The museum collects, conserves and exhibits artefacts relating to the history of County Down from the earliest times until today. Our aim is to enhance appreciation of the history, culture and environment of the County through the organisation of exhibitions, activities and events which are informative, accessible and relevant to the local community and our visitors.
The museum is located in the historic buildings of the eighteenth century County Gaol of Down. The Gaol was opened in 1796 and until its closure in 1830 housed many thousands of prisoners. Our online prisoners database allows you to search for details of prisoners.
In addition to incarcerating many people for very minor offences, the gaol held 1798 rebels captured after the battles of Saintfield and Ballynahinch and the United Irishman, Thomas Russell, executed for his role in the abortive rebellion of 1803.
The gaol was also a convict gaol and many hundreds of transportees were imprisoned here prior to their journey to the convict colonies of New South Wales. The museum began a programme of restoring the gaol buildings in 1981, and now visitors to the site can see the conditions in which the prisoners were kept, visit restored cells complete with displays on individual prisoners, and stroll through the gaol courtyards which today are likely to be the scene of lively events and re-enactments!
The museum's permanent exhibitions include Down Through Time which explores 9000 years of human history in County Down.
A programme of temporary exhibitions deals with everything from the Victorians to local artists.
The Down County Museum symbol is based on a coin minted by John de Courcy, about 1190, probably in Downpatrick. It has the name of Patrick, with a crozier, on one side and of de Courcy on the other. It was a symbolic linking of the religious and political associations of the area and because it did not bear the head of Prince John, Lord of Ireland, it was a declaration of independence by de Courcy.