These are the only substantial remains in Northern Ireland of a Dominican (Black) Friary, founded in the mid 13th century. The lower parts of the nave are of the 13th century, with two blocked doors in the south wall leading to the now vanished cloister. Extensive 14th-century remodelling involved rebuilding the upper parts of the nave, extending it westwards and adding a north aisle reached through the surviving arcade.
In the early 15th century the arcade became unstable and the repairs involved rebuilding the west wall and providing a new west door. The friary was suppressed in 1541 and burned in 1572, but after the Plantation it was granted to Hugh Montgomery, first Viscount Ards, who refurbished the church, rebuilding the north aisle and adding the tower. The door in the tower is elaborately decorated in a Renaissance style and bears his initials, HLM, but the soft Scrabo sandstone has weathered badly and much of the detail is now unclear. For this reason a copy of the door was made by Historic Monuments craftsmen and in 1607 was set in the modern wall, not far from its model.
The church continued in use until a grand new one was built from 1817 onwards, and for some years in the early 19th century part of the church was used as a courthouse. In 1890 it was consecrated as the burial place of the Londonderry family. The cloister of the friary was adapted for Montgomery’s use in the 17th century, when the Castle Gardens were laid out (now a scheduled historic monument). Walls and gate pillars from the 17th century survive at the Castle Gardens.
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