Down County Museum, Downpatrick
Located in the restored buildings of the eighteenth century County Gaol of Down, Down County Museum started life in 1981 and collects, documents, conserves and exhibits artefacts relating to the archaeology, history and culture of County Down from earliest times until today. The Museum holds 12,000 objects and 50,000 photographs relating to County Down, which you can find out more about on the Museum website.
Downpatrick Gaol was opened in 1796 and until its closure in 1830 housed many thousands of prisoners. In addition to incarcerating many people for very minor offences, the gaol held 1798 rebels captured after the battles of Saintfield and Ballynahinch and the United Irishman, Thomas Russell, executed for his role in the abortive rebellion of 1803. The gaol was also a convict gaol and many hundreds of transportees were imprisoned here prior to their journey to the convict colonies of New South Wales. You can find details of some of the prisoners on the Museum website. Now visitors to the site can see the conditions in which the prisoners were kept, visit restored cells complete with displays on individual prisoners, and stroll through the gaol courtyards which today are likely to be the scene of lively events and re-enactments at weekends and seasonal festivals.
The Museum’s permanent exhibitions include ‘Down Through Time’ in the Governor’s Residence, which displays over 1,100 objects on the diverse history of the County from 9,000 years ago, newly opened displays on the Downpatrick High Cross, farming and fishing in the County and the story of the Gaol’s prisoners.
A programme of temporary exhibitions includes displays of art, crafts, social history, political history and archaeology of the region, drawn from the museum’s own collections and on loan from other organisations.
The Museum’s Cathedral View Tearoom provides coffee, teas, snacks and lunches, and has a panoramic view of the County Down landscape, including Down Cathedral, the River Quoile, Inch Abbey and the Mound of Down fort.