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Portrush is a small seaside resort town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, on the County Londonderry border. The main part of the old town, including the railway station as well as most hotels, restaurants and bars, is built on a mile–long peninsula, Ramore Head, pointing north-northwest. It had a population of 6,454 people as measured by the 2011 Census. In the off-season, Portrush is a dormitory town for the nearby campus of the University of Ulster at Coleraine. It neighbours the resort of Portstewart.
The town is well known for its three sandy beaches, the West Strand, East Strand and White Rocks, as well as the Royal Portrush Golf Club, the only golf club outside mainland Great Britain which has hosted the Open Championship.
It was the base for the Katie Hannan, a Severn class lifeboat and Ken and Mary, a D–class inshore lifeboat of the RNLI. Lifeboats have operated out of Portrush Harbour since 1860, and currently stationed there are the Severn class William Gordon Burr and the D-class inshore vessel David Roulston.
Portrush is in the East Londonderry constituency for the UK Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly.
A number of flint tools found during the late 19th century show that the site of Portrush was occupied during the "Larnian" (late Irish Mesolithic) period; recent estimates date this to around 4000 BC.
The site of Portrush, with its excellent natural defences, probably became a permanent settlement around the 12th or 13th century. A church is known to have existed on Ramore Head at this time, but no part of it now survives. From the records of the papal taxation of 1306, the Portrush church – and by extension the village – appears to have been reasonably wealthy. The promontory also held two castles, at varying periods. The first of these, Caisleán an Teenie, is believed to have been at the tip of Ramore Head, and probably destroyed in the late 16th century; the other, Portrush Castle, may have been built around the time of the Plantation of Ulster in the early 17th century. Nothing survives of either castle.
Following the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in the mid-17th century, Portrush became a small fishing town. It grew heavily in the 19th century as a tourist destination, following the opening of the Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Portrush Junction Railway in 1855, and by the turn of the 20th century had become one of the major resort towns of Ireland, with a number of large hotels and boarding houses including the prominent Northern Counties Hotel. As well as the town's beaches and the Royal Portrush Golf Club (opened 1888), the nearby Giant's Causeway was a popular tourist destination, with the Giant's Causeway Tramway – at the time, one of the world's longest electrified railways – built in 1893 to cater to travellers coming from Portrush.
The town's fortunes peaked in the late 19th and early 20th century, and declined after the Second World War with the growth of foreign travel. It escaped any involvement in the Troubles until 6 August 1976, when a series of bombings of properties burned out and destroyed several buildings, though with no loss of life. In a second attack in April 1987, two officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) were shot in the back by the Provisional Irish Republican Army while on foot patrol on Main Street.
Portrush is classified as a Small Town by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (i.e. with population between 4,500 and 10,000 people). The 2011 Census recorded that there were 6,454 people living in Portrush. Of these:
- 18.89% were aged under 16 years and 25.11% were aged 60 and over
- 48.22% of the population were male and 51.78% were female
- 20.8% noted their religion as Catholic, 50.8% were of Protestant denomination and 14% responded with no religion.
- 4.97% of people aged 16–74 were unemployed.
On Census day in 2011:
- 24.8% were from a Catholic background and 66.9% were from a Protestant background
For more details see: Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service.
Places of interest
- Attractions in the town include the "Coastal Zone" (formerly the Portrush Countryside Centre), Waterworld swimming complex, and, on the edge of town, the links of the Royal Portrush Golf Club, which hosted the 1951 British Open golf championship, and Ballyreagh Golf Course. At the 1951 British Open golf championship young star Derek McLachlan won the hearts of the local crowd when he led on the third day by 3 strokes only to drive out of bounds twice on the final day of the Open and finish tied for 8th place.
- There are two long sandy beaches in the town, known as the West and East Strand. White Rocks and Curran Strand stretch on from the East Strand and are backed by dunes. The coast continues past Dunluce Castle to the Giant's Causeway (it was once possible to travel to these attractions from Portrush on the Giant's Causeway Tramway). A 13 ft high bronze sculpture, inspired by the sails of local traditional boats, is located at East Strand ('To the People of the Sea' by Cork-based sculptor Holger Lönze).
- Portrush is home to one of Northern Ireland's best known nightclubs. The Kelly's complex consists of a multitude of bars and clubs and is Northern Ireland's largest nightclub complex. It includes the nightclub Lush! which attracts many of the world's top DJs and hosts BBC Radio 1 events.
- Portrush is also home to Barry's Amusements, the largest amusement park in Northern Ireland. Actor James Nesbitt once worked in Barry's.
- The Skerries, a collection of rocks located just off the coast, are an important habitat for several species, some unique to Northern Ireland.
- Portrush parkrun is a free, weekly, timed 5 km run along East Strand beach to the White Rocks and back.
- Portrush hosts an annual air show at the beginning of September.
- The RNLI raft race is a popular annual event. This is a popular competition where contestants must build a raft that can travel from the West Strand beach into Portrush Harbour. The contest has been featured on Northern Ireland news broadcasts on several years. The event is a great credit to the RNLI's popularity in the area.
- The North West 200 is a motorcycle race which runs through Portstewart, Coleraine and Portrush every May, a long-running tourist attraction which has attracted crowds in excess of 150,000 in past years. The late brothers Joey Dunlop and Robert Dunlop have been regular winners at the races: they hold the record for most wins, with thirteen and fifteen respectively.
The following schools are in Portrush:
- Portrush Primary School: a primary school with a nursery unit on Crocnamac Road. The school educates around 250 pupils aged 4–11. Portrush Primary was established in 1959.
- Carnalridge Primary School.
- Mill Strand Integrated Primary School.
- St. Patricks Primary School.
- Professional golfer Darren Clarke, winner of the 2011 The Open Championship, lives in Portrush.
- Fred Daly, golfer, winner of the 1947 Open Championship
- Professional golfer Graeme McDowell, who was the first Irishman to win the U.S. Open, was born in Portrush.
- LGBT Activist Mark Ashton lived here.
- Royal Portrush Golf Club. The only place outside mainland United Kingdom to host the British Open. 2011 British Open champion Darren Clarke is the clubs resident professional, and lives in Portrush.
- Portrush Hockey Club
- The Northern Ireland Milk Cup uses Parker Avenue in Portrush as one of the pitches for the tournament, and many teams stay within the town itself.
- All three of Portrush's beaches are frequently used by watersports enthusiasts, in particular surfers and bodyboarders
- Coleraine council maintain tennis courts, bowling greens and a playground at Ramore Head.
- Fishing is popular from shoreside or at sea, with Causeway Lass fishing boat available for hire at the Harbour.
Portrush railway station was opened on 4 December 1855 and closed for goods traffic on 20 September 1954. The station is the last stop on the Coleraine-Portrush railway line, where travellers can connect with trains to Derry, Belfast and beyond.
Portrush is a busy seaside resort, with a frequent train service run by Northern Ireland Railways connecting with Ulsterbus services linking to Bushmills and the Giant's Causeway.
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