Led by Fr. Noel Mc Keown, O.P, assisted by Mr. Anthony Russell, teacher, lecturer, writer and historian, a bus load of interested people left the Dominican church in Newry on Sunday, June 12, at 9.00 a.m., heading for Newtownards, County Down. En route, information was given on places of interest over the bus intercom.
We arrived at the former Dominican Priory in Newtownards at about 10.30. Waiting to meet us was Mr. Martin Keery of the N.I. Department of the Environment who gave an excellent history of the site which began in 1244. The walls of the original church are still standing along with a side isle and bell tower which were added later. The tower has recently been renovated and full attention is being given to maintain the site as best as possible. We gathered from Mr. Keery that the local Anglican parish hold a service in the building every year on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Columba after whom the priory is named. Contact has been made with our Anglican friends and a warm welcome receved for the next service there.
The bus driver had ascertained on the internet that public toilets were available at nearby Comber, so we headed off in that direction where we found toilets in excellent condition with an attendant at hand.
Time to think of food !
Each person on the bus was given a copy of the lunch menu, orders were taken and phoned into Castlewellan. That was our next port of call, half way between Comber and Newry. Lunch was ready when we arrived at about 1.00 p.m. Everyone enjoyed the meal and it was all set for part two of the journey. The next stop was only a mile or so down the road! Retreating Irish forces had set fire to the priory in Newtownards to prevent it falling into the hands of advancing English troops. The brethren had to flee and ended up in a little whitewashed cottage on the main road from Castlewellan into Newry.
A photo of this cottage is in the possession the owner of a bungalow built on the site of the cottage. The latter was removed to make way for the new building.
There were two Mass rocks in the vicinity which would have been used by the brethren. Only one has survived.
From there, we hit the trail for Carlingford in County Louth. The Office of Public works of the Irish Republic has restored this 14th century foundation. Members the public can walk straight in. It is in very good condition. Given Irish weather and the fact that the church has no roof or glass in the windows, it was deemed advisable to say Mass in the nearby parish church. We were welcomed by the parish priest, Fr, Brian McRaois. Our visit to Carlingford also included a tour of the local heritage centre which had a feature on the priory.