Portaferry Heritage Trail brings hidden history to life once more

Monday 16th May 2022

Ards and North Down Borough Council is delighted to announce that the Portaferry Heritage Trail is now open.

A group of men and women stand in front of the Welcome to Portaferry sign

Highlighted for its amazing potential and relevance to local heritage, this trail has been rediscovered and enhanced to become a fantastic experience for both the local community and visitors to the area, wishing to learn more about the fascinating role the area has played in local history.

The Portaferry Heritage Trail totals 2 miles (3.6km) and takes visitors on a walk through time, with 20 featured stops along the way, each boasting its own story. Visitors can opt to follow the shorter 7-stop trail, with the accompanying audioguide, to help tell the historical story.

Portaferry is home to Exploris, Northern Ireland’s only aquarium and seal sanctuary. From here, visitors to the Heritage Trail can collect illustrated guides with map. Children’s explorer packs are also available to keep the little ones entertained on their journey of discovery.

As its name suggests, Portaferry’s history has always been bound to the sea and a ferry has brought passengers to and from the town, since the 12th Century.

Portaferry Quay and the well-known ferry have been significant features of the town since the 12th Century. Sculptor Raymond Watson celebrates this rich heritage with his statue, ‘The Watcher’ situated at the quay.

Portaferry’s buildings tell stories from different chapters of its history.

Many point to Portaferry’s prosperous growth as a port and bustling commercial centre. The fine, neoclassical Market House, completed in 1752, was the centrepiece of weekly markets in Portaferry. Another town building, which today hosts Queen’s University Labs served as a bank during the 19th Century.

Other buildings speak of a different story. Portaferry Castle was one of many Tower Houses built by the Anglo-Irish, with stunning views over Strangford Lough – useful for spotting unwanted visitors!

And the charming Coastguard Cottages, built during the 1800s, housed coastguards to catch smugglers on Strangford Lough, after the English government imposed export restrictions on Irish Ports.

Portaferry’s rich religious heritage plays a key role, with beautiful churches and meeting places, including the splendid Portaferry Presbyterian Church, completed in 1841. After being lovingly renovated, the building is now home to the renowned Portico Arts and Heritage Centre.

Mayor of Ards and North Down, Councillor Mark Brooks is delighted to see the trail come to life,

“This investment will add such value as a means for local visitors to reconnect with the hidden heritage of Portaferry, as well as bringing it to life as a fantastic experience for tourists.

Taking a walk along this beautiful trail, whether visitors choose to immerse themselves using the audioguide or by using the information panels as a basis for discussion, will enrich learning for young and old, serving as a wonderful day out to this superb area of Ards and North Down.”

This project was part funded under Priority 6 (LEADER) of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the European Union.

For more information including booking please visit: visitardsandnorthdown.com/PortaferryHeritageTrail

Photo Caption: The Mayor of Ards and North Down, Councillor Mark Brooks with the working group involved in launch of the Portaferry Heritage Trail.

L-R: Back row: Judith Caldwell, Strangford Lough and Lecale, Newry Mourne and Down District Council, Daryl Birkett, Ards Historical Society. Front row: Maureen McCarthy, Portaferry Regeneration Ltd, Mayor of Ards and North Down, Councillor Mark Brooks, Gérard Toner, Exploris, Allison Murphy, Portaferry and Strangford Trust