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Donaghadee Harbour 200th Birthday Celebrations Set for August

30th January 2021
Donaghadee Harbour on thre County Down coast Donaghadee Harbour on thre County Down coast Credit: courtesy Donaghadee SC

Plans are afoot to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the building of the present harbour at Donaghadee, a small port on the north coast of County Down, but unearthing the Time Capsule, buried 24 feet below the pier during construction, will not, according to the County Down Spectator newspaper, be possible as the whole harbour has Industrial Heritage designation and Listed Building status which prohibits any disruption to the original structure.

The Bicentenary of the harbour will, Covid 19 restrictions and budget permitting, take place in early August this year. The port lies on the opposite side of the North Channel about 13 miles from Portpatrick on the Mull of Galloway in Scotland.

Donaghadee has had a harbour since the  mid-17th Century Donaghadee has had a harbour since the mid-17th Century

Donaghadee has had a harbour since the mid-17th Century when the Scot, Sir Hugh Montgomery, an aristocrat and soldier, established a settlement in Ireland in 1606 (preceding the Plantation of Ulster) and claimed a share of the lands in North Down which had belonged to the last great Gaelic Lord, Con O'Neill.

A David Kennedy painting of Donaghdee Harbour in 1834A David Kennedy painting of Donaghadee Harbour in 1834

Montgomery had built a large stone quay to accommodate vessels ferrying between Donaghadee and Portpatrick with the main export from Ireland being cattle. But it became clear by the early 19th century that there were problems with both ports and after an exhaustive inquiry, it was concluded that "the passage between the two Kingdoms would be greatly facilitated and accelerated by the improvement of the harbours at Portpatrick and Donaghadee", thus giving the latter a new lease of life.

Plans and surveys for this ambitious undertaking were made by John Rennie Senior, the celebrated engineer whose works included Waterloo, Southwark and London Bridges on the River Thames. He died within two months of work beginning, and was succeeded by his son, John, later Sir John Rennie who worked with fellow Scot, the seasoned marine builder, David Logan.

A coal boat in Donaghdee HarbourA coal boat in Donaghadee Harbour in the early 1950s

The new harbour had to have greater depth to accommodate steam packets. Rock blasted from the seabed, within the harbour area and further south in what became known as the Quarry Hole (now a small marina), was used to form the outer slopes of the two piers; but the inner faces were built of limestone from the quarries of Anglesea. The harbour consists of two independent piers running north-westwards out to sea; parallel nearer the shore, they converge at the outer ends to form a harbour mouth 150 feet (46 m) wide.

Day trip boats for the Copeland Islands gather at Donaghdee HarbourDay trip boats for the Copeland Islands gather at Donaghdee Harbour

John Caldwell of the Donaghadee Community Development Association is working very closely with the Ards and North Down Council on the detailed planning of the weekend. He said "I very much hope that we are able to celebrate the bicentenary of Donaghadee's iconic harbour in a meaningful way. The draft programme has something for everyone with a wide variety of activities aimed at people of all ages. It promises to be a super weekend".

Among the events planned are concerts, harbour sports such as kayaking, paddle boarding and coastal rowing as well as a Classic Yacht Regatta. And so it is hoped that this summer, the engineer John Rennie designed harbour, will be able to be celebrated, 200 years after the laying of the foundation stone on July 31st 1821.

Betty Armstrong

About The Author

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Afloat and Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down.

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