PORTAFERRY, a sea-port, market, and post-town, partly in the parish of ARDQUIN, and partly in that of BALLYPHILLIP, barony of ARDES, county of DOWN, and province of ULSTER, 7 miles (N. E.) from Downpatrick, and 102 (N. N. E.) from Dublin; containing 2203 inhabitants. It is situated on the eastern side of the inlet to the sea that forms the entrance to Lough Coyne or Strangford Lough, and opposite to the town of Strangford, on the western side of the same inlet, between which two places a constant intercourse is kept up by means of a ferry. The town owes its origin to a castle built by the first of the Savage family who came into this part of the country with John de Courcy, shortly after the arrival of the English, and the place being well secured and garrisoned by that powerful family, its situation on the strait made it a post of great importance in all the subsequent wars, during which neither it nor the neighbouring district of the Southern Ardes ever fell into the hands of the Irish; but the town, until lately, was only a small collection of cottages, built under the shelter of the castle, and chiefly inhabited by fishermen. It is now, owing to the exertions of the proprietor, Andrew Nugent, Esq., and the spirit of commercial enterprise in the principal townsmen, a place of considerable business, and increasing yearly in prosperity. It consists of a square and three principal streets, besides a range of good houses on the quay, which is built along the edge of the strait, chiefly at the expense of Mr. Nugent. The only public buildings are the market-house, a substantial old structure in the middle of the square, which in the disturbances of 1798 became a post of defence to the yeomanry of the town, who repulsed a body of the insurgents that attempted to take possession of it; the church of the parish of Ballyphilip, a neat building erected in 1787; a large and commodious Presbyterian meeting-house, and another for Wesleyan Methodists: at a little distance from the town is the R. C. chapel (a large building) for the parishes of Ballyphilip, Ballytrustan, Slane, and Witter. The town is a constabulary police and a coast guard station. The market, on Saturday, is well supplied with provisions; fairs are held on Jan. 1st, Feb. 13th, Tuesday after May 12th, and Nov. 13th. There is a distillery; and a brisk trade is carried on, chiefly with Liverpool, Glasgow, Dublin and Belfast, whither it sends wheat, barley, oats, potatoes and kelp, and receives in exchange timber, coal, and general merchandise. The situation of the town gives it the command of a fine prospect southward down the strait to the open sea, and in the contrary direction over the greater part of Lough Coyne, stretching ten miles inland and embellished with numerous thickly planted islands. Adjoining the town, on a rising ground, is Portaferry House, the residence of Andrew Nugent, Esq., a large and handsome building, finely situated in an extensive and highly ornamented demesne. The glebe-house of Ballyphilip, the residence of the Chancellor of Down, stands on the site of the ancient parish church, which is said to have been once an abbey. The first Marquess of Londonderry received his early education in this house. The ancient castle., which for more than half a century has been uninhabited, is rapidly falling to ruin: near it are the ruins of a chapel roofed with stone. A school is maintained here under the patronage of Mr. Nugent, who pays £20 annually to the master.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840 by Samuel Lewis