Strangford Narrows


Portaferry is a large village in County Down, Northern Ireland, at the southern end of the Ards Peninsula, near the Narrows at the entrance to Strangford Lough. It had a population of 2,467 people in the 2001 Census. It has an aquarium and is well-known for the annual Galway Hookers Regatta. It hosts its own small Marina, the Portaferry Marina. A passenger/car ferry service operates daily at 15 minute intervals (8am to 11pm) between the villages of Portaferry and Strangford, less than a mile apart, conveying about 500,000 passengers per annum.

Commercial fishing for clams and king prawns and the farming of oysters and mussels takes place within the confines of Strangford Lough. This is supplemented by the presence in Portaferry of the Marine Laboratory of the Queen's University of Belfast. There are fine Georgian buildings in the town square, including a Market House, now used as a community centre.

Portaferry Lifeboat is an essential lifeline for local fishermen and yachtsmen. In 1987 a lifeboat house was built aided by monies raised through the Belfast Newsletter’s Lord Louis Mountbatten Appeal Fund. In 1994 a new Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat, also named ’Blue Peter V’, replaced the Atlantic 21. (The Atlantic 75 is the fastest sea going lifeboat in the RNLI’s fleet and is capable of speeds up to 34 Knots.)


Portaferry is classified as an intermediate settlement by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (ie with population between 2,250 and 4,500 people). On Census day (29 April 2001) there were 2,467 people living in Portaferry. Of these:

  • 25.1% were aged under 16 years and 18.2% were aged 60 and over
  • 50.4% of the population were male and 49.6% were female
  • 89.1% were from a Catholic background and 9.7% were from a Protestant background
  • 4.6% of people aged 16-74 were unemployed.

For more details see: NI Neighbourhood Information Service

Places of interest

  • Portaferry is the home of the Northern Ireland Aquarium - Exploris It was opened by Ards Borough Council in 1987 and extended and re-opened by Prince Charles in 1994 as Exploris. It is Northern Ireland’s premier marine life centre and aquarium, featuring walk-through tanks which house examples of Strangford Lough’s marine inhabitants.
  • Roads Service (Department for Regional Development) operates a car ferry service across Strangford Lough between the villages of Strangford and Portaferry. To travel the distance between Strangford and Portaferry by road is approximately 75 kilometres and takes about an hour and a half by car. By contrast, the ferry route is approximately with a typical crossing time of about 8 minutes.
  • Portaferry Castle is a small 16th century Tower house built by William Le Savage. It is a square building with a small projecting turret at the south corner. It is three storeys high plus attic. There is no vault. Most of the eastern corner is ruinous.


  • Portaferry’s famous sons include two brothers, the tenor Peter Tomelty and the actor and playwright Joseph Tomelty, born in Portaferry in 1911. Priest, Philosopher and Poet Father Vincent McNabb was also born in Portaferry.
  • Actor Oliver Reed visited Portaferry regularly up until his death, usually arriving by boat from his holiday home in Cork and staying several days at a time, few of which he could remember afterwards!
  • The Actor Errol Flynn was an occasional visitor to the town at one time. His Father Theodore Thomson Flynn was a Professor at Queen's University Belfast, and who for many years rented a holiday house on the shores of Strangford Lough, at Kilclief.
  • Sportsman and living legend Gerard 'legs' McGrattan, a great club(Portaferry) and County(Down) man with many honours to his name. His greatest achievement is being the first [and thus far only] Down hurler to be awarded a hurling "allstar" [1992].
  • Portaferry is the location for a new BBC comedy/drama series The Invisibles (TV series) which will be broadcast in 6 hour long episodes starting 1st May 2008. It stars Anthony Head better known as the Prime Minister in Little Britain and Rupert Giles, Librarian and Watcher in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The series also stars Jenny Agutter star of The Railway Children and American Werewolf in London. The series has been filmed in Portaferry but local shops and hotels were disguised to appear as locations in Devon, England.
  • Football legend and Manchester United star George Best lived briefly in the neighbouring village of Portavogie and visited Portaferry regularly during this time.
  • Jazz and Blues star Van Morrison has stayed locally and once took his friend Bob Dylan on a tour of the area.
  • Actress Joanna Lumley had a house in Portaferry while her husband Stephen Barlow was Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra.


The Portaferry area is popular with local and foreign tourists for its beauty, history, wildlife and other visitor attractions. Other pursuits enjoyed in the area are angling, wildfowling and birdwatching. Strangford Lough is the largest sea inlet in the British Isles.

It is Northern Ireland's first Marine Nature Reserve and is renowned as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Special Scientific Interest, with six National Nature Reserves within its reaches. Over 2000 species of marine animals have been found in the Lough and internationally important flocks of wildfowl and wading birds converge there in winter. The Lough is also the most important site in Ireland for breeding common seals


Naomh Padraig CLG are one of Ulster's top hurling clubs.

Diving is an increasingly popular pastime and approximately 70 Sub-aqua clubs currently use the area throughout the year.


Portaferry's access to Strangford Narrows is being used for testing a scale model of Evopod, a Tidal Stream Turbine; for electricity generation.



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