Head out of Ardglass towards Strangford. The Ballyhornan Coastal Path has two points of access. From Chapeltown, park and walk down the Sheepland Road. From Ballyhornan, use the car park and walk south along the beach towards Ardglass.
To begin in Sheepland you can park at Chapeltown and walk down the Sheepland Road. Follow the road down to the fork where the laneway leads to Sheepland Harbour marked as a no through route. Sheepland is renowned for its butterflies and wildflowers. Butterfly Conservation have a small circular looping walk around the harbour. Branching off this walk is the Lecale Way which the Ballyhornan Coastal Path is part of.
To begin in Ballyhornan you can park at the beach carpark which is located on the Ballyhornan Scenic Loop. Head down the hill onto the strand and follow the route south past Guns Island. The route is rocky and as you head south you come onto the cliff top Ballyhornan Coastal Path. This route is linear for about a mile and a half with spectacular scenery and views of the Mourne Mountains and the Isle of Man.
Please note: The route is linear and you should plan in advance. During the year parts of the path may close to allow for grazing. The route is way marked as part of the Lecale Way.
Lecale way; www.walkni.com/walks/0/lecale-way
While the woolly creatures do graze the moors Sheepland is actually a very old Irish word derrived from Seipéalín. This signifies a little chapel and actually is named after a monastery which was destroyed by the Danes. The people who lived there wore white robes and are remembered in the name of the hill where their monastery stood, the Mullaghban - the white hill.
Saint Patrick's Well
Just around the coast from Sheepland Harbour is a holy well named after Saint Patrick. He is said to have blessed its waters. The rocky coast also has a unique formation known as Saint Patrick's Road which can be seen at low tide. Cantilevering over the sea, traditionally it is believed that this was the bridge Saint Patrick built to the Isle of Man.
Sheepland's windmill was one of the first mills in the Lecale area built to grind corn. Sir Hector McNeill, son of the Reverend Archibald McNeill, who purchased the land in 1710, built this mill around 1730. The entire area around Strangford Lough is dominated by windmill stumps and County Down's list actually outnumbers the rest of the island!
The watermill was built much earlier and is located at the top of Sheepland Harbour. These mills were worked by the Curran family into the late 1930's. The industry was a difficult one and the season only lasted three months. The stump of the windmill remains a key navigation mark to mariners.
The watermill and Millers Cottage in the 1930s
L'Amite, sunk off Sheepland in 1797
The L'Amitie was a 400 ton French warship laden with cannons and munitions for the United Irishmen. On the dreadful night of April 7th, a storm came on quickly with snow blizzards which pushed the ship on to the rocks of Sheepland.
Out of a crew of 104 men only one survived. The man who survived came back from his native land each year on the anniversary of the tragedy and walked up to the wreck along a path known locally as the 'Steersman's Pad'. The L'Amitie was a merchant ship which had also been hired for the extensive slave trade between Africa and America.
L’Amitie – landing guns for the Irish Rebels in Down
The Georgetown Victory, sunk off Killard Banks on April 30th 1946
On April 30, 1946, she ran aground off Killard Point, County Down, Ireland. All 1400 men were rescued by life boats and breeches buoy. The Illustrated London News noted that the ship was so close to land that a number of men waded ashore through heavy oil and were cared for in nearby homes.
The newspapers blamed heavy fog, but an authoritative history of the Victory ships says she was running at full speed on a fine clear evening. Undoubtedly, everyone aboard was anxious to reach port. In any case, by daybreak the next day, the vessel had broken her back on the ledge, and deteriorating weather conditions made her breakup seem imminent.
Later, all remaining portable gear not already taken by looters was removed and the ship abandoned. Winter storms later separated the wreck into two parts. These sections were finally salvaged in 1951 and consigned to the ship-breakers at Troon.
Georgetown Victory on the rocks at Killard
Will's Billy Curran and Tales around Sheepland
Will's Billy (William, son of William) Curran, lived on a small holding on Sheepland marked by a plaque on the trail today from 1857 to 1933.
The Sage of Sheepland Mór born. A Gaelic speaker and traditional 'Shanachie' or story teller, his smallholding was a venue for local Céilí. The 'ceilidh' is a literary entertainment where stories and tales, poems and ballads, are rehearsed and recited, songs are sung, dances are had, conundrums are put, proverbs are quoted, and many other literary matters are related and discussed.
On many occasions you could find the great antiquarian Francis Joesph Bigger sitting along his hearthside along with the famous revolutionary Irishmen like Sir Roger Casement and Eskine Childers, father of a future Irish president.
Will’s Billy’s small thatched cottage was not only the ceilidhing place of the district, but a magnet as he was a great storyteller and was able to recite stories that happened to people from centuries long gone.
Billy had a big voice and used it very effectively especially when reciting the poems of Robbie Burns such as 'Tam O' Shanter' and 'The Jolly Beggars'. Quite often Billy would get out his fiddle and sit on Craigmalady rock in Sheepland and play tunes into the evening with his music drifting over the fields for all who wanted to hear.
Billy was also a great nature lover and spent much of his life studing birds and wildlife, and fishing at Sheepland harbour for his dinner - he would have made his own flies out of bird featers and threds from old shirts. He was superstitous and said he had seen lots of ghosts and fairies giving colourful accounts of these happenings.
Will's Billy died in October 1933 aged 76 but while his house is now crumbling walls he is still remembered and a plaque marks his home to this day.