Newcastle, County Down
View from Newcastle towards Slieve Donard
|Council:||Newry, Mourne and Down|
Newcastle is a small town in County Down. It had a population of 7,444 people recorded in the 2001 Census. It is a seaside resort lies on the Irish Sea coast at the base of Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Ulster where the Mourne Mountains come down to the sea. Newcastle is known for its sandy beach and the Royal County Down Golf Club.
The town aims to promote itself as the "activity resort" for Northern Ireland and its most special attribute is its location at the foot of Slieve Donard. The town has benefitted from a multi-million upgrade which makes it a high quality seaside attraction.
Newcastle is a popular seaside resort and attracts visitors from elsewhere in Northern Ireland and from abroad. This year the new promenade won a number of National awards including a Civic Trust Award for Excellence in the Public Realm. In recent years the town has started a large Halloween festival, with a carnival-like atmosphere. The free event includes fireworks and a fancy dress competition.
Visitors come in order to walk in the Mourne Mountains, to play golf at Royal County Down (venue for the 2007 Walker Cup), or to just stroll up the prom and relax on the beach.
The town is famous for:
- Slieve Donard Hotel - a four star hotel in the area
- Royal County Down Golf Club - The golf course in the town is one of the ten best in the world.
- Mourne Granite - which was quarried here for many years and shipped all round the world. It was used to make paving stones in many cities including London and New York. Mourne granite is also being used to make the base of the 9/11 memorial in New York.
The name of the town derives from a castle (demolished in the 19th century) built by Felix Magennis in the late 16th century which stood at the mouth of the Shimna River.
In the 17th century Ulster ports began to rise in prominence. In 1625 William Pitt was appointed as Customer of the ports of Newcastle, Dundrum, Killough, Portaferry, Donaghadee, Bangor and Holywood.
On 13 January 1843, boats from Newcastle and Annalong set out for the usual fishing stations, and were caught in a gale. 14 boats were lost in the heavy seas including a boat which had gone to the rescue. Only two boats survived, the Victoria and the Brothers. 76 men perished, 46 of whom were from Newcastle. They left twenty seven widows, one hundred and eighteen children, and twenty one dependents. A Public Subscription was raised and the cottages, known as Widows Row, were built for the widows and dependants. A local song about the disaster says "Newcastle town is one long street entirely stripped of men"
In 1910 Harry Ferguson flew a small aeroplane across Newcastle beach in one of the first engine powered flights by aircraft in Ireland. He completed the flight in an attempt to win a £100 prize offered by the town for the first powered flight along the strand. His first take off ended badly, but according to a modern newspaper report 'He flew a distance of almost three miles along the foreshore at a low altitude varying between fifty and five hundred feet'. This event is recorded by a plaque on the promenade.
The town's history is poorly recorded and is held mostly by local people and their stories of the past. Information on the town is available on signs throughout the forests and hills. The Mourne Mountains is the setting for many local myths and legends. There are stories of 'The Blue Lady', a woman abandoned by her husband whose ghost still haunts the mountains, and more recently the idea of a wild cat living in the Mournes. Many of the stories although have true origins are only folklore and give many of the towns attractions their names, such as Maggie's Leap being named after a local girl called Maggie, who leapt over the impressive chasm to her death while fleeing soldiers with a basket of eggs. Many other places in the Newcastle area get their names from other sources, 'The Brandy Pad', a popular spot in the mountains is named so because of the illegal brandy smuggling that took place through the area. Another example would be the Bogey Hill just above the harbour at the Southern end of the town, which is named after the carts that carried Mourne granite from the quarry on Thomas' Mountain down to the harbour.
Newcastle was fortunate enough to escape the worst of the Troubles and its residents both Roman Catholic and Protestant lived in relative peace with each other though there has been considerable objection to loyalist band parades in the town.
Sights about the town
- The Mourne Mountains lie south of the town
- Tollymore Forest Park. The Shimna River flows through Tollymore Park and enters the sea at Newcastle.
- Donard Park.
- The Murlough nature reserve, between Dundrum and Newcastle. The rugged sand dunes and beach are National Trust property.
- Saint Patrick's Stream — in popular mythology, the Mourne Mountains was the site where Saint Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland. and that in his first landings to Ireland he visited the Mournes and converted the local hill folk to Christianity. The small stream is said to mark the boundary of the Kingdom of Mourne and legend has it that there is a rock in the stream with Patrick's hand print in it where he knelt down to drink the water.
- Newcastle Harbour — In the 1820 Lord Annesley created a pier as a loading point for the famous Mourne granite.
- The Bloody Bridge - Although the name evokes images of battles fought on this site, it is not known from where exactly this beautiful yet wild coastal area derived its poignant name, although the 1641 rebellion is often thought to be the impetus. What is certain is that its beauty is widely appreciated by tourists who flock to see the old 'Brandy Pad', called after the trade of illegal brandy which was smuggled down this route and from there onwards at the dead of night to Hilltown. The remains of an ancient church and the old bridge which once carried the coast road has made the bloody bridge a must-see area.
- Widows Row. A set of listed cottages just south of the harbour, built by public subscription after the Newcastle Fishing disaster of 1843.
- O'Sullivan, Aidan & Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2.
- O'Sullivan, Aidan & Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2.
- Clark opposes Newcastle parades