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16 October 2014
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Ballycastle's Black Nun

Talk to a Ballycastle person about the history of the area and one of the first people they mention is Julia McQuillan.

Co Antrim

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Article by Brian Willis

Boring history? Not a bit of it. There's a twist to this tale.

Talk to any local Ballycastle person about the history of the area and inevitably one of the first people they mention is Julia McQuillan, "the Black Nun". She was a recluse who reputedly lived in Bonamargy Friary (aka.Banamargy or Bunnamairge). By the way - see that word "reputedly"? Well I guess I should start every sentence with it when composing these historical paragraphs. So please just take it as read.

Bonamargy Friary was built in the early 1500's and occupied by the Third Order of Franciscans until the mid-17th century. It is now a ruin in State care under the wing of the Environment and Heritage Department of the DoE.
The Friary is just south of Ballycastle on the Cushendall Road.

The grave of The Black Nun

The Black Nun lived and died there some time during the 1600's. It was her last wish that she should be buried near the entrance to the church so that worshippers, on entering, would tread on her grave, as a token of her humility. She is supposedly buried under a stone slab marked with this unusual holestone cross.

The lady is renowned, mainly because of her "Seven Prophesies", but even here there is some dispute about what exactly were her thoughts on the future. Perhaps 'Your Place & Mine' surfers can help me with this list.

Here are a few that I have gathered from various sources.

    Boats would be made of iron
    Knocklayde (the nearby mountain) would give water. Other sources give a stronger version and say- Knocklayde would burst and the water pouring from it would flood land for seven miles around.
    Yet another version says- A man would be able to press a button and water would flow from Knocklayde to Ballycastle.
    Two standing stones (Some suggest at Carnduff and Barnish. Others say Gortconny and Carey) would come together. Stones from both areas have subsequently been used in the building of Ballycastle harbour.
    Ireland would become independent with the arrival of a sailing ship with her sails on fire
    Horseless carriages (But all the prophets were onto them!)
    A red haired cleric (Don't know what this is about- any ideas?)
    The Hilltown river would flow with blood.


Julia McQuillan- The Black Nun, still haunts Bonamargy Friary... or so they say.
Load of rubbish? on dear surfer.

The strange case of the mysterious rock fall.

The following is not "reputedly", but is a true account of what happened during our visit to research this article.

In order to illustrate the tale of this mystic lady I needed to take a photo of her grave-stone . At the time, it was just my wife and I wandering around the ruins when I set up the camera. But as I was about to take the shot, a family walked across the background. They realized what I was up to, apologised and said they would get off-side. They promptly disappeared into a dark vaulted passageway up in the far corner to my left which led to the cloisters. I set up my shot again (see picture at the start of this article) and at the exact moment I pressed the trigger there was a dull rumble. However, I took no notice, changed the lens angle and took a wider shot this time. Here it is: -

The chancel of Bonamargy Friary (People on left)
High speed exit

However, look carefully at this picture and on the left you will see the family, ignoring my photography, coming at high speed out of the passage. "Did you hear that noise?" they asked me. "A stone fell out of the wall right in front of us".

We all trooped back to investigate and true enough a stone some two feet across had fallen from quite high up in the thick wall and split into several pieces at their feet.

James and Eamonn beside the rock.
A lucky escape.

Brothers James (13) and Eamon (17) Magorrian, pose beside - but not too near! - the stone that so narrowly missed them.


Once the fright was over we went to the local Police Station and reported the fall, because, who knows, the whole passage might be about to collapse. They were quick to respond and we heard later that, as a result of our report, the police had temporarily sealed off the passage, then informed the Heritage Department who had sealed it off permanently.


Speaking to a member of the Environment and Heritage staff the next day we discussed the strange rock fall and the fact that it had not come from the roof as one would have expected, but had apparently popped out of the thick wall.

"Yes" he said, and here I quote the man verbatim...."Almost as if it had been pushed from behind" (Cue spooky music)

Broken rock from wall

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