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.
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 3 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.
On Census day (27 March 2011) there were 6,454 people living in Portrush (2,824 households), accounting for 0.36% of the NI total. Of these:
18.89% were aged under 16 years and 19.09% were aged 65 and over;
51.78% of the usually resident population were female and 48.22% were male;
66.90% belong to or were brought up in a 'Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related)' religion and 24.84% belong to or were brought up in the Catholic religion;
63.43% indicated that they had a British national identity, 32.89% had a Northern Irish national identity and 11.93% had an Irish national identity (respondents could indicate more than one national identity);
42 years was the average (median) age of the population;
15.75% had some knowledge of Ulster-Scots and 4.83% had some knowledge of Irish (Gaelic).
Places of interest
Portrush's West Strand Beach.
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.
For the 2019 Open, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews invested significant funds in the region, to improve the rail service. The R&A worked with the club to modify the golf course to enable all the aspects which a modern major championship requires. The 2019 championship had the largest advance ticket sales of any Open ever held.
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.
The Skerries, a collection of rocks located just off the coast, are an important habitat for several species, some unique to Northern Ireland.
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.
Local Secrets on Things to do in Portrush - A list of the big attractions in Portrush, plus some local secrets to share. Specialist local information for lovers of golf, walking, fishing, riding and surfing.
Visit Portrush - Local guide to Portrush, featuring info on accommodation, activities, places to eat, services and travel.
Landscapes Unlocked - Aerial footage from the BBC Sky High series explaining the physical, social and economic geography of Northern Ireland.
'To the People of the Sea' - Information on and images of the public sculpture on East Strand: three 13 ft high Drontheim yawl sails in bronze.