grove beside the ruins of Down Cathedral which he called a "noble ruin".
On 21 October 1803, co-founder and leader of the United Irishmen, Thomas Russell, "the man from God knows where", was hanged outside Downpatrick Gaol for his part in Robert Emmet's failed rebellion of the same year. Thomas Russell is buried in the graveyard of the Anglican parish Church of Downpatrick, St Margaret's, in a grave paid for by his great friend, Mary Ann McCracken sister of leading Belfast United Irishman Henry Joy McCracken.
In his role as barrister, Daniel O'Connell, "The Liberator", was called away from London to Downpatrick to attend the County Down Assizes, as counsel in a case heard on 1 April 1829. As the leading proponent campaigning for Catholic Emancipation, he had been in London for the passage in its final legislative stages of the Emancipation Bill from the British House of Commons through to the House of Lords and thence into law. Once passed, the Emancipation Act 1829 allowed Catholics to become members of parliament in the British House of Commons, something which they had been previously barred from doing. Taken along with the highly significant Catholic Relief Act 1829 which O'Connell had also vigorously campaigned for, and which saw amongst other things repeal of the remaining Penal Laws, many of the substantial restrictions on Catholics in the United Kingdom were now lifted.
On 30 March 1829, a meeting of the Catholics of the parish of Down, under the chairmanship of the Rev. Cornelius Denvir, voted an address of gratitude to O'Connell on having achieved Emancipation. A deputation presented this address to O'Connell. On 2 April 1829 O'Connell was present at a public dinner at Downpatrick in his honour attended by ' upwards of eighty gentlemen, of different religious persuasions '.
On 17 March 1848, a crowd of between 2,000 – 3,000 set off from Old Course Road intending to march to the reputed grave of St. Patrick on Cathedral Hill but were attacked en route by Orange protesters at the Irish Street shambles who had heard about the St. Patrick's day parade; a riot ensued.
Downpatrick, throughout the course of The Troubles, had a significant paramilitary presence in the town, mostly through the presence of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) & Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)
Places of interest
- Ballyalton Court Cairn is a single court grave situated on a rock outcrop by the roadside 0.5 miles (0.80 km) from Ballyalton village, which is 2.25 miles (3.62 km) east of Downpatrick, at grid ref 531 448.
- Ballynoe Stone Circle, a large circle of over 50 closely spaced upright stones, surrounding a mound which, when excavated, was found to contain two cists in which cremated bones were found, is only 2.5 miles (4 km) south in the hamlet of Ballynoe. The site is near the disused railway station, reached by a long footpath off the main road, at grid ref: J481404.
- The Down Arts Centre, located in the former Downpatrick Town Hall, is an events venue in the town.
- Down County Museum, is located on the Mall in English Street in Downpatrick and was formerly the old Down County Gaol. It was built between 1789 and 1796 at the behest of the County Grand Jury of Down under the supervision of Marquess of Downshire, the Earl of Hillsborough and the Hon Edward Ward, it was designed by architect Charles Lilly. The building served for a time as a barracks for the South Down Militia. It is famously where, at its gates, United Irishman, Thomas Russell was hanged in 1803.
- Downpatrick Racecourse, is located on the Ballydugan Road on the outskirts of Downpatrick. Horse racing has been held at Downpatrick under the charter of James II of England.
- Downpatrick & County Down Railway is Ireland's only full-sized heritage railway. Built on the BCDR's former line to Belfast, it links the town with Inch Abbey and various other places of historical interest. The railway houses Ireland's largest collection of Victorian carriages, eight diesel locomotives, three steam engines, and several railcars.
- Inch Abbey, a large, ruined Cistercian monastic site featuring early Gothic architecture is 0.75 miles (1.2 km) north-west of Downpatrick on the north bank of the River Quoile off the main road to Belfast, at grid ref: J477455.
- The Lecale peninsula covers an area of some 78 square miles (200 km2) between Downpatrick and Dundrum. It is an area of historical and geographic significance.
- The Mound of Down or Rathkeltair is one of the major earthworks of Ulster, situated on the NW edge of Downpatrick it is a good example of an Iron Age defensive earthwork in the middle of which a Norman Motte and Bailey was built by John de Courcy after his defeat of Rory Mac Donlevy in 1177. Some believe that it was the residence of Celtchar mac Ulthechair, the legendary Iron Age hero of the Ulster Cycle. It seems to have become the administrative centre of the Kings of Dál Fiatach by the early Christian period.
- Quoile Castle is a ruined 16th-century tower house, just off the main road from Downpatrick to Strangford, at grid ref: J4963 4701.
- Struell Wells is a set of four holy wells 1.5 miles (2.4 km) east of Downpatrick (grid ref: J513442). The wells date from before the time of Saint Patrick, and even today are used for people seeking cures.
- As of 2009,a cinema was opened in Downpatrick,(Previously Eclipse now Omniplex cinemas), which is a very popular destination among the community both as a cinema and a venue for events.
- Lough Money is about three miles from the town. A rainbow trout fishery is maintained there for anglers.
- Saul Church is approx. 3 Miles from the town, built in 1932 to commemorate St Patrick's first church in Ireland.
St Patrick's Day Parade
St Patrick's Day is celebrated in Downpatrick through an annual cross-community parade which goes through the centre of the town. This is the one day of the year that Downpatrick closes its main streets so that celebrations can begin. The celebrations occurs every year on the 17th of March. Newry, Mourne and Down District council in recent years have lengthened the celebrations from one day to the entire week full of history exhibitions and family events.
On Census day (27 March 2011) there were 10,822 people living in Downpatrick (4,179 households), accounting for 0.60% of the NI total, and representing an increase of 4.9% on the Census 2001 population of 10,316. Of these:
- 22.35% were aged under 16 years and 13.28% were aged 65 and over;
- 51.55% of the usually resident population were female and 48.45% were male;
- 85.51% belong to or were brought up in the Catholic faith and 10.78% belong to or were brought up in a 'Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related)' denominations;
- 42.95% had an Irish national identity, 34.77% had a Northern Irish national identity and 26.58% indicated that they had a British national identity (respondents could indicate more than one national identity);
- 34 years was the average (median) age of the population;
- 13.10% had some knowledge of Irish (Gaeilge) and 3.12% had some knowledge of Ulster-Scots.
- A7 (Downpatrick to Saintfield and Belfast) road, the A25 (Downpatrick to Newry and Dublin) road and the A2 coast road. While there are no rail services in Downpatrick, Ulsterbus provides bus services to and from the Downpatrick Bus Station.
- Downpatrick railway station on the Belfast and County Down Railway, opened on 23 March 1859 and Downpatrick Loop Platform opened on 24 September 1892. Both closed on 16 January 1950. Downpatrick Racecourse Platform had opened on 8 March 1893, but closed in September 1949. The current station, owned by the Downpatrick and County Down Railway, was opened in the early 1990s and serves several sites of historical interest near the town, having originally been a gas manager's office situated elsewhere in Downpatrick.
- Downpatrick also holds a Translink bus station on the Ballydugan Road providing bus services to Belfast, Bangor and Newry alongside services to local towns and townlands.
- Downpatrick Primary School – "controlled" Primary School.
- Bunscoil Naomh Pádraig (St Patrick's Primary School) – Irish Speaking Primary School.
- St Brigid's Primary School – Roman Catholic Primary School.
- St Colmcille's Primary School – Roman Catholic Primary School.
- Our Lady & St Patrick Primary School – Roman Catholic Primary School. (St Patrick's Boys' Primary School & Convent of Mercy Primary School merged to form this school which is situated at the old Convent of Mercy building, with a new school building in the planning stages.)
- Down High School – (known locally as "The Green High") "Controlled" coeducational Grammar School
- De la Salle High school – Roman Catholic all-male High School
- Blackwater Integrated College – Integrated High School 
- St Mary's High school – Roman Catholic all-female High School
- St Patrick's Grammar School (known locally as "The Red High") – Roman Catholic all-male grammar school (although girls are admitted in the sixth form)
Further and higher education
- South Eastern Regional College ( Downpatrick Campus ) – the local campus of the regional further and higher education college
The area is served by two weekly newspapers:
- Down News – established 2009, Online Newspaper providing the County Down Area with the latest news accessible from anywhere.
- Down Recorder – established 1836
- FM 105 is the local community radio station broadcasting on 105.0 MHz. The station's parent organisation is South Eastern Regional College.
- Trevor Carson, Northern Ireland international football team goalkeeper.
- Maurice Hayes, the former Northern Ireland Ombudsman, Chairman of the Ireland Funds and Taoiseach-appointed Senator in Seanad Éireann, was born in nearby Killough and died in Downpatrick. He has written a memoir about growing up in the town titled Black Puddings with Slim. He served as town clerk of Downpatrick in the 1960s, succeeding his father in the role.
- Conor Hazard, goalkeeper for Celtic
- E. Neville Isdell, former chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company.
- Patrick Kielty, attended (St. Patrick's Grammar) school in Downpatrick.
- Miles Kington, journalist, musician and broadcaster born in Downpatrick.
- George Lowden, custom guitar maker, based in Downpatrick
- Colin McGrath, South Down SDLP MLA, Chairman and Chief Whip was born and lives in the town.
- Colin Murphy, comedian.
- Thomas Russell, United Irishman co-founder who took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and Robert Emmet's failed rebellion of 1803 was gaoled and executed at Down County Gaol by hanging on 21 October 1803. His memory is honoured by the local GAA club being named after him.
- Robert Scott, recipient of the Victoria Cross
- Tim Wheeler, lead singer of rock band Ash is from Downpatrick.
Sport and clubs
Downpatrick is home to RGU Dún Phádraig GAC. The Russell Gaelic Union was formed by an Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman: Willie King, Alex McDowell, and Willie Byrne, respectively, in the county town in the early 20th century. The team traditionally wears green and white hoops. Downpatrick has had mixed fortunes over the years but has still managed to produce excellent county footballers such as Ray McConville, Conor Deegan, and Barry Breen, all of whom won All-Irelands with Down. Peter and Damien Turley are current Down players. The club was named in honor of United Irishman, Thomas Russell (rebel) .
Downpatrick Cricket Club has won the Irish Senior Cup on two occasions, the NCU Senior League on six occasions and the NCU Challenge Cup on six occasions. The club's Strangford Road ground has hosted Ireland international matches, most recently against Australia "A" and South Africa in 1998.
Downpatrick's most prominent team is Celtic Bhoys which competes in the Newcastle Premier district League The Bhoys are current Premier Division and Division 2 Champions for Season 2018/2019. There are other clubs associated with the town, and others from surrounding areas. These include Ballynagross F.C and Rossglass County F.C
There are also many youth teams such as the Celtic Bhoys, Ballynagross, Rossglass and Coney Island who along with many other teams in the area, participate in the Downpatrick Youth League. Most famous football side out of Downpatrick were Downpatrick Rec who won the Steel & Sons Cup in 1978. Downpatrick is home to one of the biggest Northern Irish branches of the Manchester United Supporters' Club, the Downpatrick Manchester United Supporters' Club, which was founded in 1993.
Snooker and billiards
Downpatrick is also the home of the Downpatrick & District Snooker & Billiard League. Many of the local towns compete in the leagues. Teams from Downpatrick, Newcastle, Ballynahinch, Crossgar, Drumaness, Ballykinler, Castlewellan, Newtownards and Ballyalton play in the local district. The league currently has the Northern Ireland Billiards and Snooker Association Billiard Champion Darren Dornan playing in the league.
Downpatrick Bowling Club is situated on the Old Belfast road, Downpatrick. Having been established since the early 1950s it is only over the last several years that they have finally enjoyed a sustained period of success. The club won the Irish Bowling Association Junior Cup for the first time in their history in 2006. The following year they once again reached the final only to be beaten by Cookstown in a close encounter. However the club once again regained the Irish Cup in 2011, with a resounding victory against Kilrea. In 2011 Downpatrick also won the PGL Midweek Division 2 title.
Downpatrick Golf Club has its own club grounds. The town also has its own tennis club, Downpatrick Tennis Club. Downpatrick has several other clubs that use the facilities of the Down Leisure Centre (run by Down District Council) such as the Lecale Amateur Swimming Club, the Downpatrick School of Lifesaving and the East Down Athletics Club. Downpatrick Golf Club is now known as At Patrick's Golf Club.
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