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Saintfield in a Nutshell

The small town of Saintfield is halfway between Belfast and Downpatrick.  It is a growing commuter town and currently has a population of around 3000.  Census information from 2001 is available here.

The area around Saintfield was mature oak forest until the sixteenth century with a sparse indigenous population under the control of a branch of the O’Neill family.  From about 1625 Scots settlers arrived in the area in small numbers.  After the 1641 rebellion was put down by Oliver Cromwell more English and Scots settlers arrived and by 1660 the first census of Saintfield counted 58 English and Scots and 101 Irish inhabitants in the fourteen townlands of the surrounding area.

Until 1712 Saintfield was known as Tonaghneave – Tamnach naomh, “the field of the saint”.  Neither the origin of the name nor the location of a saintly field are known today.

The town was largely the creation of the Price family.  General Nicholas Price bought the land for the town and the surrounding estate in 1709 for his third son.  Walter Harris, writing in 1744, says that General Price “made the road passable from Belfast to Down, …encouraged linen manufacturers and other tradesmen to settle there, had a barrack fixed for a troop of horse, and promoted the repairs of a ruinous, now decent, parish church, to which he gave plate and other ornaments”

The three churches on the Main Street were built between 1776 and 1787; the Parish Church in 1776, the 1st Presbyterian in 1777 and the Catholic Church in 1787.  The oldest buildings in Saintfield are the Parish Church, its rectory (badly damaged by fire in 2011), The First Presbyterian Church and the “old” Catholic Church, now a youth club. These churches and three weavers’ cottages at the Main Street end of Fair Green are the only buildings in Saintfield that pre-date the 1798 rebellion.  All other buildings of the 18th century were burned to the ground as a reprisal following the Battle of Saintfield.  Most of the existing buildings on Saintfield’s Main Street date from the early 19th century and share a common architectural style.

The Down Area Plan contains the following map that shows the conservation area in the centre of Saintfield.  (More information can be found in the Area Plan: Saintfield Conservation Area.)