COUNTY DOWN

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

DOWN (County of), a maritime county of the province of ULSTER, bounded on the east and south by the Irish sea, on the north by the county of Antrim and Carrickfergus bay, and on the west by the county of Armagh. It extends from 54° 0' to 54° 40' (N. Lat.), and from 5° 18' to 6° 20' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 611,404 acres, of which, 502,677 are cultivated land, 108,569 are unprofitable bog and mountain, and 158 are under water. The population, in 1821, amounted to 325,410, and in 1831, to 352,012.

This county, together with a small part of that of Antrim, was anciently known by the name of Ulagh or Ullagh, in Latin Ulidia (said by some to be derived from a Norwegian of that name who flourished here long before the Christian era), which was finally extended to the whole province of Ulster. Ptolemy, the geographer, mentions the Voluntii or Uluntii as inhabiting this region; and the name, by some etymologists, is traced from them. At what period this tribe settled in Ireland is unknown: the name is not found in any other author who treats of the country, whence it may be inferred that the colony was soon incorporated with the natives, the principal families of whom were the O'Nials, the Mac Gennises, the Macartanes, the Slut-Kellys, and the Mac Gilmores.

The county continued chiefly in the possession of the same families at the period of the settlement of the North of Ireland in the reign of King James, at the commencement of the seventeenth century, with the addition of the English families of Savage and White, the former of which settled in the peninsula of the Ardes, on the eastern side of Strangford Lough, and the latter in the barony of Dufferin, on the western side of the same gulf. It is not clearly ascertained at what precise period the county was made shire ground. The common opinion is that this arrangement, together with its division into baronies, occurred in the early part of the reign of Elizabeth. But from the ancient records of the country it appears that, previously to the 20th of Edward II., here were two counties distinguished by the names of Down and Newtown.

The barony of Ardes was also a separate jurisdiction, having sheriffs of its own at the same date; and the barony of Lecale was considered to be within the English pale from its first subjugation by that people; its communication with the metropolis being maintained chiefly by sea, as the Irish were in possession of the mountain passes between it and Louth. That the consolidation of these separate jurisdictions into one county took place previously to the settlement of Ulster by Sir John Perrott, during his government, which commenced in 1584, is evident from this settlement comprehending seven counties only, omitting those of Down and Antrim because they had previously been subjected to the English law.

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