Donaghadee is the nearest port to Scotland and in the early times was the landing point in Northern Ireland for travellers from the British mainland. At one stage, Donaghadee was the province’s principal port before Belfast became the major city and much of the town’s development resulted from ships and shipping.
Trade with the mainland was based on the Packet Service and in 1626 a harbour was built to service the boats that worked between Donaghadee and Portpatrick in Wigtownshire. The County Down coast is notorious for its treacherous reefs and currents, so a safe harbour was essential to seafarers. When John Keates landed at the town in 1818 work was underway to extend the harbour. A decade later the elderly Wordsworth left there for Portpatrick after a grand tour of Ireland.
Fortunes were to change, however as it became increasingly apparent that Portpatrick was exposed to westerly gales so another route opened between Larne and Stranraer and although this was longer, it provided the safe harbours that the increasing trade between Ireland and the mainland required.
The hustle and bustle that were features of Donaghadee during the Packet Ship days declined but the town was left with a magnificent harbour, hotels and boarding houses and these were turned into an advantage. As Belfast grew, the increasingly prosperous merchants of the city were attracted to the idea of holidays by the sea, and where better than Donaghadee with its dry climate and invigorating atmosphere? So as the 19th century progressed into the 20th, Donaghadee became established as a major holiday resort.
One of the most prominent features of the town is the Motte, or the Moat as it is known. It is relatively young dating back to 1818 when it was built to house the explosives used in the construction of the harbour. But the site was used as a defensive position in the Bronze Age when it was fortified as a Rath. Later it was improved and provided protection against the Viking raids. The Normans reinforced it in the 12th and 13th centuries during their period in power.
Today it is part of an attractive little park, giving views across the town and seawards to the Copeland Islands and, on clear days, to the Scottish coast and the Isle of Man.
The Norman family most closely associated with the Motte was de Coupland, who also gave their name to the Copeland Islands, about a mile offshore. The main island is a popular destination for summer visitors. Lighthouse Island, the second largest, has the remains of an old lighthouse and is an important bird sanctuary, whilst to the east lies Mew Island where a five million candlepower light now stands.
Donaghadee’s seafaring tradition led to a lifeboat station being set up in 1906, and since then over 230 lives have been saved. Perhaps the most memorable and tragic operation took place on the 31st January 1953 when the MV Princess Victoria went down. The Larne-Stranraer ferry floundered in appalling conditions in the North Channel. During the rescue, which lasted over 24 hours, the volunteer crew rescued 31 people and recovered 19 bodies in feats of heroism that are still talked about today. The present lifeboat is the City of Belfast Arun-Class vessel, capable of 18 knots.
With its seagoing past, it is not surprising that Donaghadee is popular with water enthusiasts, anglers and those who simply like to be beside the seaside. In summer, fishing trips operate from the harbour. The south pier is a delightful walk for visitors and the harbour itself is always alive with boats coming and going.
The shorefront continues to Lemon’s Wharf where there are sheltered areas and a children’s paddling pool. The marine walk at The Commons on the Millisle Road comprises a 16 acre semi-cultivated open space with bowls, tennis, putting and an adventure playground. To the north of the town is Donaghadee Golf Club with a splendid 18-hole course.
NB. As we do not have exact location information, this is a map of the local area.