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Holywood Parish, County Down


Ir. Ard Mhic Nasca ‘height of the son of Nasca’; Eng. Holywood 'holy wood'.


The English name Holywood has been used from the 13th century.  Despite the modern pronunciation and some historical spellings with -ll- there is no connection with the holly tree.  The name was sometimes Latinised as Sanctus Boscus ‘the holy wood’, as when visited by King John in AD 1210 (EA 12n).  However, that church appears to have succeeded an earlier Irish monastery founded by Saint Laisrén, in a place called after him Ard Mhic Nasca ‘height of the son of Nasca’.  The saint’s name occurs in all the Irish calendars at Oct. 25th: the feast ‘of Lasrian son of Nasce’, ‘great Laisrén son of Nasca’, ‘holy Lasrén son of Nasca’ (Mart. Tall., Féil. Óeng., Mart. Gorm.).  Laisrén probably dates to the 7th century, since a priest-abbot called Laisrianus was mentioned in the letter from the Pope in AD 640 to Irish clergy about the date of Easter, preserved by the Venerable Bede (EA 149).  The notes to the calendar of Oengus gave the location of the church, since Laisrén was ‘from the height of the son of Nasca on the shore of Belfast Lough in Ulster’ (Féil. Óeng Oct 25: Laisren mac Nascai o Aird mic Nascai for bru Locha Laig i nUlltaibh).  A mid-18th century reference to a place in Down called Ard Mhic Criosg, in the Irish funeral oration for Owen O’Neill, is recognisable as the early Ard Mhic Nasca, by the same sound-change of cn to cr as gives rise to the surname McCracken, from Mac Neachtain.  The townland of Holywood was in the middle of five townlands of church land, Knocknagoney to the south and Ballykeel, Ballymenagh and Ballycultra to the north.  However, although the church became generally known by the English translation of its Latin name, in the 17th century lists of the church lands, Holywood townland was known as Ballaenderry or Ballyderry, in Irish Baile Doire or Baile an Doire, ‘townland of the oakwood’.


KM, 2009; revised PT, 2012.

Additional Information

See also the town and townland of Holywood for historical forms of this name

Historical name form

Old FormRef. DateReference
Hollywood1657Inq. Down (Reeves1) 139
Castlereagh Lower
Parish in 1851
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Place name type