From famous folks with County Down roots to our choices for top tourist attractions here's everything you need to know about "The Mourne County."
Irish Name: An Dún, meaning "fort"
Nickname: The Mourne County, The Ardsmen
Population: Approx. 531,500
Area: 945 square miles
County town: Downpatrick
GAA colors: Black and Red
Common surnames in County Down
Thompson, McCartan, Smith, Campbell, Patterson, Martin, Wilson, Graham, Johnston, and Murray
Famous people with roots in County Down
A brief history of County Down
Down, one of the counties of Ulster, is located in Northern Ireland. It is bordered by County Antrim to the north, County Armagh to the west, and the sea to the south and east. Down contains both the southernmost point in Northern Ireland (Cranfield Point) and the easternmost point in Ireland (Burr Point).
Down’s county town, Downpatrick, for which it is named, is one of the most ancient towns on the island of Ireland, with archaeological evidence of Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements. By 130 AD, it was included in Ptolemy’s list of towns in Ireland, though at that time it was still called Dunum (“Dun” means “fort).
Saint Patrick is believed to have been buried in Downpatrick in the year 461, on the grounds of Down Cathedral. Ireland’s patron saint said his first Eucharist on Irish soil in the County Down town of Saul.
From the seventh century on, Down was the center of the lands held by the Dál Fiatach. The Normans arrived in 1177 when John de Courcy received a grant of Ulster from King Henry II.
The Battle of Down, which took place in 1260, pitted Brian O’Neill, King of Tyrone, against the Normans in a bid for Irish independence. The Normans, whose armies consisted largely of Irishmen, were victorious. Down was, in the past, also referred to as Downshire.
St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland, built in Newry in 1578, is thought to be the first Protestant church in Ireland. According to Census 2001, Down is one of only two counties of Ireland that have a majority of the population from a Protestant background, with Antrim being the other. However, in Census 2021, 30.6% of the population in Ards & North Down reported "no religion."
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Key attractions in County Down
As the great Irish entertainer Percy French wrote, "The mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea." Indeed, Down’s Mourne Mountains are a key attraction, with Slieve Donard, at 2,785 ft the highest mountain peak in Northern Ireland. The Mourne Wall stretches for 22 miles and crosses 15 of the Mourne peaks. The Doan is an especially popular peak for climbing.
Down is also home to an area called the Brontë Homeland, where Patrick Brontë (originally Brunty), father of Anne, Charlotte, Emily, and Branwell Brontë, was born and raised.
Cities and towns of interest include Downpatrick, Newry and Bangor. Downpatrick is home to the Down County Museum, Inch Abbey – the ruins of a large Cistercian monastery – and what is thought to be the burial place of St. Patrick. In the US state of Maine, there is a town called Bangor and also one called Newry. There is much golf to be played in Co. Down.
Down is home to Exploris, the Northern Ireland Aquarium, located in Portaferry on Strangford Lough on the Ards Peninsula. With its beautiful vistas and wildlife, Strangford Lough is well worth a visit by itself.
A fun fact about County Down
The video for Rihanna’s hit song “We Found Love” was filmed in County Down in 2011, though an alternate location had to be found at the last minute when the farmer whose field they were using became upset with how scantily clad the singer was.