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Holywood, County Down


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


bar: Castlereagh Lower

Town is 7.5km NE of Belfast

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’.


McKay, P. (2007): A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names, p. 81; KM, 2009; revised PT, 2012;

Additional Information

T., 1851 Census

Historical name form

Old FormRef. DateReference

apud Sanctum Boscum [King John halted here]

1210 (July 29)Rot. de Prestito (EA) 12n

de Sancto Bosco [Jordanus de Saukevill confirmed by King Henry III in the possession of his lands]

1217Close Roll Hen. III (EA) 12-13

Haliwode, ecclesia de

1306cEccles. Tax. 12

(?)ardemaghste, a freere house

1570cEarly Chart B'fast Lough

Ard mic Nascca, Laisren, mac Nascca ó

1630cMart. Don. Nov 25 p282


1645cMacCana's Itinerary 56

Collis Sancti Mac Nissi

1645cMacCana's Itinerary 56

Aird mhic-Criosg

1744O'Neill Fun. Oration 269

feall Aird mhic Criosg

1744O'Neill Fun. Oration 267

Ard Mhic Nasca

1969AGBP 116

Ard Mhic Nasca

1989GÉ 7

Ard Mhic Nasca ""height of the son of Nasca""

1999Dict. Ulst. PN 82

Baile Doire ""townland of the oak-wood""

1999Dict. Ulst. PN 82

Sanctus Boscus

1999Dict. Ulst. PN 82

o Ard mic Naxair (nascai F.) a n-Ulltaib. L.

830cFél. Óeng. Oct 25 p226n

o Art maic Nasca for brú Locha Laig i n-Ultaib. R

830cFél. Óeng. Oct 25 p226n
Holywood town1275cGreat Rolls Pipe xxxvi 32
Halywode1333Inq. Earldom Ulster iii 64, 66
Holywode1574Sav. Ulst. 367
Hallyw[a?]d abb[?]y1580cSE Ulster Map
Holywood1590Dartmouth Map 5
Holuood1591Hondius Map
Holywod ab.1595Mercator's Ulst.
Holly Abbi1603Bartlett Maps (Esch. Co. Maps) 1
Holliwood1604CPR Jas I 39a
Ballihollowood1605Inq. Ult. (Down) $2 Jac. I
Holliwood1605CPR Jas I 72b
Holliwood1605CPR Jas I 72b
Hollywoode Abb.1610Speed's Ulster
Holywood ab1610Speed's Ireland
Holywoode Abb1610Speed's Ulster
Holywoode Abb1610Speed's Antrim & Down
Holiwood1615Terrier (O'Laverty) 326
Holliwood1615Terrier (Reeves) 49
Hollywood1616CPR Jas I 320b
Holywood1619CPR Jas I 430b
Ballinderry al Ballidery1620Ham. Patent [1620] xx
Holliwood1620Ham. Patent [1620] xx
Holywood1622Ulster Visit. Reeves 49
Holliwood1623Inq. Ult. (Down) $12 Jac. I
East Hollewood1625cRaven Map Clandeboye 38
West Hollewood1625cRaven Map Clandeboye 37
Ballinderry1627CPR Chas I 228
Hollywood1627CPR Chas I 225, 230
Ballinderry1630Ham. Patent [1630] xi
Ballindery or Ballidory1630Ham. Patent [1630] xi
Holywood1630Ham. Patent [1630] xi
Hollywood1645Inq. Ult. (Down) $104 Car. I
Hollywood1645Inq. Ult. (Down) $104 Car. I
Hollywood1661Trien. Visit. (Bramhall) 13
Hollywood1664Trien. Visit. (Margetson) 22
Holliwood1679Trien. Visit. (Boyle) 44
Holywood1693Collins B'fast Lough
Holywood1744O'Neill Fun. Oration 267
Holywood1810Wm. Map (OSNB) No. 29
Hollywood1830cTreas. Warrant (OSNB) No. 29
Castlereagh Lower
Parish in 1851
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