Holywood Priory

Map Reference: J401794 (3401, 3794)

St Lasren, son of Nasca, is said to have founded a monastery at Holywood in the 7th century. There are no remains of this early foundation. In the early 13th century the place was known as Sanctus Boscus but the older name was Ardmicneasca. A friary was founded here for the Third Order of St Francis but the date and founder is unclear. It may have been founded by John Lord Savage of Ards or by the O’Neills of Clandeboye.The earliest part of the ruin seems to date from the early 13th century and the church was taxed by Pope Nicholas c1300. There are references to the O’Neills founding a church sometime after 1400. The last prior resigned in January 1542. The house lay derelict until 1572 when it was destroyed by O’Neill to prevent it being used as a fort by the English under Sir Thomas Smith

Photo by John McGuigan

General view from the south

It is a simple rectangular building with undivided nave and chancel. It measures about 22.5m by 6m internally. Most of it dates from the early 13th century. In the 15th century the west end was rebuilt using some of the original stones and a west doorway was inserted. In the 17th century some windows were opened in the south wall but these are now all blocked. The tower was added above the doorway c1800.

Photo by John McGuigan

General view from the south-east

The west door

Window above the west door

This trapezoidal 13th century coffin lid was, for many years, mounted on the external south wall of the priory. It has now been taken under cover for preservation. It shows a typical floreated cross standing on a stepped pyramidal base. The shears to the right of the cross indicated the burial of a woman. The grave of a man is usually shown by a sword.

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