Holywood, County Down - Story of Belfast

WE know Holywood now as a pleasant place of residence a very short distance from the busy streets of Belfast. Ardmacnissa or "Sanctus Boscus" was once known as a large religious settlement. An ancient church was presided over by St. Laisren in 642, and the only means now of tracing the site is by the "Mound" which still remains in the grounds of Riverston. The ruins of the church were in the vicinity of the funeral mound called Ard-mac-nasca, and the Holy Wood stood on the hill above. We next find mention of a Franciscan Monastery which was built on the same site in the year 1200. Ten years later King John passed through the little town, and a roll is still preserved in the Tower of London which tells us that he spent a day in "Haliwode." Brian O'Neill came down upon Holywood in the year 1572, and he burned the church and destroyed all he could lay his hands on. The town passed into Sir James Hamilton's possession in the year 1606, and a few years later he built another church, and used part of the ruins of the old one. It is a curious structure and some thirteenth century windows are still to be seen. The tower and walls are a great age, and the small windows above belong to the fifteenth century. It was used for service until the erection of the present church. The holy water stoup was a basin of pure white marble. It was found in the graveyard, and is now used in the new church. The graveyard extended over the Crescent and on to the Mound. A convent once stood near Holywood House which was built in the year 1605. The road leading up to the wood is still called the "Nun's Walk." In the garden of Holywood House, fragments of tombstones and part of a cross have been found. The name survives in the Priory House and Priory Park.

The Roman Catholic Chapel was built in 1872, and the foundation stone was brought from the ruined church of Cartan in Donegall where St. Colombkille was born.

A very good description of the pleasant little town is given in a poem written in the year 1822, which holds good to the present day.

Close by the water's farther side,

There sits in clean and modest pride,

The cheerful little Holywood.