Holywood Priory

I had a few minutes to kill today before an appointment, so I had a short stroll around Holywood Priory, an old church and graveyard in Holywood, a medium sized town between Belfast and Bangor, and part of the Ards and North Down District Council area.

The old building dates back to 1190, when John de Courcy commissioned a church be built for the Franciscan Monks.  Most of the ruins of the walls date back to that original building.  (The tower was added in 1809.)

The entry gates to Holywood Priory

In 1410 the Priory was renovated by Niall O’Neill and granted for the use of the Franciscans, but that was to be short-lived, for Henry VIII dissolved the monastery in 1541, and in 1572 Brian O’Neill destroyed its roof to prevent the building being occupied by government forces.  (A similar fate befell the Abbeys at Greyabbey, Movilla and Bangor).

The inside of the Abbey is inaccessible to the public, with iron bars preventing entry, – but through the windows one can see that the sanctuary has been used for burials.

In 1608 King James I (VI of Scotland) granted much of North Down to Sir James Hamilton, and the roof was restored 1615,  and worship in the Abbey recommenced, now under the ministry of Rev Robert Cunningham, a Presbyterian minister.  In 1660, Hollywood priory was one of the first churches to suffer from the ejectment of Presbyterian ministers and the building was used from that time until 1844 for Anglican worship, after which the building fell again into disuse, as its congregation moved to its new site on Church Road.  The Presbyterian Church now overlooks the site of the Priory.

The Priory with the Presbyterian Church behind.


In bright Summer sunlight, the shadows were long and there were heavy contrasts, but the building, set among ancient graves, the resting place of many notable figures from the area, is a very peaceful and serene place, and well worth a visit.


My favourite image was made from across the road at the junction of Victoria Road:

DSCF0902 Framed
Holywood Priory, photographed from Victoria Road.  Image made with Fujifilm X-T30, f=28mm, f/8 @ 1/125th sec on ISO160.

© BobMcEvoy 1st August 2019