Permanent Exhibition - Down Through Time

Located in the Governor's Residence of the old Gaol buildings, Down Through Time brings to life 9000 years of human history in Down. Featuring over 1100 historic objects, documents and works of art, the displays provide a fascinating glimpse into the County's past.

The exhibition is divided into the following sections:

Prehistory explains what we know about the lives of the first people in County Down.  This section deals with the Middle Stone Aage through to the Iron Age and includes a wide range of objects from flint tools, stone axes and pottery to bronze weapons and iron artefacts.

Early Christian Down which as well as dealing with the legacy of St Patrick, includes a fascinating selection of objects from monasteries in the locality from Saul to Downpatrick. Key objects on display here include six cross slabs from Saul.

Medieval Treasures interprets the period up to the 15th century including the impact of the Vikings and Normans in Down. Highlights of this display include two bronze cauldrons, and a large copper bowl. Although such objects can be found in some national collections, they are quite rare in local musuems.

Land and Power covers some of the most dramatic changes in the history of County Down. Although the County was never included in an organised settlement or ‘plantation’, it became one of the most successfully colonised areas in Ireland.  The display in this section is designed to increase knowledge of how some of our towns and trading centres developed, and to encourage enjoyment of local sites. The most striking items exhibited her are the portraits of Edward Southwell (1671-1730) and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Southwell, née Cromwell (1674-1709).

Rebellion, 1798-1803 deals with the period from the foundation of the Society of United Irishmen in 1791 to the execution of Thomas Russell in 1803 is a key time in the history of County Down. The Museum has a small but important collection of objects relating to the period including a letter giving an eye witness account of the Battle of Saintfield and a collection of documents relating to the investigation of the activities of Thomas Russell and his co-conspirators, James Drake and James Corry around the Loughinisland area in July 1803.

Hard Times, Great Expectations deals with the Victorian and Edwardian eras, times of dramatic change going from the industrial revolution to the early days of the twentieth century. If one object could be used to illustrate life in the mid 19th century, it is the Ballybrannagh Quilt, which includes pictures of domestic life, farming, boats, train, a hunt and a Procession in Belfast. But the collection here also includes a wealth of items which relate to education, health, work, politics, war and religion.  

War and Peace showcases the Museum’s collection of objects relating to the two world wars and to conflict in Ireland. The lives of local people living through these turbulent times is examined and objects on display range from photographs of Ulster Volunteers and Irish Volunteers and a wooden cross which marked the grave of a soldier from Downpatrick, killed in action in France to Home Guard uniform and ration books from the Second World War.

Post-war Down deals with life in the local areas from 1945 to 2000. Many of the items in this part of the Museum's collection will be readily remembered by visitors to the Museum. The Museum has been active in collecting objects from our recent past for several years. The result is thousands of household and domestic items, costume, toys, textiles, tools and farming implements, legal and legislative documents, advertisements and leisure items.

Audio points give visitors more information on key events and personalities in our local history and hands-on features provide children with the opportunity to carry out a wide range of activities from dressing up in replica costume and solving puzzles to having a go at rebuilding a prehistoric pot.