Newcastle (in Irish: An Caisleán Nua, ie The New Castle) is a small town in County Down, Northern Ireland. It had a population of 7,444 people 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 has all the usual seaside attractions — amusements, restaurants and takeaways, caravan parks, a boating lake, a bowling green and golf course, harbour, parkland and promenade. The town is twinned with New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland.
- The name of the town derives from a castle (demolished in the 18th century) belonging to the Magennis family which stood at the mouth of the Shimna River.
- On 13 January 1843, boats from Newcastle and Lower Mourne set out for the usual fishing stations, and were caught in a gale. 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 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'.
- 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 who's 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.
For more information see The Troubles in Newcastle (Down), which includes a list of incidents in Newcastle during the Troubles resulting in two or more fatalities. 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. There were minor disputes regarding Orange Order marches in the town but no serious trouble emerged from these disputes.
Newcastle is classified as a Small Town by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)
(i.e. with population between 4,500 and 10,000 people). On Census day (29 April 2001
) there were 7,444 people living in Newcastle. Of these:
- 23.5% were aged under 16 years and 21.7% were aged 60 and over
- 47.4% of the population were male and 52.6% were female
- 69.3% were from a Catholic background and 28.4% were from a Protestant background
- 4.1% of people aged 16-74 were unemployed.
For more details see: NI Neighbourhood Information Service
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, 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:
- Percy French - a songwriter
- Slieve Donard Hotel - a four star hotel in the area, which has held host to many famous people
- 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.
- 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
- 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 — Many historians believe that the Mourne Mountains was the site where Saint Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland, and although this is not known to be true (or untrue) it is certain that in his first landings to Ireland he visited the Mournes and even 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 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. Today the harbour still holds some fishing boats and pleasure crafts for water sports.
- Armours Hole — It is said that an isolated clef in the hills is the site of a murder centuries old. It is believed that a man called Armour murdered his father after a row over a young girl on the way to the fair at Downpatrick. When the man returned home he claimed he had left his father behind in Downpatrick, but the fathers body was washed up at nearby St.Johns Point and the son later admitted to killing him and flinging the body into the sea at the spot now known as Armours Hole after this grisly tale.
- 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.
- Shimna Integrated College
- St. Mary's Primary School (formerly St. Mary's Boys Primary School and St. Mary's Girls Primary School). The school is currently split over two sites, one for younger children and one for older children.
- Newcastle Primary School
- All Children's Integrated Primary
- Newcastle Technical College
- St. Joseph's, Carnacaville
- Newcastle is unable to view some television channels, and listen to certain radio channels because they are blocked by the Mourne Mountains. In the town the television channel 'Five' is unavailable as well as all Irish television channels, although these can be viewed through Sky Digital with the exception of the Irish channel TV3. Certain Freeview services are also unavailable. Broadband is available in the town with speeds up to 8MB.
- The town has its own website, run by the 'Newcastle Chamber of Commerce'.
- The local newspaper is called The Mourne Observer.