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Heritage Tour - Downpatrick Courthouse

Downpatrick Courthouse
(Grade B Listed Building)

This is a photograph of Downpatrick Courthouse

Downpatrick Courthouse rests impressively on a hill overlooking the historic city of Downpatrick, Co. Down. Nearby is Downpatrick cathedral, the burial place of Saint Patrick.

The courthouse was erected on a hill, known originally as Sessions Hill, in 1735 by Hugh Darling of Dublin. It contained 2 courtrooms, one for Crown business and one for civil business and rooms for grand juries, petty juries and juries of matrons.

Prior to 1790 there were only a few steps to the building, but subsequently the hill had to be cut down to fill the deep hollow between the courthouse and the Cathedral, necessitating the building of extra steps up to the courthouse.

Exterior

Above the entrance hall outside on the parapet of the building stand two fine leaden statues of Justice and Plenty (represented by Ceres holding a sheaf of corn) intimating that as justice has its dominion here, so plenty will follow. When they were stripped down in recent renovations it was discovered that Justice had bullet wounds on her chin, cheek and side of her nose and Ceres has buckshot in her back. These statues are two of only five lead statues in Ireland, two of the others are in Dublin Castle.

The Coat of Arms on the front of the building between the two statues of Justice and Ceres is the Coat of Arms of George II who was King, when the courthouse was erected in 1735.

Interior

In the Great Hall the stone floor, huge heaters and basic wooden seating retains the feeling of the old market house.

Oblong marks on the sides of the two sandstone columns indicate that at some time in the past the front had been open to the elements although there would have been wrought iron screening with gates. When the building was stripped down to its base walls (after a bomb blast in 1971) three arch ways could be traced along each side of the hall indicating that the entrance to the courtrooms was also open from the Hallway.

This is an interior photograph of Downpatrick Courthouse this is a photograph of the stairway in Downpatrick courthouse This is a photograph of the stairway in Downpatrick Courthouse This is a photograph of the pillars in Downpatrick Courthouse

The courthouse was enlarged and improved in 1834, but during the Spring assizes of 1855 the Courthouse was burnt down and many of the county records were lost. After the fire the courthouse was substantially rebuilt by George Stockdale a local builder, to plans prepared by Henry Smyth the county surveyor and remains as it is today.

Courtroom No.1 remains as part of the original building and its imposing ambience transposes the past into the present. One can almost hear the echo of 'send him down' hovering in the atmospheric staircase that leads to the cells from the court. In the renovation between 1988 and 1991 the cellblock underneath court No.1 was enlarged with better facilities for prisoners and their escorts, with new matching set of stairs to the dock in courtroom No.2.

This is a photograph of a court room in Downpatrick Courthouse This is a photograph of a court room in Downpatrick Courthouse This is a photograph of the stiars to cells in Downpatrick Courthouse This is a photograph of the stairs to the cells in Downpatrick Courthouse

The Coat of Arms above the canopy in courtroom No. 2 is the Coat of Arms of County Down.

Courtroom No.3 - This courtroom is more modern than the other two, however, the imposing blue ceiling provides a traditional flavour to the room.

This is a photograph of ceiling in court 3 This is a photograph of court 3 in Downpatrick courthouse This is a photograph of the ceiling in Court 3 This is a photograph of the display cabinet

The display cabinet positioned along the wall holds artefacts found when the courthouse was renovated. For example, tools, a wooden pen, brick, rum bottle were all used earlier this century.

This is a photograph from Downpatrick Courthouse

During the large scale rebuilding of the courthouse in 1857, a tunnel was added from the cellblock in the basement to the gatehouse of the prison.

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