Donaghadee Harbour Bicentenary Celebrations

Donaghadee Harbour 200 typography 3 representatives of the Donaghadee Bicentenary Working Group pictured at Donaghadee Harbour in front of lighthouse

The bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone for the iconic Donaghadee harbour will take place on 1st August 2021. Ards and North Down Borough Council plan to host a number of activities to mark the occasion.

View Bicentenary Programme (pdf) or see list of events at bottom of this page.

About Donaghadee Harbour

Donaghadee Harbour is made up of two piers constructed between 1821 and c.1834, replacing an earlier harbour which had served the port since 1626. 
The south pier is connected to a 'promontory' and extends from the line of The Parade.  It is roughly 277 metres in length and built up on its outer face from local stone (blasted out from the seabed), with V-jointed Anglesea limestone to its 'smoother' inner face.  It is sheltered by a (partly stepped) high rampart on the seaward side and has several sets of steps cut into the inner face, to allow access to boats.  On the seaward side of the rampart, roughly halfway along the pier, is a fairly recent looking look out post.  The pier culminates at its end in a circular 'bastion' on which stands the light house.  There are limestone capstans to tie the boats and a small  crane roughly half way along the pier to the inner side. 
The north pier is readily accessed from the rocky shore line at low tide, but cut off from land at high tide.  It is roughly 250m in length as the south pier and its mirror image in terms of plan, however, because of its position and current lack of use its limestone path is now largely covered in grass, moss and weeds.  Like the south pier there are two pairs of stone steps cut into the inner face but there are no posts for tying boats nor any of the other add ons. 

Historical Information

Donaghadee has been a haven for shipping for centuries and an important point for communications between Ireland and Scotland.  In the early 1600s, Donaghadee’s founder, Hugh Montgomery received a Royal Warrant to create and build a seaport and harbour at Donaghadee and set up a Mail Packet Service. Montgomery’s Pier was built in 1618 and was repaired over the years, most notably in 1759 by John Smeaton. 

By 1775, the old pier was in a dreadful state and Daniel Delacherois (whose estate included the harbour) received a grant of £2,705 from Parliament to rebuilt it. The new pier was completed in 1785 and the Custom House built.   

In 1808, the Government appointed Engineer Thomas Telford to investigate the viability of a new packet station route between Ireland and Scotland. Telford favoured a new route between Port Nessock and Bangor rather than the existing stations, however it was eventually decided not to proceed with Telford’s findings. 

Following detailed surveys of both coasts in 1814, John Rennie was commissioned by the Government in 1818 to draw up plans for a new harbour at Donaghadee.  The Act permitting the building of the harbour was passed in 1820 by Parliament.  Unfortunately, Rennie died two months after works commenced and his son, John (later Sir John Rennie) took over the works with David Logan as resident engineer. 

In early 1821, preparatory work began on the site for the south pier. A huge cofferdam was constructed enclosing an area of about one acre, within which the pier foundations were to be laid and thousands of cubic feet of rock removed from the seabed.   

The interior walls of the piers were dressed in limestone masonry sourced from Wales. The core and outer slopes were formed of greywacke stone, quarried locally at the Quarry Hole at Meeting House Bay.  A railway line was laid between the quarry and the harbour cofferdam to transport the stone. 

Between 1820 and 1821 a gunpowder magazine was constructed on top of the Anglo-Norman motte to house the gunpowder.  Traces of gunpowder were found at the site in December 2020 during the preparation for the building’s restoration. 

Donaghadee Harbour: South Pier Dedication 

On 1 August 1821, the 3rd Marquess of Downshire laid the foundation stone of the new harbour using a special silver trowel.  A glass bottle containing various items was placed in a cavity in the foundation stone, then covered with a metal plate with the following inscription,  

“This the foundation stone of the new harbour of Donaghadee was laid on the first of August 1821, by the Most Honourable Arthur Blundell Sandys Trumbull Hill …” 

The atmosphere in the town was one of excitement.  Houses were decorated with flags and evergreens.  It is estimated there were 10,000 people present.  The procession to the foundation stone ceremony was made up of Royal North Down Militia Band, the workers carrying banners with slogans of ‘Labor Ipse Voluptus’ (Labour itself is a pleasure) and ‘Labor Omina Vincit’ (Labours overcome all difficulties), and the great and the good of the area.  The day ended with a grand ball in the Market House. 

Donaghadee Harbour: The North Pier 

On 24 April 1824 work began on the north pier.  A temporary bridge was built from the Parade to the north pier and the railway line from the Quarry Hole crossed to the bridge to transport the prepared limestone blocks and other materials. 

On 21 May 1825, the sea was readmitted to what was identified as the outer basin. The previous evening a celebration was held on the floor of the harbour ‘which never after was trodden by the foot of man’.  The old crescent pier and temporary bridge remained until the new harbour was completed. 

Rennie’s harbour was originally built solely for the use of the Mail Packet vessels but became so popular with merchant vessels that the mail packets were often unable to berth.   

Donaghadee Harbour: The Lighthouse 

In 1834 the lighthouse was built on the south pier and lit for the first time in November 1836. The tower is built of cut limestone, fluted, and in its early days was unpainted in natural grey colour. Today the tower, including the lantern and dome, is painted white with a black plinth, a decision which was taken some time between 1869 and 1875. 

A serious fire damaged the optic and lantern on 12 May 1900 and a temporary light had to be shown whilst a new optic was obtained, and the damaged lantern repaired. Conversion to unwatched electric occurred on 2 October 1934; Donaghadee thus having the distinction of being the first Irish lighthouse to be converted to electric.  


Donaghadee Harbour Bicentenary Celebrations - Event Programme (subject to change)

News Item 19.07.21 Celebrating the Bicentenary of Donaghadee Harbour

Sunday 1 August 2021 marks the 200th anniversary of the iconic Donaghadee Harbour. To celebrate the occasion, Ards and North Down Borough Council will be hosting an exciting weekend of activity from 29 July - 1 August.  

Donaghadee has been a shipping haven for centuries and has served as a vital communications link between Ireland and Scotland. The town’s harbour is made up of two piers built between 1821 and c.1834. This new harbour replaced an earlier construction, dating back to the 1600s, when Hugh Montgomery, the town’s founder was awarded a Royal Warrant to build a seaport and harbour and to establish a mail packet service. 

Designs for the new harbour were drawn by John Rennie, the Scottish civil engineer whose previous works included Waterloo and Southwark Bridges over the Thames in London. The foundation stone was laid on 1 August 1821 with the building of the South Pier completed in 1825 and the North Pier and Lighthouse in 1834. 

The celebrations to mark the bicentenary begin on Thursday 29 July. The Donaghadee Local History Research Forum will present ‘The History of the Harbour by Dr Robert Neill’, an illustrated talk providing fantastic insight into the building of the harbour and its role in the town’s development.  

Friday will see the spectacular MG and Morris Minor Club Cavalcade parade through the centre to Copeland Plaza. 

The fun continues on Saturday when the Donaghadee Sailing Club will host their annual regatta to coincide with the celebrations.    

The Donaghadee Local History Research Forum will present ‘A Walking Tour of Donaghadee with Dr Robert Neill’ and the Sir Samuel Kelly Lifeboat Shelter will open its doors for visitors to view the exhibition, which covers the history of this special lifeboat.  

It will be a day to shop local with special offers and free gifts in participating shops. Lemon’s Wharf will play host to the mouth-watering Taste Ards and North Down Food Market along with a local variety market, showcasing wonderful local arts and crafts. Exhibitions exploring the fascinating history of Donaghadee will be open in local venues during the weekend. 

A special Commemorative Service and Time Capsule Burial will take place on Sunday 1 August. Elected Members and invited guests will participate in the service led by the Mayor of Ards and North Down, Councillor Mark Brooks.  As part of the ceremony, the Mayor will place a bronze capping plate over the 2021 time capsule which will be buried at the entry to the pier to mark this historic occasion. 

Speaking about the event, the Mayor said,  

“It is a privilege and an honour to lead this Commemorative Service to mark the bicentenary of Donaghadee Harbour. I am especially proud to be part of this momentous occasion as I brought the initial Notice of Motion to Council requesting that the bicentenary be recognised by Council. It will be wonderful to celebrate the fascinating story of the harbour’s history and acknowledge the significant role it has played in the development of our sea-side town. I am thrilled that as a community we will be able to get together again to share in what promises to be a fun weekend of activity for all the family.” 

For full details of the Programme, including ticket prices and booking information where applicable, please visit   

This event will operate with COVID-19 measures in place, in line with current government guidance. 

Thursday 29 July 2021: History of the Harbour Talk

The Donaghadee Local History Research Forum presents: The History of the Harbour with Dr Robert Neill

6.30pm Donaghadee Sailing Club (Bar open 6pm-8pm) 

This illustrated talk will provide an insight into the building of the iconic harbour and its importance to the development of the town. Immerse yourself in stories from 1600 to the present day and learn about the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat, which rescued survivors from the MV Princess Victoria in 1953.

Tickets £5 available from Ticket Source

A donation from ticket sales will be given to the Sir Samuel Kelly Lifeboat fund. 

Friday 30 July 2021: Classic Car Cavalcade

The MG and Morris Minor Club Classic Car Cavalcade 6pm 

Participating cars should assemble on the hard shoulder opposite Mullaghbuoy Nursing Home on the Warren Road before parading through Donaghadee to Copeland Plaza. 

Saturday 31 July 2021: Shop Local Day, Sailing Club Regatta, Historical Walking Tour, Lifeboat Open Day, Food Market

Shop Local Day

Participating shops in the town centre will have special offers and free gifts for customers

Donaghadee Sailing Club 2021 Regatta

Morning Races First Gun: 10.40am / Afternoon Races First Gun: 1.20pm 

A spectacle to be viewed fromthe land,  Donaghadee Sailing Club will host their annual regatta to coincide with the harbour bicentenary celebrations. Watch the competitive action unfold from Shore Street and the harbour.

Taste Ards and North Down Food Market

10am–5pm Lemon’s Wharf

Featuring producers that you usually never get to meet, along with some local favourites you will find everything from fresh breads, cheeses, homemade chutneys, jams and sauces to fresh meat, eggs and hot food, alongside cakes and ice-cream for those with a sweet tooth. With over 30 stalls on the day there is something for every palate. 

The Donaghadee Local History Research Forum presents: A walking tour of Donaghadee with Dr Robert Neill 10am–1pm

Tour departs on foot from Donaghadee Harbour

This guided walking tour will provide participants with an insight into the building of the iconic harbour and its importance to the development of the town. You will have an opportunity to visit the harbour and the current lifeboat station. Learn about the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat, which rescued survivors from the MV Princess Victoria in 1953. You will also explore the history of the Moat and streets and Churches in the town.

Tickets £5 available from Ticket Source

A donation from ticket sales will be given to the Sir Samuel Kelly Lifeboat fund. 


Donaghadee Heritage Preservation Company – Sir Samuel Kelly Lifeboat Open Day

12noon–4pm Marina Car Park

The Sir Samuel Kelly Lifeboat shelter will be open to allow visitors to walk around the ‘Kelly’ and view a pop-up exhibition charting the history of this very special lifeboat. 

Sunday 1 August 2021: Local Variety Market, Commemorative Service and Time Capsule Burial

Local Variety Market

11am–5pm Lemon’s Wharf

A variety of 30 stalls selling a wide range of products including jewellery, candles, woodcraf, handmade beach art and much more. 

Commemorative Service and Time Capsule Burial

2pm Donaghadee Harbour

To mark the 200th anniversary of Donaghadee Harbour Elected Members and invited guests will participate in the service led by the Mayor of Ards and North Down. As part of the ceremony the Mayor will place a bronze capping plate over the 2021 time capsule that will be buried at the entry to the pier to mark this historic occasion.

Please note access to a small part of the harbour will be restricted between 12noon-3pm.

Exhibitions - various dates July/August 2021

Donaghadee Harbour 200th Anniversary Exhibition

Tuesday 20 July – Friday 13 August

Donaghadee Library, 5 Killaughey Road

Opening times: Mon/Tue/Wed/Fri 10am-5pm Thu 10am-2pm Sat 10am-1pm Sun Closed

This exhibition explores the long history of the harbour from Montgomery’s Pier in 1618 to the construction and dedication of the North and South Piers built 200 years ago, which you still see today. 


Donaghadee: The Beacon on the Coast Exhibition

Friday 30 July – Sunday 1 August 

Donaghadee Community Centre Opening times: 8.30am-9.30pm daily

This exhibition explores the fascinating history of Donaghadee from its humble beginnings in the 1600s to the present day. From its illustrious landowners to historical buildings and its royal harbour to the parish church, this exhibition highlights the places, people and events that made the town what it is today.

This exhibition will move to North Down Museum from 7 September – 21 November 2021. Please check Museum opening times in advance. 


A Brief History of Donaghadee Exhibition

From Friday 30 July A

Public Conveniences, The Parade: Opening times: 8am-9pm daily

An exhibition in a toilet? What better place to learn something new about the history of the town! A new permanent exhibition will grace the walls of the entrance hall of the public toilets on the Parade – destined to become a talking point of the town.