Avoiding St Patrick

A Tour of Some Historic Sites in Mid-Down

When we decided to have a tour of some of the historic sites close to Downpatrick we realised that there might be problems associated with the parades in honour of St Patrick, which had been planned for the town on Saturday 16th March. So we settled on a suitable route which avoided all 21st century references to St Patrick.

The Cistercian Abbey of Inch or Inniscourcy (J477455) was founded by John de Courcy and colonised by monks from Furness in 1187. The site was occupied by the earlier monastery of Inis Cumhscraigh. It is known that this early monastery was surrounded by a large earthwork which was in existence before 800. The presence of this earthwork has been revealed in recent years by aerial photography. The abbey sits on a former island in the Quoile marshes and is approached by a causeway from the north. The ruins show the typical Cistercian layout. A large cruciform church stands to the north of the cloister garth. Along the east of the cloister is a range of buildings including the vestry, chapter house and parlour. Above these may have been the dormitories. To the south was the kitchen and refectory. There do not appear to have been any buildings along the west of the cloister although such buildings are found in some other Cistercian abbeys.

The church had two chapels in each of the transepts and a north and south aisle. The walls have been reduced to low level except at the east end. Enough remains to show that the chapels were vaulted and that there was a tower over the choir. There are three large lancet windows in E wall of the chancel and two such windows in the N and S walls. In the S wall there is a piscina with one remaining quatrefoil basin. This is the scar of a triple sedilia. There is evidence that there was a fire during the 15th century which may have caused the destruction or demolition of the tower. The transept arches and the first bay of the nave were then enclosed and the west doorway moved to the present position. Only the lower courses of the doorway remain. Presumably the rest of the nave was then abandoned. To the SW of the main cluster of building are the remains of a bakehouse which had two ovens. Beside this is a well. To the SE is the foundation of a small rectangular building which may have been an infirmary. At some time an oven with a long flue has been inserted into this building.

At Annadorn (J428459) there is a small dolmen. It is very low. Three stones about 60cm high support a large capstone about 65cm thick.

According to a description published in 1802 this chamber was originally covered in a cairn about 20m across and was approached by a lintelled passage. If this description is reliable Annadorn seems to have been some sort of passage tomb. However the chamber would have been very low and not typical. Another possible explanation is that the large stones were originally upright supporting the capstone. This would then represent a more typical tripod dolmen. The monument has not been excavated and closer examination is necessary to correctly interpret the remains.

The old graveyard at Loughinisland (J423454) occupies a natural island in Loughinisland Lake and now reachable by a modern causeway from the west.

The three churches among the graves are of different dates. The Middle Church may date from the l3th century although there is evidence that the walls were refaced at a later date. It was a rectangular gabled structure measuring about 11m by 6m internally. The gables have now fallen and the walls have been reduced to an average 3m high. The south doorway has been largely destroyed with only the base of the jambs remaining. There is a good base batter on the south wall. The North Church probably dates from the 15th or 16th century and it continued in use until 1720 when the roofing materials were removed for re-use in the Church of Ireland building at Seaforde. It measures about 19m by 8m internally with west and south doorways. There is a small lancet window over the west doorway and above this is a small weathered mask. The stone on the inside of the south wall with the long Latin inscription in raised lettering is part of a gravestone. It dates from 1617 although the date is no longer traceable. There is a similar stone to the left of the south doorway but the inscription is no longer legible. The South Church is also called MacCartan‘s Chapel and was built in 1636. It is a rectangular gabled structure about 7m by 4.5m internally. It has a two-light east window and small north and south windows. The west doorway has a semicircular head, arising from moulded imposts, with a square architrave framing the arch. There are panelled spandrels bearing the initials P.M.C. and the date 1636. On the gable above the doorway is a carved mask. The gravestones are mainly 19th and 20th century but there are some late 18th century examples. There are many gravestones some of which are plain. Others are inscribed with initials and a simple cross, but no date. There are also two large burial vaults, one of which is dated 1835 and 1855.

The large flour mill at Ballydugan (1462427) was viewed. It is six storeys high, six bays long and three bays deep, with a double attic. It was built in 1792 by John Auchinleck of Strangford. It was originally driven by a breastshot water wheel 6.5m diameter and 3m wide. The water from Ballydugan Lake was only sufficient for eight months of the year so, in the 1830s, a 25 h.p. steam engine was installed. The mill contained four pairs of stones, two of them French burrs. The water-wheel was removed many years aco but the wheel pit is still there. A fine brick chimney for the engine stands to the rear of the building but the top is badly damaged. The main building has been recently restored is now a major hotel and restaurant.

The wells and baths at Struell (J513442) have been visited by pilgrims in search of a cure since before the 16th century although the name of the site is not ancient.

At the NE end of the site is a ruined church which was built about 1750 but probably never completed. It probably replaced an earlier church on the same site. Beside it is the Drinking Well, a circular stone building with a domed stone roof showing impressions of wicker-centering. A stone in the outer wall is carved with a small cross with triangular terminals. The well is fed by the stream which continues through the middle of the site to the Eye Well. This well is covered by a small square building with a very fine corbelled roof. After flowing through the Eye Well the stream divides to feed the bath houses. The Men's Bath House is contained in a rectangular building with a pointed barrel vault covered externally by overlapping courses of heavy stone slates. The Men's Changing Room has a west doorway and occupies the W portion of the bath house. It has stone seats and small square windows. The Men's Bath occupies about half of the eastern portion of the building. It is a deep stone tank fed by a strong flow from a spout. A channel in the S wall of the tank indicates that it had some form of sluice gate which allowed the tank to fill. The Women's Changing room occupies the rest of the. building. It has its own entrance in the east. It also has stone seats and small square windows. The Women's Bath House is a small separate rectangular building (now roofless) just to the E of the larger building. Its western doorway is opposite the doorway of the Women's Changing Room. The bath house is fed by a spout about halfway up the wall and the flow continues along a central channel and out under the S wall. The site has been associated with St Patrick for at least 300 years.

The court tomb at Ballyalton (J531443) is surrounded by a thorn and bramble thicket making exploration difficult. Six stones survive from an eastern court. Two of them act as portal stones leading to a two-chambered gallery. Many of gallery stones survive. The maximum height of any of the stones is about 1m. Excavation in 1933 revealed the fragmentary bones of at least seven individuals and potsherds of at least 20 vessels. These appear to have been rimmed decorated bowls. The term “Ballyalton ware" was applied for many years to similar vessels from other excavated sites. Numerous worked flints were also found including a lozenge arrowhead, several plano-convex knives and some hollow scrapers.

The dolmen at Loughmoney (J539464) has two side stones supporting a capstone. Each of the side stones are about 2m long by about 90cm high and 50cm thick. The capstone is about 3m long by 1.5m wide and 60cm thick. The stones are Silurian shale and there are no traces of a covering cairn. The length of the stones and the lack of endstones suggests that this may be the remnants of a lintelled gallery. If this is the case it may be part of a wedge tomb where this type of construction is common. That being so it would be the only example of a wedge tomb in Co Down. However not enough of the monument remains to give evidence of its true nature.

A short distance to the east of Loughmoney dolmen is Carrownacaw Standing Stone (J544464). This stone is about 75cm square and about 3m high. It is incline slightly towards the south. Excavation in 1955 showed that it tapered to a point below the ground, and that it was set in a socket and tightly packed with chocking stones. Just to the NE of the stone was a ring ditch about 6m diameter. Many worked flints, including arrowheads, were found in the filling of the ditch and in the surface soil surrounding the stone.

The church at Saul (J510464) is a 1932 building in the style of an early Irish church with an attached belfry resembling an Irish Round Tower. Saul is where St Patrick supposedly built his first church. There is no trace of an early structure. The earliest structure on the site is probably the small stone-roofed mortuary house. It is not large enough to take a coffin and may have been a reliquary for sacred bones. There are many interesting grave markers including a crudely carved slate memorial to John McLharron (a possible cousin?) of Castle Ward who died on September 6th 1785.

Quoile Castle (J497470) is a ruined 16th century tower-house which was inhabited into the 18th century. One corner of the building has fallen to reveal a cross-section of the castle. The doorway in the NE wall has been rebuilt and gives access to the bottom of a straight mural stairway. This is protected by murder-holes at the bottom and at the top. The inner doorway at the ground floor opens into a chamber with a stone vault and many small gun-loops. Beyond this is a second similar chamber. There were two rooms at the first floor and one of them had a fireplace. The second floor is reached by another straight stairway within the NW wall. There is another fireplace at this level.