Monday, December 29, 2014

Holywood Priory, Co. Down

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In a recent discussion of ‘where will we go today?’ with my family, l gamely suggested a trip to Holywood, Co. Down, to see the old Priory and graveyard. When this failed to elicit the desired response from the Chapples Minor, the plans were revised to include a visit to one of the local playgrounds. To cut a long story short, the eventual compromise we reached was that they’d go to the ‘Johnny the Jig’ playground in Holywood and I’d proceed alone to the graveyard! All things considered, I reckon I got the better of the deal … if only because the other parents give me nasty looks when I go on the swings and slides.

Overview of the Priory building and graveyard,
with the modern Presbyterian church in the background
Tradition relates that St Laiseran was a local boy, the son of a princess called Nasca, and studied in Bangor under St Comgall. After some time spent around Cork, he returned home to found a monastery in Holywood. It was certainly active before 640 AD, as a priest-abbot of Holywood, called Laisrianus, was mentioned in a Papal letter regarding the date of Easter. However, there remains some uncertainty as to whether that foundation lay here at the Priory, or near the later Holywood Motte. Certainly, no early remains have been discovered at the Priory site where the oldest structures are the ruins of the 12th century Augustinian Abbey, built by Thomas Whyte on the orders of the Anglo-Norman knight, John deCourcy. From what I can gather, the site fell into decay and around the 1490 it was refurbished by Niall O’Neill for the Franciscans. The fine traceried East Window dates to this period of activity. After its dissolution in 1541, the lands eventually passed to Sir James Hamilton, First Viscount Clandeboye, who laid out the plan for the modern town of Holywood. The site was burned by Sir Brian O'Neill in 1572 – along with the Abbeys at Movilla, Bangor, and Greyabbey – to prevent it falling into the hands of the English government forces. The tower at the western end dates to 1809, when the site was refurbished for use as a parish church. It continued in this role until the present Church of Ireland building was completed in 1843.

Carved window in the tower
West Doorway
Plan of the Priory (Source)
Early 19th century gravestone with
fluted fan motif over a classical urn
View of the graveyard
Selection of gravestones
View down the priory building, from the East Window
The Priory and graveyard, from the east
Romanesque-inspired monument
to James McLean d. 1821
The last name on the memorial commemorates Captain John Frederick Smellie, grandson of James McLean. Smellie was a glider pilot who died at Arnhem in September 1944. He is buried at Arnhem (Oosterbeek) War Cemetery in The Netherlands.

Detail of the interlaced carving on the
James McLean memorial
'In Memoriam William Emelius Praeger' d. 1881
The last name on this stone, though worn and hard to read, is Sophia Rosamund Praeger (1867-1954). Many archaeologists will recognise her chiefly as the younger sister of naturalist Robert Lloyd Preager, author of The way that I went: an Irishman in Ireland. However, she was a remarkably talented illustrator and sculptor in her own right, and the NIVAL Artists Database notes that ‘Her work played a significant role in the late Victorian and early twentieth century Irish Art World’. She was a native of Holywood and for many years had her studio in Hibernia Street in the town. She was initially educated at the Slade School of Fine Art, but also studied in Paris. She wrote and illustrated more than twenty five children’s books, along with providing illustrations the Irish Homestead, designs for Gaelic League pageants and the Irish Women's Suffrage Federation. Today, she is best known for her work as a sculptor, with pieces on permanent display in the Ulster Museum, and the Carnegie Library on the Falls Road, Belfast. Regular readers of this blog may also remember that she provided the figure carving for the Campbell College WWI memorial. The ‘Johnny the Jig’ playground – where Chapples Minor were enjoying themselves as I wandered the graveyard – is named after a sculpture by Praeger on the street outside (the original is in the North Down Museum in Bangor). She gave this statue of a young boy playing an accordion as a gift to the town in 1953, to commemorate a local member of the Boy Scouts, Fergus Morton, who was killed in a road traffic accident while participating in ‘Bob a Job’ week, the previous year. I’m no art historian, but I can’t help but feel that this gravestone – initially designed to commemorate her father – is likely to be her work. To my mind, at least, there are some strong similarities between her known works and the figures of Hope and Memory on either side of the inscribed panel. Although limited to online sources, I can find no reference to this piece as being by her. If this is a Praeger, it is truly a shame that a work by one of Northern Ireland’s leading late 19th and 20th century sculptors is being allowed to quietly decay in this way. Further examples of her work may be seen here (adapted from the NIVAL Artists Database).

Praeger memorial. Detail of Hope figure
Praeger memorial. Detail of Memory figure
Praeger memorial. Detail of inscribed panel
Dunville family monument
The Dunville family fortune came from a successful whiskey blending and tea import businesses. Although the company went out of business in 1936, bottles of their whiskey are still available … if anyone’s wondering what to get me for Christmas/Birthday etc. … just sayin’

Overview of the Priory
Selection of gravestones
The Priory from the south-east

Praeger’s ‘Johnny the Jig’
As I always say in these types of posts – I do hope you enjoy the images, but I also hope that they will inspire you to come visit the sites for yourselves – whether you’re coming from afar, or are local!

It was only in doing some follow-up research for this post that I realised that one of those buried here was Sir Joseph Larmor (1857-1942). He is chiefly remembered for his opposition to Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity along with arguing against the notion that space is curved. Early in his career he taught physics at Queen’s College Galway (now NUIG) where a lecture theatre is named in his honour. I remember it chiefly as a place I was forced to sit, listening to long, rambling lectures about metaphysics. Interestingly, there is a crater on the dark side of the moon named Larmor in his honour. To the best of my knowledge, it has not been the venue for any lectures in philosophy.

I'm very grateful to Séighean Ó Draoi for bringing the following to my attention:
An Ulster Sculptor. Sophia Rosamond Praeger (1867-1954) by Catherine Gaynor published in the Irish Arts Review.

No. 25 in the catalogue of her works is the Praeger Family memorial discussed above.

I am indebted to Mr Michael Caldwell for providing the following information on Captain John Frederick Smellie, who is commemorated in Bangor: 
The first attempt to rescue Capt Smellie, after he was most likely shot by a sniper, was by Sgt. Moon. He took Capt Smellie on his shoulders but was shot through the head and died. SSgt Hann, SSgt Bowen, Sgt Collett and Sgt Renard then picked up Capt Smellie and brought him to the RAP (Regimental Aid Post) in the house of Kate ter Horst. It is reported he died during a mortar shelling on the RAP. The date on his headstone in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Oosterbeek would indicate that this happened the following day, 23rd. His fieldgrave location is remarkable as he was found in a meadow west of the Polderweg. While others who died at the RAP were all buried in the garden. Mr Caldwell also notes that the principal source for the information concerning Smellie is the book 'Glider Pilots at Arnhem' by Mike Peter's and Luuk Buist.

Wikipedia Page

Holywood Priory, Co. Down | 3D images

Once again, I present a selection of my 3D (anaglyph) images. Information on glasses and other 3D images in this blog may be found here. Click for larger images.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Ireland’s Bronze Age gold | Ulster Museum, Belfast

Saturday 31st January, 1.30–4.15pm

A day of talks and film screenings to explore stories of treasure, jewellery and science, by highlighting gold objects from the Museum’s archaeological collection.

This event marks the redisplay and interpretation of two remarkable gold objects from the collection – the Corrard torc (neck-ring) from County Fermanagh and the Inch bulla (locket) from County Down. The current debate surrounding the source of Irish prehistoric gold will be explored. Illustrated talks will examine the torc, bulla and other recent discoveries and explain how science has offered new insights into the study of Irish Bronze Age gold.

1.40 BBC Film – Landscape Mysteries: in search of Irish gold
2.15 The Corrard torc – a twisted tale! Dr Greer Ramsey (National Museums Northern Ireland)
2.40 BREAK
3.00 Recent finds and new interpretations. Mary Cahill (National Museum of Ireland)
3.35 Science and sources of ancient Irish gold: a detective story. Richard Warner
4.15 Close

Admission is free but advanced booking is advised 

For further information please contact 028 9044 0000 | 10am-5pm Tuesday–Sunday. email:

To book tickets please go to

This event is supported by the Art Fund and The Headley Trust.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Greyabbey, Co. Down | The Graveyard

Greyabbey, Co. Down | The Graveyard
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In a recent post I enthused on the subject of the beautiful Medieval remains of the Cistercian monastery at Greyabbey. As that post already contained some 30 photographs, I thought it wisest to exclude the more recent graveyard, to the east of the main church, and save it for a separate post. I’ve visited this graveyard on several occasions, and have never failed to be taken aback by the beauty and quality of these stones. It has to be among the finest collections of 18th and 19th century gravestones in Northern Ireland.

In the graveyard, looking towards the east gable of the
Cistercian monastery

 'This Ston and Bering pleas Belongs to John Lyons of Dunover'.
Stone for his wife, d. 1829
Decorated with eight-petalled flowers on either side of a rather odd-looking and stern face.

'Erected by Robert Lyons of Dunover' Stone for his son, d. 1826
 Note the fluted fan above a garland of roses.

'Here lieth the Body of James Askin son to David Askin of Ballybolly' d. 1801
 Decorated with geometric symbols

'Erected by William Wilson of Ballyboley' for daughter (d. 1845),
unnamed child 'who died young', and wife (d. 1853)
Although they are all female, the decoration of the square and compass, flanked with acacia leaves, are symbols of Freemasonry and more appropriate to a male burial. Just goes to show - those with the money get to pick the decoration!

'Erected by Thomas Bennet of Ballyboley in memory of his Mother Mary'
(d. 1841)
Here the fluted fan motif incorporates a seven-petalled flower. The central panel is, again, the masonic square and compass, flanked with acacia leaves, along with the level and pillars. As a male-only order, these would appear to be at odds with a gravestone where a woman is the first commemorated.

A peaceful place

Detail of ornamental iron work

'Here Lieth the Body of Hugh Bow (?)' d. 1812
Decorated with geometric motifs and eight-petalled flowers. Note the word 'Restored' carved in a different style.

'Erected by David Hamilton of Ballyboley on the 24th day of June 1881'
The symbolism draws much from Freemasonry, including the square and compass, along with the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. Other symbols, including the equilateral triangle and the five-pointed star, do occur in Freemasonry, but I’ve not previously seen them in this form of arrangement on a gravestone. At the very top of the stone, in a separate ‘house shape’ there is a radiating sun face, an hour glass (looking like a wrapped sweet), and a pair of crossed long bones. While at least some of these can have Masonic significance, I think it is best to interpret them here as more standard symbols of death, or ‘memento mori’. I also have no idea as to the significance of the two lines of acronyms in the space between the decorated area and the inscription proper. As far as I can read them, they are: I.T._.Y.O.M / _ _ O. I may be wrong, but my instinct here is that this stone is not Masonic, but is instead related to one of the Northern Irish Loyal Orders, such as the Orange Order, the Royal Arch Purple, or the Royal Black Institution – all of which borrow heavily from Masonic symbolism.

Again, there is a fluted fan motif with a classical urn at the centre. The interesting things here are the two lines of diagonal text that read: This stone marks 3 graves here'.

'Here lieth the body of Sarah Reid wife to David Reid of Ballydoonen' d. 1802
Decorated with an eight-petalled flower and geometric motifs.

'Erected by Alex Murphy' 19th century
Note the text along the upper edge: 'This stone claims two graves one on the north side'. The decorative motifs include the square and compass on the left, denoting Craft Masonry. The twin pillars and the 'G' symbol could represent the same, though the addition of the arch and keystone are probably meant to represent the degree of Royal Arch. I was having some issues deciphering the symbol on the right hand side of this stone, and turned to my friend Chris McClintock for assistance. He suggests – and I agree with him – that the symbol is meant to be a combination of a Masonic plumb line and a level, set at angles to each other. However, neither of us are sure what the wiggly line connecting the two is meant to symbolise – all suggestions would be welcomed!

Detail of possible combined plumb line and level symbol

'Erected by William Johnston of Cardy in memory of his father' d. 1855
The decoration is a simple fluted fan motif, with a masonic square and compass.

'Here lieth ye Body of Jean Cath Cart' d. 1758
Although this stone lacks any decoration, the elegantly cut lettering is remarkably beautiful. It is one of my favourite stones in this graveyard.

'Erected in memory of Mary Gunning late of Grey Abbey' d. 1822
Similar to the 'Wm. Cleland of Cardy' memorial (above), there is a fluted fan motif with a classical urn at the centre. Though here there is the addition of a pall or shroud suspended on two pegs above the urn.

Eternally in the shadow of the abbey

'Erected by William Wright of Ballynester in memory of his wife
Mary Wright alias Reid' d. 1835
The decoration is another variation of the fluted fan, with an eight-petalled flower and two blank roundels. However, I have no idea as to the meaning or origin of the central symbol - it appears to be feather or a leaf under an arch. I spotted at least one other example of this motif in the graveyard, but this one was the better preserved of the two. Again - suggestions are welcome!

Panoramic overview across the graveyard

Chapple Family and associated in-law
explore the graveyard

'Erected by Sarah Cumming of D.Dee [Donaghadee] Grangee.
In memory of her husband, David Cumming' d. 1840
The upper part of the stone is decorated with vegetation and geometric motifs. The latter include two blank roundels and a 'Vesica piscis' or 'Mandorla'. Despite its popularity among neo pagan and new age groups as a symbol of the divine feminine, the 'Vesica piscis' has a long tradition in christian art as a symbol for the resurrection. The swirling motif at the centre may be interpreted as a variant of the fylfot cross or 'sunwheel swastika', again a representation of the resurrection.

'Mingled with their native dust rest underneath the remains
of Thomas Shaw of 
Glestry' d. 1794

'Here lieth the Body of David Stuart of Sloanstown' d.1798
Again, decorated with geometric ornament.

'Erected by Arthur Nevill of Dunover, in memory of his Son Robert' d.1833
The inscriptions continue until 1935. The upper portion of the stone is decorated with two roundels with geometric ornament, stylised foliage, and a 'Vesica piscis' that contains a four-petalled flower.

'Erected by James Walker of Ballybrain in, memory
of his son Joseph' d.1853
The decoration is similar to the previous stone, with two roundels containing five-petalled flowers, two sprigs of semi-stylised foliage, and a 'Vesica piscis' that contains a four-petalled flower.

'Erected by James M'Clelland of Springvale. in memory
of his father Samuel M'Clelland' d.1844?
Again, decorated with the fluted fan motif, this stone exhibits a long, diagonal crack that has been repaired by the insertion of two metal braces, with bolts drilled through the stone.

'Erected by John Purse of Greyabbey. In memory
of his Son James' d. 1834
The stone is decorated with the simple fluted fan motif, over an eight-petalled flower with ten leaves.

Panoramic overview of the graveyard

Selection of stones with the ubiquitous and elegant fluted fan motif

White (?) family slab d. 1764
The upper portion of the slab is decorated with geometrical figures that each produce an 'eight-petalled' effect. However, the stone is showing severe damage from flaking and splitting. 

White (?) family slab d. 1764
The same gravestone as previously, showing massive delamination along the vertical plane. The same can be seen in the tall gravestone in the background.

This stone is very similar to the 'John Purse of Greyabbey' stone (above)
Here too the stone is decorated with the simple fluted fan motif, over an eight-petalled flower with leaves. The stone has obviously sustained severe damage, and had been repaired with a metal brace.

'Erected by William Carson of Ballyneister in
memory of his Son William Carson' d. 1837
The decoration is in the form of the fluted fan motif with two blank roundels, over a group of Masonic symbols. These include a compass over a level, flanked by pillars. This is again flanked by two sprigs of stylised foliage. However, given the Masonic theme of the decoration, they may be relatively confidently identified as acacia sprigs.

Various gravestones in need of love, attention, and restoration

Time to go! Chapple Minor sets off in search of new adventures!

I hope you have enjoyed the images. If you live overseas, I hope that they offer some degree of inspiration to consider coming to Northern Ireland and see these great sites for yourself. If you’re already lucky enough to live here, but haven’t visited Greyabbey, what are you waiting for? Go!

I’d like to thank Chris McClintock for his assistance in deciphering some of the symbolism in the stones above. Take a moment and check out his incredible stained glass work (both new creations and restoration projects). He is also the author of The Craft and the Cross: The True Story of the Sun of God.