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Down County Museum: History, What To See + Nearby Attractions

Down County Museum: History, What To See + Nearby Attractions

There’s an outstanding bit of history held within the walls of Down County Museum.

Located in the town of Downpatrick, the museum is free to enter and boasts several excellent collection and exhibitions.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from what there is to see to where to visit close by.

Some quick need-to-knows about Down County Museum

down museum

Photos via Down County Museum on FB

Although a visit to Downpatrick Museum is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Down County Museum can be found in the restored buildings that were used in the late 18th and early 19th century as the county gaol of Down in Downpatrick. It’s a 25-minute drive from Newcastle, a 20-minute drive from Strangford and a 40-minute drive from Newtownards.

2. Opening hours

Down County Museum is open from Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am – 4:30 pm.

3. Free to enter

As we alluded to earlier, Down County Museum is free of charge to enter. If you and your fellow visitors want to and are able to leave a donation, feel free, as the upkeep of museums is costly and by doing so, you help preserve the experience for future generations. Please note that there is a charge for some special events and for guided tours.

4. Plenty to see

Down County Museum collects, conserves, researches and displays objects and photographs that relate to the area and there is a wide variety of objects on display in both the permanent and temporary exhibitions. There are artefacts from the earliest times right through to the present day. The museum also collects art.

About Downpatrick Museum

Down County Museum

Photos via Down County Museum on FB

Downpatrick Museum aims to enhance everyone’s appreciation of County Down’s history, culture and environment.

Its exhibitions, activities and events are designed to be informative, accessible and relevant both to the local community and visitors from further afield.

The museum is located in what was the county gaol, which opened in 1796 and closed in 1830, during which time it housed many thousands of prisoners.

Those held here included the rebels who revolted against the English crown in 1798. The gaol was also a convict gaol from where many hundreds of transportees were imprisoned before being taken to the convict colonies in New South Wales in Australia.

The museum’s online database allows people to search for details of those individuals. 

The gaol buildings have been restored so visitors can see what kind of conditions early 19th century prisoners were kept in and visit the restored cells.

A permanent exhibition explores 9,000 years of human history in the area.

Things to see at Down County Museum

museum in county down

Photos via Down County Museum on FB

There’s plenty to see and do here, which is why it’s regarded as many as one of the best things to do in Down when it rains. Here’s a taste of what’s on offer:

1. The collections

Collections include the farming-related artefacts, as farming played such an important role in the area. They include items such as wooden ploughs and other rarer objects such as the trottle cars.

The farming collection charts the equipment used from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries and is accompanied by images from the museum’s extensive photographic archive.

The textiles collection celebrates special occasions with its wedding dresses, ceremonial uniforms and christening robes.

It also shows the changing fashions of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing though the ages and includes domestic items such as bedcovers and table linens.

2. The exhibitions

Downpatrick Museum has objects on display in both permanent and temporary exhibitions. One must-see if you visit is the Down Through Time exhibition.

This tells the story of humanity in County Down from the Middle Stone Age (the period between the last Ice Age and the beginning of farming) to the present day and it is located in what was the Governor’s Residence.

The cell block hosts an exhibition on the gaol’s history. Temporary exhibitions are run throughout the year along different themes such as domestic life, the world of work, art, farming and fashion.

 3. Events 

Events and temporary exhibitions take place on a regular basis. One example is the ‘The Legacy: Newry 1920 – 1930’, themed around the materials the museum holds that are relevant to the decade 1920-1930 and the impact of Partition.

Visitors can observe how the events that shaped modern Ireland (the War of Independence, the Treaty negotiations and the Civil War) affected Newry and the Mournes.

Artefacts include papers relating to Éamon Donnelly, a leading anti-Partitionist and Ulster organiser for Sinn Féin and the ‘Not an Inch’ Cup, presented to James Craig in 1925 by the Unionists of Newry and the Orangemen of Newry No.9 District.

Things to do near Downpatrick Museum

One of the beauties of Down County Museum is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Downpatrick.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the museum (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Down Cathedral (2-minute walk)

Down Cathedral

Photos via Shutterstock

Down Cathedral is close to where the mortal remains of St Patrick are said to be buried. The cathedral is open for visitors Monday to Saturday 9.30am to 4pm and on Sundays from 1-4pm. Guided tours are available for groups of any size for a small charge per person, though larger groups must book a tour in advance. 

2. The Saint Patrick Centre (3-minute walk)

St Patrick Centre

Photo courtesy of Tourism Northern Ireland via Ireland’s Content Pool

Billed as the home of St Patrick, the Saint Patrick Centre has a visitor centre with a permanent exhibition that tells the story of St Patrick’s life—from slave to cleric and then saint. You can also take part in The Journey – a four and a half day spiritual experience where you follow in St Patrick’s footsteps.

3. Inch Abbey (5-minute drive)

Inch abbey

Photos via Shutterstock

You’ll find the ruins of Inch Abbey located on the north bank of the Quoile River. The abbey was founded by John de Courcy to atone for his destruction of Erenagah Abbey. The buildings are mainly from the 12th and 13th centuries while it is thought the church predates them.

4. Endless walks (5 to 25 minutes away)

Delamont Country Park

Photos via Shutterstockx

This is Ireland – of course you will find many places to walk in relative peace and quiet and take at your own pace. Near to Down County Museum, you will find Delamont Country Park (a 10-minute drive away), Kilclief Beach (20-minute drive), Monalto Estate (20-minute drive) and Slieve Donard (30-minute drive).

FAQs about the museum in Downpatrick

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘When’s it open?’ to ‘What is there to see?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Is Down County Museum worth visiting?

Yes. This place is home to a wealth of history and interesting artefacts that are well worth having a nosey at (especially on a rainy day).

Do you pay into Downpatrick Museum?

No, entry to Down County Museum is completely free, although you can make a donation to its upkeep if you like.

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