Portavogie is a village, townland and fishing port in County Down, Northern Ireland. It had a population of 1,594 people in the 2001 Census. It lies within the Borough of Ards and is the easternmost settlement in Ireland.
The town has a modern harbour, housing a large fishing fleet catching mainly prawns and herrings. Most evenings there are fish auctions on the quays. Three murals on the exterior of the local school celebrate the history of the fishing industry in the town.
In about 1555 there was a settlement at Stable Hole to the north of where Portavogie now stands, at the bottom of what is now the Warnocks Road. The site was chosen for the shelter provided by the surrounding rocks and the sandy shore on which the inhabitants could beach their boats; they existed on what they could grow and catch. This was the first settled area south of Ballyhalbert (Talbot's Town) and in the main the inhabitants were families of fishermen who had travelled from across the Irish Sea from the Solway Coast. In those days the Ardes was an area of marsh land and bog and was in a world of its own to the rest of Ireland. Public records from 1620 name the area as Portabogagh from the Gaelic Port a' Bhogaigh. As with all names, pronunciation leads to different spelling and in time this became Portavogie, this spelling first recorded in 1810.
With no strategic benefit in developing Portavogie the Anglo-Normans ignored the immediate area and concentrated on developing the castles at Quintin, Ardkeen, Portaferry and Ballygalget. The entrance to Strangford Lough became a strategic defence area and was rich in seafish providing a ready source of food.
Portavogie was protected from the east by the Irish Sea and to the west by the "Bogs", an area still known as that today. The route north to Newtownards was low lying and subject to regular flooding at spring tide. At one time there were 82 windmills the length of the Ards Peninsula; this must have looked as the Netherlands does today and probably gave rise to the acronym "Little Holland". The Savage family had controlled the Ards from around 1200 but did little to improve the area, instead concentrating on securing their ownership and defences.
Following a series of failed military expeditions aimed at dislodging the Scots from Ulster, Queen Elizabeth I agreed to support an English colonial settlement in the region. In 1571 Sir Thomas Smith, the Queen's Principal Secretary of State, was given a royal grant in Clandeboye and the Ards Peninsula. Smith envisaged a settlement led by the younger sons of Englishmen who would develop the urban and commercial infrastructure of the Ards and exploit its natural resources of fish and timber. The indigenous Irish were to be employed as labourers in the colony. The scheme was financed partly through private investment and partly through state sponsorship, largely in the form of military support. Smith's natural son, Thomas, was given the task of implementing his father's plans and he travelled to the Ards Peninsula in August 1572. Smith encountered considerable local opposition, particularly from Sir Brian MacPhelim O'Neill, the Gaelic lord of Clandeboye, who was supported by other lords in Ulster, notably Turlough Luineach O'Neill. In October 1573, Smith was killed by a supporter of Sir Brian having failed to make any progress with his father's colonial scheme.
Plans to establish an English colony in Ulster were not, however, abandoned following Smith's murder. In 1573, Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex received a grant of land in northeastern Ireland from Queen Elizabeth. Like Smith, Essex agreed to invest his own money in his colonial project but his ambitions were wider than those of Smith as he envisaged taking control of an extensive territory from Belfast to Coleraine and establishing himself as Captain General of Ulster. Essex recruited 400 adventurers for his colony but only a small number of them travelled to Ireland and Essex spent most of his time in the province engaged in military encounters with Gaelic lords opposed to his plans. Frustrated by his lack of progress, Essex in 1574 seized Sir Brian MacPhelim O'Neill, his wife and brother, and arranged for their execution in Dublin Castle. The following year, aware of the Queen's increasing impatience with his failure, Essex authorised a notorious raid on the Scottish settlement on Rathlin Island by John Norreys and Francis Drake. Shortly afterwards, the Queen relieved Essex of his command in Ulster.
Despite the failed colonial projects and the massacre on Rathlin, Scottish migration to northeastern Ireland continued throughout the late 16th century and intensified in the early 17th century when Sir Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton acquired property in the Ards Peninsula which they developed as a private plantation.
The Church of Ireland was the Established church at this time (disestablished in 1871) and the area around Portavogie was known as the Parish of Ballyhalbert or St. Andrews Parish. The other townlands part of the Parish were: Ballyfrench, Ballyhalbert, Roddens, Echlinville, Ballyhemlin, Ballygraffin and Ballyeasborough – the site of St. Andrews Parish Church. Portavogie was in the main a Presbyterian village. Many of the fishermen who settled here were "Covenanters" who had come from Scotland to escape the then persecution.
In 1735 Charles Echlin bought Rhuban House from the Reverend Hugh Maxwell and changed the name of the immediate area to Echlinville. The Echlins were Anglo-Normans and at this time also had lands in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, an area to the north of Edinburgh. The Echlins had been gifted "Savage" land by the crown as a reward for services rendered and they set about the task of draining the "Bogs" of the Ardes. A contribution that can be seen today in the quality of the fertile arable land of the "Bogs". The area is once again known as Rubane.
The past 50 years has seen enormous changes in the look of the village. The rebuilding of the harbour from a "pretty", safe anchorage to the modern look of today's industrial facility is progress, although one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
In 1900 there were 18 family names associated with Portavogie: Adair, Pyper, Warnock, Boyd, Rutherford, Lawson, Ambrose, Thompson, McKee, Clint, Hughes, Cully, Edmund, Palmer, Young, McVea, McClements and Coffey. Many of these family lines have continued to this day and the list of names of Portavogie residents grows ever longer.
In 1985 HRH The Princess Anne, Mrs. Mark Phillips, visited the Village to officially open the new harbour and was received by the local community, she toured the fishing boat "Willing Lad" accompanied by its skipper, James McClements. In 1999 Her Royal Highness (now The Princess Royal) revisited the village and opened the new Community centre on New Harbour Road.
Portavogie had the honour, on 12 July 2008, of holding the annual band parade which was attended by a large number of people.
Portavogie Rangers hold an annual football tournament called the George Best Trophy in memory of the former Man Utd and Northern Ireland striker. They also hold a five a side tournament on the eleventh of July every year.
During the period known as The Troubles there were two deaths in and near the village of Portavogie. These deaths were on separate occasions.