Holywood Priory

Off High Street on the corner of Bangor Road

There has been a religious establishment on this site as far back as the 7th century. The ruins you see today are largely those of a 13th century Anglo-Norman Augustinian abbey with a 15th century addition to the west end. In the 15th century it became a friary belonging to an order of Franciscans. In 1572, the Gaelic chieftain Sir Brian O’Neill burned it down as part of his campaign to sabotage the fledging English colony of Sir Thomas Smith.

When Sir James Hamilton took possession of Holywood in the early 17th century he repaired the church and, in 1615, installed the first Protestant minister, Robert Cunningham. Cunningham was deposed for his Presbyterian views in 1634. He subsequently helped organise the sailing of the Eagle Wing to America to start a new life of religious liberty. However, he did not sail on the failed voyage. The Priory was still in use as a Church of Ireland parish church until 1844 when a new building was constructed in Holywood.

The adjoining burial ground has been used for centuries. Scottish settlers who arrived with the Hamilton/Montgomery Plantation in the early 17th century are buried here, though the earliest surviving gravestone is from 1645.


Off High Street on the corner of the Bangor Road.

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