Down County Museum is located in the historic buildings of the late 18th century County Gaol of Down. The Gaol was opened in 1796 and until its closure in 1830 housed many thousands of prisoners. It 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, via the port of Queenstown in County Cork. The best known prisoner in the gaol was the United Irishman, Thomas Russell, who was hanged at the gateway in 1803. His remains are buried in the parish church (St Margaret’s) graveyard near the bottom of the street. The Gaol was built in what was previously known as Sessions House Park. This was almost certainly the site of the Monasterium Hibernorum or Monastery of the Irish, founded by St Malachy in 1138.
From the late 1830s the gaol site was used by the South Down Militia and troops were also billeted here during the First and Second World Wars. Today the Museum collects, conserves, researches and exhibits objects relating to the history of County Down from 7,000BC to the present day.It preserves about 10,000 objects and an estimated 40,000 photographs, collected since the museum was established in 1981. You can see almost 1,200 objects in the central Governor’s Residence building, in an interactive exhibition entitled Down Through Time. There are also changing temporary exhibitions in other galleries and a tearoom with a view of the Mound of Down and the River Quoile.