County Down borders on the Irish sea and has a population of about 329,348. The main rivers are
the Lagan and Newry.
The sea itself invades the land, forming the great bird sanctuary and yachting paradise of
Strangford Lough. St Patrick sailed into the lough in A.D. 432
When St Patrick came to Ireland in 432
he meant to sail up the coast to county Antrim where, as a young slave, he had tended flocks for six
years on Slemish mountain. But strong currents swept his boat through Strangford's tidal narrows and
he landed where the Slaney river flows into the lough.
Undaunted by this change of plan, Patrick set about his missionary business, starting
with Dichu, the local chieftain. Dichu was quickly converted and gave him a barn (sabhal pronounced 'saul'
in Gaelic) for holding services. Over the next 30 years Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity.
The Ards Peninsula with it's rolling drumlins and protected coves forms a shelter for the waters
of Strangford Lough.
According to the 8th-century hymn of St Fiacc, Patrick received his last communion
from St Tassach. You can see the ruins of St Tassach's church, one of Ireland's earliest Christian buildings,
at Raholp near Saul. At Saul itself a replica of an early church with a round tower marks the place where
Patrick preached his first sermon to the Irish.
From the sixth to the ninth centuries, missionaries from Ireland - including St Columbanus
and St Gall from Bangor and monks from Movilla at Newtownards, another important monastery on the Ards carried the light of Christianity into a Europe languishing in the Dark Ages.
The late 12th century saw the building of the Cistercian monasteries on Strangford's shores.
Both Grey Abbey and Inch Abbey, near Downpatrick, had filial connections with England and, for nearly. 400 years the Cistercians of Strangford sailed the Irish Sea, taking much needed Ulster corn, wheat, flour, fish and salt to the beleaguered English abbeys of Holm Cultram in Cumberland and Furness in Lancashire.
Sailing home to Strangford in 60-oar galleys heavily laden with Cumberland stone and iron
ore and steering by the sun and stars, the sailor monks of the early Middle Ages risked death on every journey.
West of Strangford is the wide-streeted town of Ballynahinch where 7,000 United Irishmen lost the decisive battle of the 1798 rebellion. South of Ballynahinch on the slopes of Cratlieve mountain stands the Legananny Dolmen, one of Ireland's finest neolithic tombs - country people called them 'giants' graves'.
Patrick Bronte, whose three daughters became great novelists, inspired them by tales of his youth in the Bann Valley. The quiet river valley from Banbridge to Rathfriland is nowadays called The Bronte Country.
County Down is a concentration of delights for which you would travel many miles to find any where else - firm, clean beaches, shoals of sea fish and rivers full of game and coarse fish, championship golf, two superb forest parks, two cathedrals, castles and gardens, boating. bird-watching, walking and pony trekking.