Latest News from Portaferry Townscape Heritage Initiative

Website Launch

On Friday 22nd February the Market House in Portaferry was packed to capacity when the website for Portaferry's Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) was launched. The launch was followed by two heritage presentations, 'Sailing Ships and Sea Captains of Portaferry' by Allison Murphy and 'Two Portaferry Sailing Vessels' by James Elliott.

The evening began with a welcome from Doug Edmondson, Chairman of Portaferry Regeneration Ltd, under whose auspices the THI programme has been developed. Gary Laverty, THI's Project Manager, then provided details of the website which can be found at Here can be found details of all properties in Portaferry which qualify for grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund's initiative. The website is continuously being updated so everyone can be aware of all developments under the scheme and all complementary events which are taking place.

The launch was followed by an illustrated presentation from THI's Education Officer, Allison Murphy, on 'Sailing Ships & Sea Captains' which provided a well-researched background to the great maritime history of Portaferry. All those attending were fascinated to learn that for over a hundred years Portaferry was at the forefront in shipbuilding and that ships, captained by local master mariners, sailed all over the world. James Elliott, whose family had businesses in Portaferry, then gave a very interesting talk about the two ships which they had owned.

Supper was provided and THI officers were available to answer any questions posed.

Among those attending were MP Jim Shannon, MLAs Mike Nesbitt and Kieran McCarthy and Councillor Joe Boyle.

Download a copy of the Sailing Ships & Sea Captains Presentation (PowerPoint Required)

Lime & Mortar Workshop

Mount Stewart Restoration - Lime Mortar Plastering

Thur 21st Feb

Traditional Building Skills Workshop

H&J Martin Ltd, SERC, National Trust, Portaferry THI


• To raise awareness and relevance of traditional building skills and the importance up skilling and mentoring to maintain this skill set in Northern Ireland

• All groups meet skilled craftsmen who have been using lime for decades.

The event was a great success and enjoyed by all groups, many thanks to the National Trust and H&J Martin Ltd.

Download a copy of the Traditional Building Skills Report from HJ Martin.


Window Dressing with SPLASH Funding

Window Dressing with SPLASH Funding

It's been a busy few weeks for the young people in Portaferry as they embarked on a new project called Window Dressing, with Splash Funds from Ards Borough Council.

Portaferry Regeneration, [PRL] whose goal is to make the town a more desirable place to live, facilitated us by obtaining, on our behalf, the materials we used to design and paint realistic looking windows on fitted plywood panels. The object was to improve the overall appearance of a number of old buildings around the town.

The work was carried out at the new premises of our youth club, Place2b, located in the Castle Yard. Matthias Jungermann, a German volunteer and one of the leaders of Place2b, was the driving force behind the project and gave up a lot of his time to help design and outline the panels. About 15 teenagers then volunteered to help prepare and paint the panels, of which there were 37 in total.

It was fairly time-consuming, with the young people often working more than three hours a day, but a special effort was put in to have it finished for the Minister of Environment's visit to Portaferry on August 22nd.

Reece Fitzsimons, who worked on the project, said "It was really enjoyable. The windows look fantastic and brighten up the community. It's good to have the opportunity to give something back."

As the boards were put up, people passing by were very complimentary and Place2b leaders also received an email from the owners of the Portaferry Hotel saying how much better the buildings look. So far 37 new "windows/doors" have been created for three old buildings in the town – two at the corner of The Square and Church St., the other, The Corn Store, is just across the road from Exploris Aquarium. There are plans in place to continue with another similar project in the near future.

By Emmet McEvoy
Second Year Sports Journalism student at the University of East London.


Education Programme Update

THI's education officer, Allison Murphy, has been working with the teachers and pupils of St. Columba's on a cross curricular project centred around the history of Portaferry. To date the young people have been discovering the settlement patterns and rich maritime history of the area. They have been learning about daring sea captains who lived here and about sailing ships which were built in Portaferry and the worldwide exotic destinations to which they sailed.

Now, using the Census of Ireland, students are developing their research skills and amassing information about Portaferry in 1901 and 1911. Assisted by North Down Borough Council's 'building positive relations' programme they will be visiting the Public Record Office next week and we look forward to publishing their findings on our website.

Talk to the Upper Ards Historical Society

On 6th November THI’s Education Officer gave an informative and inspiring talk on her research to date on the ‘Sailing Ships and Sea Captains of Portaferry’ to the Upper Ards Historical Society. A packed room in the new parish centre in Portaferry listened about the rich maritime past and shipbuilding history of the town. The period covered was from 1760 onwards when ‘for a century or so Portaferry was a busy thriving coastal town full of master mariners, ship-owners and shipbuilders, rope-makers and ships’ chandlers. Its fishermen too flourished: sand smelt were sold in Belfast as ‘Portaferry chicken.’

The illustrated talk included the building, in 1802, of the largest vessel ever built in Ireland at the time. ‘On Tuesday last (6th April 1802) there was launched from the dockyard of Captain Edward Conway of Portaferry, the ship BESS of 500 tons burthen and upwards, the property of George Mathews of Springvale and Capt. John Downey of Portaferry.

This ship is esteemed by judges as one of the handsomest merchant vessels ever built in Ireland and is intended for a West Indian trader.’

Also included was the building and launch in 1826 of the Andrew Nugent from Thomas Gelston’s yard ‘amid the cheers of thousands of spectators’. This ship had two masts and a burthen of 164 tons. The ship’s Captain was Hugh Crangle who was reared in the townland of Tara 2 miles from Portaferry. Captain Crangle was also part owner along with William McCleery Jnr. This ship sailed for a decade from Sligo to British North America, principally Quebec, and was lost on a journey from Sligo to London.

The life and times of Rev. John Orr described the town in 1826.

The great trade of our town was shipbuilding. Vessels up to 400 tons burthen were constructed.

“Notice having been given that a very beautiful vessel of 300 tons would be launched from the shipyard of Mr. Thomas Gelston at one o’clock, the fineness of the day, and the novelty of the scene collected together an immense assemblage. On the signal being given the ‘Andrew Nugent’ glided majestically into her native element amidst the cheers of thousands of spectators.”

I never saw so many people in Portaferry on any occasion. In the evening about 30 gentlemen sat down to dinner in Mr. Gelston’s. I had the honour of being one of the party.

Allison Murphy’s talk included some fascinating information about local sea captains who were masters of some of the many ships built in Portaferry.

She is available to give the talk to any other interested groups.