COUNTY DOWN, a maritime county of Ireland, in the province of Ulster, occupying the most easterly part of the island, bounded N. by Co. Antrim and Belfast Lough, E. and S. by the Irish Sea, and W. by Co. Armagh. The area is 607,916 acres, or nearly 950 sq. m. The coast line is indented by several loughs and bays. The largest of these is Strangford Lough, a fine sheet of water studded with 260 islets, 54 of which have names. All are well wooded or rich in pasturage. The lough runs for 10 m. northwards, and the ancient castles and ruined abbeys on some of the islets render the scene one of singular interest and beauty. Farther south Dundrum Bay forms a wider expanse of water. In the south-west Carlingford Lough separates the county from Louth. There are no lakes of importance. Between Strangford and Carlingford loughs the county is occupied by a range of hills known in its south-western portion as the Mourne Mountains, which give rise to the four principal rivers - the Bann, the Lagan, the Annacloy and the Newry. This mass includes, several striking peaks, of which the principal is Slieve Donard, rising finely direct from the sea to a height of 2796 ft., which is exceeded in Ireland only by one peak in the Wicklow range, and by the higher reeks in Killarney. Several other summits exceed 2000 ft.
Holy wells and mineral springs are numerous in Co. Down. These are both chalybeate and sulphurous, and occur at Ardmillan, Granshaw, Dundonnell, Magheralin, Dromore, Newry, Banbridge and Tierkelly. Those of Struell near Downpatrick were accredited with miraculous powers by the natives until recent times, and religious observances of an extravagant nature took place there.
Geology. - The foundation of this county is Silurian rock throughout, the slates and sandstones striking as a whole north-east, but giving rise to a country of abundant small hills. The granite that appears along the same axis in Armagh continues from Newry to Slieve Croob, furnishing an excellent building stone. South of it, the Eocene granite of the Mournes forms a group of rocky summits, set with scarps and tors, and divided by noble valleys, which are not yet choked by the detritus of these comparatively youthful mountains. Basalt dykes abound, being well seen along the coast south of Newcastle. At the head of Strangford Lough, the basalt, possibly as intrusive sheets, has protected Triassic sandstone, which is quarried at Scrabo Hill. A strip of marine Permian occurs on the shore at Holywood. The north-west of the county includes, at Moira, a part of the great basaltic plateaux, with Chalk and Trias protected by them. The haematiteof dehomet near Banbridge is well spoken of. Topaz and aquamarine occur in hollows in the granite of the Mournes. The Mourne granite is quarried above Annalong, and an ornamental dolerite is worked at Rosstrevor.
Industries. - The predominating soil is a loam of little depth, in most places intermixed with considerable quantities of stones of various sizes, but differing materially in character according to the nature of the subsoil. Clay is mostly confined to the eastern coast, and to the northern parts of Castlereagh. Of sandy soil the quantity is small; it occurs chiefly near Dundrum. Moor grounds are mostly confined to the skirts of the mountains. Bogs, though frequent, are scarcely sufficient to furnish a supply of fuel to the population. Agriculture is in a fairly satisfactory condition. The bulk of the labouring population is orderly and industrious, and dwell in circumstances contrasting well with those of others of their class in some other parts of Ireland. Tillage land declines somewhat in favour of pasture land. Oats, potatoes and turnips are the principal crops; flax, formerly important, is almost neglected. The breed of horses is an object of much attention, and some of the best racers in Ireland have been bred in this county. The native breed of sheep, a small hardy race, is confined to the mountains. The various other kinds of sheep have been much improved by judicious crosses from the best breeds. Pigs are reared in great numbers, chiefly for the Belfast market, where the large exportation occasions a constant demand for them. Poultry farming is a growing industry. The fisheries, of less value than formerly, are centred at Donaghadee, Newcastle, Strangford and Ardglass, the headquarters of the herring fishery. The chief industries in the county generally are linen manufacture and bleaching, and brewing.
Communications. - The Great Northern railway has an alternative branch route to its main line by Portadown, from Lisburn through Banbridge to Scarva, with a branch from Banbridge to Ballyroney and Newcastle. Newry is on a branch from the Dublin-Belfast line to Warrenpoint on Carlingford Lough. The main line between Lisburn and Portadown touches the north-western extremity of the county. The eastern part of the county is served by the Belfast & County Down railway with its main line from Belfast to Newcastle to Dundrum Bay, and branches from Belfast to Bangor, Comber to Newtownards and Donaghadee, Ballynahinch Junction to Ballynahinch, and Downpatrick to Ardglass and Killough. The Newry Canal skirts the west of the county, and the Lagan Canal intersects the rich lands in the Lagan valley to the north.
Population and Administration. - The population (219,405 in 1891; 205,889 in 1901) decreases slightly. The population in 1891 on the area of the county before the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 was 224,008, for in this case the figures for part of the county borough of Belfast were included. This is worth notice from the comparative point of view, since, whereas emigration to foreign ports is considerable, a large portion of the moving population travels no farther than the metropolis of Belfast. About 39% of the population is of the Presbyterian faith, about 31% Roman Catholic, among whom, as usual, education is in the most backward condition; about 23% are Protestant Episcopalians.
The following are the principal towns: - Newry (pop. 12,405), Newtownards (9110), Banbridge (5006), Downpatrick (2993; the county town), Holywood (3840), Gilford (1199), Bangor (5903), Dromore (2307), Donaghadee (2073), Comber (2095) and Warrenpoint (1817). Other small towns are Portaferry, Rathfryland, Killyleagh, Kilkeel, Ballynahinch, Dundrum, a small port, and Hillsborough, near Dromore, where the castle is the seat of the marquesses of Downshire. There are several popular watering-places on the coast, notably Newcastle, Donaghadee, Ardglass and Rosstrevor. On the shore of Belfast Lough are many pleasant residential villages and seats of the wealthy class in Belfast. The county is divided into fourteen baronies, and contains sixty-four parishes. The assizes are held at Downpatrick, and quarter-sessions at the same town and at Banbridge, Newry and Newtownards. The county is in the Protestant diocese of Down, and the Roman Catholic dioceses of Down and Dromore. Down returns four members to parliament - for the north, south, east and west divisions. The borough of Newry returns a member. Previous to the act of Union the county returned fourteen members to the Irish parliament.
History and Antiquities. - The period at which Down was constituted a county is not certain. A district, however, appears to have borne this name before the beginning of the 14th century, but little is known of it even later than this. However, when in 1535 Sir John Perrot undertook the shiring of Ulster, Down and Antrim were excepted as already settled counties. That some such settlement would have been attempted at an early period is likely, as this coast was a place of Anglo-Norman colonization, and to this movement was due the settlement of the baronies of Lecale, the Ards and others.
The county is not wanting in interesting remains. At Slidderyford, near Dundrum, there is a group of ten or twelve pillar stones in a circle, about 10 ft. in height. A very curious cairn on the summit of Slieve Croob is 80 yds. in circumference at the base and 50 at the top, where is a platform on which cairns of various heights are found standing. The village of Anadorn is famed for a cairn covering a cave which contains ashes and human bones. Cromlechs, or altars, are numerous, the most remarkable being the Giant's Ring, which stands on the summit of a hill near the borders of Antrim. This altar is formed of an unwrought stone 7 ft. long by 6 broad, resting in an inclined position on rude pillars about 3 ft. high. This solitary landmark is in the centre of an enclosure about a third of a mile in circumference, formed of a rampart about 20 ft. high, and broad enough on the top to permit two persons to ride abreast. Near Downpatrick is a rath, or encampment, three-quarters of a mile in circumference. In its vicinity are the ruins of Saul Abbey, said to have been founded by St Patrick, and Inch Abbey, founded by Sir John de Courcy in 1180. The number of monastic ruins is also considerable. The most ancient and celebrated is the abbey or cathedral of Downpatrick. Dundrum Castle, attributed to the de Courcy family, stands finely above that town, and affords an unusual example (for Ireland) of a donjon keep. The castle of Hillsborough is of Carolean date. There are three round towers in the county, but all are fragmentary.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)