Inch Abbey was originally the location of a church called Inis Cumhscraigh situated on an island in the Quoile Rive marshes north of the Downpatrick. Only fragments of this church survive. It was plundered by the Vikings in 1002 in a raid led by Sitric, king of the Danes.
The Norman Knight John de Courcy and his wife Affreca replaced the early church in 1177 with a Cistercian monastery and populated it with monks from Furness Abbey in northern England. He commissioned one of these monks- a man called Jocelyn of Barrow-in-Furness, to re-write the legends of St Patrick and it might have been at Inch that the story of St Patrick banishing the snakes from Ireland was written. This legend refers to the ousting of evil from the Island of Ireland.
The abbey at Inch follows a standard Cistercian plan with a cruciform (cross shaped) church constructed in the gothic style c.1200. The church consisted of an aisled nave to the west, two projecting transepts to the north and south and the un-aisled chancel to the east. This chancel with its elegant triple pointed lancet windows and the clustered pier in the chapel was far more sophisticated than any that existed in Ireland at the time. The putlogs (open scaffolding hole) remain visible in the chancel.
Location: From the Saint Patrick Centre, turn left along Market Street and follow Bridge Street until you reach the Belfast Road Roundabout. Take the first exit for Belfast (A7) and travel a mile before taking a left turn on the Inch Abbey Road and left to the site.
The Mound of Down
The Mound of Down or ‘Dundalethglas’ is one of the most impressive earthen fortifications in Northern Ireland. It may have been a royal stronghold of the Dal Fiatach, the dynasty which ruled this part of County Down in the first millennium AD.
The Mound of Down is a large egg shaped enclosure, defined by a steep bank and wide outer ditch. Once it was a harbor surrounded on three sides by water and the original entrance to the Mound is on the south side away from the Quoile Marshes. An Anglo- Norman castle was built on top of the site by John de Courcy after he led the invasion of Ulster in 1177 but his earthwork, which can still be clearly seen, was either unfinished or later altered for artillery. De Courcy built Down Cathedral on a similarly fortified hill close by.
Before the construction of tidal barrage across the Quoile estuary in 1745, this mound was surrounded by tidal mudflats and saltmarsh. Many of the Drumlin hills rising from the marshes were islands, one home to the Benedictine monks of Inch Abbey. The mound was almost surrounded by sea at high tide and was of strategic importance as it commanded the estuary.
Location: The Mound of Down is signposted from English Street along the side of Down County Museum on Mount Crescent.
Saint Patrick’s Wells and Bath Houses, Struell
Strong associations between St Patrick and Struell Wells go back over 1000years. it was here the Saint was said to have bathed when he first arrived to bring Christianity to Ireland according to St Fiacc’s hymn of c.800AD. The site became a famous pilgrimage destination in medieval times when the stone structures we see today were built.
Pilgrimages to the site are well documented from the 16th to 19th centuries and mostly happened at Mid Summers Eve when the waters were said to rise and have healing properties. Pilgrims finished their visit by circling a group of stones called St Patrick’s chair. These stones are situated above the car park.
A fast-flowing underground stream runs through this secluded rocky valley under five ancient buildings. Furthest north is gaunt shell of a mid 18th century church, apparently never finished. This must have replaced an earlier structure perhaps the chapel listed here in the 1302-006 taxation roll. Nearby is the Drinking well a circular building with a domed vault built over a wicker framework. In the centre of the site is the rectangular eye well with the pyramidal corbelled stone roof.
The most impressive building, however is the stone roofed men’s bathhouses south of the site which is unique in Ireland. This contains a dressing room with seats leading to the bath-room and a large tub into which the underground stream pours. A third room, also with seats served as a dressing room to the adjoining women’s bathhouse, now roofless, through which the stream pours.
Location: Turn left after leaving St Patrick’s Square and immediately right along St Patrick’s Avenue. Turn right at the traffic lights and left a mile later following the signs to Ardglass. This takes you right past the Downshire Estate to a roundabout. Turn left here along the Struell wells Road and St Patrick’s Wells and Bath Houses are on the right a mile further along.
Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church
The foundation of the site of Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church on St Patrick’s Avenue dates back to a modest Mass House of 1787. A convent was subsequently planned in this location following the arrival of three Sisters of Mercy on 21st June 1855 with a mission to establish a school to provide education for the children of Downpatrick.
The church you see here today was built in 1873 in the Gothic Revival style to designs of the Belfast architect Mortimer H. Thompson, whose own daughter subsequently was accepted into the Sisters of Mercy and spent her adult life here.
The building designed by O’Neill and Byrne in a Gothic 14th Century French style, boasts fine traceried windows, an exceptional rose window and a magnificent sanctuary. When the expanding church required an extension a large transept was built in 1993. This included an important mosaic shrine in honour of St Patrick in Ireland.
The foundation stone of a new church, built to celebrate St Patrick, was laid close to the convent by Bishop Dorrian on St Patrick’s Day 1868 through the inspired efforts of Father Patrick O’Kane. By 1895 a soaring spire had been added.
Location: Exit the Saint Patrick Centre and cross Market Street, turn left and then take an immediate right onto St Patrick’s Avenue. St Patrick’s Church is a short walk on the left.