Downpatrick (from Irish: Dún Pádraig, meaning "Patrick's stronghold") is a small-sized town about 33 km (21 mi) south of Belfast in County Down, Northern Ireland. It has been an important site since ancient times. Its cathedral is said to be the burial place of Saint Patrick. Today it is the county town of Down and the joint headquarters of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. Downpatrick area has currently shown to have a population of 19,817 according to the 2011 Census, although it is likely to have increased in recent years.
As the largest town in the Lecale area, Downpatrick is a commercial, recreational and administrative center for the locality and serves as a hub for the nearby towns and villages. Within a 30 minutes drive from Belfast, the location serves as a commuter town for a large number of people. The town has a number of primary and post-primary schools educating students from all over the east Down area.
Downpatrick is also famous because its history of St Patrick, even though the town had been named after him, it is believed during the 5th century he had lived in Downpatrick and is currently buried in Down Cathedral.
Downpatrick is characterised by the rolling drumlins that are a feature of the Lecale area and a legacy of glaciation during the Pleistocene, the Down drumlins themselves are underlaid by Ordovician and Silurian shales and grits. Its lowest point lies within the marshland surrounding the north east of the town, recorded as being 1.3 ft (0.40 m) below sea level. Downpatrick is approximately 22 miles (35 km) from Belfast and has a regular bus service to the city.
An early Bronze Age site was excavated in Downpatrick on the Meadowlands housing estate, revealing two round houses. One measured over 4 metres in diameter and contained a hearth in the centre, while the other round house was over seven metres across.
Some archaeological evidence indicates a Neolithic settlement at the Cathedral Hill site, which otherwise appears to have been unoccupied until the late Bronze Age. It then had an undefended settlement at least on the south west of the hill top.
Downpatrick or Duno is one of Ireland's most ancient and historic towns. It takes its name from a dún (fort), which once stood on the hill that dominates the town and on which Down Cathedral was later built. Ptolemy, about the year AD 130, includes it (in Latin) as Dunum in his list of towns of Ireland.
The Gaelic name of the town was Rath Celtair, named after the mythological warrior of Ulster called Celtchar (in modern Irish: Cealtachair), who resided there and who fought alongside Ulster King Conchobar mac Neasa (anglicised Conor Mac Nessa). He is mentioned in the Ulster Cycle and, in particular, the Táin Bó Cuailgne. The name was superseded by the name Dún Lethglaise then Dún Dá Lethglas, which in turn gave way, in the 13th century, to the present name of Dún Phádraig (anglicised as Downpatrick) – from the town's connection with the patron saint of Ireland.
Saint Patrick was reputedly buried here in 461 on Cathedral Hill, together with Saint Brigit and Saint Columba. Down Cathedral was later constructed on this spot. His grave is still a place of pilgrimage on St Patricks Day (17 March each year). The Saint Patrick Visitor Centre in Downpatrick is purpose-built to tell the story of St Patrick.
From the seventh century the dominant power in Ulster was the Dál Fiatach so much so that the title "Rí Uladh" could simultaneously mean "King of Ulster" and "King of the Dál Fiatach". County Down was the ancient centre of the Dál Fiatach lands, and the chief royal site and religious centre of the Dál Fiatach was at Downpatrick from where they ruled Ulster for centuries.
In 1137, St. Malachy after resigning as Archbishop of Armagh, separating the two dioceses and appointing another as Bishop of Connor, became the Bishop of Down. He administered the diocese of Dún dá leth glas (Down) from Bangor and introduced a community of Augustinians (canons) to Dún dá leth glas dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. He repaired and enlarged Down Cathedral.
After having received a grant of Ulster from King Henry II of England, Norman Knight John de Courcy set out from Dublin in early 1177 to take possession of it. He marched north with a force of 20 knights and 300 men and reached Downpatrick four days later. Downpatrick was an open ecclesiastical town of the old type, and the invaders rode in and surprised it in the small hours of 2 February. De Courcy attacked the fortress and administrative centre of Rath Celtair (the Mound of Down), defeating and driving off Rory MacDonlevy (Ruaidhri Mac Duinnshleibhe), King of the Dál Fiatach and Ulster (Ulaid).
In 1183, John de Courcy brought in some Benedictines from the abbey of St. Werburgh in Chester (today Chester Cathedral) in England; he built a cathedral friary for them at Downpatrick. This building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1245. De Courcy reputedly found not only the bones of St. Patrick on Cathedral Hill but also the bones of St. Brigid and St. Colmcille (St.Columba). In the presence of the Papal Legate, Vivian, Cardinal-priest of Santo Stefano Rotondo (also Santo Stefano al Monte Celio), the relics were reburied on 9 June 1186.
In 1260 Brian O'Neill (Brian Ua Néill), King of Tír Eoghain (Tyrone) and who had been acknowledged as High King of Ireland by Hugh O'Conor of Connacht and Tadhg O'Brien of Thomond) marched to Downpatrick, a centre of English settlement. Allied with a Connacht force under Hugh O'Conor, he fought the foreigners in the Battle of Down. The battle took place outside the city of Down and O'Neill, eight Connacht lords, and many others died. The death of O'Neill and defeat of the Irish was lamented by the Cenél nEógain bard Gilbride MacNamee (Giolla Brighde Mac Con Midhe)(1210–1272) in a poem.
Following the rebellion of Shane O'Neill in 1567, Downpatrick fell briefly into Irish hands before being re-taken by Sir Richard Morrison (Moryson).
On 21 January 1575, Franciscans John Lochran, Donagh O'Rorke, and Edmund Fitzsimon were hanged by Protestants at Downpatrick.
Four main thoroughfares are shown converging on a town plan of 1724, namely, English Street, Scotch (now Saul) Street, Barrack (now Scotch) Street, and Irish Street. Topography limited expansion of the town. The basic early-18th-century street plan continued largely unchanged until 1838 when Church Street was built, followed by Market Street in 1846.
The condition of the town was greatly improved in the 18th century by a land-owning family named Southwell. The first Edward Southwell was responsible for building a shambles in 1719 and paving of the streets, which started in 1727. In 1717 he built a quay and grain store at Quoile Quay, contributing to the economic expansion of the town. The second Edward Southwell was responsible for building Southwell School in 1733, considered one of the most beautiful examples of a Georgian charity school and almshouse.
Down County Infirmary was established in a house in Saul Street in October 1767, were it operated for seven years. It was moved to Barrack Lane (now Fountain Street) where the former Horse Barracks was purchased in 1774 for £150 for use as the Infirmary. It was used until the new Infirmary (now the Downe Hospital) was opened in 1834.
In June 1778, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism famously preached both in the new preaching house in Downpatrick and in The Grove beside the ruins of Down Cathedral which he called a "noble ruin".
On 21 October 1803, co-founder and leader of the United Irishmen, Thomas Russell, "the man from God knows where", was hanged outside Downpatrick Gaol for his part in Robert Emmet's failed rebellion of the same year. Thomas Russell is buried in the graveyard of the Anglican parish Church of Downpatrick, St Margaret's, in a grave paid for by his great friend, Mary Ann McCracken sister of leading Belfast United Irishman Henry Joy McCracken.
In his role as barrister, Daniel O'Connell, "The Liberator", was called away from London to Downpatrick to attend the County Down Assizes, as counsel in a case heard on 1 April 1829. As the leading proponent campaigning for Catholic Emancipation, he had been in London for the passage in its final legislative stages of the Emancipation Bill from the British House of Commons through to the House of Lords and thence into law. Once passed, the Emancipation Act 1829 allowed Catholics to become members of parliament in the British House of Commons, something which they had been previously barred from doing. Taken along with the highly significant Catholic Relief Act 1829 which O'Connell had also vigorously campaigned for, and which saw amongst other things repeal of the remaining Penal Laws, many of the substantial restrictions on Catholics in the United Kingdom were now lifted.
On 30 March 1829, a meeting of the Catholics of the parish of Down, under the chairmanship of the Rev. Cornelius Denvir, voted an address of gratitude to O'Connell on having achieved Emancipation. A deputation presented this address to O'Connell. On 2 April 1829 O'Connell was present at a public dinner at Downpatrick in his honour attended by ' upwards of eighty gentlemen, of different religious persuasions '.
On 17 March 1848, a crowd of between 2,000 – 3,000 set off from Old Course Road intending to march to the reputed grave of St. Patrick on Cathedral Hill but were attacked en route by Orange protesters at the Irish Street shambles who had heard about the St. Patrick's day parade; a riot ensued.
Downpatrick, throughout the course of The Troubles, had a significant paramilitary presence in the town, mostly through the presence of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) & Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)
St Patrick's Day is celebrated in Downpatrick through an annual cross-community parade which goes through the center of the town. This is the one day of the year that Downpatrick closes its main streets so that celebrations can begin. The celebrations occurs every year on the 17th of March. Newry Mourne and Down District council in recent years have lengthened the celebrations from one day to the entire week full of history exhibitions and family events.
Downpatrick is classified as a medium town by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (i.e. with population between 10,000 and 18,000 people). On Census day (29 April 2001) there were 10,316 people living in Downpatrick (18,000 aprox surrounding areas). Of these:
The area is served by two weekly newspapers:
Downpatrick is home to RGU Dún Phádraig GAC. The Russell Gaelic Union was formed by an Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman: Willie King, Alex McDowell, and Willie Byrne, respectively, in the county town in the early 20th century. The team traditionally wears green and white hoops. Downpatrick has had mixed fortunes over the years but has still managed to produce excellent county footballers such as Ray McConville, Conor Deegan, and Barry Breen, all of whom won All-Irelands with Down. Peter and Damien Turley are current Down players. The club was named in honor of United Irishman, Thomas Russell (rebel) .
Downpatrick Cricket Club has won the Irish Senior Cup on two occasions, the NCU Senior League on six occasions and the NCU Challenge Cup on six occasions. The club's Strangford Road ground has hosted Ireland international matches, most recently against Australia "A" and South Africa in 1998.
Downpatrick's most prominent team is Downpatrick F.C., which competes in the Northern Amateur Football League. There are, however, numerous other clubs associated with the town, and others from surrounding areas. These include Celtic Bhoys F.C, Ballynagross F.C and Rossglass County F.C
There are also many youth teams such as the Celtic Bhoys, Ballynagross Shamrocks, Rossglass and Patrician, who along with many other teams in the area, participate in the Downpatrick Youth League. Downpatrick also has two female clubs in the town Ballyvange Ladies F.C & Downpatrick Ladies F.C who compete in The Northern Ireland Woman's Football Association. Most famous football side out of Downpatrick were Downpatrick Rec who won the Steel & Sons Cup in 1978. Downpatrick is home to one of the biggest Irish branches of the Manchester United Supporters' Club, the Downpatrick Manchester United Supporters' Club, which was founded in 1993.
Downpatrick is also the home of the Downpatrick & District Snooker & Billiard League. Many of the local towns compete in the highly successful leagues. Teams from Downpatrick, Newcastle, Ballynahinch, Crossgar, Drumaness, Ballykinler, Castlewellan, Newtownards and Ballyalton strive to be the best in the local district. The league currently has the Northern Ireland Billiards and Snooker Association Billiard Champion Darren Dornan playing in the league.
Downpatrick Bowling Club is situated on the Old Belfast road, Downpatrick. Having been established since the early 1950s it is only over the last several years that they have finally enjoyed a sustained period of success. The club won the Irish Bowling Association Junior Cup for the first time in their history in 2006. The following year they once again reached the final only to be beaten by Cookstown in a close encounter. However the club once again regained the Irish Cup in 2011, with a resounding victory against Kilrea. In 2011 Downpatrick also won the PGL Midweek Division 2 title.
Downpatrick Golf Club has its own club grounds. The town also has its own tennis club, Downpatrick Tennis Club. Downpatrick has several other clubs that use the facilities of the Down Leisure Centre (run by Down District Council) such as the Lecale Amateur Swimming Club, the Downpatrick School of Lifesaving and the East Down Athletics Club.
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