Port-Patrick, pp.560-562.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   PORT-PATRICK, a parish near the middle of the Rhinns of Galloway, and on the west coast of Wigtonshire. It is bounded on the north by Leswalt; on the east by Inch and Stoneykirk; on the south by Stoneykirk; and on the south-west and west by the Irish channel. Its greatest length, from east to west, is 4½ miles; its greatest breadth is 4 miles; and its area is about 16 square miles. Its form is quadrangular and compact. Piltanton-burn traces the boundary for 1½ mile on the east; and one indigenous burn, and another from Leswalt, traverse the interior to the sea. The coast is 4¾ miles in extent; and, except for a mile on the north, where it stretches nearly due north and south, it trends to the south-east. Over its whole extent, it is bold, rocky, and dangerous to navigation. Rocks and cliffs, locally called “heughs,” beetle up in but a slightly interrupted line of natural rampart, and, in many instances, have an elevation of from 100 to 130 feet. Many of them are sheer precipices; others have a sufficient gradient to tempt the descent of youngsters to the water’s edge, and are notched with protuberances which the adventurous occupy as fishing-seats; and a few have small caves and cavernous rents, in which wild-fowl and the spray of the angry sea contend for possession. The whole line of rampart is cloven down or shaven away by only four little bays; and, except at these points, forbids the existence of a beach. These bays, as to their extent, are mere creeks: but they are faced with level or gently-sloping belts of sand, they are hung round with declivitous rocky banks, or with green and swelling hills, and they, in a certain degree, or in given winds, afford safe entrance and shelter to vessels. Killantringan bay touches, or partly forms the northern boundary; Portkale and Portmurray, the next bay and a twin one, is 1¾ mile to the south; and Port-patrick and Castle bays are respectively 1¾ and 1 mile from the southern boundary. Portmurray, though separated from Portkale by only a slender promontory, and forming with it an outline like that of the curvive Greek omega, ω, has a beach entirely different, – its composition being of the fine soft sand of freestone, while that of the others’ beach is the grit and small boulders of primitive rock. A glen which comes down to the head of Portmurray, arid 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.” – CAIRNPAT [which see] is the highest ground in the parish; it is situated 3½ miles east-north-east of the town; and it commands a map-like view of the parish and of the Rhinns, and a very extensive and varied circumjacent prospect. On the west, the larger part of the parish forms a foreground of tumulated and continually broken surface, sweeping away in a huddled crowd of low heights to the sea; the broad and beautiful belt of the Irish channel occupies the centre, studded with sails, or streaked with the smoke and foam of steam-ships; and the Irish coast seen over an extent of, 70 miles, forms the back-ground, with the dark Mourne mountains on the one end, the bold summits and the long sweep of the Antrim hills on the other, and the town of Donaghadee, and the rich, gently-undulated grounds of Downshire in the middle. On the south, the Rhinns recede in a narrow belt of 18 miles, chiefly peninsular, to the Mull of Galloway, moorish and hillocky in aspect, but gorgeously girt round with “the deep blue sea;” and in the far but clear distance beyond them, after a broad interval of glittering ocean, appear the picturesque heights of the Isle of Man. On the east, the smaller part of the parish forms an immediate foreground, sloping rapidly down to Piltanton-burn; the broad, level, and low isthmus between Luce-bay and Loch-Ryan, forms a remoter foreground, rich, variegated, and embellished with the groves and the plantation-belts of the Earl of Stair, the lakes and wooded grounds of Castle-Kennedy, and the plantations of Garthland; and a wild and mountain-clad, though comparatively low country, forms a slowly receding back-ground, and rests its outer rim on the blue and dimly-seen mountains of Kirkcudbright. On the north, the eye is carried beyond the parochial boundary, over a surface ruggedly broken, and profusely rocky; it then wanders over the town and level shores of Stranraer, the whole expanse of Lochryan, and the sloping or soft-featured grounds of Leswalt and Kirkcolm; and thence it is lifted away up the broad and long gulf of the Clyde, past the bold hill-crag of Ailsa, to the far-distant mountain-ranges of Arran and Argyleshire. – The prevailing rocks are greywacke, greywacke slate, and alum slate; the first of which is quarried as a 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 hilltops, are frequently 6 or 7 feet deep. Nearly two-thirds of the whole area is in a higher or lower sense arable; about one-third is waste or pastoral; and about 300 acres are under plantation. Dunskey castle, the ancient seat of the family of Blair, and now in ruins, stands on the brink of a giddy precipice at the head of Castle-bay; it was anciently secured, on the land side, by a ditch and drawbridge, the remains of which are still visible; and, before the invention of artillery, it must have been impregnable. In its vicinity are a streamlet and a cave which were esteemed, even in the last generation, to possess some magic properties of healing; and, at the change of the moon, were resorted to by infirm superstitious persons, who bathed in the streamlet, arid dried themselves in the cave. Population, in 1801, 1,090; in 1831, 2,239. Houses 293. Assessed property, in 1815, £4,025. Port-Patrick is in the presbytery of Stranraer, and synod of Galloway. Patron, Blair of Dunskey. Stipend £158 6s. 8d.; glebe £30. An assistant and successor has £50. The parish-church was built in 1629, and has not since been enlarged, or materially altered. Sittings 300. A large hall in the old barracks was fitted up, in 1836, as a sort of chapel-of-ease, and is gratuitously supplied by licentiates resident in the parish. Sittings 120. The population, in 1836, according to ecclesiastical survey, consisted of 1,605 churchmen, and 376 dissenters, – in all 1,981 persons, – an increase of 200 or 250 taking place by immigration when the harbour-works are going on. In 1834, the parish-school was attended by 35 scholars, and 6 private schools by 140. Parochial schoolmaster’s salary £30, with about £5 fees. – At the village and haven now called Port-Patrick, there was anciently a chapel dedicated to St. Patrick. The Irish apostle is said, in one of the monstrous legends which found currency during the dark ages, to have crossed hither from Ireland at a single stride, and left a footmark in a rock so distinct as to be traceable till the rock was, in modern times, quarried; and he, at all events, seems to have been the adopted tutelary, or the favourite of the Roman Catholic natives. The barony of Portree comprehended the village and haven; it anciently belonged to the family of Adair of Kinhilt; and, at the end of James VI.’s reign, it passed to Hugh Montgomery, Viscount of Airds, in the county of Down; and, for a considerable period, it remained in his family. Lord Montgomery speedily obtained the erection of the village into a burgh-of-barony, and imposed on it the name of Port-Montgomery, – a name which it for some time wore. 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 – consisting of Portree, Kinhilt, and Sorbies – from that parish, – erected them into a separate parochial jurisdiction, – ordained that a church which was then in the course of erection in the burgh-of-barony should be the parish-church, – and constituted the church a rectory under the patronage of the lord of the manor; and 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 town of PORT-PATRICK stands on the coast of the parish just described, 6½ miles south-west of Stranraer, 34¼ west of Wigton, 56½ south-south-west of Ayr, 75 west-south-west of Dumfries, 90½ south-south-west of Glasgow, and 131½ south-west of Edinburgh. It stands directly opposite the Irish port of Donaghadee, on the coast of the county Down, at the distance from it of only 21 miles; and, occupying the spot of British ground which is nearest to Ireland, and whence a passage can at any time be made without obstruction, it has acquired importance as a great international ferry-station between the two great insular sections of the United Kingdom. Its site is peculiar, and, on a small scale, romantic and wild. A semicircle of high ground, composed in the interior of soil-clad hills, and toward the sea of naked and bold cliffs, sweeps so completely round it, or sends the cliffy ends so far past it in abutments upon the sea, that not a peep of the outer world can be obtained, except right forward across the channel to the coast of Ireland. The declivities of the semi-circle or amphitheatre are, at the sides of the little enclosed bay, 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 highway, they are sufficiently rapid to give the whole enclosed space the appearance of a large quarry, or the half of a huge bowl. Neither by land nor north-ward or southward by the sea, is the town seen till it is almost entered, and from either position, especially from the latter, it has an aspect of dreariness and of suffocating seclusion which make a stranger from either the gay city, or the broad and bounding landscape, recoil from the idea of its ever becoming his home. 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, it basks in a south-westerly exposure, and, during high winds from most points of the compass, is enviably snug; Most of the houses are of very recent date; and all are built of the greywacke of the rocks of the amphitheatre. The newest and principal street is about 350 yards in length; it commences near the centre of the basin at the harbour, runs up toward the gorge or incision in the hill-screen, and carries out the mailroad on the way to Stranraer; and it has on its south-side, the manse, the church, and the burying-ground. 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. Some smaller streets lie behind the angles made by the intersection of these. 

   The harbour of Port-Patrick, till a comparatively recent date, was a mere natural inlet between the two rocky ridges which project into the sea. As there is a prodigious swell from without when the wind blows upon the shore, while naturally no elbow or recess existed where there was either smooth water or shelter, vessels which entered the harbour had to be run aground, and, with the aid of probably all the inhabitants both male and female of the village, dragged up the beach, to be in a similar manner laboriously re-launched on occasion of their next trip to sea; and, in consequence, they all required to be of flat-bottomed construction, and were comparatively rude and small. Not till 1662, and then only once a-week, was a regular post established through Port-Patrick between Scotland and Ireland; but long after that date, the flat-bottomed boats and the rude natural harbour continued to be in use; and even toward the end of last century, two large flats, which had formerly been Government packets, were to be seen on the shore, as monuments of modern barbarity. Eventually, in 1774, a very fine pier, one of the best in Britain, was built, and, before 1790, was provided with a reflecting lighthouse, to correspond with one which had long previously existed on the opposite coast at Donaghadee. But greatly better harbourage being required, a project for new works on a magnificent scale was brought before parliament in 1820, and begun to be executed in the spring of next year under the superintendence of a board of commissioners; and it has since been carried on, under the designing and direction of the celebrated engineers, the elder and the younger Rennie, till now it is not far from being completed. The new works have already cost upwards of £160,000, and are incomplete only in the north pier. Their form is nearly that of a horse-shoe; the sides running out into piers, which are furnished near their extremities with jetties, and are slightly curved toward each other, and, at the jetties, contract the entrance to 180 feet. On one side of the enclosed basin, a large rock looks up from the surface, and partially protects the interior from the wind and swell at the entrance; and, on the other side, the old pier of 1774 projects inward on a line nearer the land than the centre of the basin. 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 semi-circular sweep, within which rises a handsome light-house of the same material, and 46 feet high. But the stupendous, and by far the costliest parts of the works, are concealed from the eye by the tide, and were constructed chiefly with the aid of the diving-bell. A lively article in the Dumfries Magazine, written in 1825, when the works were in a state of but small forwardness, affords a fine conception of the enormous labour of erecting them, and hints by anticipation the magnitude of their completed state. “Port-Patrick, as it is,” says the writer, “no more resembles Port-Patrick as it was, than a little rural hamlet resembles a great trading town. No doubt the original shielings which formed the village stand, for the most part, where they were – the Irish coast is still in view, with the wide Atlantic flowing between (in summer, as tranquil as a sleeping child; in winter, vexed and agitated by every wind that blows, as if threatening to drive ‘the Mull’ from its base); but, in every other respect, the aspect of ‘the Port’ is wholly changed. In place of a few cock-boats or timid coasters, you see a brace of steamers, each of the power of 40 horses, and so splendidly fitted up as to deserve the name of floating palaces; in place of one packet in the offing unable to gain, another to leave, the olden harbour – that beating painfully about in the offing, this afraid to dip her keel in the waves, you see vessels that start as regularly as the clock strikes, that gallantly bear up against wind and tide, complete the passage in little more than two hours, and serve all the purposes of those marine bridges which only Michael Scott, the wizard, could build. In place of a few fishermen lounging about, and wondering why the herrings had not arrived, you see 800 able-bodied men, whose labours are all directed to one great object, and who, under the guidance of a skilful engineer, are triumphing over the most formidable obstacles of nature. Even the din of the ocean is stilled by the clang of hammers, the suction of pumps, the hissing of boilers, and the roar of bellows, such as the Cyclops themselves might have coveted. A hundred jumpers are set home at once, trains are laid, matches applied, and as blast succeeds blast, large masses of rock are hurled headlong into the depths below, from positions they had occupied since the era of the flood. There, an artificial dike or mound shuts out the waves, and, with the aid of the pump, enables the workmen to bid defiance to an element which, to a stranger, seems fraught with destruction and death; here the punt approaches, and the crane discharges its ponderous load; and farther on still the diver descends in his house of iron, and even at the lowest depths, founds and fashions the base of erections which give extension to the commerce, and safety to the unequalled navy of Britain.” Neap-tides rise in the harbour from 8 to 11 feet, and spring-tides from 14 to 17 feet. Steamers of 80 horse-power could be so built as to enter and remain afloat in any state of the tide; but as yet only steamers of at most 50 horse-power have been employed. 

   The traffic and the connexional importance of Port-Patrick are sadly pigmy affairs compared with the greatness of the place as a ferry-station, and with the sumptuousness of its harbour. It has, indeed, rapidly passed from the state of a miserable fishing-hamlet to that of a large village or small town, and from numbering only about 100 inhabitants at a period less than a century ago, has come to number somewhat upwards of 1,000; but, apart from the stir of mere passenger and mail transit, and the turmoil which has attended the construction of its great public works, it is wrapped in comparative insignificance, and even appears half-threatened with desertion. So far back as 1760 its inhabitants were very nearly equal to a moiety of the present number; and, in 1791, it had upwards of a dozen trading vessels of from 40 to 60 tons each, – it had some companies of ship-wrights who displayed enterprise in ship-building, and promised to make it a large local employment, – it annually, as an entrepot for Scotland, imported from Ireland upwards of 17,000 horses and cattle, – and it made extensive exchanges between the linen of the Irish factories and the cotton goods of Glasgow, Paisley, and Manchester; but now it has only four sailing-vessels, aggregately but 180 tons, – it has not, for very many years, and probably may never again, be witness to the construction of a vessel, – it has all but ceased to be an entrepot of any sort of produce from Ireland, and does not on the average import more than about two cattle in the day, – and, in general, it has sunk so low that, according to the New Statistical Account of it, dated December 1838, “There is no trade worth mentioning. Lime from Ireland and coals from Ayrshire are imported for the use of the parish, and occasionally the agricultural produce of the district is exported; but rarely, as the greater part is sold at Stranraer, either for consumpt there, or for exportation.” A large custom-house establishment, which not many years ago existed at the port, has dwindled away to a single tide-waiter. Large portions of the national community, too, have for years past freely talked of the possible prudence of depriving it of its only profitable or boasted characteristic, – its being the most favourable point of intercommunication between Scotland and Ireland; and the trial which has been already for some months experienced of how rapidly intercourse is maintained between Belfast and the great emporia of western Scotland, by means of steam-vessel to Ardrossan, and railway to Paisley, Greenock, and Glasgow, may not improbably do Port-Patrick irreparable damage. 

   The only manufacture is weaving on some half-score of looms, and the embroidering of muslin by a few women. A fishery of cod employs ten or eleven boats, and about 30 fishermen. A herring-fishery annually employed, for eight years, about 100 men; but, since 1821, it has been extinct. A few families resort to the town in summer for sea-bathing, and help to relieve its dulness. A large traffic was at one time carried on in the celebration of marriage between fugitive pairs from Ireland, – in a similar way for ‘the Emerald isle’ as is done at Gretna-Green for England, though not quite so discreditable and with much less indecorum; but, in 1826, the practice was happily annihilated by the interference of the church courts. The town’s charter, erecting it into a burgh-of-barony, is practically a carte blanche, and seems never to have been turned to any account. A sub-constable, connected with the county police, and having under his charge three parishes, is the only peace-officer. A miserable lock-up-house exists for the temporary incarceration of a depredator. The town is in no way distinguished for cleanliness; yet has a fair proportion of respectable and intelligent inhabitants. 

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