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Bonamargy Friary Church
 

County

Antrim

Coordinates

N 55° 12' 07.14"   W 006° 13' 52.62"

Nearest town

Ballycastle

Grid Ref.

D 12592 40844

Map No.

5

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

9

Date of visit

Tuesday 30 June 2015

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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The friary past the gatehouse.


These are the ruins of a Franciscan friary from the beginning of the 16th century.
The name Bonamargy comes from the Irish "Bun na Mairge", which means "the foot of the Margy", that is the river next to the friary.
An early Franciscan foundation was set here by Rory MacQuillan in 1485.
The first thing to be built here was the church, in 1500, but in the following years a domestic building was added to the north of the chancel. The area delimited by these two buildings was a courtyard that was occupied by the cloister. Since there are no visible remains of it, it's likely that this would have been a timber structure leaning to the walls of the building.
The domestic range was a two-storey building. On the ground floor there was the refectory, while on the upper floor there were the bedrooms for the friars. It seems that the rooms were six. Other domestic buildings built with timber might have been around the main one.
The church has a nave and a chancel. The west gable with the main doorway collapsed during a storm in the 1770's. The east wall had a large window with elegant tracery. On the outer wall, around the window, there are some very weathered decorated stones, with carvings of human heads, interlacing patterns and foliage.
The whole monastery was surrounded and protected by an earthen bank. The entrance was through a gatehouse, a small building built around 1620.
The monastery was in use until the mid-17th century.
One of the most famous inhabitants of this monastery was Julia MacQuillan, known as "the black nun". She lived in reclusion and humility among the ruins after the friary fell in disuse. She predicted some harmful and dangerous events. It is said that she died on the stairs in the east range and, following her request, she was buried right outside the west doorway so that she could have been trodden by all the people entering the church. Her burial spot is marked by a short round-headed stone cross with no arms and a piercing hole in the centre of the head.

The friary continued to function even after the dissolution of the monasteries under king Henry VIII, and in the 1558 it went into the possession of the MacDonnells of Antrim. In 1584 the Scottish branch of the MacDonnells attacked the friary and burned it. The friary was abandoned for many years, until it was repaired by Randal MacDonnell in 1620 with the addition of a private chapel for the family to the south of the chancel. Randal died in 1682 and his tomb can be found in this chapel. It is said that the remains of Sorley Boy MacDonnell, the member of the clan who owned Dunluce castle and that played an important role in the history of Carra castle, are also interred here. This chapel is closed with an iron door. Next to this door, against the south wall, is another wonderful tomb for the McNaghtens.

What a wonderful dry and sunny weather we had during our visit. We got sunburnt in less than one hour.

We came here for the first time on September 14th, 2003.


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