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Holywood ( ; the Irish name is Ard Mhic Nasca meaning "MacNasca's height") is a town in County Down, Northern Irelandmarker, on the shores of Belfast Lough, between Belfastmarker and Bangormarker. Holywood Exchangemarker and Belfast City Airportmarker are nearby. The town hosts an annual jazz and blues festival.

Origin of the name

Holywood was named Sanctus Boscus ("Holy Wood") by the Normans after the woodland surrounding a monastery founded by St Laiseran before 640. It was on the site of the present ruins of the medieval Old Priory. The name appears first in Latinized form as Sanctus Boscus. The earliest written use of the Anglicized version occurs in a document dating from the fourteenth century in which the name is written as 'Haliwode'. In the present day, the name is pronounced identically to "Hollywoodmarker."


In the early 19th century Holywood, like many other coastal villages throughout Irelandmarker, became popular as a resort for sea-bathing. Many wealthy Belfastmarker merchants chose the town and the surrounding area to build large homes for themselves. These included the Kennedys of Cultramarker 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 Bangormarker, necessitated the construction of the Holywood Bypass in the early 1970s. Holywood today is a popular residential area and is well known for its fashionable shops, boutiques, arts and crafts.

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 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.

On 17 June 1994, Garnet Bell, a former pupil bearing a grudge, entered an assembly hall at Sullivan Upper School and used a flamethrower to attack students taking A-level examinations. Six pupils were injured; three of them seriously.


First Presbyterian Non-Subscribing Church, Holywood

Holywood Urban Area is a medium town within the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area (BMUA) as classified by the (ie with population between 10,000 and 18,000 people). On Census day (29 April 2001) there were 12,037 people living in Holywood. Of these:
  • 19.9% were aged under 16 years and 20.6% were aged 60 and over
  • 50.6% of the population were male and 49.4% were female
  • 23.0% were from a Catholic background and 68.6% were from a Protestant background
  • 3.0% of people aged 16–74 were unemployed.

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 Dutchmarker 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.
  • Nearly as famous, is the adjacent Maypole Bar, 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 Donegalmarker 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 Cultramarker.

Holywood people

  • Garth Ennis, comic writer (born 16 January 1970)
  • Maurice Jay, U105 presenter
  • Professional golfer Rory McIlroy comes from Holywood. In 2007 he became the youngest ever player to earn his card on the European Tour
  • Tom Kerr, comic strip artist
  • TV news anchorman Dermot Murnaghan is a former resident of Holywood. Although he was born in Devonmarker and spent some of his early years in Yorkshiremarker, his family later moved to Holywood where he lived just off Church View. He attended Sullivan Upper School.
  • The former BBC security correspendent Brian Rowan was born and raised in Holywood.
  • Mick Fealty, political analyst and editor of Slugger O'Toole was born in Belfast but raised in Holywood
  • Davy Sims broadcaster and writer, former head of BBC Northern Ireland New Media was born and raised in Holywood
  • Alban McGuinness, lawyer and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) politician was born in Holywood
  • Rosamund Praeger, artist, sculptor and writer; younger sister of the naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger
  • Professional rugby player Darren Cave playing for Ulster Rugby and helped Ireland U20 lift the 6 nations Grand Slam in 2007
  • Dr. Robert Sullivan, educational reformer and founding benefactor of Sullivan Upper School
  • Sir Charles Brett, architectural historian, born in Holywood
  • Bulmer Hobson, Irish nationalist activist and politician
  • Henry Harrison MP, secretary to Charles Stewart Parnell, is buried in the Priory graveyard in the centre of Holywood
  • Michael Smiley, comedian, writer and actor was born and raised in Holywood.
  • Margaret Mountford, lawyer, businesswoman and advisor to Sir Alan Sugar.
  • Sir Desmond Lorimer, Former major Irish business man comes from Holywood.
  • Clive Standen, an actor, was born in Holywood.
  • Stephen Brown, S.J., writer, librarian, founder of the Central Catholic Librarymarker, Dublin, was born in Holywood.
  • Breandán Mac Giolla Choille (1921-2006) was an Irish scholar and historian who was born in Holywood as Brendan Woodman; he later changed his name to the Irish equivalent. He was Keeper of the State Papers for the Government of the Republic of Irelandmarker, and edited Éamon de Valera's personal papers.
  • Barney Eastwood, businessman and owner and founder of the Eastwood bookmakers up until 2007 when he sold them to Ladbrokes.
  • Paul Carty, Banker and father of seven boys and one girl, now residing in a manor in the county Down coastal town of Warrenpoint. Born and raised in Holywood. One of the founders of the St. Paul's Gaelic Football Club in 1979. Son of Ned Carty of the Maypole Bar.
  • Eamon Nancarrow, singer and author. Raised in Holywood and writes about the town in his autobiography 'Holywood Star: The life and times of a rock and roll misadventurer'.
  • Jonathon Bramley, television producer, Bafta winner.


The first section of the Belfast and County Down Railway (BCDR) line from Belfastmarker to Holywood, along with Holywood railway stationmarker, opened on 2 August 1848. The line was extended to Bangormarker by the Belfast, Holywood and Bangor Railway (BHBR), opening on 1 May 1865, and acquired by the BCDR in 1884. Holywood station was closed for goods traffic on 24 April 1950.




Holywood Cricket Club is amalgamated with the Holywood R.F.C. 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.

North Down Borough 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 due to the GAA upgrading 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 was 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.


The first Gaelic Athletic Association club in Holywood was organised in 1927. It was called St Colmcille's. The team's strip was made up of black shorts and black shirts with white collars. This early club team also sponsored a handball team and a drama club. Although successful in the early days, the club lasted only ten years. It was revived in 1948 under the title of Holywood's Patron Saint, St. Laiseran, and lasted until it withdrew from the League in 1956.
  • The successful Thomas Russell Gaelic Club was formed in 1962 and soon 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 next milestone in the story is the foundation of the St. Paul's Gaelic Football Club 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'.


Holywood F.C. 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.

See also


  1. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)
  2. Maypole Bar
  3. RTÉ
  4. Nancarrow, Eamon (2009). Holywood Star: The Life and Times of a Rock and Roll Misadventurer, Showcase UK, Southampton. ISBN 0956390005.

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