Bangor Abbey

Bangor Abbey, County Down

Bangor Abbey (photo from Tourism NI)

Bangor Abbey was founded in 558 AD by Saint Comgall

Bangor Abbey (photo from Tourism NI)

Bangor Abbey was established by Saint Comgall in 558 in Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland and was famous for its learning and austere rule.

Bangor Abbey is regarded as one of the most important of the early Northern Irish monastic sites, second only to Armagh. Within the extensive rampart which encircled its monastic buildings, students studied scripture, theology, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music, and the classics.

Bangor was a major centre of learning and trained many missionaries. Columbanus and Gall went off to Continental Europe in 590 AD and founded the famous monasteries of Luxiell (France), St Gallen (Switzerland) and Bobbio (Italy).

Like many early Irish monasteries, Bangor was destroyed and rebuilt on a number of occasions.

The Annals of Ulster record that Bangor was burned in 616 and again in 755. No doubt at this period the buildings were constructed of wood.

Easily accessible from the sea, Bangor invited attack, and between 822 and 824, the Norsemen plundered it.

The Annals of Ulster and the Four Masters both record that during this raid, “learned men and Bishops” were smitten and the shrine containing the relics of Saint Comgall were taken.

Another probable victim of the Vikings was “Tanaidhe MacUidhir, coarb of Bennchor, who was killed in 958. There is a consensus that the importance of Bangor declined around the latter part of the tenth century.

When St. Malachy, in 1121, became Abbot of Bangor he had to build everything anew. However, three years later he was promoted to the See of Down, and Bangor again decayed.

In 1469, the Franciscans had possession of it, and a century later the Augustinians, after which, at the dissolution of the monasteries in that part of Ireland, it was given by James I to Sir James Hamilton who repaired the church in 1617 and was buried in it when he died in 1644.

It appears that stone from the abbey was used in the construction of the new church. All that remains of the Abbey ruins is St. Malachy’s Wall.

The present Tower of the church dates back to the 14th century. A mural in the church is of Christ ascending to heaven with Saints Comgall, Gall and Columbanus at his feet.