It is only appropriate to begin by mentioning that the olde worlde pronunciation of Bonamargy was Bun-na-Mairgie, which means “at the foot of the Margy”. The Friary can be found on the road out of Ballycastle, on the Cushendall road. The Friary is situated in the middle of Ballycastle’s golf course, and is a stone’s throw from the beach. As you pass out of town, you will see the ruins on the right hand side in the midst of Ballycastle’s golf course – it’s a good job the Friary doesn’t have windows!
Needless to say, Bonamargy was founded long before the golf club! Most sources estimate that it dates back to the year 1500, and that it was built by Third Order Franciscans, although it may have been built on the site of an earlier religious settlement. A local man, Robert Starrs, carries an excellent history of Bonamargy Friary as well as some other notes on the area.
The main building and the gatehouse, were originally thatched. Some of the reconstruction sketches I have seen of the grounds imply that there may have been other outbuildings close to the church, possibly made of wood and thatch. If these ever existed, none now remain.
Locally, the Friary is known for its patronage by the MacDonnell clan and the vault houses the coffins of many members of that family including the notorious Sorley Boy McDonnell. The vault is now sealed.
The Black Nun: The Story Of Julia McQuillan
The Friary is supposedly haunted by the Ghost of the Black Nun, Julia McQuillan, who lived there alone after the Friary fell out of use in 1641. There is a common story that the Black Nun was murdered on the steps leading to the upper floor of the Friary. Legend has it that she fell on the thirteenth step and that bad luck will befall anyone who walks there.
Many people also believe that the Black Nun is buried at the entrance of the church, under the unusual circular headstone pictured above.
Ghostly Goings-On At Bonamargy
Bonamargy has always fascinated me. In my youth, my friends and I believed that evey time we walked in the gate to the Friary that it rained! In fact, one sunny day, we tested it out by going in the gate. Shortly after it started raining, so we ran off in search of shelter. When we got out to the main road again, the rain had stopped. Needless to say, we went back in again and yet another shower hit us!
My cousin and I also used to scavenge through the undergrowth in the cemetary for lost golf balls and then sell them back to golfers!
A few years later, some friends and I were holidaying in Ballycastle. After having a few beers on the beach after dark, a few of us headed off to the Friary on a ghost-hunt! We wandered around the grounds – avoiding the dark corridor which seperated the church from the domestic quarters to the left. There is a little archway at the end of the church, to the right hand side, which we had gathered around.
There were four of us present that night, three guys and a girl. For some reason, none of us could explain why, three of us looked upwards at the same time and caught a glimpse of a figure leaning over the top of the wall! We were all shocked, and a little skeptical. However, all of us described the same thing: a shady figure leaning over the archway as if about to drop something. We didn’t hang around in the dark for much longer!
More About Bonamargy Friary
I recommend Robert Starrs’ site for more in-depth information about the Friary and the Ballycastle area in general. There’s a condensed version at Paul Carson’s site and more history/pictures at the North Antrim website.
If it’s pictures you’re looking for, see my Bonamargy Friary pictures on Flickr. Or this. The Northern Ireland Towns website carries a number of pictures of the Friary and some of the graves in the cemetary. Finally, check out this spooky picture from the History From Headstones website.