Friday, 14 May 2021



HOLYWOOD, a post town and parish, in the barony of Lower Castlereagh, County Down, four miles from Belfast.

In 1200, Thomas Whyte founded at this place a Franciscan [Augustinian] priory, which was amply endowed, and continued to flourish till the dissolution.

Among its possessions were the COPELAND ISLANDS, and RATHLIN ISLAND, or Raghery, to the north of the country, which, with its other endowments, were granted to Sir James Hamilton in the third year of JAMES I's reign.

On the 8th April, 1644, a meeting of the Presbyterian clergy and laity was held here, at which several persons entered into "a solemn league and covenant for the defence of the reformed religion, the safety of the King, and the peace, happiness, and security of the three kingdoms; and to secure and hold fast the league and covenant with England."

The original document, signed by 32 gentleman, is preserved in the museum at Belfast.

The village, which is delightfully situated on the eastern shore of Carrickfergus bay [Belfast Lough], and on the road from Belfast to Bangor, previously to 1800 contained only about 30 dwellings, chiefly poor cabins; but from its proximity to Belfast, and its fine sandy beach, it has since been greatly extended, and is now become a favourite place of resort for sea-bathing.

It contains at present 225 houses, mostly well built; bathing-lodges have been erected for the accommodation of visitors, a new road has been made along the shore, and a daily mail has been established.

There are several good lodging houses in the village and its environs; and from the increasing number of visitors, several houses in detached situations, and chiefly in the Elizabethan style of architecture, are now in progress of erection on the Cultra estate, by Thomas Ward, after designs by Millar.

These houses are sheltered with thriving plantations, and beautifully situated on a gentle eminence commanding a richly diversified and extensive prospect of Carrickfergus bay [Belfast Lough], Black Mountain, Cavehill, Carnmoney mountains, and the town and castle of Carrickfergus, terminating with the basaltic columns of Blackhead.

Close to the shore is an extensive mussel bank, and about a mile to the north-west of the town, in the lough, is a sandbank, called the Holywood bank, the greater part of which is dry at low water, but which vessels may easily avoid by sailing nearer to the northern shore.

It is a constabulary police station, and also a coastguard station, forming part of the district of Donaghadee.

Fairs, principally for cattle and horses, are held on the first Monday of each quarter.

A court leet and baron is held every three weeks by the seneschal of the manor; its jurisdiction extends over 27 townlands in the parish of Holywood, Knockbreda, DUNDONALD, and BALLYMACARRETT; but the prison not being now used for that purpose, defaulters are sent to the county gaol.

The parish comprises the two ancient parishes of Ballymaghan, or Columbkill, and Craigavad, both rectories, one belonging to Holywood priory, and the other to the abbey of Bangor, whcich were united in 1626, under the name of Holywood.

The surrounding scenery if finely varied, and embellished with numerous gentlemen's seats, among which are the principal PALACE of the Bishop of Down; CULTRA, the seat of H Kennedy; BALLYMENOCH, of T Gregg; ROCKPORT, of I Turnly; CRAIGAVAD, of A Forbes; Garnerville, of Captain Garner; Holywood House, of J Macartney; Turf Lodge, of J Kane; Knocknagoney, of Mrs Kennedy; Bloomfield, of J Agnew; Clifton, of Dr Halliday; RICHMOND LODGE, of F Turnly; Wellington, of W Crawford; Marino, of T Ward; Greenville, of I Scott; Glencraig, of Miss Symes; and The Spa, of J Cordukes.

The living is an impropriate curacy, in the diocese of Down, and in the patronage of the VISCOUNT DUNGANNON, in whom the rectory is impropriate.

The [Old Priory] church, which is at the eastern extremity of the village, is an ancient building, with several antique heads in the outer wall, which are supposed to have been the corbels of a former church.

In the RC divisions the parish forms part of the union or district of Belfast, and has a chapel, which was built in 1828.

There is a Presbyterian meeting-house, of the second class, and one belonging to the Presbytery of Antrim.

About 230 children are educated in five public schools, one of which is supported by Mr Turnly.

The Priory Church, Holywood, by Hugh Frazer (1795-1865)
(Image: Belfast Harbour Commissioners)

The church occupies the site of the ancient priory, of which there are no other remains; and of the churches at Ballymaghan and Craigavad not a vestige can be traced; the cemeteries of both were used as places of interment till 1765, and in the former were deposited the remains of Conn O'Neill, the last of that powerful sept, whose possessions comprised more than one-third of County Down, and an extensive district in County Antrim, in which was included the town of Belfast.

Some carved stones are preserved at Ballymaghan, which are supposed to have belonged to his tomb, but the sculpture is of an earlier date; the site of that church is now a garden and the churchyard an orchard, and at Craigavad only one solitary stone remains to mark the site of the churchyard, which is now under cultivation.

A new species of rose was discovered in this parish by John Templeton, which by the Dublin Society was called "Rosa Hibernica," and afterwards "Rosa Templetonia," in honour of the discoverer.

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