The modern town has its roots in the early 17th century when the Scot, Sir James Hamilton, arrived in Bangor, having been granted lands in north Down by King James I in 1605. The Old Custom House which was completed in 1637 after James I granted Bangor the status of a port in 1620, is a visible reminder of the new order introduced by Hamilton and his Scots settlers, and is one of the oldest buildings in Ireland to have been in continual use. The town was an important source of customs revenue for the crown and in the 1780s Colonel Robert Ward improved the harbour and promoted the cotton industries; today's picturesque sea-front was the location of several large steam-powered cotton mills, which employed over three hundred people.
Scene: The Esplanade, circa 1910
Date: 1910 (estimate)
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Read about Bangor below
Bangor (see below for derivation) is a large town in County Down, Northern Ireland, with an urban area population of 76,851 people in the 2001 Census, making it the most populous town in Northern Ireland and the third most populous settlement in Northern Ireland. It is a seaside resort situated on the southern side of Belfast Lough and is situated in the Belfast Metropolitan Area. Bangor Marina is one of the largest in Ireland, and holds Blue Flag status.
It is primarily residential and can be viewed as a commuter town for the Greater Belfast area, from which it is linked by the A2 road and a direct railway line. Bangor is situated 13.6miles (22km) from the heart of Belfast and thirty minutes by train or bus with George Best Belfast City Airport even closer.
Bangor is part of the North Down Borough Council area and is twinned with the Austrian city of Bregenz. The Mayor of Bangor is Alan Leslie. It is also host to the Royal Ulster and Ballyholme Yacht clubs. Tourism is important, particularly in the summer months, and plans are being made for the redevelopment of the seafront; a notable building in the town is Bangor Old Custom House. The largest remaining individual land owner in the area is the Clandeboye Estate located a few miles from the town centre.
The name Bangor may be derived from the Irish Beannchar meaning a staked enclosure. It may also derive from an Old Norse word meaning a horn, rocks, or a peaked hill, and could refer to Bangor’s rocky coastline. Many settlements across the British Isles have been called Bangor, or had the word in their name. 'Ban' also means 'place' throughout the Isles, and 'gor' means 'choir', so its also possible that the name means 'choir place'.
Bangor has a long a varied history, from the Bronze Age people whose swords were discovered in 1949 or the Viking burial found on Ballyholme beach, to the Victorian pleasure seekers who travelled on the new railway from Belfast to take in the sea air. The town has been the site of a monastery renowned throughout Europe for its learning and scholarship, the victim of violent Viking raids in the 8th and 9th centuries, and the new home of Scottish and English planters during the Plantation of Ulster. The town has prospered as an important port, a centre of cotton production, and a Victorian and Edwardian holiday resort. Today it is a large retail centre and a commuter town for Belfast, though the remnants of the town's varied past still shape its modern form.
The Annals of Ulster tells us that the monastery of Bangor was founded by Saint Comgall in approximately 555 and was where the Antiphonarium Benchorense was written, a copy of which can be seen in the town's heritage centre. The monastery had such widespread influence that the town is one of only four places in Ireland to be named in the Hereford Mappa Mundi in 1300. The monastery, situated roughly where the Church of Ireland Bangor Abbey currently stands at the head of the town, became a centre of great learning and was among the most eminent of Europe’s missionary institutions in the Early Middle Ages, although it also suffered greatly at the hands of Viking raiders in the 8th century and the 9th century. Saint Malachy was elected Abbot of the monastery in 1123, a year before being consecrated Bishop of Connor. His extensive travels around Europe inspired him to rejuvenate the monasteries in Ireland, and he replaced the existing wooden huts with stone buildings; all that remains today of these is a solitary wall beside the current Bangor Abbey, supposed to be part of the monastery's refectory. Despite the decline of the monastery, its influence can still be observed in the modern town; streets names such as Abbots Close and Abbots Walk in the area of the Abbey give clues as to the town's illustrious ecclesiastical past.
17th and 18th centuries
The modern town has its roots in the early 17th century when the Scot, Sir James Hamilton, arrived in Bangor, having been granted lands in north Down by King James I in 1605. The Old Custom House which was completed in 1637 after James I granted Bangor the status of a port in 1620, is a visible reminder of the new order introduced by Hamilton and his Scots settlers, and is one of the oldest buildings in Ireland to have been in continual use. The town was an important source of customs revenue for the crown and in the 1780s Colonel Robert Ward improved the harbour and promoted the cotton industries; today's picturesque sea-front was the location of several large steam-powered cotton mills, which employed over three hundred people. The construction of a large stone market house around this time, now used by the Northern Bank, is a testament to the increasing prosperity of the town.
The end of the 18th century was a time of great political and social turmoil in Ireland, as the United Irishmen, inspired by the American and French Revolutions, sought to achieve a greater degree of independence from Britain. On the morning of 10 June 1798 a force of United Irishmen, mainly from Bangor, Donaghadee, Greyabbey and Ballywalter attempted to occupy the nearby town of Newtownards. They met with musket fire from the market house and were subsequently defeated.
By the middle of the 19th century, the cotton mills had declined and the town changed in character once again. The laying of the railway in 1865 meant that inexpensive travel from Belfast was possible, and working class people could afford for the first time to holiday in the town. Bangor soon became a fashionable resort for Victorian holidaymakers, as well as a desirable home to the wealthy. Many of the beautiful houses overlooking Bangor Bay (some of which have now been demolished to make way for modern apartments) date from this period. The belief in the restorative powers of the sea air meant that the town became a popular location for sea bathing and marine sports, and the number of visitors from Great Britain increased during the Edwardian period at the beginning of the 20th century, which also saw the improvement of Ward Park and the Marine Gardens.
The inter-war period of the early 20th century saw the development of the fondly remembered Tonic Cinema, Pickie Pool and Caproni’s ballroom — all three among the foremost of their type in Ireland. Only Pickie Pool exists today, though it is in a different location than it was in the past, due to the rejuvenation of Bangor seafront in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Tonic and Caproni's have both been demolished.
During World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhoweraddressed Allied troops in Bangor, who were departing to take part in the D-Day landings. In 2005, his grand-daughter Mary-Jean Eisenhower came to the town to oversee the renaming of the marina's North Pier to the Eisenhower Pier.
With the growing popularity of inexpensive foreign holidays from the 1960s onwards, Bangor declined as a tourist resort and was forced to rethink its future. The second half of the 20th century saw its role as a dormitory town for Belfast become more important. Its population increased dramatically; from around 14,000 in 1930 it had reached 40,000 by 1971 and 58,000 by the end of the century (some council publicity material counting it as high as 70,000), making it one of the ten largest settlements in all of Ireland.
The 1970s saw the building of the Springhill Shopping Centre, an out–of–town development near the A2 road to Belfast and Northern Ireland's first purpose-built shopping centre. It has now been demolished to facilitate the building of a modern 24-hour Tesco shopping centre. The town expanded rapidly in the 1980s to accommodate many new residents, absorbing much surrounding countryside. This period also saw the construction of the Ring Road, the Marina and major light industrial and retail developments. In the early 1990s, Bloomfield Shopping Centre, another out–of–town development, opened beside Bloomfield Estate. In 2007, a major renovation of the centre began, including the construction of a multistorey car park. The trend towards out–of–town shopping centres was somewhat reversed with the construction of the Flagship Centre and a large ASDA shopping centre in the town centre.
Currently the sea-front of the town is awaiting redevelopment and has been for over a decade, with a large part of the frontage already demolished, leaving a patch of derelict ground facing onto the marina. Because of this, a great deal of local controversy surrounds this process and the many plans put forward by the council and developers for the land (see External Links).
Bangor enjoys one of the sunniest climates in Northern Ireland, and the town receives about 860mm of rain per year. Snow is rare and normally only lies for five days per year. This is due to mild winters and close proximity to the sea. Winter maximums are about 7°c or 45°f but can reach as high as 15°c 60°f. Average maximums in summer are 19°c 66°f with a record of close to 90°f (32°c). The lowest recorded temperature is -10°c (14°f). The average wind speed is 9.2knots.
In football, the Irish First Division side Bangor F.C. play at Clandeboye Park on the Clandeboye Road. Their stadium, which is under renovation at the moment also hosts Ards F.C.'s 'home' matches. Bangor has a high reputation for sailing, hosting great world events and also has high prestige clubs such as the Royal Ulster Yacht Club and Ballyholme Yacht Club. Every year Bangor hosts the motorcycle World Trials Championships at the marina. Bangor also will host an off–road karting event on Gransha Road in 2007.
Bangor Cricket Club runs five teams now in full league competition and has a reputation for providing one of the best wickets to play on anywhere in Ireland. Not traditionally one of the giants of local cricket, they surprised many people by winning the NCU Senior League Section 1 three seasons ago, thanks largely to the exploits of New Zealander Regan West and all rounder Johnny Hewitt, who have now departed the club. Now the club is mid-table and looking to heavily develop its next generation. It is greatly aided in this regard by their Sri Lankan professional Yasas Tillakaratne.
Places of interest
Buildings of note
Somme Heritage Centre
Bangor Market House which dates from the late 18th century, is a 5 bay 2 story building currently used as a bank
Bangor Old Custom House
Public figures from Bangor
David Trimble, the former Ulster Unionist Party leader and former First Minister of Northern Ireland
The former Formula One racing driver Eddie Irvine (actually from Conlig - a small village just outside Bangor)
Belle & Sebastian bassist Bobby Kildea