In the middle ages Downpatrick had no less than six religious houses, of which the Cathedral is the only remnant today. Irish Street, with its generally narrow houses stepping up the steep hill to the fine three-storey Georgian house of about 1780 that is now the police barracks, is one of the three historic streets that made up the mediaeval core of Downpatrick.
The others being English Street with the courthouse and cathedral, and Scotch Street with its prosperous merchants’ houses. A map of 1729 shows the street fully developed, with long narrow plots of ground at the rear running down to bogland at the present St Patrick’s Avenue.
Although the centre of Downpatrick has been largely reconstructed over the years, it has a well documented history and many of the buildings are of considerable antiquity. No.27 is on the site of a building known as ‘Finniston’s half Tenement’, shown on a survey of 1708, where the tenant James Finiston paid a half year’s rent of £1.3s.4d for ‘a stone wall thatched house 2 storeys high, 4 back houses and spring well’. Bishop Dorrian, Catholic bishop of Down & Connor till his death in 1885, was born at no.27 in 1814. The present buildings are all likely to date from about 1780-1800, and the shops would have been inserted later as the town became more commercial. In many Ulster towns the upper floors of such buildings have fallen vacant, and Hearth undertook this project in order to encourage fuller use of the buildings in the centre of Downpatrick. People living in the centre of a town make full use of its shops, and in turn provide security in the town centre at night.
In the course of the restoration, the three houses have been combined into two, and the three shops also made into two. Where original joinery details survived, mainly in no.27, they were retained or repaired, and original shutters, sashes and staircase are still extant there. The early shop windows had been replaced in nos.29 and 31, but Hearth’s resident historian, Tony Merrick, had a photograph taken about 1970 showing the houses with the original shop fronts, from which the design for the restoration was drawn. A cobbled lane between stone outbuildings originally ran down hill from the entry at no.27 to what is now the car park behind Irish Street.