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County Down

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County Down
Contae an Dúin (Irish)
Coontie Doon/Countie Doun (Ulster-Scots)
Coat of arms of County Down
Mourne Country
Absque Labore Nihil  (Latin)
"Nothing Without Labour"
Location of County Down
CountryUnited Kingdom
Constituent CountryNorthern Ireland
Establishedearly 16th century
County townDownpatrick
 • Total961 sq mi (2,489 km2)
 • Rank12th
Highest elevation2,790 ft (850 m)
 • Rank4th
Time zoneUTC±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 settlement is Bangor, a city 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]

The county has two cities: Newry and Bangor. The latter is the more recent, gaining city status on 2 December 2022. [11]


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 the Republic of Ireland).[12] 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").[13][14]


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".[15] 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,[a] as well this side Blackstafe[b] as the other side, Copelande islands,[c] the Dufferin,[d] Clandeboy,[e] Kilultoghe, the Glynes[f] with the Raughlines,[g] Momerie and Carie,[h] the Rowte M'William (McQuillan)[i] and all lands between lough Coine[j] and lough Eaghe,[k] and the water of Strangforde and the Banne.[l] To certify their proceedings before the 1st August."[16][17] 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.[citation needed]


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,[18] although folk tradition says there are 365 islands in Strangford Lough, one for every day of the year.[19]

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[edit]

King John's Castle on Carlingford Lough.



  • Ards Lower (from the Irish: Aird)
  • Ards Upper
  • Castlereagh Lower
  • Castlereagh Upper
  • Dufferin (from the Irish: Duifrian)
  • Iveagh Lower, Lower Half (from the Irish: Uíbh Eachach)
  • Iveagh Lower, Upper Half
  • Iveagh Upper, Lower Half
  • Iveagh Upper, Upper Half
  • Kinelarty (from the Irish: Cineál Fhártaigh)
  • Lecale Lower (from the Irish: Leath Cathail)
  • Lecale Upper
  • Lordship of Newry
  • Mourne (from the Irish: Múrna)




Historical population


(population of 75,000 or more at 2001 Census)[29]

Large towns[edit]

(population of 18,000 or more and under 75,000 at 2001 Census)[29]

Medium towns[edit]

(Population of 10,000 or more and under 18,000 at 2001 Census)[29]

Small towns[edit]

(Population of 4,500 or more and under 10,000 at 2001 Census)[29]

Intermediate settlements[edit]

(Population of 2,250 or more and under 4,500 at 2001 Census)[29]


(Population of 1,000 or more and under 2,250 at 2001 Census)[29]

Small villages or hamlets[edit]

(Population of less than 1,000 at 2001 Census)[29]


Religious Background in Down (2021)
Religion Per 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[edit]

Religion or religion brought up in (2021 Census)[30]
Religion or religion brought up in Number %
Protestant and Other Christian 296,228 53.54%
Catholic 178,523 32.27%
None (no religion) 70,046 12.66%
Other religion 8,464 1.53%
Total 553,261 100.00%

National identity[edit]

National identity (2021 Census)[31][32][33][34]
National identity Number %
British only 208,523 37.69%
Irish only 102,174 18.47%
Northern Irish only 120,003 21.69%
British and Northern Irish only 58,256 10.53%
Irish and Northern Irish only 9,820 1.78%
British, Irish and Northern Irish only 12,605 2.28%
British and Irish only 4,421 0.80%
Other identity 37,459 6.77%
Total 553,261 100.00%
All Irish identities 131,143 23.70%
All British identities 290,524 52.51%
All Northern Irish identities 204,276 36.92%


The county was administered by Down County Council from 1899 until the abolition of county councils in Northern Ireland in 1973.[35] 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.

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[36][37]

Former No.1 golfer in the world, Rory McIlroy,[38] originates from Holywood, which is situated in the north of the county.

In popular culture[edit]

"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.[39]

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.[40]

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),[41] Inch Abby (Riverlands), and Tollymore Forest Park.[42]

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.[43]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Northern Ireland General Register Office (1975). "Table 1: Area, Buildings for Habitation and Population, 1971". Census of Population 1971; Summary Tables (PDF). Belfast: HMSO. p. 1. Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 July 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  2. ^ 2008 Annual Report in Ulster Scots Archived 29 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine North–South Ministerial Council.
  3. ^ 2006 Annual Report in Ulster Scots Archived 27 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine North–South Ministerial Council.
  4. ^ Taylor, Isaac. Names and Their Histories. Rivingtons, 1898. p.111
  5. ^ Lewis, Samuel. A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837); "The See of Down" Archived 1 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ a b "County". NISRA. Retrieved 17 August 2023.
  7. ^ WOUTERS, Ferre (6 March 2019). "Communal counting: The Northern Ireland census". FactCheckNI. Retrieved 26 December 2021.
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  9. ^ "Northern Ireland Census 2021" (PDF).
  10. ^ Price, Ryan (16 March 2018). "Five places in Northern Ireland included in Best Places to Live in Britain list". The Irish Post. Archived from the original on 13 April 2021. Retrieved 2 June 2021.
  11. ^ "Bangor receives city status in Princess Anne visit". BBC News. 2 December 2022.
  12. ^ Long, David (2015). Lost Britain: An A-Z of Forgotten Landmarks and Lost Traditions. Michael O'Mara Books. p. 65. ISBN 9781782434412. Archived from the original on 5 June 2020. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
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  15. ^ 11 Elizabeth I, Session 3, Chapter 9 (1569)
  16. ^ Fiat 1530, 4 May 1570
  17. ^ Similar to Fiat 1486, 4 February 1570
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  19. ^ "Hands On Nature – Strangford". BBC.
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  25. ^ Histpop.org Archived 7 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ NISRA.gov.uk Archived 17 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
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Further reading[edit]

  • Harris, Walter (attributed). 1744. The Ancient and Present Stare of the County of Down...'Dublin.
  • The Memoirs of John M. Regan, a Catholic Officer in the RIC and RUC, 1909–48, Joost Augusteijn, editor, District Inspector, Co. Down 1930s, 1919, ISBN 978-1-84682-069-4.

External links[edit]