Downpatrick - Encyclopedia

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DOWNPATRICK, a market town and the county town of Co. Down, Ireland, in the east parliamentary division, 28 m. S.S.E. of Belfast by the Belfast & County Down railway. Pop. (1901) 2 993. It stands picturesquely on a sloping site near the southwest extremity of Strangford Lough. It is the seat of the Protestant and Roman Catholic dioceses of Down. St Patrick founded the see about 440, but the present Protestant cathedral dates from 1790, the old structure, after suffering many vicissitudes, having been in ruins for 250 years. The cathedral is said to contain the remains of its founder, together with those of St Columba and St Bridget. A round tower adjoining it was destroyed in 1790. A small trade is carried on at Strangford Lough by means of vessels up to loo tons, which discharge at Quoile quay, about 1 m. from the town; but vessels of larger tonnage can discharge at a steamboat quay lower down the Quoile. The imports are principally iron, coal, salt and timber; the exports barley, oats, cattle, pigs and potatoes. Linen manufacture is also carried on, and brewing, tanning and soap-making give considerable employment. The Down corporation racemeeting is important and attracts visitors from far outside the county. The rath or dun from which the town is named remains as one of the finest in Ireland. It was called Rath-Keltair, or the rath of the hero Keltar, and covers an area of ro acres. In the vicinity of the town are remnants of the monastery of Saul, a foundation ascribed to St Patrick, and of Inch Abbey (1180), founded by Sir John de Courcy. Three miles south is a fine stone circle, and to the south-east are the wells of Struell, famous as miraculous healers among the peasantry until modern times. The town is of extreme antiquity. It was called Dun-leth-glas, the fort of the broken fetters, from the miraculous deliverance from bondage of two sons of Dichu, prince of Lecale, and the first convert of St Patrick. It is the Dunum of Ptolemy, and was a residence of the kings of Ulster. It was already incorporated early in the 15th century. It returned two members to the Irish parliament until the Union in 1800, and thereafter one to the Imperial parliament until 1832.

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