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Ardglass Harbour (Phennick Cove Marina)

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Overview





Ardglass Harbour is located on the northeastern coast of Ireland, three miles northeast of St John’s Point and six miles south of the entrance to Strangford Lough. It is a small busy fishing port with an adjacent marina that provides all services for leisure craft.

Ardglass Harbour is located on the northeastern coast of Ireland, three miles northeast of St John’s Point and six miles south of the entrance to Strangford Lough. It is a small busy fishing port with an adjacent marina that provides all services for leisure craft.

Ardglass offers a vessel complete protection. Access is straightforward in all reasonable offshore conditions, on any state of the tide, night or day. It is however best avoided in any onshore gale and especially one from the southeast where it is best not approached in anything over Force 6.
Please note

Although the harbour is supported by leading lights, it would be better for a newcomer to make the first approach with light.




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Keyfacts for Ardglass Harbour (Phennick Cove Marina)
Facilities
Water available via tapDiesel fuel available alongsideGas availableTop up fuel available in the area via jerry cansMini-supermarket or supermarket availableSlipway availableLaundry facilities availableShore power available alongsideShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the areaInternet café in the areaPharmacy in the areaChandlery available in the areaTrolley or cart available for unloading and loadingBoatyard with hard-standing available here; covered or uncoveredMarine engineering services available in the areaElectronics or electronic repair available in the areaSail making or sail repair servicesBus service available in the areaHandicapped access supported


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationMarina or pontoon berthing facilitiesAnchoring locationBerth alongside a deep water pier or raft up to other vesselsVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Dangerous to enter when it is Beaufort force 8 or more from ENE, E, ESE, SE, SSE and S.Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pierRestriction: may only reasonably accommodate vessels less than a specific lengthNote: harbour fees may be charged

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

Approaches
4 stars: Straightforward; when unaffected by weather from difficult quadrants or tidal consideration, no overly complex dangers.
Shelter
5 stars: Complete protection; all-round shelter in all reasonable conditions.



Last modified
September 21st 2022

Summary* Restrictions apply

A completely protected location with straightforward access.

Facilities
Water available via tapDiesel fuel available alongsideGas availableTop up fuel available in the area via jerry cansMini-supermarket or supermarket availableSlipway availableLaundry facilities availableShore power available alongsideShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the areaInternet café in the areaPharmacy in the areaChandlery available in the areaTrolley or cart available for unloading and loadingBoatyard with hard-standing available here; covered or uncoveredMarine engineering services available in the areaElectronics or electronic repair available in the areaSail making or sail repair servicesBus service available in the areaHandicapped access supported


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationMarina or pontoon berthing facilitiesAnchoring locationBerth alongside a deep water pier or raft up to other vesselsVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Dangerous to enter when it is Beaufort force 8 or more from ENE, E, ESE, SE, SSE and S.Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pierRestriction: may only reasonably accommodate vessels less than a specific lengthNote: harbour fees may be charged



Position and approaches
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Haven position

54° 15.682' N, 005° 36.381' W

This is the head of the marina's Pontoon B.

What is the initial fix?

The following Ardglass Harbour Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
54° 15.350' N, 005° 35.474' W
Half a mile out from the head of the South Pier in the middle of the white sector of the leading lights (308º - 314º, Iso. WRG 4s, a 10 metre tower visible for 8 miles). A course of 311º T will lead into the harbour from the initial fix.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details for vessels approaching Strangford Lough from the north are available in the Coastal Overview for northeast Ireland’s Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location. Details for vessels approaching from the south are available in eastern Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Strangford Lough to Dublin Bay Route location.

  • Track in on a bearing of 311° T towards the 10-metre high sectored light tower on North Pier at the head of the inlet.

  • Keep at least 200 metres off the headlands.

  • Stand off the end of the South Pier when passing.

  • Steer to pass the East Cardinal off the inner breakwater and turn sharp to port to enter the marina's marked access channel.


Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to Ardglass Harbour (Phennick Cove Marina) for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Killough Harbour - 1.2 nautical miles WSW
  2. Kilclief Bay - 5 nautical miles NNE
  3. Cross Roads - 5.7 nautical miles NNE
  4. Salt Island (South) - 6.9 nautical miles N
  5. Strangford Harbour (Strangford Village) - 6.9 nautical miles NNE
  6. Quoile - 6.9 nautical miles NNW
  7. Salt Island (Southwest) - 7 nautical miles NNW
  8. Audley's Roads - 7.1 nautical miles N
  9. Brandy Bay (North Salt Island) - 7.2 nautical miles NNW
  10. Jackdaw Island - 7.3 nautical miles N
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Killough Harbour - 1.2 miles WSW
  2. Kilclief Bay - 5 miles NNE
  3. Cross Roads - 5.7 miles NNE
  4. Salt Island (South) - 6.9 miles N
  5. Strangford Harbour (Strangford Village) - 6.9 miles NNE
  6. Quoile - 6.9 miles NNW
  7. Salt Island (Southwest) - 7 miles NNW
  8. Audley's Roads - 7.1 miles N
  9. Brandy Bay (North Salt Island) - 7.2 miles NNW
  10. Jackdaw Island - 7.3 miles N
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

Resources search

Chart
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

Expand to new tab or fullscreen



What's the story here?
Ardglass Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Ardglass Harbour is a busy and important fishing port with a village and marina situated about 3 miles northeast of Saint John’s Point. The harbour is set into the rocky inlet of Phennick Cove which once lent the marina its name although it was more commonly known as Ardglass Marina and has since changed to that. The harbour is divided by a rocky outcrop that separates the marina from the fishing harbour. Both are protected by the South Pier, a high-armoured breakwater with quays on the inner side. The marina is on the west side of the harbour and is further protected from the east by a detached breakwater. Further within, at the head of the inlet, is a dry dock in which small vessels may take to the mud in perfect safety. The town of Ardglass lies on the west side of the harbour with a population of about 2,000.


Ardglass Harbour Marina
Image: Michael Harpur


The 50 fully serviced berth Ardglass Marina caters for visitors and it is accessed through a marked channel. This has a maintained depth of 3.2 metres but it is subject to silting and vessels carrying a draft should take it steady when operating at low water. It can accommodate vessels of up to 20 metres LOA, on a short-stay basis, and support draughts of up to 2.5 metres. It is not possible to anchor in the busy harbour area and vessels may only come alongside a pier by arrangement with the Harbour Master, usually only for fueling via tanker.


The town adjacent to the quays in the inlet's western side
Image: Michael Harpur


Vessels planning on approaching the harbour must notify the harbour master to avoid a collision. A radio watch is maintained on [VHF] Ch 12/14 [Ardglass Harbour] or Landline+44 28 4484 1291. Arrangments should be made in advance with Ardglass Marina External link, [VHF] Ch 37/M/80 [Ardglass Marina], Landline+44 28 4484 2332, Mobileardglassmarina@tiscali.co.uk. Normal Working Hours: Mon – Thur: 8 am to 5.00 pm, Fri: 8 am to 5.00 pm (excluding statutory holidays). Space is constrained and there is little manoeuvring space so larger yachts will find it very difficult to negotiate especially in strong winds.


Local boats in the old drying harbour at high water
Image: Michael Harpur


Owing to the level of fishing activity and space constrictions, it is preferable that visiting craft use the marina. The inner side of the South Pier is reserved for fishing activities. Vessels that can take to the bottom may be able to dry alongside the drying quay in the southern end of the harbour or in the small tidal basin to the west of the North Pier. But these are at the discretion of the Harbour Master. During offshore winds or in settled times vessels may anchor outside the harbour.
Please note

No berthing or anchoring in the harbour area should take place without first consulting the Harbour Master and obtaining his consent.




How to get in?
Ardglass, the Ringfad promontory, southward, and Killough Harbour in the
backdrop

Image: Michael Harpur


Convergance Point Seaward approaches are detailed in eastern Ireland’s coastal overview for Strangford Lough to Dublin Bay Route location. There are no offline dangers in the immediate approaches to the inlet. Keeping 200 metres off the rocks clears all dangers.


Ardglass Harbour as seen from the southeast
Image: Michael Harpur


The promontory of Ringfad, between Killough and Ardglass, is distinguished by a conical hill surmounted by Isabella Tower, as well as a water tower to the south and Ardglass church steeples to the north. On closer approaches, the South Pier will be seen to be a massive high structure made further conspicuous by a large grey fish processing plant with a bright tin roof situated at its western foot. The South Pier also has a considerable sloping outer face and rock armouring units that make the harbour highly discernable from seaward.
Please note

Phennick Cove is much smaller and less significant from seaward than its close south neighbour of Killough Harbour which has many off-lying hazards. All of this serves to substantially differentiate Ardglass from neighbouring Killough’s Pier. Make certain that the correct inlet has been identified before making an approach.




The sectored light tower on the head of the North Pier
Image: Michael Harpur


Initial fix location From the Ardglass Harbour initial fix track in on a course of 311° T towards the 10-metre high white tower with the harbour sectored light on the North Pier. This is on the head of the inner pier situated about 400 metres northwest of the head of the outer South Pier near the head of the inlet. At night the sectored light shows a white sector light 308°- 314°. The outer South Pier shows a light from its head FlR3s5M.


The white tower with the harbour's sectored light
Image: Michael Harpur


This track will lead south of Phennick Point and north of the head of the South Pier and is the middle of the night-time leading light white sector. It is important to keep on track during the approach giving the shore a wide berth. Although the fairway is 100 metres wide there are rocks on either side.
Rember to notify the Harbour Master of your intention to enter, [VHF] Ch 12/14 [Ardglass Harbour] or Landline+44 28 4484 1291, and only proceed in when clearance is provided.


Phennick Point and the pyramidic concrete Ardtole Beacon opposite the South Pier
Image: Michael Harpur


The eastern shore of Phennick Point is steep-to, but abreast of the pier, the rocks uncover out to 200 metres from the shore. The pyramidic concrete Ardtole Beacon marks the edge of these rocks opposite the pier and should be passed to starboard. Likewise, keep clear of the head of the South Pier itself as the protective rock armour extends out from the foot of the pierhead. The northern outer end of this is marked by a lit red top-marked pile beacon to assist vessels turning into the harbour.


The pyramidic concrete Ardtole Beacon
Image: Michael Harpur

If approaching the fishing harbour turn to port around the beacon at the head of the South Pier and keep Churn Rock to starboard. This is a central visible harbour rock west of the harbour and fairway marked by an unlit south cardinal beacon.


Churn harbour marker (left) and the lit East Cardinal leading to access channel (right)
Image: Michael Harpur


The marina is approximately 120 metres further in and vessels should alter course northward once abrest of the head of the South Pier and steer to pass the lit East Cardinal buoy, V.Q(3)10s. This is situated off the northeaster head of the inner breakwater that divides the harbour between the fish harbour and marina area. This course passes about 80 metres to the northeast of Churn Rock south cardinal mark, located to the southeast of the breakwater and marking the harbour boundary, which the mark should not be mistaken for.


The path around the inner breakwater as seen from the southward
Image: Michael Harpur


Upon passing the East Cardinal Buoy be prepared to swing hard to the southwest around a red buoy, Q.R., to enter the marina access channel. This will be readily apparent and is marked by two pairs of lateral buoys. Proceed southwestward along the narrow marina channel that has a maintained depth of about 3 metres but take it steady at low water in the event of silting.


Small boat exit via the channel
Image: Michael Harpur


Stand well off the perches along the southeast side after leaving the channel buoys behind and approaching the pontoons. The first of these stands above the rock armoury breakwater and there is a further mark beyond with a 'north' top mark, outside the open portion of the inner end of the breakwater and the shore. These two perches mark the outer ends of drying rocks on the marina side of the breakwater.


The inner portion of the breakwater is full of rocks
Image: Michael Harpur


On the opposite, or harbour side, there are also two further perches with south top marks marking the rocks facing the outer harbour. Do not be tempted to cross through this open section as it dries entirely and has many rocks.


Ardglass Marina Pontoon Plan
Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location The marina has approximately 55 chain fixed pontoon berths. Berth as directed in advance by the marina berthing officer. The normal process is to proceed to any vacant berth on the first 'L'/'A'pontoon. If the first pontoon is full, try the second 'B' pontoon but avoid the third 'C' ('E' rear) pontoon which is only suitable for small craft.


The quay behind the south pier is reserved for commercial fishing boats
Image: Michael Harpur


The busy fishing port in the south harbour has 2.1 metres LAT behind the south pier but it is only available for refuelling by tanker with the Harbour Master's permission.


The inner harbour westward of the South Pier
Image: Michael Harpur


Southeast winds tend to send a heavy swell into Ardglass, and there is one other drying location that offers complete protection. This is a small inner tidal basin to the northwest of the harbour behind the North Pier that carries 3 metres at high water. Known as 'God's Pocket' it provides absolute protection and is the traditional hide for fishing boats in gales from east round to the south. Leisure vessels may lie on its bottom of soft mud keeping close along the north side of the North Pier on approach.
Please note

It is essential to have good fenders or even better a fender board to protect the topsides from the stones of the dock walls as craft settle in the mud.




Why visit here?
Ardglass derives its name from the Gaelic Ard Ghlais which means the 'green high place' referring to the two hills between which it rests. Despite this name, it is the natural deep-water harbour beneath that has been its historical centre of interest. It has been a busy port for thousands of years.

Jordan's Castle
Image: Michael Harpur
The first traces of this go back to the Celts who made use of as far back as 1,000 BC. They used it before turning to trade and farming for sustenance. Evidence of their occupation remains in earthworks and artefacts. Unfortunately, little trace can then be found of Ardglass’ occupation for the first millennium. Considering its nearness to Viking bases at Strangford and Carlingford it is thought probable that they would have used this conveniently positioned natural harbour on their travels. The first recorded mention of Ardglass dates back to 1172 and the Anglo-Norman invasion. Then John de Courcey moved north from Dublin, with 22 knights and 300 soldiers, fighting battles with local Irish chieftains and conquering lands all the way. Arriving in this area he saw the strategic importance of the harbour. Establishing his headquarters in Downpatrick in 1178 he incorporated Ardglass into his domain for sea communications. The Jordans then were awarded Ardglass where they built their castle.

The port slowly grew from a place of little note to a prosperous and strategically important commercial port in the 13th century. Then Irish fleets from Ardglass were operating in the herring fisheries of the Irish Sea and were exporting fresh, salted, and smoked fish (particularly herring and hake) in large amounts to Bristol, Chester, and the west coast of England. The herring fisheries off Ardglass and Carlingford were also attracting hundreds of ships from Wales, southwest England, and Spain. It soon received a charter and was given a portreeve or mayor, a port admiral and revenue officers. It was recorded that Customs tolls at Ardglass were five shillings for boats "with a top" and three shillings and four pence for every "pickard" or ship "without a top" in 1515. This was bolstered when a London Trading Company established itself in the village during the reign of Henry VIII, and it soon handled more trade than any other port in the province of Ulster. During this period, it was one of the three principal towns in the county, inferior only to Newry and Downpatrick and a cluster of castles was built around it connected by a fortified wall. The wall protected the harbour area from attacks, the tower houses defended the town and the fortified warehouses protected the trade goods.



Fishing would be the a constant mainstay for Ardglass
Image: Michael Harpur


Nevertheless, during the various civil wars of Ireland, Ardglass’s castles frequently changed hands. About the year 1578 Sir Nicholas Bagnal, Marshal of Ireland took them from the O'Neils who put up a rigorous resistance. Bagnal placed a strong garrison here to protect it and two decades later it was tested by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, when he lay siege to the castle’s owner of the time Simon Jordan during the Tyrone rebellion. He held out for three years until he was finally rescued by sea in 1601. By this point, the port was essentially abandoned on account of the collapse of the Irish Sea fisheries and the political conflicts of the time. The castle fell again to the Irish during the bloody 1641 Rebellion that almost destroyed Ardglass.



Fishing takes place principally today from the quay behind the south pier
Image: Michael Harpur


The 1641 Rebellion was a reaction to the large-scale Scots migration to Ulster in the previous decades. Known as 'The Plantation of Ulster', it largely took place in the first decades of the 1600s and then tailed off. It was thought that immigration may have risen sharply, perhaps as the result of bad harvests in Scotland in the latter half of the 1630s, and this precipitated the bloody 1641 rising. Oddly, the rising was not initiated by Scottish migration or by local displacement or subjugation, nor by Ulster affairs. Perversely the rebellion’s leaders came from these immigrants. Its genesis came from events in London and their loyalty to the king. At the time it seemed that Parliament was gaining ascendancy over Charles the 1st and the newly formed Scottish controllers planned on seizing control of Ireland for the King. This would be deftly handled by a coup d'état on the English administration in Dublin Castle by the Catholic gentry and military officers.



View out over the harbour from the slip at the old quay
Image: Michael Harpur


What they entirely underestimated was the deep resentments caused by the inequality of their plantation. So, when they rose and struck their 'surgical strike' to seize control they quickly lost control of the initiative. To their horror, they then watched as the event turned against them and backfire into a bloody rising of Ulster’s rebel Catholic elements. The repressed Catholics wanted an end to anti-Catholic discrimination, greater Irish self-governance, and partially or fully reverse the plantations of Ireland. All quickly and inadvertently degenerated into ethnic violence between the native Irish and newly arrived English and Scottish settlers who were massacred in large numbers. Ardglass took the brunt of this rising and suffered severe damage. Its trade thereafter was significantly diminished with some of it switching to neighbouring Killough.



Small boats alongside an old harbour pier today
Image: Michael Harpur


In 1812 William Ogilvie acquired Ardglass Castle and its estate and set about redeveloping the port following the re-emergence of the herring industry. He stayed for considerable periods taking a great interest in Ardglass. Ogilvie built the town’s first major harbour including the tidal North Dock to encourage trade. He also had the fine buildings in Castle Place, donated land for the Catholic Church and built the Church of Ireland St Nicholas between 1812 -1815 - in the chancel of which his remains rest. He also built the little bathing house near the marina. At this time Ardglass was one of the most fashionable watering places in Ulster. The harbour was further extended and a lighthouse was built following an act of parliament in 1813. Unfortunately, a great storm in 1838 washed away the lighthouse and the end of the pier. This was replaced by the present metal structure and work on the current harbour piers was completed in 1885.


The bathing house used when Ardglass was a fashionable watering place
Image: Michael Harpur


All this led to Ardglass being the most prosperous fishing port in Northern Ireland during the 19th century. Four or five hundred sail-powered fishing vessels were based here at this time. In summer, light sailboats brought in plentiful catches of herring (silver darlings) were caught and, in winter, whiting and cod. The sails began to be replaced by steam engines around the turn of the last century. Harvesting and the processing of fish and shellfish still represent a major part of the area’s economy.


Memorial to Ardglass's fishing legacy overlooking the harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Today the village is a commuter centre for workers in Downpatrick and Belfast, with a large-scale fish processing industry exporting fish and prawns to European countries and Russia. The remnants of the town’s historic fortifications, some of which are now mere ruins, are linked by a town path. Of the ring of fortifications erected around Ardglass, only the smaller Jordan’s Castle remains largely unchanged. The larger King's Castle was originally built in the 12th century, and additions were made at various times over the centuries. It was restored in 1988 and is now a nursing home. These and much more survive to communicate that this was once Ulster's busiest 15th-century port. The actual original port basin area still functions within the modern fishing port but would have been larger in later medieval times.


Ardglass Castle (also known as The Newark) the club house of Ardglass
Golf Club

Image: Tourism Ireland


A brief walk will take a visitor past these and other fortified tower houses that provide the town with historic character and provide ample evidence of its former greatness. The marina is an ideal starting point for a pleasant walk through this great legacy. A wall, believed to be part of a linked defensive wall built around the harbour, stretches from Newark, derived from 'new works', at the harbour entrance, to Cowd's Castle, at the entrance to Ardglass Golf Club. Then opposite Cowd's Castle to Margaret's at the southern end of Castle Place. From there to Kildare Street and Jordan's Castle, which takes a central position overlooking the harbour and is the most imposing of a ring of towers. Finally, to the larger King's Castle situated higher up the hill of Ardglass at the top of Kildare Street. All of which are within an easy walk. Also of interest is Ardglass Castle which was probably a row of warehouses. Large sections of the original building can still be seen within the modern clubhouse of Ardglass Golf Club. Isabella’s Tower, visible on entry on the top of a conical hill, is a folly built for a handicapped daughter that marks Ardglass’ highest point.


The original quays that would have been used in its fishing heyday
Image: Michael Harpur


Ardtole Church on the outskirts of Ardglass, on the high ground about 2 km to the northeast, is another point of historical interest. The ruins of the ancient church of Ardtole, dedicated to St Nicholas are long and narrow with a huge easterly window. This was formerly the parish church of Ardglass but was abandoned in the 15th century after a massacre. Legend has it that the McCartans clan massacred the congregation at worship here to avenge an insult offered to their chief. The burgesses of Ardglass had fastened his long hair to briars while he lay in a drunken sleep. Jonathan Swift used this story in his novel Gulliver's Travels. It is a worthwhile visit simply for the pleasure of walking out to the Green Road to behold the fine view of Coney Island, the Mountains of Mourne and seaward views out over the Isle of Man.


Ardglass Marina provides the only all-tide coastal pontoon berth between Howth
and Bangor

Image: Michael Harpur


From a boating point of view, Ardglass is a key sailing location. It combines the fully featured marina that offers complete protection, with quick and straightforward seaward access at any stage of the tide. Effectively the only quickly accessible, all-tide coastal pontoon berth between Howth and Bangor. This makes it a very convenient stopover for northbound or southbound in the Irish Sea and especially so with its excellent provisioning. Add to this its situation, just six miles south of the Strangford Lough entrance and twenty miles northeast of Carlingford, which makes it the ideal staging berth to time a favourable tide entrance into either of these loughs.


What facilities are available?
Diesel fuel, fresh water, gas, showers, launderette, electricity etc are all available at the marina and almost all other provisions can be had from the town (population approximately 1700) including banking and post office. Limited boat repairs can be undertaken here and there is service for radar, Decca and radio. Belfast international airport is 67 km away. 11 kilometres to the northwest is the larger town of Downpatrick which serves as a commercial and administrative centre for the locality. Ulsterbus 16A serves Killough and Ardglass. Buses stop on the main road just above the harbour. Destinations Downpatrick (Mon–Fri 12 daily, Sat 7, Sun 2; 20–30 min); Killough (Mon–Fri 9 daily, Sat 6, Sun 2; 5min).


Any security concerns?
None, as the marina is a secured area.


With thanks to:
Michael Young - Harbour Master Kilkeel.







Ardglass from the air


About Ardglass Harbour (Phennick Cove Marina)

Ardglass derives its name from the Gaelic Ard Ghlais which means the 'green high place' referring to the two hills between which it rests. Despite this name, it is the natural deep-water harbour beneath that has been its historical centre of interest. It has been a busy port for thousands of years.

Jordan's Castle
Image: Michael Harpur
The first traces of this go back to the Celts who made use of as far back as 1,000 BC. They used it before turning to trade and farming for sustenance. Evidence of their occupation remains in earthworks and artefacts. Unfortunately, little trace can then be found of Ardglass’ occupation for the first millennium. Considering its nearness to Viking bases at Strangford and Carlingford it is thought probable that they would have used this conveniently positioned natural harbour on their travels. The first recorded mention of Ardglass dates back to 1172 and the Anglo-Norman invasion. Then John de Courcey moved north from Dublin, with 22 knights and 300 soldiers, fighting battles with local Irish chieftains and conquering lands all the way. Arriving in this area he saw the strategic importance of the harbour. Establishing his headquarters in Downpatrick in 1178 he incorporated Ardglass into his domain for sea communications. The Jordans then were awarded Ardglass where they built their castle.

The port slowly grew from a place of little note to a prosperous and strategically important commercial port in the 13th century. Then Irish fleets from Ardglass were operating in the herring fisheries of the Irish Sea and were exporting fresh, salted, and smoked fish (particularly herring and hake) in large amounts to Bristol, Chester, and the west coast of England. The herring fisheries off Ardglass and Carlingford were also attracting hundreds of ships from Wales, southwest England, and Spain. It soon received a charter and was given a portreeve or mayor, a port admiral and revenue officers. It was recorded that Customs tolls at Ardglass were five shillings for boats "with a top" and three shillings and four pence for every "pickard" or ship "without a top" in 1515. This was bolstered when a London Trading Company established itself in the village during the reign of Henry VIII, and it soon handled more trade than any other port in the province of Ulster. During this period, it was one of the three principal towns in the county, inferior only to Newry and Downpatrick and a cluster of castles was built around it connected by a fortified wall. The wall protected the harbour area from attacks, the tower houses defended the town and the fortified warehouses protected the trade goods.



Fishing would be the a constant mainstay for Ardglass
Image: Michael Harpur


Nevertheless, during the various civil wars of Ireland, Ardglass’s castles frequently changed hands. About the year 1578 Sir Nicholas Bagnal, Marshal of Ireland took them from the O'Neils who put up a rigorous resistance. Bagnal placed a strong garrison here to protect it and two decades later it was tested by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, when he lay siege to the castle’s owner of the time Simon Jordan during the Tyrone rebellion. He held out for three years until he was finally rescued by sea in 1601. By this point, the port was essentially abandoned on account of the collapse of the Irish Sea fisheries and the political conflicts of the time. The castle fell again to the Irish during the bloody 1641 Rebellion that almost destroyed Ardglass.



Fishing takes place principally today from the quay behind the south pier
Image: Michael Harpur


The 1641 Rebellion was a reaction to the large-scale Scots migration to Ulster in the previous decades. Known as 'The Plantation of Ulster', it largely took place in the first decades of the 1600s and then tailed off. It was thought that immigration may have risen sharply, perhaps as the result of bad harvests in Scotland in the latter half of the 1630s, and this precipitated the bloody 1641 rising. Oddly, the rising was not initiated by Scottish migration or by local displacement or subjugation, nor by Ulster affairs. Perversely the rebellion’s leaders came from these immigrants. Its genesis came from events in London and their loyalty to the king. At the time it seemed that Parliament was gaining ascendancy over Charles the 1st and the newly formed Scottish controllers planned on seizing control of Ireland for the King. This would be deftly handled by a coup d'état on the English administration in Dublin Castle by the Catholic gentry and military officers.



View out over the harbour from the slip at the old quay
Image: Michael Harpur


What they entirely underestimated was the deep resentments caused by the inequality of their plantation. So, when they rose and struck their 'surgical strike' to seize control they quickly lost control of the initiative. To their horror, they then watched as the event turned against them and backfire into a bloody rising of Ulster’s rebel Catholic elements. The repressed Catholics wanted an end to anti-Catholic discrimination, greater Irish self-governance, and partially or fully reverse the plantations of Ireland. All quickly and inadvertently degenerated into ethnic violence between the native Irish and newly arrived English and Scottish settlers who were massacred in large numbers. Ardglass took the brunt of this rising and suffered severe damage. Its trade thereafter was significantly diminished with some of it switching to neighbouring Killough.



Small boats alongside an old harbour pier today
Image: Michael Harpur


In 1812 William Ogilvie acquired Ardglass Castle and its estate and set about redeveloping the port following the re-emergence of the herring industry. He stayed for considerable periods taking a great interest in Ardglass. Ogilvie built the town’s first major harbour including the tidal North Dock to encourage trade. He also had the fine buildings in Castle Place, donated land for the Catholic Church and built the Church of Ireland St Nicholas between 1812 -1815 - in the chancel of which his remains rest. He also built the little bathing house near the marina. At this time Ardglass was one of the most fashionable watering places in Ulster. The harbour was further extended and a lighthouse was built following an act of parliament in 1813. Unfortunately, a great storm in 1838 washed away the lighthouse and the end of the pier. This was replaced by the present metal structure and work on the current harbour piers was completed in 1885.


The bathing house used when Ardglass was a fashionable watering place
Image: Michael Harpur


All this led to Ardglass being the most prosperous fishing port in Northern Ireland during the 19th century. Four or five hundred sail-powered fishing vessels were based here at this time. In summer, light sailboats brought in plentiful catches of herring (silver darlings) were caught and, in winter, whiting and cod. The sails began to be replaced by steam engines around the turn of the last century. Harvesting and the processing of fish and shellfish still represent a major part of the area’s economy.


Memorial to Ardglass's fishing legacy overlooking the harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Today the village is a commuter centre for workers in Downpatrick and Belfast, with a large-scale fish processing industry exporting fish and prawns to European countries and Russia. The remnants of the town’s historic fortifications, some of which are now mere ruins, are linked by a town path. Of the ring of fortifications erected around Ardglass, only the smaller Jordan’s Castle remains largely unchanged. The larger King's Castle was originally built in the 12th century, and additions were made at various times over the centuries. It was restored in 1988 and is now a nursing home. These and much more survive to communicate that this was once Ulster's busiest 15th-century port. The actual original port basin area still functions within the modern fishing port but would have been larger in later medieval times.


Ardglass Castle (also known as The Newark) the club house of Ardglass
Golf Club

Image: Tourism Ireland


A brief walk will take a visitor past these and other fortified tower houses that provide the town with historic character and provide ample evidence of its former greatness. The marina is an ideal starting point for a pleasant walk through this great legacy. A wall, believed to be part of a linked defensive wall built around the harbour, stretches from Newark, derived from 'new works', at the harbour entrance, to Cowd's Castle, at the entrance to Ardglass Golf Club. Then opposite Cowd's Castle to Margaret's at the southern end of Castle Place. From there to Kildare Street and Jordan's Castle, which takes a central position overlooking the harbour and is the most imposing of a ring of towers. Finally, to the larger King's Castle situated higher up the hill of Ardglass at the top of Kildare Street. All of which are within an easy walk. Also of interest is Ardglass Castle which was probably a row of warehouses. Large sections of the original building can still be seen within the modern clubhouse of Ardglass Golf Club. Isabella’s Tower, visible on entry on the top of a conical hill, is a folly built for a handicapped daughter that marks Ardglass’ highest point.


The original quays that would have been used in its fishing heyday
Image: Michael Harpur


Ardtole Church on the outskirts of Ardglass, on the high ground about 2 km to the northeast, is another point of historical interest. The ruins of the ancient church of Ardtole, dedicated to St Nicholas are long and narrow with a huge easterly window. This was formerly the parish church of Ardglass but was abandoned in the 15th century after a massacre. Legend has it that the McCartans clan massacred the congregation at worship here to avenge an insult offered to their chief. The burgesses of Ardglass had fastened his long hair to briars while he lay in a drunken sleep. Jonathan Swift used this story in his novel Gulliver's Travels. It is a worthwhile visit simply for the pleasure of walking out to the Green Road to behold the fine view of Coney Island, the Mountains of Mourne and seaward views out over the Isle of Man.


Ardglass Marina provides the only all-tide coastal pontoon berth between Howth
and Bangor

Image: Michael Harpur


From a boating point of view, Ardglass is a key sailing location. It combines the fully featured marina that offers complete protection, with quick and straightforward seaward access at any stage of the tide. Effectively the only quickly accessible, all-tide coastal pontoon berth between Howth and Bangor. This makes it a very convenient stopover for northbound or southbound in the Irish Sea and especially so with its excellent provisioning. Add to this its situation, just six miles south of the Strangford Lough entrance and twenty miles northeast of Carlingford, which makes it the ideal staging berth to time a favourable tide entrance into either of these loughs.

Other options in this area


Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Alternatively here are the ten nearest havens available in picture view:
Coastal clockwise:
Killough Harbour - 0.7 miles WSW
Dundrum Harbour - 5.1 miles W
Newcastle Harbour - 6.5 miles WSW
Annalong Harbour - 8.5 miles SW
Kilkeel Harbour - 11.3 miles SW
Coastal anti-clockwise:
Kilclief Bay - 3.1 miles NNE
Cross Roads - 3.5 miles NNE
Strangford Harbour (Strangford Village) - 4.3 miles NNE
Audley's Roads - 4.4 miles N
Audley’s Point - 4.6 miles N

Navigational pictures


These additional images feature in the 'How to get in' section of our detailed view for Ardglass Harbour (Phennick Cove Marina).




























































Ardglass from the air



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