Holywood (/ˈhɒliwʊd/ HOL-ee-wuud) (Irish: Ard Mhic Nasca, meaning 'Height of the Son of Nasca'. Latin: Sanctus Boscus, meaning 'Holy Wood'[2]) is a town in the metropolitan area of Belfast in County Down, Northern Ireland. It is a civil parish and townland of 755 acres lying on the shore of Belfast Lough, between Belfast and Bangor. Holywood Exchange and Belfast City Airport are nearby. The town hosts an annual jazz and blues festival.

St Colmcille's church, Holywood, County Down.jpg
St Colmcille's church on High Street
Holywood is located in County Down
Location within County Down
Population11,257 (2011 Census)
CountryNorthern Ireland
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtBT18
Dialling code028
PoliceNorthern Ireland
FireNorthern Ireland
AmbulanceNorthern Ireland
UK Parliament
NI Assembly
List of places
Northern Ireland
54°38′10″N 5°50′42″W / 54.636°N 5.845°W / 54.636; -5.845Coordinates: 54°38′10″N 5°50′42″W / 54.636°N 5.845°W / 54.636; -5.845


The English name Holywood comes from Latin Sanctus Boscus 'holy wood'. This was the name the Normans gave to the woodland surrounding the monastery of St Laiseran, son of Nasca. The monastery was founded by Laiseran before 640 and was on the site of the present Holywood Priory. The earliest Anglicised form appears as Haliwode in a 14th-century document. Today, the name is pronounced Hollywood.

The Irish name for Holywood is Ard Mhic Nasca meaning "high ground of Mac Nasca".[3][4]


In the early 19th century, Holywood, like many other coastal villages throughout Ireland, became popular as a resort for sea-bathing. Many wealthy Belfast merchants chose the town and the surrounding area to build large homes for themselves. These included the Kennedys of Cultra and the Harrisons of Holywood. Dalchoolin House stood on the site of the present Ulster Transport Museum, while Cultra Manor was built between 1902–04 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 that of other towns and villages along the coastal strip to Bangor, 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.

Holywood Priory

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[5] and his sister, Rosamond 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. Bishop Robert Bent Knox is also buried there.

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.[6]

On 12 April 2010, at around 12:24am, a car bombing occurred near Palace Barracks, a British Army barracks on the edge of Holywood's town centre. An elderly man was blown off his feet and had to be treated in hospital. The bomb was allegedly driven towards the base in a hijacked taxi.[7] The Real IRA claimed responsibility for the attack.[8]


As of the 2011 United Kingdom Census on 27 March, there were 11,257 people living in Holywood.[9] Of these:

  • 18.29% were under 16 years of age and 18.79% were 65 or older
  • 48.99% were male and 51.01% were female
  • 62.25% were from a Protestant or other Christian background and 23.11% were from a Catholic Christian background.
  • 3.39% of people aged 16–74 were unemployed.

Places of interestEdit

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 Dutch 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 current maypole was severely damaged in high winds in February 2021 and subsequently found to be rotten.[10] It was removed and a replacement ordered. The maypole is still used for dancing at the annual May Day fair.
  • Nearly as famous, is the adjacent Maypole Bar,[11] locally known as Ned's or Carty's. It was first licensed in 1857, and, from then until 2018, it has had only 3 proprietors. County Donegal 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 Cultra.


On the 2nd of August 1848, the first leg of the Belfast and County Down Railway, or BCDR, was opened from Belfast to Holywood. The Holywood railway station opened simultaneously. The railway line was extended via the Belfast, Holywood and Bangor Railway (BHBR) to Bangor, and the extension opened on 1 May 1865. The BCDR acquired the BHBR in 1884.[12] Holywood station was closed for goods traffic on 24 April 1950.[13]


Records of the marine algae include: Polysiphonia elongata, Laurencia obtusa, Chondria dasyphylla, Pterothamnion plumula, Rhodophyllis divaricate, and Coccotylus truncates.[14]


The Crosslé Car Company, a manufacturer of racing cars is based in Holywood.[15][16]


The town contains the following schools: Holywood Primary School, Holywood Nursery School, Holywood Rudolf Steiner School, Priory Integrated College, Rockport School, St. Patrick's Primary School, and Sullivan Preparatory School and Sullivan Upper School.


Holywood is home to Formula One driver, Eddie Irvine and Formula 3 Driver (2020), Christian Lester.[17]


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 Roman Catholic Diocese of Connor and Down, which 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.


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 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.


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, by John Regan, Davy McCoy and Paddy McNally, 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. St. Paul's Gaelic Football Club was founded in 1979 as 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 Golf Club, founded in 1904 is where 2011 US Open, 2012 US PGA, The Open 2014, and 2014 US PGA champion Rory McIlroy learned his golf, and the champion still calls it his home course. Nearby Craigavad is the home of the Royal Belfast Golf Club, the oldest in Ireland, dating from 1881. The club's present course was designed by architect Harry Colt in 1926.[18]

Notable peopleEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Online Scots Dictionary Archived 20 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  2. ^ Patrick McKay, A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names, p. 82. The Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast, 1999.
  3. ^ "Ard Mhic Nasca/Holywood". Logainm.ie. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  4. ^ "Ulster Place Names, County Down". Ainm:Journal of the Ulster Place-name Society (1987, 1988). Archived from the original on 14 December 2010. Retrieved 22 August 2007.
  5. ^ Praeger, Robert Lloyd (1969). The Way that I Went: An Irishman in Ireland. Dublin: Allen Figgis. pp. 10–12. ISBN 0-900372-93-1.
  6. ^ "Flame-thrower case man 'did not mean to hurt pupils'". The Independent. London, UK. 20 June 1995. Archived from the original on 9 November 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2009.
  7. ^ Sharrock, David (12 April 2010). "Car bomb explodes near MI5 base in Belfast". The Times. London, UK. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  8. ^ "Real IRA admits NI MI5 base bomb". BBC News. 12 April 2010. Archived from the original on 26 August 2017. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  9. ^ "Census 2011 Population Statistics for Holywood Settlement". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  10. ^ Beattie, Jilly (23 February 2021). "Holywood's maypole severely damaged in high winds". BelfastLive. Archived from the original on 5 August 2021. Retrieved 5 August 2021.
  11. ^ "Maypole Bar". Archived from the original on 24 June 2006.
  12. ^ "Belfast and County Down Railway". Irish Railwayana. Archived from the original on 15 August 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
  13. ^ "Holywood station" (PDF). Railscot – Irish Railways. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  14. ^ Morton, O. 1994. Marine Algae of Northern Ireland. Ulster Museum. Belfast; ISBN 0-900761-28-8
  15. ^ "Dr Feargal Sharkey: It's going to happen". Londonderry Sentinel. 29 January 2010. Retrieved 30 January 2010.
  16. ^ "The Crosslé Car Company Limited – Contact Information". Crosslé Car Company. Archived from the original on 12 May 2009. Retrieved 30 January 2010.
  17. ^ http://www.christianlester.co.uk Archived 21 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine www.christianlester.co.uk
  18. ^ "Royal Belfast Golf Club – RBGC The Oldest Golf Club in Ireland". Archived from the original on 11 December 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  19. ^ Reid, James Seaton (1853). A history of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, comprising the civil history of the province of Ulster from the accession of James the First ... 1 (3 ed.). London: Whittaker; [etc].