DOWNPATRICK, an unincorporated borough, market, and post-town, and parish, in the barony of LECALE, county of DOWN, (of which it is the chief town), and province of ULSTER, 18 miles (S. E. by S.) from Belfast, and 74 (N.) from Dublin; containing 9203 inhabitants, of which number, 4784 are in the town.

This place, which was anciently the residence of the native kings of Ullagh or Ulidia, was originally named Aras-Celtair and Rath-Keltair, one signifying the house and the other the castle or fortification of Celtair, the son of Duach; by Ptolemy it was called Dunum. Its present name is derived from its situation on a hill, and from its having been the chosen residence of St. Patrick, who, on his arrival here in 432, founded in its vicinity the abbey of Saul, and, shortly after, an abbey of regular canons near the ancient Doon or fort, the site of which was granted to him by Dichu, son of Trichem, lord of the country, whom he had converted to the Christian faith. St. Patrick presided over these religious establishments till his death in 493, and was interred in the abbey here, in which also the remains of St. Bridget and St. Columbkill, the two other tutelar saints of Ireland, were subsequently deposited. The town was constantly exposed to the ravages of the Danes, by whom it was plundered and burnt six or seven times between the years 940 and 1111; and on all these occasions the cathedral was pillaged by them.

In 1177, John de Courcy took possession of the town, then the residence of Mac Dunleve, Prince of Ullagh, who, unprepared for defence against an invasion so unexpected, fled precipitately. De Courcy fortified himself here, and maintained his position against all the efforts of Mac Dunleve, aided by the native chieftains, for its recovery. In 1183, he displaced the canons and substituted a society of Benedictine monks from the abbey of St. Werburgh at Chester. Both he and Bishop Malachy III., endowed the abbey with large revenues; and in 1186 they sent an embassy to Pope Urban III. to obtain a bull for translating into shrines the sacred reliques of the three saints above named, which was performed with great solemnity by the pope's nuncio in the same year.

De Courcy having espoused the claims of Prince Arthur, Duke of Brittany, assumed, in common with other English barons who had obtained extensive settlements in Ireland, an independent state, and renounced his allegiance to King John, who summoned him to appear and do homage. His mandate being treated with contempt, the provoked monarch, in 1203, invested De Lacy and his brother Walter with a commission to enter Ulster and reduce the revolted baron. De Lacy advanced with his troops to Down, where an engagement took place in which he was signally defeated and obliged to retreat with considerable loss of men. De Courcy, however, was ultimately obliged to acknowledge his submission and consent to do homage. A romantic description of the issue of this contest is related by several writers, according to whom De Courcy, after the termination of the battle, challenged De Lacy to single combat, which the latter declined on the plea that his commission, as the King's representative, forbade him to enter the lists against a rebellious subject, and subsequently proclaimed a reward for De Courcy's apprehension, which proving ineffectual, he then prevailed upon his servants by bribes and promises to betray their master.

This act of perfidy was carried into execution whilst De Courcy was performing his devotions unarmed in the burial-ground of the cathedral: the assailants rushed upon him and slew some of his retinue; De Courcy seized a large wooden cross, with which, being a man of great prowess, he killed thirteen of them, but was overpowered by the rest and bound and led captive to De Lacy, who delivered him a prisoner to the king. In 1205, Hugh de Lacy was made Earl of Ulster, and for a while fixed his residence at the castle erected here by De Courcy. In 1245, part of the abbey was thrown down and the walls of the cathedral much damaged by an earthquake. A desperate battle was fought in the streets of this town, in 1259, between Stephen de Longespee and the chief of the O'Neils, in which the latter and 352 of his men were slain. Edward Bruce, in his invasion of Ulster, in 1315, having marched hither, plundered and destroyed the abbey, and burnt part of the town: he again plundered the town three years afterwards, and on that occasion caused himself to be proclaimed King of Ireland at the cross near the cathedral.

To subdue the opposition raised by the wealthy abbots of this district, under Primate Cromer, against the spiritual supremacy of Henry VIII., Lord Grey, then lord-deputy, marched with a powerful army into Lecale, took Dundrum and seven other castles, and in May 1538, having defaced the monuments of the three patron saints and perpetrated other acts of sacrilege, set fire to the cathedral and the town; three years afterwards, this act was made one of the charges on which he was impeached and beheaded. On the surrender of the abbey in 1539, its possessions, with those of the other religious establishments in the town, were granted to Gerald, eleventh Earl of Kildare. In 1552, the town was plundered and partially destroyed by Con O'Neil, Earl of Tyrone; and two years afterwards it was assaulted by his son Shane, who destroyed its gates and ramparts. During the war of 1641, the Protestants of the surrounding district having fled hither for protection, the town was attacked by the Irish under the command of Colonel Bryan O'Neil, who burnt a magnificent castle erected by Lord Okeham, and committed a great slaughter of the townsmen; many that escaped were afterwards massacred at Killyleagh.

The town is built upon a group of little hills, on the south shore of the western branch of Lough Cone or Strangford Lough, and consists of four principal streets rising with a steep ascent from the market-place in the centre, and intersected by several smaller streets and lanes: on the eastern side the hills rise abruptly behind it, commanding views of a fertile and well-cultivated tract abounding with richly diversified and picturesque scenery. It is divided according to ancient usage into three districts, called respectively the English, Irish, and Scottish quarters, and contains about 900 houses, most of which are well built: the streets are well paved, and were first lighted with oil in 1830; and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. An ancient ferry across the western arm of Strangford lough connected this town with the neighbourhood to the north until a bridge was erected about one mile from the town, with a tower gate-house upon it, which was destroyed and the bridge itself greatly damaged in 1641.

A public library and news-room was erected by subscription in 1825; and races are held in July alternately with Hillsborough, under charter of James II., on an excellent course one mile south of the town. The members of the Down Hunt hold their annual meetings in a handsome building in English-street, called the County Rooms, which is also used for county meetings, &c. The barracks are an extensive and convenient range of buildings, formerly the old gaol, in which a detachment of two companies from the garrison at Belfast is placed. The only article of manufacture is that of linen, principally yard wide, for the West Indies and the English market, and drills for Scotland, in which about 700 weavers, are employed. There are two ale breweries in the town.

On the banks of the Quoile, one mile distant, are excellent quays, where vessels of 100 tons' burden come in from Strangford lough: the principal imports are iron, coal, salt, timber, bark, and general merchandise: the exports are wheat, barley, oats, cattle, pigs, potatoes, and kelp. Formerly the tide flowed up close to the town, but in 1745 an embankment was constructed across the Quoile water, one mile distant, by the Rt. Hon. Edward Southwell, lord of the manor, which restrained it to that point, and about 500 acres of land were recovered: this embankment was swept away by a storm, and a second was formed by Lord de Clifford, with floodgates, &c., but after much rain a considerable portion of meadow land in the neighbourhood of the town is yet inundated.

The market is on Saturday; it is large and well supplied with provisions of all kinds, and with pedlery. Brown linen webs were formerly sold on the market day in the linen hall, but the sale has of late much declined. The market-house is an old low building, containing some good upper rooms, in which the petty sessions are held and the public business of the town is transacted. Fairs are held annually on the second Thursday in January, March 17th, May 19th, June 22nd, Oct. 29th, and Nov. 19th. This is a chief constabulary police station, with a force consisting of one officer, one constable, and seven men.

Downpatrick had a corporation at an early period, the existence of which is recognised in 1403, when letters of protection were granted to it by Henry IV., under the title of the "Mayor, Bailiffs, and Commonalty of the city of Down, in Ulster." The borough returned two members to the Irish parliament so early as 1585: this privilege was exercised till the union, since which they have returned one member to the Imperial parliament. The right of election was vested in the pot-wallopers, but under an act of the 35th of George III. it was limited to the resident occupiers of houses of the annual value of £5 and upwards, who have registered twelve months before the election: the number of qualifying tenements under the old law was estimated at about 650. The act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 88, caused no alteration in the franchise or in the limits of the borough, which is co-extensive with the demesne of Down, containing 1486 statute acres: the number of voters registered, in 1835, was 525. The seneschal appointed by the lord of the manor is the returning officer.

The manor, which is the property of David Ker, Esq., is very ancient, its existence being noticed in a record dated 1403. A patent of it was granted to Lord Cromwell by James I., in 1617, whereby sundry monasteries, lands, and tenements, including the demesne of Down, were erected into the manor of Downpatrick the manorial court, in which the process is either by attachment or civil bill, is held by the seneschal every third Tuesday, and has jurisdiction to the amount of £10 over 67 townlands in the parishes of Downpatrick, Saul, Ballee, Bright, Ballyculter, and Inch. The seneschal holds a court leet for the manor in spring and at Michaelmas. Petty sessions are held every Thursday: the assizes for the county are held alternately here and at Newry; and the county quarter sessions for the division of Downpatrick are held here in March and October.

The county hall, or court-house, which was considerably enlarged and improved in 1834, occupies an elevated site in English-street; it is a large and handsome edifice, consisting of a centre and two wings, approached by a fine flight of stone steps; the centre is appropriated to the criminal court, the eastern wing to the civil court, and in the western are preserved the county records, &c.; it also contains a suite of assembly-rooms. The county gaol is a very commodious building, erected in 1830 at an expense of £60,000, and occupying an area of one acre and a half: the internal arrangements and management are calculated to carry into the best effect the improved system of prison discipline, and have been recommended as a model for similar establishments by the inspector-general of prisons.

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