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Ireland Gazeteer
County Down in 1837


The eastern shore of Belfast Loch has no anchorage for vessels above the third class. There is a small quay for fishing and pleasure-boats at Cultra, a mile below the bathing village of Holywood, where regattas are held.

Out of Belfast Loch the first harbour on the coast of Ards is at Bangor, where a pier was built by parliamentary grant in 1757, forming a small harbour in the south-east part of the bay of about 300 feet square. Fifteen sail of carrying vessels belong to this place, which are chiefly engaged in the export of corn and cattle to the coast of Scotland. Colonel Ward, the proprietor, is engaged in the construction of a pier, which, when completed, will afford fifteen feet at low water within the harbour.

The coast here consists of low slate rocks; and there is a difficulty in getting stones of a sufficient size, which has hitherto retarded the completion of this desirable work.

East of Bangor is the little harbour of Groomsport or Gregory's Port, where Duke Schomberg landed in 1690. Here is a small quay and about 100 houses, chiefly occupied by fishermen.

South-east of Groomsport is Donaghadee, the only place of security for a large vessel from Belfast Loch south to the harbour of Strangford. Off Donaghadee lie three islands, called the Copelands, from a family of that name which formerly held the opposite coast.

On one of these, called the Cross or Lighthouse Island, there is a lighthouse, which marks the entrance to Belfast Loch from the south. This building, which was erected about 1715, is a square tower, 70 feet high to the lantern: the walls 7 feet thick. The mode of lighting practised in 1744, when Harris wrote his ‘History of Down,’ was by a fire of coals kindled on a grate, which was fixed on an iron spindle rising from the masonry. On a windy night this grate used to consume a ton and a half of coal.

This island contains 40 acres; the other two, 295 and 31 acres respectively. The sound between Big Island, which lies nearest the land, and the shore of Down, is about a mile and a quarter in breadth. It has from 7 to 8 fathoms of water; but the side next the mainland is foul; and a rock, half a mile from the shore, called the Deputy, which has but 10 feet of water at low ebb, renders the navigation difficult in hazy weather.

From Donaghadee south the coast is low, rocky, and dangerous. The rock of Sculmartin, covered at half-flood, and the North and South Rocks, the former never covered, the latter at every half tide, lie farthest off shore, and are most in the way of vessels coming up channel.

The lighthouse of Kilwarlin was erected on the South Rock in 1797, and has since proved highly serviceable to all traders in the channel. At Ballywalter, Ballyhalbert, Cloghy, and Newcastle, in Quintin Bay, all situated on the eastern shore of Ards, are fishing stations.

The first is very capable of improvement as a harbour, and there is a small quay for the supply of the Kilwarlin Lighthouse at the latter; but no shelter in any of them for vessels of more than 30 tons.

South from Newcastle is Tara Bay, much frequented by fishing-vessels, and capable of great improvement. The estimated expense of a breakwater pier, which would convert it into an excellent tide harbour, is £3,806.

The peninsula of Ards runs out at Ballyquintin to a low rocky point south of Tara Bay. A rock, called the Bar Pladdy, having 11 feet water at spring ebbs, lies immediately off Quintin Point; and the entrance to Strangford Loch is erroneously laid down in Mackenzie's Map as lying through the narrow intermediate channel called Nelson's Gut. Several shipwrecks have occurred in consequence. The true entrance to Strangford Loch lies west of the Bar Pladdy, between it and Killard Point, on the opposite side.

The entrance is a narrow channel of about 5 miles in length by an average breadth of less than a mile. Within, the loch of Strangford expands into a very extensive sheet of water, extending northwards to Newtownards, and nearly insulating the district between it and the sea. The tide of so large a sheet of water making its way to and from the sea, causes a great current in the narrow connecting strait at every ebb and flow, and renders the navigation at such times very difficult.

Across this strait is a ferry, which gives name to the town of Portaferry at the eastern or Ards side of the entrance. The town of Strangford, which lies opposite, is supposed to derive its name from the strength of the tide race between.

The true channel, at the narrowest part of the strait, is little more than a quarter of a mile across, being contracted by rocks, one of which, called the Ranting Wheel, causes a whirlpool dangerous to small craft. There is another but less dangerous eddy of the same kind at the opposite side.

Within the entrance there are several good anchorages, and landing-quays at Strangford, Portaferry, Killileagh, the quay of Downpatrick, and Kirkcubbin. Killileagh quay was built by parliamentary grant in 1765, and cost £1,200, but is now much gone to decay.

Strangford Loch contains a great number of islands, many of which are pasturable, and great numbers of rabbits are bred in them.

From Killard Point the coast bears south-west, and is rocky and foul as far as Ardglass, where there is a pretty good harbour, safe for small vessels, by which it is much frequented, but exposed to a heavy ground swell in south-easterly gales. A pier was built here about 1819 at the joint expense of the old fishery board and the proprietor, Mr. Ogilvie. There is a small lighthouse at the extremity of this pier.

Ardglass is a principal place of resort for the fishing fleets which frequent the channel. Immediately west of Ardglass lies the harbour of Killough, between Ringford Point on the east and St. John's Point on the west. A natural breakwater, easily improvable, extends between these points, and gives a pretty secure anchorage for large vessels within. There is an inner harbour for small craft, dry at ebb, with a quay, built about the beginning of the last century.

West of St. John's Point opens the great bay of Dundrum, which extends from this point on the east to the coast of Mourne on the west, a distance of about four leagues by a league in depth, running north by west.

This bay is exposed, shallow, and full of quicksands, and so situated that, till the erection of the present pier, which forms a small asylum harbour at Newcastle, a well-frequented bathing-place on the south-western side of the bay, vessels embayed here with an east or south-east wind inevitably went on shore.

From an inspection of the books of the resident revenue officer stationed at Newcastle, it has been ascertained that from 1783 to 1833, 58 vessels, valued at £209,050, have been wrecked in Dundrum Bay.

The pier of Newcastle was erected at the joint expense of the old fishery board and the proprietor, Earl Annesley: the cost was £3,600. It is highly serviceable as a station for the fishing-boats of the coast, and has been the means of saving four vessels within the last three years.

From Newcastle south to Cranfield Point the coast of Mourne possesses only three small boat harbours, the principal of which is at Derryogua, where there is a fishing station.

On this part of the coast, near Kilkeel, is a lighthouse, 120 feet high. Between Cranfield Point on the east, and the extremity of the barony of Dundalk, in the county of Louth, on the west, is the entrance to the extensive harbour of Carlingford. This loch is about eight miles long by a mile and a half broad, and has steep mountains to the east and west along each side.

From Narrow Water, where it contracts to the width of a river, the tide flows up to Newry, whence there is a canal communication with the Upper Bann river, which flows into Loch Neagh. There are numerous rocks and shoals at the entrance, where a new lighthouse is about being erected, and a bar all across, on which there are but eight feet of water at ebb tides.

The middle part of the loch is deep, but exposed to heavy squalls from the mountains. The best anchorages are off Carlingford, on the south side, and opposite Warren s Point, and Rosstrevor, in the county of Down.

There are two great beds of oysters in this loch, one off Rosstrevor Quay, two and a half miles long by half a mile broad; the other off Killowen Point, one mile long by half a mile broad. The marquis of Anglesey is the proprietor. The fishery is open to all persons paying 5 shillings yearly. About £1,000 worth of oysters are taken annually: they sell in Warren's Point at 7 shillings to 15 shillings per thousand, and are celebrated throughout Ireland for their excellent flavour. It has been proposed to carry the Newry canal, which terminates at Fathom, at the head of the bay, forward to the deep water off Warren's Point, where it is intended that it should terminate with a ship lock and floating basin.

Warren's Point has a good quay, from which steamers sail regularly for Liverpool: most of the exports of Newry are shipped here from the small craft that bring them down the canal. The scenery on both sides of Carlingford Loch is of striking beauty.