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Bonamargy Friary Cemetery

History of the Friary


The history of the friary is poorly documented and it is therefore impossible to provide an accurate account of its construction or its use as a religious institution. Most historical sources contain the names of two possible founders of the friary and differing dates of building. Rory McQuillan, chieftain of the Route, an area in north Antrim, is said to have been responsible for the building of Bonamargy at some time between 1485, according to Dallat, and 1509 according to Charles Brett. The friary is named in a manuscript, held in the British Museum, which states that it was founded in 1500 by McQuillan. An alternative popular local tradition, cited in several historical sources, suggests that the friary was founded by Phelimy or Felix McCormick, a local chieftain from Glenshesk, to atone for his brutal murder of a neighbour in a local dispute.


The friary was extensively damaged in 1584 in one of the many military campaigns in the area in the sixteenth century. Lord Deputy Perrot’s soldiers occupied and fortified the buildings and stabled their horses there. Local forces, under Sorley Boy McDonnell, burnt much of the friary during an attack on those English soldiers. It was repaired and then reoccupied by the Franciscans until they were banished about 1642 although it may have been used after that date by friars working in Scotland.


Fagan reported, in 1839, in the Ordnance Survey memoir for Culfeightrin Parish, that the friary was then in ruins and surrounded by a graveyard. This had been greatly enlarged in area when a new wall was erected enclosing new ground about 1808. According to local information, there had been few burials on the north and west sides of the buildings prior to 1810 but within thirty years that area was thickly studded with graves. William Reeves stated in 1847 that the graveyard was the principal burial ground for Culfeightrin parish, in which it is situated, but it is obvious from the information on headstones that many people from the adjoining parish of Ramoan were also buried there.


The vast majority of the headstones record the deaths of people in the nineteenth century. Few headstones were erected in or have survived from the less populous eighteenth century and the number of interments declined towards the end of the nineteenth century as burial grounds were opened in churchyards surrounding the new churches built by the main denominations. The cemetery has been closed to burials for most of the twentieth century and only a few families with burial rights used it during that time.

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