County Down (named after its county town, Downpatrick) is one of six counties that form Northern Ireland, situated in the northeast of the island of Ireland. Adjoined to the southeast shore of Lough Neagh, the county covers an area of 2,448 km² and has a population of about 530,000. It is also one of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland and is within the province of Ulster.
The county was archaically called Downshire. It borders County Antrim to the north, the Irish Sea to the east and south, County Armagh to the west, and County Louth across Carlingford Lough to the southwest. In the east of the county is Strangford Lough and the Ards Peninsula. The largest town is Bangor, on the northeast coast. Three other large towns and cities are on its border: Newry lies on the western border with County Armagh, while Lisburn and Belfast lie on the northern border with County Antrim. Down contains both the southernmost point of Northern Ireland (Cranfield Point) and the easternmost point of Ireland (Burr Point).
It is currently one of only two counties of Ireland to have a majority of the population from a Protestant background, according to the 2001 census. The other is County Antrim to the north. However the main religion in south Down is Catholicism.
Down contains two significant peninsulas: Ards Peninsula and Lecale peninsula.
The county has a coastline along Belfast Lough to the north and Carlingford Lough to the south (both of which have access to the sea). Strangford Lough lies between the Ards Peninsula and the mainland. Down also contains part of the shore of Lough Neagh. Smaller loughs include Lough Island Reavy.
The River Lagan forms most of the border with County Antrim. The River Bann also flows through the southwestern areas of the county. Other rivers include the Clanrye and Quoile.
There are several islands off the Down coast: Mew Island, Light House Island and the Copeland Islands, all of which lie to the north of the Ards Peninsula. Gunn Island lies off the Lecale coast. In addition there are a large number of small islands in Strangford Lough.
County Down is where, in the words of the famous song by Percy French, "The mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea", and the granite Mourne Mountains continue to be renowned for their beauty. Slieve Donard, at 849 metres, is the highest peak in the Mournes, in Northern Ireland and in the province of Ulster. Another important peak is Slieve Croob, at 534 metres, the source of the River Lagan.
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