Newcastle, County Down

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Scots: Newkessel[1] or Newcaissle[2]
Irish: An Caisleán Nua
Newcastle Donard.jpg
View from main street in Newcastle towards Slieve Donard, the highest peak of the Mourne Mountains.
Newcastle is located in Northern Ireland
 Newcastle shown within Northern Ireland
Population 7,444 [3]
   – Belfast  32.5 mi 
District Down
County County Down
Country Northern Ireland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district BT33
Dialling code 028
Police Northern Ireland
Fire Northern Ireland
Ambulance Northern Ireland
EU Parliament Northern Ireland
UK Parliament South Down
NI Assembly South Down
List of places
Northern Ireland

Coordinates: 54°12′36″N 5°52′55″W / 54.21°N 5.882°W / 54.21; -5.882

Newcastle is a small town in County Down, Northern Ireland. It had a population of 7,444 in the 2001 Census. The seaside resort lies on the Irish Sea coast at the base of Slieve Donard, one of the Mourne Mountains, and is known for its sandy beach and the Royal County Down Golf Club. The town lies within the Down District Council area.

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 benefited from a multi million upgrade which makes it a high quality seaside attraction. The town is twinned with New Ross, County Wexford, in the Republic of Ireland.


The name of the town is thought to derive 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. Although it is mentioned by the name of Newcastle as early as 1433, so it is likely that another castle had previously stood there.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6] 76 men perished, 46 of whom were from Newcastle. They left twenty seven widows, one hundred and eighteen children, and twenty one dependants. 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 plane 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 path through the mountains, is named so because of the illegal brandy smuggling that took place through the area. Another example is 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. In 1897, T.R.H the Duke and Duchess of York (George V and Queen Mary), grandparents to Elizabeth II, visited Newcastle to open the Slieve Donard Hotel. Afterwards they visited Hugh Annesley, 5th Earl Annesley at Castlewellan Castle.

Newcastle was fortunate enough to escape the worst of the Troubles and its residents both Catholic and Protestant lived in relative peace with each other though there has been considerable objection to loyalist band parades in the town.[7]


Newcastle is classified as a small town by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (i.e. with population between 4,500 and 10,000 people). As of the 2001 census there were 7444 people living in Newcastle.[8] Of these:

  • 23.5% were aged under 16 years and 21.7% were aged 60 and over.[8]
  • 47.4% of the population were male and 52.6% were female.[8]
  • 69.3% were from a Catholic background and 28.4% were from a Protestant background. 62.4% of people identified as Catholic, 22% identified as belonging to another Christian religion, including Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Methodist. 15.4% of people gave their religion as none or did not answer the question.[8]
  • 4.1% of people aged 16–74 were unemployed, 28.9% of whom where aged 16–24 and 37.4% where long term unemployed. Wholesale, and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles was the largest area of employment (16%) followed by health and social work (14.6%).[8]


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. Newcastle is home to Northern Ireland's highest mountain, Slieve Donard, which is in the Mourne mountain range.

Visitors come to walk in the Mourne Mountains, made famous by the song by Percy French, 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, which has held host to many famous people[citation needed]
  • Royal County Down Golf Club – The golf course in the town is one of the ten best in the world, and is said to be one of Tiger Woods' favourite golf courses.[9]
  • 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.

Places of interest[edit]

Sandy beach and Dunes, 2 miles north from Newcastle.
Widows' Row. This is a terrace of twelve small houses built by public subscription to house the widows and orphans of 46 fishermen lost in the storm of 1843.
  • The Mourne Mountains lie south of the town and the local area includes the Tollymore Forest Park and Donard Park. The Shimna River flows through Tollymore Park and enters the sea at Newcastle.
  • The Murlough Nature Reserve is situated 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 even converted the local hill folk to Christianity.[citation needed] 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 his 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 – The bridge and the Bloody Bridge River, were so named because of an incident during the 1641 Rebellion, during which a massacre of Protestants took place.[10] Its beauty is widely appreciated by tourists who go to see the '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 can still be seen.
  • Widows Row. A set of listed cottages just south of the harbour, built by public subscription after the Newcastle Fishing disaster of 1843.


  • Shimna Integrated College
  • St. Mary's Primary School (formerly St. Mary's Boys Primary School and St. Mary's Girls Primary School). The school was split over two sites, one for younger children and one for older children. A new school has been built since this and now both sites are together.
  • Newcastle Primary School
  • All Children's Integrated Primary
  • Newcastle Technical College
  • St. Joseph's Primary School


Railway stations[edit]

The Belfast & County Down Railway Station Building and Clock Tower is currently a Lidl supermarket. The Great Northern Railway of Ireland Station Building is used by Ulsterbus.


Ulsterbus run buses to the Europa Buscentre next to Belfast Great Victoria Street railway station in Belfast, as well as other towns in the area.


Notable people[edit]

  • Poet and writer, Richard Rowley (1877–1947), lived in Newcastle in later life. During World War II he founded, and ran from his Newcastle home, the short-lived Mourne Press, which failed in 1942.[12] The poet's Newcastle home, Brook Cottage, has been demolished.[13] In Newcastle his name is remembered through the Rowley Meadows housing development and the Rowley Path, which runs along the southern boundary of the Islands Park.[14]
  • Florence Balcombe, wife of writer Bram Stoker
  • Eddie Polland, professional golfer, winner of four European Tour events.
  • Rigsy, broadcaster and popular DJ, was born in Newry but brought up in Newcastle, where his parents still live.
  • Simon Thornton, professional golfer.
  • Award winning children's author Martin Waddell, although born in Belfast has lived most of life in the town.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 2001 annual report in Ulster-Scots North/South Ministerial Council.
  2. ^ St Patrick in County Down (Ulster-Scots translation) DOE.
  3. ^ 2001 Census
  4. ^ "Newcastle. An Caisleán Nua". Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  5. ^ O'Sullivan, Aidan & Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2. 
  6. ^ O'Sullivan, Aidan & Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2. 
  7. ^ Clark opposes Newcastle parades
  8. ^ a b c d e "Key Statistics for Settlements Tables". NISRA. Retrieved 5 March 2014. 
  9. ^ "Links Courses - Links play in Northern Ireland is the closest to extreme sport golf can get". Discover Northern Ireland. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  10. ^ "Off The Beaten Track, Bloody Bridge River". BBC Blueprint. BBC. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  11. ^ "Newcastle station". Railscot – Irish Railways. Retrieved 19 November 2007. 
  12. ^ "Richard Rowley". Ricorso. Retrieved 4 March 2009. 
  13. ^ "Richard Rowley". Ulster History Society. Retrieved 4 March 2009. 
  14. ^ "Places That Time Forgot". Sea View Apartments. Retrieved 4 March 2009. 

External links[edit]