Banbridge is a town historically in County Down in Northern Ireland, but nowadays part of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District. It stands on the road between Belfast and Newry so it grew up as a rest stop for stagecoaches, and in the 19th century it was a major centre of the Irish linen industry. In 2011 it had a population of 16,637.
The direct route from Belfast to Newry and Dublin crosses higher ground, which the railway swings west to avoid. The River Bann flows northwest out of the Mourne Mountains towards Lough Neagh: it's narrow and fast-flowing, good for powering watermills, but not navigable. South of the bridge over the Bann which gives this town its name, there's a long grinding gradient as the road climbs out of the valley. Modern cars and trucks have no difficulty but it was sore toil for horses and their drivers, so in 1834 "The Cut" was made through the brow of the hill, with a bridge for the cross-street. You still needed to rest the horses, so Banbridge became a staging post for the mail coaches.
Banbridge isn't recorded in history until 1691, when Jacobite resistance to King William III was being crushed. It grew with the linen industry, becoming the principal linen-producing district in Ireland by 1772; fabric was whitened by laying it out in the sunshine in riverside bleach-greens. Domestic production grew into "cottage industry" then large mills, although transport here was always a handicap compared to lowland Lisburn.
The mills were most suited to items like bed linen, with plain fabric and mass production runs. In the early 19th century the Jacquard machine made the looms programmable, enabling more complex designs and shorter runs. The pattern was specified by punched cards, which moved rods, which raised or lowered hooks carrying threads into the "shed" of the loom. Charles Babbage took a great interest in this invention, and in the ideas of George Boole in Cork who formulated logic into algebra, and the modern programmable computer was born. Herman Hollerith the founder of IBM developed smaller 12-row 80-column cards which became an industry standard, and remained in common use to 1980.
In the 20th century the linen trade collapsed under foreign competition. Flax-growing, spinning into yarn, weaving, and making up into garments is nowadays mostly abroad. A single manufacturer, Thomas Ferguson, has stayed in business by concentrating on luxury apparel.
Goldline Bus 238 runs hourly from Belfast Europa bus station via Sprucefield retail park (south edge of Lisburn), Hillsborough and Dromore to Banbridge, 50 min. It continues to Newry (another 30 min), which has buses and trains from Dublin. There's also a slower Bus 538 via Dunmurry, Lisburn, Sprucefield, Hillsborough and Dromore to Banbridge (90 min) and Newry.
Bus X1 runs every couple of hours from Dublin Busáras and Airport via Newry to Banbridge (2 hr), continuing to Sprucefield and Belfast.
Bus 62 runs from Portadown via Gifford to Banbridge, taking 35 min. It runs M-F hourly, Sa every couple of hours, no Sunday service.
The 1 bus station is south end of main street at the junction with Kenlis Rd.
Banbridge lost its railway in 1956, so by train change at Newry or Lisburn for the bus. There's a closer station at Scarva 4 miles west, but it has only two trains a day and five buses (# 33) to Banbridge.
Banbridge is on the A1 main road between Belfast and Newry, which continues across the border as N1 / M1 to Dundalk, Drogheda and Dublin.
You can reach Loughbrickland on the bus. You need your own wheels for anywhere that's not along the A1.
- North of the river is the most attractive part of town, with Georgian buildings lining A26. South ascending through The Cut is mostly modern and nondescript.
- 1 Thomas Ferguson Irish Linen, 54 Scarva Rd BT32 3QD, ☏ . Shop M-Th 09:00-16:30, F 09:00-12:00. This is the last of Ireland's traditional linen weavers - one other, John England, became part of the same company in 2012. They've kept going by concentrating on short-run luxury items such as damask weaves. Factory tours are normally available; in 2020 there are no tours but the shop remains open.
- 2 Lisnagade is a large earthen ringfort 3 miles west of town, follow Scarva Rd then turn south on Lisnagade Rd. It's three concentric embankments separated by ditches, some 120 yards in diameter, and connected at the north to a subsidiary fort. It may have been built around 350 AD. Sectarian battles were fought here in 1783 and 1789.
- 3 Loughbrickland is a village 3 miles south of Banbridge on A1. You might need to use a bit of imagination to appreciate the place, which was home to the Rev Patrick Brunty, father of the Brontë family, and of Enoch Powell MP. The lough itself, another mile south, has a crannog, a man-made island settlement from maybe 500 BC in the late Bronze Age. It was inhabited in the 17th century by the Magennis family in preference to their castle (which must have been the pits; nothing of it remains) and as a rebel hideout. All you see from the shore is a wooded islet. At the north end of the village, a permissive trail around the Whyte Estate takes in the earthworks of Coolnacran Ringfort and Johnston's Fort.
- Dromore: see Hillsborough for this small town with a cathedral and Norman motte and bailey.
- Legananny Dolmen: see Newcastle for this impressive neolithic tripod near Castlewellan.
- IMC Cinema is on Victoria St.
- The Leisure Centre is off Huntly Rd near the river bridge. It has a gym, pool and fitness classes, non-members welcome.
- Banbridge Golf Club is along Huntly Rd a mile north of town. White tees 5665 yards, par 69, £20 for a visitor round.
- Buskfest is a busking festival and competition in Banbridge in mid June. The 2020 event was cancelled and the next is probably 19 June 2021, tbc.
- Tesco is on Castlewellan Rd just east of the river. It's open M-Sa 06:00-00:00, Su 13:00-18:00 and has a filling station.
- The Outlet is a retail park a mile south of town at the junction of Newry Rd and A1. It's mostly for clothing.
- Lots of cheap and cheerful places along main drag, no standout.
- The Seven Stars, 4 Main St, Loughbrickland BT32 3NQ (off A1 three miles southwest of town), ☏ . Daily 11:00-23:00. Great little Irish bar and restaurant.
- 1 Pot Belly Restaurant, 59a Banbridge Rd, Gifford BT63 6DL (off A50), ☏ . Th-Sa 17:00-21:00, Su 12:30-19:30. Splendid Irish restaurant in a converted mill, worth the extra drive out.
- Town centre pubs are Imperial Inn, AJ Quinn and Bus Bar, with Railway Inn northwest off Huntly St.
- Downshire Arms Hotel, 95 Newry St BT32 3EF (opposite bus station), ☏ . Comfy central hotel with 9 rooms en suite and restaurant.
- 1 Belmont House Hotel, Rathfriland Rd BT32 3LH, ☏ . Elegant small hotel close to town centre. B&B double £100.
- 2 Banville Hotel, 174 Lurgan Rd BT32 4NR (on A26 three miles north of town), ☏ . Good mid-range place with popular restaurant. B&B double £100.
The town has a good mobile and 4G signal with all UK carriers, but there are lots of dead spots in the countryside around. As of Oct 2020, 5G has not reached this area.
- Hillsborough is an attractive Georgian village clustered round its imposing "castle", the residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
- Lisburn is where the Irish linen trade was founded.
- Newry and Newcastle are the obvious choices for exploring the Mourne Mountains.
- Brontë Country: there's little trace in County Down of the early years of Patrick Brunty or Brontë, so head for Haworth and other sites in the north of England to pick up the literary trail.
|Routes through Banbridge|
|Belfast ← Hillsborough ←||N S||→ Newry → Dublin|