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Parish of Portpatrick

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1791-99: Portpatrick
1834-45: Portpatrick

Portpatrick, a Wigtownshire village and parish, on the W coast of the Rhinns of Galloway. The village by sea is 21½ miles NE of Donaghadee in Ireland, whilst, as terminus of the Portpatrick section (1861) of the Caledonian railway, it is 7¾ miles SW of Stranraer, 61 W by S of Castle-Douglas, 80½ WSW of Dumfries, 170¼ SW of Edinburgh, and 66½ SSW of Ayr. It lies snugly sheltered in a small triangular opening in the rockbound coast, the base of the triangle being formed by the sea, and the other two sides by towering cliffs, which in places rise sheer to 130 feet, and behind recede into hills 300 to 400 feet high. The declivities of the amphitheatre at the sides of the little bay are steep and impracticable; and, even behind the town, except where a streamlet has cleft them into a cleugh and ploughed down a path for the highroad and railway, they are sufficiently rapid to give the whole enclosed space the appearance of a vast quarry, or the half of a huge bowl. Neither by land, nor northward or southward by sea, is the town seen until it is almost entered; and from either position, especially from the sea, it wears an aspect of remarkable seclusion. Yet, though the nest in which it sits is almost as bare of embellishment as the bald head of a hill of the hardest primitive rock, Portpatrick basks in a southwesterly exposure, and during high winds from most points of the compass is enviably snug, so that of late years many patients have been recommended by the faculty to seek a shelter here from the keen east winds of spring and early summer. Most of the houses are of recent date; and all are built of native greywacke. The newest and principal street, about 350 yards long, commences near the centre of the basin at the harbour, and, running up towards the gorge or incision in the hillscreen, carries out the road to Stranraer. The street next in importance is bisected by the former nearly in the middle, has a slight curvature in its direction, and overlooks the harbour. Behind are some smaller streets.

The harbour of Portpatrick lies open to winds which blow about eight months in the year, and is exposed to a swell, which sometimes rolls into it with great violence. It was long a mere natural inlet, without any projecting elbow or sheltered recess; and the vessels which frequented it required to be flat-bottomed, and were drawn aground and re-launched at every voyage. But a pier of a kind then thought to be one of the finest in Britain, was built at it in 1774; and a reflecting lighthouse was erected to correspond with one on the opposite coast at Donaghadee. In 1821 an artificial harbour on a grand scale was commenced from designs by Rennie. Its form is nearly that of a horse-shoe; the sides running our into piers, which at the entrance approach within 250 feet of each other. On the S side of the enclosed basin the old pier of 1774 projects inward on a line nearer the land than the centre of the basin; and on the other side is a large rock or skerry rising above the surface of the water, and partially protecting the space within from the wind and swell at the entrance. The harbour is thus divided into an outer and an inner harbour; and the passage from the former to the latter, between the old pier and the skerry, has a width of 105 feet. The dimensions of the entire harbour, outer and inner, are 710 by 495 feet. The depth of the outer harbour is from 4 to 20 feet at low water spring tides; and that of the inner harbour is on the average 6½ feet; but that over a bank in the passage between them is only 2½ feet at low water spring tides. The parapets of the new piers are formed of large blocks of grey limestone from Wales; and that of the southern one terminates in a semicircular sweep, within which rose a handsome lighthouse of the same material, and 46 feet high. Portpatrick, both as a seaport and as a town, owed nearly all its former importance to its commanding the shortest communication from Britain to Ireland. A weekly mail across the channel was established at it in 1662; and a considerable trade with Ireland resulted from the formation of the pier in 1774; so that the importation of cattle and horses rose from 17, 275 in 1790 to 20,000 in 1812, to sink again to 1080 in 1837. Four good-sized vessels were also built here, the last in 1790. A great increase of business was expected to arise from the construction of the new harbour and the employment of two steam mail-packets, which transmitted from 8000 to 10,000 letters per diem in 1838, and which in the twelve preceding years conveyed an annual average of 12, 000 passengers, besides linens and lime from Ireland, coals from Ayrshire, and cotton goods from Glasgow and Manchester. There was a large custom-house; and troops were often shipped here for Ireland. But the establishment of communication between Glasgow and Belfast, between Holyhead and Dublin, and later, between Stranraer and Belfast, did Portpatrick severe damage, reducing it suddenly to insignificance. The mail ceased to run in 1849; the lighthouse was removed in 1869; and the massive harbour-works, which cost the country £500,000, are lapsing fast to a state of utter ruin. A submarine telegraph cable, from Portpatrick to Donaghadee, was laid on 23 May 1853.

Portpatrick derives its name from the great Apostle of Ireland, who once, according to legend, here crossed the channel at a single stride, and left a deep footprint on a rock that was removed in the formation of the harbour. On another occasion, the savages of Glenapp had cut off his head; but, picking it up, the Saint quietly walked to Portpatrick, plunged into the sea, and, holding his head in his teeth, swam safely to the opposite shore. A chalybeate spring bears the name of St Patrick's Well; whilst a pre-Reformation chapel, called Chapel Patrick, stood on or near the site of the old parish church. The babe, St Cuthbert, too, with Sabina, his mother, is said to have crossed from Ireland on a stone currach, and landed ` in Galweia, in that region called Rennii, in the harbour of Rintsnoc, ' which Skene identifies with Portpatrick. The barony of Portree, within which were the village and haven of Portpatrick, belonged anciently to the family of Adair of Kilhilt, from whom, about 1608, it passed to Sir Hew Montgomery (afterwards Viscount Airds, in the county of Down). It remained in his family for three generations, and he speedily obtained the erection of the village into a burgh-of-barony, and imposed on it the name of Port Montgomery-a name, however, that never came much into vogue. Hitherto all the lands which constitute the present parish had belonged to the parish of Inch, and were called the Black Quarter of Inch. But in 1628 a charter, granted by Charles I., detached them-Portree, Kilhilt, and Sorbies - from Inch, erected them into a separate parish, ordained that a church which was then building should be the parish church, and constituted it a rectory under the patronage of the lord of the manor. Another charter, which was dated two years later, and which suppressed the abbey of Saulseat, granted as endowment for the new parish the unappropriated revenues of the parish churches of Saulseat and Kirkmaiden, which had belonged to the abbey. The ruinous old parish church, built in 1628-29, was a cruciform structure, with a circular central tower, suggestive of defensive purposes. In the churchyard lie 60 of the persons lost in the wreck of the Orion, a Glasgow and Liverpool steamer, which occurred in fine weather, ¼mile N of the `Port,' 18 June 1850. Portpatrick was long the Gretna Green for Ireland; and the marriages of 198 gentlemen, 15 officers, and 13 noblemen are registered in the kirk-session records for the 50 years prior to 1826, in which year the church courts interfered with the practice. The lowest fee then was £10 to the minister and £1 to the session clerk. The present parish church, built in 1842, is a handsome edifice, with 800 sittings, and a square embattled tower. The plain Free church was built soon after the Disruption. Portpatrick has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, a comfortable hotel, and good sea-bathing. Pop. of village (1831) 1205, (1841) 996, (1861) 1206, (1871) 685, (1881) 591, of whom 358 were females. Houses (1881) 125 inhabited, 14 vacant.

The parish is bounded NW and N by Leswalt, NE by Inch, E and SE by Stoneykirk, and SW by the Irish Channel. Its utmost length, from NE to SW, is 43/8 miles; its utmost breadth is 4 miles; and its area is 9145¼ acres, of which 43 are foreshore and 8 water. The coast, 43/8 miles in extent, has a general south-south-easterly trend. Over its whole extent it is bold, rocky, and dangerous to navigation, presenting a line of natural rampart, interrupted only by four or five little bays, and comprising a series of cliffs and shelving rocks pierced with caves, torn with fissures, or notched with protuberances, and rising, in many instances, to an altitude of from 100 to 200 feet. The little bays have the capacity- of mere creeks, yet possess pleasant features, and, in a certain degree, or in given winds, afford safe entrance and shelter to vessels. Killantringan Bay touches, or partly forms, the northern boundary; Port Kale and Port Mora, the next bay and a twin one, are 1½ mile to the SSE; and Portpatrick and Castle Bays are respectively 15/8 and 1 mile from the southern boundary. Port Mora, though separated from Port Kale by only a slender promontory, has a beach entirely different, its composition being of the fine soft sand of freestone, while that of the other's beach is the grit and small boulders of primitive rock. A glen which comes down to the head of Port Mora, and brings to the sea the silvery waters of a brook, is pronounced by the writer of the New Statistical Account `the most picturesque in Galloway;' its stream making `a very pretty wild waterfall,' and its sides being traversed by walks which are `very tastefully cut, and connect the two bays with the present mansion-house of Dunskey, situated about a mile distant on the height.' The interior of the parish is all elevated, and attains its greatest altitude about 3¼ miles from the coast. The surface is either hilly or irregularly undulated, exhibiting scarcely any level ground except in a few small tracts of peat moss. Most of the slopes are gradual, but a few are too steep to permit the traction of the plough, and many, especially the loftier ones, are flecked or jagged with bare rock. Most of the hills are tabular, but a few are cupolar or conical. The loftier ones are called the fells of the farms to which they severally belong; and the loftiest of all, Cairnpat (593 feet), is the highest ground in the Rhinns of Galloway, and commands a very extensive and diversified prospect. The prevailing rocks are greywacke, greywacke slate, and alum slate, the first of which is quarried as building material. The soil is almost everywhere moorish or mossy; and where cultivated, it has become a brown mould or a blackish moss, streaked or interworked with a marly clay, taken up by the plough from the subsoil. Mosses abound, and, even on the hill tops, are frequently 6 or 7 feet deep. Nearly three-fourths of the entire area are regularly or occasionally arable; rather less than one-third is waste or pastoral; and about 310 acres are under plantation. The chief antiquity and the chief mansion are noticed under Dunskey. Three proprietors hold each an annual value of more than £500. Portpatrick is in the presbytery of Stranraer and the synod of Galloway; the living is worth £188. The public school, with accommodation for 277 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 129, and a grant of £106, 9s. 6d. Valuation (1860) £4745, (1885) £6587, 5s. 1d. Pop. (1801) 1090, (1831) 2239, (1861) 2189, (1871) 1492, (1881) 1285.—Ord. Sur., sh. 3, 1856.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer


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