Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Ringhaddy Church, Co. Down

In the last instalment of this series, I wrote about getting to see Ringhaddy Castle and simultaneously giving a little of its history and the job we had in getting to see it. We then turned our attention to the next field. There, on the summit of a small drumlin, lies Ringhaddy Church. While the Castle is in gentle shade, sheltering at the bottom of the hill, the Church stands in isolation without shelter-giving trees. The church is a simple, rectangular structure without any surviving dressed stone. The doorways in the north and south walls have holes in the jambs for the insertion of draw-bars, to secure the property. There are, apparently, two recessed cupboards (an aumbry and a piscina) near the east end of the church. However, as can be seen from the accompanying photographs, the ground inside the rusting wire fence is heavily overgrown with nettles and thistles. While I was tempted to brave the condition for myself, I didn’t fancy leaving the children unattended in the presence of an excitable and boisterous herd of cattle. Who knows what my kids could have done to them? The available documentation indicates that the church building is surrounded by a low earthen bank, possibly a late ‘tree ring’. I found it almost impossible to trace this on the ground, but I think I can make it out on the Google Maps Satellite view [here].

I must admit that I have a peculiar fascination with putlog holes. These holes in the walls of medieval buildings were intended to receive the scaffolding timbers used during construction. When the building was finished the wooden beams would have been slid out for reuse elsewhere, or sawn off, flush with the wall if that wasn’t possible. For most of the building’s life they wouldn’t have been visible as they would have been plastered over or covered in harling. It’s only in the building’s later life – when it’s abandoned and ruined and the roof’s gone and the plaster has fallen away – that the putlog holes again appear. It’s quite silly, but I feel that they capture the (relatively) brief moment of construction in a way that the rest of the surviving structure just cannot. To me, they seem tied to the building phase in a deeper way than the stones themselves. There’s plenty of buildings out there with putlog holes, many of them better than here, but I do love the ones visible on the external face of the west wall of this little church.

The church was dedicated to St Andrew and while the church appeared on taxation rolls as far back as 1300, the surviving structure is hard to date. It could be as early as the end of the 13th century or, contemporary with the Tower House phase of the Castle, as late as the 15th century. What is beyond argument is that, on a sunny day, when the cattle decide to keep their distance, the views out over Strangford Lough are spectacular and worth the effort to get here.

Plan of Church (Source SM7 file)


If you go to the Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record [here] you can search for the site as DOW 017:016. The scanned contents of the NIEA’s SM7 file on the site is available [here].

While I have tried to present the story in a light & engaging manner, I cannot stress enough my genuine gratitude to the landowner for granting us access to the Castle and Church.

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