I’ve been wanting to feature Bonamargy Friary, in Ballycastle, County Antrim on Thursday Doors for a long time. The name comes from the Irish ‘Bun na Mairge’ meaning ‘the foot of the Margy’ which is a nearby river. I finally got to visit it on my last trip up north and it was well worth the wait. These are the ruins of an old Franciscan Friary dating from early in the 16th century but there was an earlier foundation laid there in 1485 by Rory MacQuillan. In 1500, a church was erected and in the following years residential extensions were added. Those that remain were built with stone but there may have been wooden structures, too. The friary was in use up until the mid 17th century. There are steps each side of the entrance wall but thankfully the gate was open so I didn’t have to climb them.
A short walk through some lovely old woodland brings you to a small gatehouse which was built about 1620.
Some very old headstones can be seen on the walk from the gate house to the main building of the friary. On many of them the words are badly eroded but I think this one, which has the name Rose on it, is dated 1740.
The next one is dated 1800 and is engraved with the names of Archibald and his son, William.
Some are very grand indeed, like the next one.
Between 1536 and 1541 King Henry VIII ordered all monasteries to be dissolved and many of the properties were sold off to fund his military campaigns. He had the power to do this because the Act of Supremacy was passed by Parliament in 1534, making him Supreme Head of the Church of England. However, Bonamargy Friary continued to function and was in the possession of the MacDonnells of Antrim until the Scottish branch of the clan attacked it in 1584, when it was set on fire and abandoned. In 1620 (the year the gate house was built) Randall MacDonnell repaired much of the ruins and added a private chapel for his family. Today, graves and headstones line the walls inside the old friary church.
The Black Nun, Julia McQuillan, known as a prophet and recluse, lived in the friary in the late 1600’s, when it was no longer in use. Her wish was to be buried near the entrance to the church. This was seen as a token of her humility, as worshippers would have to walk on her grave upon entering. The small round cross with a hole in the centre apparently marks her burial spot.
I was delighted to see some archways that were not closed off to the public.
Which meant it was safe to have a look inside.
You can see from the next photo that work is being carried out on part of the ruins.
Many of the entrances were gated and locked for public safety reasons.
A look through one of the grills shows some more work in progress. It’s lovely to see old ruins such as these being preserved for future generations and open to the public to explore at no charge.
Dan has lots of interesting international Thursday Doors over on his blog this week and if you like what you’ve seen of Bonamargy Friary, I’ve included a link to more of its history and photographs.*