Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tullynakill Church, Co. Down

Having concluded our visit to Sketrick Castle (Chapple Major: Loved it. Chapples Minor: Unimpressed), we next headed for Tullynakill church. This was to be our fourth archaeological site of the day and the children were getting bored and tired. I did my best to be enthusiastic, but I wasn’t holding out too much hope. While we were at Sketrick the clouds had closed over, the wind had risen, and the temperature dropped. It only looked like it was going to get more miserable. It’s less than three miles from Sketrick to Tullynakill, but somewhere along the way, the clouds parted, the wind ceased to blow, the air grew warm, and the sun shone. We parked the car and made our way onto the site and the atmosphere just felt magical.

Although the majority of the standing structure is 15th to 16th century, all the decorated stonework is of 17th century date. In the late 15th century it replaced Nendrum (4 miles away by road, or 1.5 miles as the crow flies/rows) as the Parish church. Unusually, for Ireland at least, burial then transferred to Tullynakill, leaving the older site free of later graves. The original doorway and window, now blocked, can be seen in the west gable. The later door in the south wall is carved with the date 1637. As the doorway and the windows are all executed in a similar style and in the same material (Castle Espie Limestone) it is likely that all date to the same year. The windows are chamfered and grooved to receive glass. The late medieval church was last used in 1825 when a newer church was built. This 19th century structure was itself demolished in the late 20th century.

I did my best with the Chapples Minor … really I did … I pointed out the doorway and the putlog holes in the gables and tried to get them interested in some of the gravestones, but it was all to no avail. The sun was out, the grass was high, and the site was just perfect for playing hide-and-seek. A little warmth and a flicker of blue in the sky can do wonders for the spirit – no matter what your age. The Chapples Minor romped contentedly as I took my photographs and I even joined them for a little while. As the brief gap in the weather started to close again, we bundled ourselves back into the car and went in search of the bacon and ice-cream promised at the beginning of the day. Sometime later, as we waited for three large bacon sandwiches to arrive, we discussed what the best sites of the day had been for us. I was of the opinion that each offered something different and special. The castle and church at Ringhaddy had an ‘off the beaten track’ and ‘difficult to access’ cachet to them while Sketrick was a very personal ‘got there at last’ feel to it. Not to be outdone, I thought that Tullynakill filled in part of my education about Nendrum as well as being filled with interesting details in its own right. While I stand by this assessment, my children were more forthright and cutting in their views. Both agreed that Tullynakill was – by far – the best we’d seen as you could have an excellent game of hide-and-seek, while there was still sufficient space to play chasing games too. Well, folks, if you’ve followed this series of posts and enjoyed this adventure on our doorstep you now should have enough information to make an informed decision of where to visit …

Metal enclosure around Richie family plot, dated 1831

Plan of church showing phases of building (Source SM7 file)

Scale drawing of south door and window (Source SM7 file)


If you go to the Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record [here] you can search for the site as DOW 017:003. The scanned contents of the NIEA’s SM7 file on the site is available [here].

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