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South Down & the Mourne Mountains

History

The crescent of low-lying land on the southern side of the mountains is known as the Kingdom of Mourne. Cut off for centuries by its difficult approaches (the main overland route passed north of the hills), it developed a distinctive landscape and culture. Neither St Patrick nor the Normans (their nearest strongholds were at Greencastle and Dundrum) ventured here, and until the coast road was built in the early 19th century, the only access was on foot or by sea.

Smuggling provided a source of income in the 18th century. Boats carrying French spirits would land at night and packhorses would carry the casks through the hills to the inland road, avoiding the excise men at Newcastle. The Brandy Pad, an ex- smugglers’ path from Bloody Bridge to Tollymore, is today a popular walking route.

Apart from farming and fishing, the main industry was the quarrying of Mourne granite. The quarried stone was carried down from the hills on carts to harbours at Newcastle, Annalong and Kilkeel where ‘stone boats’ shipped it out; kerbstones of Mourne granite are found in Belfast, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Birmingham. There are still several working quarries today, and Mourne granite has been used in the 9/11 British ­Memorial Garden in New York.