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County Down
Downshire Road Holywood - geograph.org.uk - 119492.jpg
Downshire Road, Holywood
Grid reference: J405797
Location: 54°38’10"N, 5°50’42"W
Population: 12,037  (2001)
Post town: Holywood
Postcode: BT18
Dialling code: 028
Local Government
Council: Ards and North Down
North Down

Holywood is a town on the north coast of County Down. It lies on the shore of Belfast Lough, between Belfast and Bangor. Its name is pronounced "Hollywood". Holywood today is a popular residential area and is well known for its fashionable shops, boutiques, arts and crafts.

Holywood Exchange and Belfast City Airport are nearby. The town hosts an annual jazz and blues festival.

The English name Holywood was given by the Anglo-Norman incomers to the woodland surrounding the monastery of St Laiseran, son of Nasca, which appears in documents as Sanctus Boscus. The monastery was founded by Laiseran before 640 and was on the site of the present Holywood Priory. The earliest Anglicized form appears as Haliwode in a 14th-century document.


In the 17th century Ulster ports began to rise in prominence. In 1625 William Pitt was appointed as Customer of the ports of Newcastle, Dundrum, Killough, Portaferry, Donaghadee, Bangor and Holywood.[1]

In the early 19th century Holywood, like many other coastal villages throughout the British Isles, became popular as a resort for sea-bathing. Many wealthy Belfast merchants chose the town and the surrounding area to build large homes for themselves. These included the Kennedys of Cultra and the Harrisons of Holywood. Dalchoolin House stood on the site of the present Ulster Transport Museum, while Cultra Manor was built in 1902–1904 and now houses part of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

The railway line from Belfast to Holywood opened in 1848 and this led to rapid development. The population of Holywood was approximately 3,500 in 1900 and had grown to 12,000 by 2001. This growth, coupled with the growth of other towns and villages along the coastal strip to Bangor, necessitated the construction of the Holywood Bypass in the early 1970s.

Hollywood Priory

The Old Priory ruins lie at the bottom of the High Street. The tower dates from 1800, but the oldest ruins date from the early 13th century. The Priory graveyard is the resting place for many distinguished citizens including the educational reformer, Dr Robert Sullivan, and the Praeger family. Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865–1953) was an internationally renowned botanist[2] and his sister, Rosamund Praeger (1867–1954) gained fame as a sculptor and writer. "Johnny the Jig", one of her sculptures, is situated in the town. Praeger House at Sullivan Upper Grammar School is named after the family.

First Presbyterian Non-Subscribing Church, Holywood

Places of interest

The Maypole and Ned's Bar
  • Holywood is famous for its maypole at the crossroads in the centre of town. Its origin is uncertain, but according to local folklore it dates from 1700, when a Dutch ship is said to have run aground on the shore nearby, and the crew erected the broken mast to show their appreciation of the assistance offered to them by the townsfolk. The maypole is still used for dancing at the annual May Day fair.
  • The Maypole Bar adjacent to the maypole is nearly as famous.[3] It is locally known as Ned's or Carty's. It was first licensed in 1857, and remarkably, from then until 2006, it has had only 3 proprietors. County Donegal native, Ned Carty, bought it from Mick O'Kane in the late 1960s. It had been owned by O'Kane since 1908. It is now run by Ned's son, Brian Carty.
  • There is a Norman motte in the town which may have been constructed on an earlier burial mound.
  • The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum illustrating the way of life and traditions of the people of Ulster is nearby, at Cultra.



Holywood Cricket Club is amalgamated with the Holywood RFC. Cricket may have been played in Holywood as early as 1860 but the present club, as we know it, was formed as a result of a meeting held on Monday, 28 March 1881. In the first season games against Ballynahinch, Enfield, Lurgan, North Down and Sydenham followed the opening game against Wellington, when the team was captained by Joe Ross.

The club's first home was at Kinnegar where the club President and Benefactor for many years gave use of part of his land to the club free of charge. The members worked hard to turn the area into a cricket ground and by 1883 had secured sufficient money to erect a new pavilion.

The local Council has provided HCC with a new home at Seapark. "Seapark Oval" was finally ready during the 2005 season, after 8 years of using the pitch at Sullivan School.

The club had been forced off the Belfast Road grounds it occupied for 100+ years because the GAA upgraded the pitch it leases from the Down and Connor Roman Catholic diocese. This meant that with the playing surfaces of the two sports pitches being at different levels, cricket could no longer be played at this venue unless the ground were raised to the same level as the GAA pitch.

The cricket club now share the Seapark grounds with a bowling club and Holywood Football Club, the latter hoping to secure new grounds at Spafield in the near future. There are also plans for a new club house at the Seapark grounds.

Gaelic games

The Thomas Russell Gaelic Club was formed in 1962 and earned the name "the Holywood Giant Killers". It played on a notoriously uneven pitch in the 'Convent Fields'. But early success did not continue – the club struggled on until 1976 when it withdrew from the Antrim League. The St Paul's Gaelic Football Club was formed in 1979: an amalgamation of the Holywood, Bangor and Newtownards clubs. It operated under a deal with Holywood Cricket Club which maintained the Gaelic pitch in return for using a small section of the lower pitch as part of its 'out-field'. The Cricket Club was turfed off recently when the pitches were altered.


Holywood FC was formed in 1983 following the amalgamation of two Northern Amateur League teams, Loughview Star (1961–83) and Holywood Town (1972–83). These two clubs had not been very successful, though Loughview had caused a sensation when they reached the Clarence Cup final while still a Second Division club, losing 2-0 to Lisburn Rangers in 1964-65

Loughview won Division 2B in 1981-82 and after the amalgamation, the new club finished runners up in 2b in 1992-93, but were soon relegated again. The club's biggest day came when they won the IFA Junior Cup final in 1989-90, beating their town rivals Holywood Rec. in the decider.

The club has enjoyed even more success in recent years, by winning the 2a title and the Cochrane & Corry Cup in the 1999–2000 season. As a result, the club were promoted for the first time in their history to intermediate status in Division 1B.


  1. O'Sullivan, Aidan & Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2. 
  2. Praeger, Robert Lloyd (1969). The Way that I Went: An Irishman in Ireland. Dublin: Allen Figgis. pp. 10–12. ISBN 0-900372-93. 
  3. Maypole Bar

Outside links