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The County Down sundial trail
County Down is one of the nine counties in the Province of Ulster in the North of Ireland. Renouned for its world famous scenery, it is rich in prehistoric remains, and the ruins of medieval castles and monasteries dot the landscape. Our 100km Down Sundial Trail starts in Bangor in the north, a popular seaside resort with a pier and marina, and ends in Newcastle in the south of the county 'where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea'. The National Trust maintains seven historic villages/homes/gardens here and of course Down has its sundials.
The Bangor Monastery Dial
In the Rose Garden in front of Bangor Town Hall
(formerly Bangor Castle - built 1847) there is an ancient vertical stone dial
1500mm high 300mm wide by 200mm thick dated circa 900 A.D. Originally located
in Bangor Monastery, of which nothing remains, it was relocated to the Castle
over 100 years ago. Only five timelines of a possible twelve remain on the
damaged 'U' shaped head and nothing remains of the gnomon but the hole in the
slab where a wooden or metal gnomon would have fitted. Three crosses are carved
on the stele.
The Bangor Abbey Dial
Next stop is but a few short steps to the
North Down Heritage Centre
in the Town Hall grounds where you can see a fine model of what the ancient
monastery might have looked like. On display here is a John Bonar sun,
moon and tide slate dial, 400mm by 350mm by 15m thick, dated 1630. Originally
designed for Bangor Abbey Church on the site of the ancient monastery, it too
was removed to the Castle over 100 years ago.
The Mount Stewart Dial
Leave Bangor on the A20 heading south 10km
to Newtownards. Go through Newtownards, stay on the A20, head southeast towards
Portaferry on the Ards Penninsula. After 8km you arrive at Mount Stewart House,
National Trust property on the shore of Strangford Lough. An 18th century
ancestral home and one of the greatest gardens in the country, it is well worth
a visit in its own right. But located in the Lily Garden is the object of our
visit, a circular brass dial 200mm in diameter mounted on a 1200mm high pillar.
The inscription reads
The Nendrum Dial
Return to Newtownards and this time take the A21 to
Comber 9kms. Leave Comber on the A22 road to Killyleagh, turn-off 1kms south of
Comber to Nendrum Monastery, a further 8km. Located on Mahee Island in
Strangford Lough, it is accessed by narrow bendy roads and a causeway. Founded
in the 5th century, the remains of a round tower, stone enclosures and a church
are still to be seen. Here you will find a vertical stone dial 1900mm high
400mm wide by 150mm thick dated circa 900 A.D., the same period as the Bangor
Dial. It was reconstructed from pieces found during excavation in 1924. There
is a visitor centre on site.
The Corbally Dial
Return to the A22 and continue south 24kms,
passing through Balloo and Killyleagh to Downpatrick. Located on the Mall,
Down County Museum (once Downpatrick
Gaol) has some restored cells and houses exhibits on the history of Down. The
museum has eight slate dials, some of them damaged, in it's archives (not on
display). The photo shows one of these, an unusual horizontal dial, 490mm by
395mm wide, The smaller of the two central dials is delineated for Jerusalem
and the main dial is for Corbally 5km east of Banbridge. There is an eight
point windrose at the base of the gnomon. The four subsidiary dials, one at
each corner of the plate are for Savanna, Calcutta, Botany and New York. The
Botany gnomon is missing, the others are bent. Made for a Jas. Murry in 1834 by
J. McNally. The quotations are in Latin and English, "I shew by the kindnefs
& splendour of the sun" " Sol gloria sphira" "Life in it's greatest vigour
is altogether vanity" "Brevis huminum vita" There is a Places - Lat - Long
table between Jas Murry - J McNally names, for the five locations delineated.
The method of showing the date is unusual.
The Tollymore Dial
Leave Downpatrick on the A25 heading for Newcastle. Travel south west 20km
(through Clough where you make a right turn), to Castlewellan. Leave
Castlewellan on the A50 for 1km then take the B180 to Bryansford and follow the
road sign to Tollymore Forest Park 3km. The first national park in the British
Isles, it covers an area of 500 hectares at the foot of the Mourne Mountains.
At the entrance to the park high up on the octagonal belfry tower of
Clanbrassill barn is a painted vertical stone dial 700mm high by 600mm wide.
The barn was built by Lord Clanbrassill c.1760 and the clock and bell are dated
Here our trail ends..but not quite.
If you would like to find out more about sundials in Ireland visit my website sundials-ireland.com
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