The name Portstewart is a relatively modern name and descriptive of its origins, it came about in 1734 after Alexander McDonnell, the 5th Earl of Antrim gave the lease of a boat slip and surrounding lands to the Stewarts of Ballylease, a branch of the Royal Stewarts and the same Stewarts that owned Ballintoy. Like most of the north coast, where safe anchorage for fishing boats existed, small settlements grew up and eventually harbours evolved. The first settlers here would have been primarily fishermen and their families. After the landlord arrived, investments were made and the first purpose built harbour was built in 1832, later in 1889 this was enlarged with the final harbour you see today being finished in 1910. The estate itself was inherited through marriage by the Cromie family of Cromore demense and later through marriage to the Montagu family. The estate also included land which was adjacent to the Stewarts and owned by the O'Hara family who had built an impressive castle on the promontory in 1834, where the Dominican College is today. The castle was bought in 1917 by the Domincan Sisters who founded the college, it was later extended and modernized and still functions as a school today.
In a similar way to Portrush, Portstewart's attraction as a recreational resort saw it grow and prosper. Unlike Portrush who welcomed the age of rail travel with open arms, Portstewart resisted due to the convictions of Mr. Cromie who believed that this new form of travel would impact on Christian values, morality and Sunday worship. The compromise saw the railway and station being built a mile outside the town at Cromore Halt in 1855. During an age when rail travel was expanding, this decision probably restricted the growth of Portstewart in comparison with other seaside towns serviced directly by train from Belfast and Londonderry.To overcome this a steam driven narrow guage tramway was opened in 1880 to connect the promenade to the Cromore Halt and in doing so encourage people to the seafront from the same line that serviced Portrush. Despite the added feature, Portstewart developed with less vigour than Portrush and was seen as a quieter place to stay. The tramway itself was never a profitable concern and indeed went into receivership in 1892. It was bought over and functioned till January 1926 when it was replaced with a bus service. One of the trams is preserved in the Ulster Folk Museum of Transport at Cultra, Belfast.
The harbour and promenade are very beautiful in summer, offering walks and seating alongside the ocean with shopping and café restaurants across the street. Just below the Domincan College at street level is a large building known as the Strand Ballroom which played host to most of the famous Irish showbands, others bands such as Them with Van Morrison and the John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor all played on the stage at the Strand. Walks can be taken from here round below the Domincan College and out along the shoreline past Port na Happle to the Strand beach which stretches some 3km to the Barmouth where the river Bann empties into the ocean.
The sand dune system which runs the entire length of Portstewart Strand covers nearly 1.5 kilometres with dunes rising to nearly thirty metres, it is an ancient dune system and designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI). It is unique in the sense that it is one of a very few places where environmental changes in a dune and estuarine environment can be recorded over a 6000 year period. At the far end of the strand two large breakwaters stretch out to contain and protect the entrance to the river Bann which is navigable by ships up to Coleraine. The numbers of ships using the river for commerce today is very low compared to the past when all the coal, timber and materials would come in this way. Up until the 1980s, virtually every week you would see one or two ships anchored off Portstewart waiting for the tide and navigation over the Barmouth. The Coleraine pilot boat 'Borderer' is harboured in Portstewart.
Cromore House Demense is on the outskirts of Portstewart close to Cromore Halt which was the railway station that served Portstewart. The house was built originally in the 1750s and redesigned and modified to its present day appearance in 1834 by John Cromie. Today it is a residential care home for senior members of the community. During World War ll the estate was used as a base for troops. The third Battallion of the 34th Infantry Division, the first US Division to enter the European theatre of war arrived here on May 12th 1942. They arrived in Londonderry by coastal steamer after being transferred from their convoy ship the 'Aquatania' in the Clyde. Known as Camp Cromore the troops were billeted in Nissen huts built on the estate, the foundations of these are still there today, though well overgrown and under trees. The estate saw the coming and going of troops who would spend up to two months training in Northern Ireland before going to prepare for the D Day landings in Normandy, individuals such as Staff Sargeant James C. 'Buck' Hutto of the 82nd Airborne Division, 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Company C who mentions Cromore in his memoirs of wartime experiences and his parachute drop into Normandy behind enemy line. To stay locally I would recommend Cul-Erg bed and breakfast which is located close to the picturesque harbour and promenade.