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Portaferry, County Down


Ir. Port an Pheire ‘port of the ferry’


At lower end of Ards Peninsula, 12km NE of Downpatrick

par: Ballyphilip bar: Ards Upper

Mac Reachtain (1951:9) took Peireadh as an Old Irish word meaning “rapid, treacherous whirlwinds” but as Knox (Knox Hist. 467) states: “Portaferry obviously derives its name from its position on the Ferry, which forms the main line of communication between the baronies of Ards and Lecale”.  This ferry operates across Strangford Narrows between the towns of Strangford and Portaferry.  Harris regarded the name Portaferry as “intirely English” (Harris Hist. 45, n. c).  but its structure would refute this.  An Irish bardic poem dated to 1617 refers to Port na Peireadh, which shows that the place-name existed as an Irish-language name.  It should be noted here, however, that a feminine form of the genitive Port na Peireadh does not reflect ordinary usage and the anglicized forms of the name suggest a masculine form of the word was the more usual in everyday speech.  Dinneen has Port an Pheire, as does AGBP, although the variant genitive given by Dinneen as Peiridh would also have given Port an Pheiridh, which accords well with the anglicized forms of the name.


Hughes A. J. (1992): Place-Names of Northern Ireland vol. 2 p. 64-5; with additions PT, 2012;McKay, P. (2007): A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names, p. 120

Additional Information

T., 1851 Census. The southern edge of the town extends into Ballytrustan parish.

Historical name form

Old FormRef. DateReference
Sauage ca. [Muhr, 2005]1595Mercator's Ulst.
Petre Ferry1610Speed's Ulster
Port na Peireadh1617cLCABuidhe 160 l.193
""Portfeare1622Ulster Visit. Reeves 25
Portferry1628Sav. Ulst. 369
Portforrie1628Sav. Ulst. 368
Portforry otherwise Ballymurphye1628Sav. Ulst. 368
Portferry otherwise Ballymurphy1637cSav. Ulst. 373
Portaferry1640Sav. Ulst. 247
""Portferry1661Trien. Visit. (Bramhall) 8
~Port an Pheire1989GÉ 146
~Port an Pheire ""landing-place of the ferry""1999Dict. Ulst. PN 120
Ards Upper
Parish in 1851
Ballyphillip, Tullyboard
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