A SHORT HISTORY OF BANGOR
There is a legend told of St
Patrick that he and his companions came one day to a certain valley to rest.
Suddenly "they beheld the valley filled with a heavenly light and with a
multitude of the host of heaven they heard, as chanted forth from the voice
of angels, the psalmody of the celestial choir".
They named the
place "Vallis Angelorum" – the Valley of the Angels. In the process of
time there was built in this valley a holy place – called Bangor.
Excellent the Rule of Benchor,
Correct, and divine,
Exact, holy, constant,
Exalted, just, and admirable.
family of Benchor,
Founded on unerring faith,
Graced with the hope of salvation,
Perfect in charity.
From the Bangor Antiphonary
THE GOLDEN AGE
The ancient Abbey of Bangor was one of those renowned
Irish monasteries, which gained for Ireland the title of "The Isle of Saints
and Scholars ".
Our Founder, Comgall, was born at Magheramorne, Co.
Antrim in 517 A.D., of the race of Fiacha Araidhe, founder of the kingdom of
Dalaradia. Comgall's father was Setna, a Pictish warrior; his mother's name
was Briga. Having shown early promise of a vocation to the Christian
ministry, he was educated under St. Fintan at Clonenagh, and also studied
under Finian at Clonard and Mobi Clairenach at Glasnevin. He was ordained
deacon and priest by Bishop Lugidius, either at Clonmacnoise or Connor.
Comgall founded his most famous monastery at Bangor about
558 A.D. The ancient Annals differ about the exact year, giving various
dates between 552 and 559. The earliest, the Annals of Tighernach, and the
Annals of Innisfallen, give 558 A.D. as the date of the foundation.
Here Comgall gathered round him a band of monks, whose
saintly life and scholarly attainments became the wonder of their age.
Life in the monasteries was very severe. Food was scant
and plain. Herbs, water, and bread was customary. Even milk was considered
an indulgence. At Bangor only one meal was allowed, and that not until
evening. Confession was in public before the community. Severe acts of
penance were frequent. Silence was observed at meals and at other times
also, conversation being restricted to the minimum. Fasting was frequent and
Worship held the foremost place in the life of the
community. The divine services and the daily offices (five during the day
and three at night) were scrupulously observed.
It is clear that music was a prominent feature of the
worship of the Bangor monks. But of its exact nature in this remote age
little is known.
St. Bernard, writing in 12th century, states that, at
Bangor, "the solemnization of divine offices was kept up by companies, who
relieved each other in succession, so that not for one moment, day or night,
was there an intermission of their devotions". This refers to the monastic "laus perennis"'. But there is no evidence from the Antiphonary of Bangor or
other early sources that this was in fact the practice at Bangor.
Comgall died on 10th May, 602, and was buried at Bangor.
So ended the memorable earthly life of one whose fame has come down to us
over fourteen hundred years as "one of the greatest fathers of Irish
How well indeed does he deserve the tribute —
"Christ loved Comgall,
Well too did he, the Lord".
Nothing now remains of the original buildings of
Comgall's monastery. In the Private Chapel at
Clandeboye, however, may be
seen, built into the wall, the shaft of a Cross, which was found in the
Abbey precincts. This is a fragment of a Celtic High Cross, which may have
stood on "the Cross Hill" adjacent to Bangor Castle, and which is indicated
on a 17th century map. This fragment probably dates from about the 8th
COLUMBANUS AND GALL
Columbanus (the fair Colum) was born in Leinster
about 543. He received his early education on an island on Lough Erne,
probably under the celebrated scholar, Sinell, on Cleenish. He came to
Bangor, where he remained for many years as a disciple and friend of
Comgall. In 589, he set out with twelve companions for the Continent.
After a short time in Britain, travelling from the
north to the south coast of Cornwall, the little band arrived in the
Merovingian kingdom of Burgundy in Gaul in 590. Eventually the Irishmen
settled down at Anagray, where a monastery was founded at the foot of
the Vosges mountains. Soon afterwards Luxeuil was founded, and became
the "most celebrated and most frequented school in Christendom". A third
Bangor foundation was made at Fontaines.
The Irish monks differed in many of their
observances from the church in Gaul, and this soon
led to troubles and disputes, in which Columbanus stoutly defended the
Celtic ways. He also came into conflict with the notorious Queen-Regent,
Brunhilda, and was eventually ordered to leave the kingdom.
Stained glass window depicting
St Columbanus -
The Abbazia St Columbano, Bobbio
Columbanus' Tomb at Bobbio
610, he and his companions were taken under escort to Nantes, where they
were put on board ship for Ireland. Shortly after putting to sea, their
vessel was driven ashore by a gale, and the monks were disembarked. Columbanus was now determined to
journey to Italy, so the little band made their way up the Rhine and arrived
at length in Switzerland. Here they stayed for some considerable time, first
at Tuggen, then at Arbona, and later at Bregenz, on Lake Constance. Many
stories are told of their trials, successes and failures in preaching the
Gospel. At Bregenz, Gall was the victim of fever, and remained behind,
whilst Columbanus pushed on into north Italy, arriving at Milan in 612,
where he was well received by Agiluf, king of the Lombards.
In 613, Columbanus founded his last monastery, at Bobbio,
in a gorge of the Apennines. Though now an old man, the saint took an active
part in the manual work of building the monastery. He made it a citadel of
orthodoxy against the Arians, and during the Middle Ages, Bobbio enjoyed a
very high reputation as a seat of learning. Amongst the many famous Irish
monasteries on the Continent, Bobbio was outstanding for its remarkable
library. Columbanus died at Bobbio in 615. His tomb is still to be seen at
Bobbio, but in 12th century his remains were removed to Pavia.
St. Gall (Cellach) is honoured as the Apostle of the Alemanni. He remained
quietly working beside River Stinace until his death in 645, by which time
the whole tribe of the Alemanni had been converted to Christianity. Whilst
not such a forceful character as his fellow-Irishman, Gall was said to have
been a man of great and gentle holiness, and a beautiful and fervent
we give thanks that from Bangor you sent out
a great band of missionary pilgrims with Columbanus
to bring back the light of the gospel
where it had been extinguished in Europe:
Grant that the Church, following his example,
may always accept the yoke and discipline of Christ
and in faith be obedient to His
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[prayer from 'Commemorating
Saints and Others of the Irish Church' by George Otto Simms - with
prayers by Brian Mayne. With thanks to 'the columba press']
THE BANGOR ANTIPHONARY
interesting and important link between Bangor and Bobbio, which has
survived the passing of time, is a small manuscript service-book,
now preserved in the Ambrosian Library, Milan. This 7th century
manuscript was given its present title, "Antiphonarium Benchorense",
by the famous Italian scholar Muratori.
It is the only important relic of the ancient
monastery of Bangor.
This historic book may have been carried from Bangor
to Bobbio in the 9th century to avoid its destruction by the Danes.
The exact origin of the "Psalterium" or Antiphonary
is not clear. It may well have been compiled at different times and
places. Its contents include—three Canticles from the Bible ; the Te
Deum, Benedicitie, Gloria in Excelsis ; ten metrical hymns ; sixty-nine
collects ; seventeen special collects; seventy ' anthems' or versicles,
an unusual form of the Creed, the Lord's Prayer. Our familiar
Eucharistic hymn, "Draw nigh and take the Body of the Lord" comes from
this ancient source.
The link with Bangor is clearly indicated by " Three
Hymns of the Monastery of Bangor"—Hymn of St. Comgall our Abbot,
Versicles of the Family of Bangor. The Commemoration of our Abbots. From
"The Commemoration" it is possible to fix the date of the book, i.e.,
between 680—691. The latter was the date of the death of the abbot, Cronan, who was alive when this hymn was composed.
"The Commemoration of our Abbots" begins —
The holy, valiant deeds
Of sacred Fathers,
Based on the matchless
Church of Benchor;
The noble deeds of abbots
Their number, times, and names,
Of never-ending lustre,
Hear, brothers ; great their deserts,
Whom the Lord hath gathered
To the mansions of his heavenly kingdom.
Christ loved Comgill,
Well too did he, the Lord;
He held Beogna dear;
He graced the ruler Aedh;
He chose the holy Sillan,
A famous teacher of the world.
Whom the Lord hath gathered
To the mansions of his heavenly kingdom.
The Antiphonary remained in the library at Bobbio
until 1606, when it was transferred to Milan by Cardinal Federico
THE CENTURIES OF DECLINE
The end of 8th century also saw the end of the golden
period of Bangor's history. The Danish Invasion early in 9th century was
the beginning of a long period of devastation and decay. Monasteries
were targets of special interest to the fierce Norsemen. Because of its
location, Bangor lay open to attack, and was repeatedly raided and
sacked. In 810 the Danes came, burning and plundering. Raided again in
822 or 824, the tomb of Comgall was broken open, its costly adornments
seized, and the bones of the saint "shaken from their shrine". St.
Bernard relates that on one day nine hundred monks were killed. This was
probably an exaggeration, but may refer to 824, or to 956, when the
abbot, Tanaidhe, was slain.
From 1016, Bangor declined rapidly. Not only was this
the consequence of the Danish invasion ; it was also due to the system
of hereditary succession which obtained in the monasteries under the
REFORM AND REVIVAL
The beginning of 12th century witnessed a much needed
revival in the life of the church at Bangor. An important reform
movement was taking place throughout the whole of the Irish Church in
this century. The two chief architects of this reformation were Gilbert
Mael Maedoc Ua Morgair, who was born at Armagh in
1095. Ordained in 1119, he soon proved himself an able administrator. He
studied for three years at Lismore, where he met Cormac MacCarthy, who
was to prove a friend in need in later years. In 1123, Oengus O'Gormain,
coarb of Comgall, died at Lismore. His successor was Mael Maedoc's
uncle. Mael Maedoc was prevailed upon to become abbot of Bangor, and an
arrangement was made whereby a member of the hereditary family in
possession of Bangor should retain the monastic lands, Mael Maedoc
receiving only the site of the ruined monastery.
On coming to Bangor as abbot. Mael Maedoc took the
name "Malachias" — the Hebrew for "my angel", with a Latin termination.
Malachy was appointed abbot of Bangor in 1124. At the
same time he was also appointed bishop of Connor, which then comprised
the territories of Dalaradia and Ulidia (corresponding to the present
dioceses of Connor and Down and Dromore). Making Bangor the episcopal
seat, he "lived among his brethren, of whom he had a great company". A
lover of poverty, he practised austere asceticism. He travelled
constantly through his diocese, always on foot, and surrounded by his
disciples, preaching to the people whom he met.
But Malachy at heart was "far less bishop of Connor
than coarb of Comgall, abbot of Bangor". He set about "erecting a
handsome oratory constructed of wood". This church was of "smoothed
planks, closely or strongly fastened together, not devoid of beauty".
Soon, however, there was to be an interruption of his
work, In 1127, the monastery was attacked by Conor O'Loughlin, king of
the northern Ui Neill, of Grenan of Aileach (near Londonderry), in the
course of a widespread campaign throughout Ulster. "The city (Bangor)
was destroyed". Malachy, with one hundred and thirty monks, migrated to
Lismore, where he obtained the assistance of his old friend, Cormac
MacCarthy, King of Desmond. Cormac welcomed Malachy and gave him the
site for a new monastery, "Monasterium Ibracense", identified as "Iveragh",
which is believed to have been on Church Island, Lough Currane, near
Waterville, Co. Kerry. Here, Malachy and a number of his monks set up a
new community, and here Malachy remained for a few years. In addition to
some 6th century remains, there exist to-day the remains of a stone
oratory built by Malachy. Time has stood still on Church Island dealing
kindly with the past, whilst here in Bangor change and development have
left us without a single vestige of 12th century buildings.
Malachy's sojourn in Desmond came to an end when he
was called to become Archbishop of Armagh. A confused struggle took
place for some years with the family of the "coarb of Patrick" — the
family which claimed the hereditary right to succeed. In 1134, Malachy
entered Armagh, and by 1137, he was firmly enough established as
Archbishop to resign the primacy of the Church. He had succeeded in
breaking down the principle of hereditary succession, an outstanding
victory for the reforming party.
Malachy's great desire was to retire to his beloved
Bangor. In 1137, he returned to Bangor, dividing the see of Connor, and
appointing a bishop of Dalaradia, whilst he resumed the oversight of Uliad (Down), with his see at Bangor. Thus originated the present
dioceses of Connor, and Down and Dromore.
In Bangor, Malachy reconstituted the monastery, and
from here he exercised a dominating influence over the Irish Church for
the remainder of his life.
Two years later (1139). Malachy set out on an
important journey to the Continent, with the intent of asking Pope
Innocent II for the "palls" (symbols of papal authority) for the two
Archbishops in Ireland. These the Pope refused to grant, on the ground
that they should be requested by a national synod. He did, however,
appoint Malachy as Papal Legate in place of Gilbert, who had resigned.
On his journey, Malachy visited the great St. Bernard
at Clairvaux. This was the beginning of a close friendship, which was to
continue until Malachy's death. At this time the saintly Bernard was
"the most powerful ecclesiastic in Europe, not excepting his nominee,
the Pope". At Clairvaux, Malachy left four of his monks to be trained as
Cistercians; and it was these men who founded the first Cistercian
monastery in Ireland, at Mellifont, near Drogheda, in 1142.
Malachy introduced the Canons Regular of St.
Augustine in Bangor about 1140 on his return, as well as in many other
centres in the northern province. The Augustinians were the first of the
Continental Orders to be established in Ireland.
At Bangor, Malachy determined to build a stone church
after the fashion of those he had seen on the Continent. He was also the
founder of an Augustinian Abbey at Saul, though its life was destined to
be brief, it being destroyed in 1170. Malachy must be regarded as one of
the pioneers of Hiberno-Romanesque architecture in Ireland. His church
at Bangor must have been the forerunner of the many graceful churches of
12th century to be found throughout the country, and much more elaborate
than the simple oratory of "Monasterium Ibracense".
The Synod of Inis-Patraic (near Skerries) in 1148
made formal request for the palls, and in the same year Malachy set out
once more for Rome. Crossing to Scotland, he visited the Bangor
foundation at Soulseat, near Cairngarroch, whose abbot, Michael, Malachy
had once healed. The saint was not destined to reach Rome, however, for
whilst staying at Clairvaux, he died in the arms of St. Bernard on All
Saints' Day, 1148. There he was buried vested in St. Bernard's habit.
St. Bernard wore Malachy's habit until his death five years later.
Much of our knowledge of this period comes from St.
Bernard's "Life of Malachy".
The Synod of Kells (1152) at which four palls were
received from the Pope, brought to completion the plans of the 12th
century reformers. This important work of reform was mainly due to the
wisdom and zeal of Malachy.
Comparatively little is known of the history of
Bangor during the Anglo-Norman occupation, from 12th to 16th centuries.
Early in 13th century the Abbot and canons of Bangor
were engaged in a dispute with the Prior and monks of Down
(Benedictine), each claiming the right of electing the Bishops of Down
and having their monastery considered the Cathedral. This dispute
probably dated back to the previous century, when Malachy ruled the
diocese from Bangor. The final decision went against Bangor, for in 1244
Pope Innocent issued a Bull, declaring the church of Down to be the
Cathedral, and the Prior and chapter of that church the electors.
A remarkable testimony to the fame of Bangor is to be
found in the famous "Mappa Mundi ", now in Hereford Cathedral. This
monkish map of the world was made about the end of the 13th
century by Ricardus de Bello, a prebend of Lincoln. In "Hibernia " two
rivers are noted—Schene (Shannon) and Bande (either the Bann or the
Boyne). Bangor is one of the only four towns depicted—Kildare, the city
of St. Bridget; Armagh, the city of St. Patrick ; Bencur, Bangor ; and
Tower of the present Abbey church dates back to
the 14th century. It was the central tower of a magnificent
Augustinian church, the nave of which lay to the west of the tower. The
west wall (the present main entrance) was open to the vaulting,
affording a clear view of the choir.
Archdall, in his "Monasticon Hibernicum" gives the
following description: "A small part of the ruins of this abbey remain;
the windows were of the ancient narrow Gothic kind and the traces of the
foundation show that the building was of great extent".
Nothing is known of the men who built this splendid
church, though one thing is certain—they were true successors of Malachy.
The old wall near to the entrance of Castle Park is
also considered to belong to this period.
Bangor continued to be an Augustinian monastery until
the Dissolution. In 1469, the Abbey had fallen into a ruinous state.
A document which throws light on the troubled state
of the country at this time is the "Down Petition", written in English
and addressed to an English king, which was found in the archives of
Westminster Abbey. The king's name is not stated, nor is the petition
dated, but it was probably written about 1498. It speaks in the name of
"all the faithful and true liege people of the earldom of Ulster". The
petitioners deplore "the importable wars upon your said liege people
daily continued, both by sea and land by sea, with Bretons and with
Scots of the Outer Isles which both with Irishmen enemies of the land confedered" and ask for aid to defend their lands. The chief hope of the
English colony lies in "your faithful servant and true liege man, Janico
Savage, your seneschal of Ulster. . ." The names of the petitioners are
not given, and several of the seals attached have disappeared, but the
titles of those whose seals were affixed to the petition have been
The seal of the abbot of Bangor is one of those which survived and
depicts an elaborate church, with two ecclesiastical figures kneeling.
It is possible that this is a symbolical representation of the Abbey as
it existed at the end of the 15th century.
REFORMATION AND DISSOLUTION
The Reformation in 16th century came at a time when
church life in Bangor, as elsewhere in Ireland, had fallen into decline.
From the Dissolution in 1542 to 1609 the Abbey had
been an empty relic of the past, from 1572 a burned out ruin.
In 1589 the lands of the O'Neils of Clannaboy (the
Clan of Yellow Hugh), which consisted of Upper or South Clandeboye (N.
Down) and Lower or North Clandeboye (S. Antrim) passed to Con McBrien
Fertagh O'Neill, last of the chiefs of Clannaboy. Whilst having a
drunken revel at Castlereagh, Con sent his servants into Belfast for
fresh supplies of wine or whiskey. A brawl took place between the
servants and some English soldiers, as a result of which one of the
soldiers died. The charge against Con was magnified, and he was arrested
and lodged in Carrickfergus Castle.
Hugh Montgomery, Laird of Braidstane, who was in good
standing with King James I, made an agreement with Con to procure his
escape and to obtain a royal pardon for him, on condition that he would
transfer half of his lands of South Clandeboye to Montgomery. In due
course the plan for Con's release was carried out, and he was ferried
across the lough to Bangor and hidden in the tower of the ruined Abbey.
Later he was conveyed to Scotland and then to London.
But another Scot, who also had his eye on North Down,
stepped in to upset Montgomery's plans.
THE ABBEY AS A PARISH CHURCH
Hamilton may well be described as the founder
of modern Bangor. The son of the minister of Dunlop in Ayrshire, he had
conducted a school in Dublin in company with James Fullerton, a
fellow-Scot. Amongst their pupils was James Ussher, afterwards the
famous Archbishop of Armagh. Hamilton and Fullerton were two of the
first Fellows of Trinity College, which had been established in 1592.
These two Scots were also acting as secret agents for James VI of
Scotland during Elizabeth's reign. When James came to the throne of
England, they naturally sought their reward, and James Hamilton was
knighted. King James I granted all South Clandeboye to Hamilton, on
condition that Hugh Montgomery should get one-third and that Con O'Neill
should retain a third.
Hamilton, who was a man of great ambition and energy,
was soon to prove himself the most active and successful of the Scottish
From this period, the Abbey dates its life as a
Parish Church. Bangor became an impropriate rectory. Sir James Hamilton
having the right of presentation of the living, the stipend of which was
£50 per annum. In 1609, he brought over from Scotland,
John Gibson, who
became impropriate -curate of Bangor and first Dean of Down under the
new Charter of King James.
In 1617, Sir James Hamilton rebuilt the ruined
church, of which nothing had survived save the old tower. The stones of
the 14th century church were doubtless used both for the
re-building of the church, and for the building of Hamilton's "fayre
stone house". A few of the stones of the earlier church have been found
The builder in 1617 was William
Stennors, master mason. Stennor's church was a plain, rectangular
structure without chancel or transepts, with two small windows in the
east end. This church was attached to the East of the old tower, which
had no steeple at that time. One of a series of maps, made by Thomas
Raven in 1625 for Sir James Hamilton, clearly shows the proportions of
the church. The round-headed West door with the window above dates from
Having completed the church, William Stennors died in
1626. His tombstone now stands at the Vestry entrance. The stone also
records the name of his wife, Efon Watson.
On the death of Dean Gibson, another Scotsman, Robert
Blair, was appointed to the living in 1623. A native of Irvine,
Ayrshire, and a graduate of Glasgow University, where he was a regent or
" professor ", Blair was ordained as deacon and priest by Bishop Echlin
(coming in amongst the other presbyters) in Holywood in 1623, and
admitted to the cure of souls at Bangor. Bishop Echlin was afterwards
murdered, and is buried at Ardquin.
This was a period when Presbyterianism was making its
influence widely felt in Ulster, and Robert Blair was one of those who
laid the foundation for it, having a very strong aversion to Episcopacy
and to the Book of Common Prayer. This led to his being deposed for
disobedience in 1634. Blair remained in Ulster for two years, until in
1636 he sailed in company with other fellow-Presbyterians to seek a
wider freedom in New England. His ship, "The Eagle Wing", was however
forced back by severe storms, when off the coast of Newfoundland, and
the emigrants returned to Belfast Lough. Robert Blair went back to
Scotland, where he became one of the leading figures of the church
there, being parish minister of St. Andrews in 1639, and Moderator of
the Scottish General Assembly in 1646. As a covenanter, he preached on
moor and in glen at the hazard of his life. He was buried at Aberdour in
Robert Blair's first wife was Beatrix, daughter of
Robert Hamilton, an Edinburgh merchant. According to Professor A. F.
Scott Pearson, Beatrix was a sister of Mrs. Barbara Mein, the famous
"Jenny Geddes", who threw her stool at the Dean of St. Giles, Edinburgh,
Beatrix Hamilton's memorial is to be seen on the wall at the west end of the church.
In Bangor, Robert Blair was succeeded by Gilbert
Ramsay, a graduate of St. Andrews', as parish minister. Ramsay was
ordained by the Ulster Presbytery in 1646. In 1655 he became a minister
under the Protectorate, and continued in the Abbey until he was
deprived, following the Restoration, in 1661. After imprisonment in
Carlingford, he became the first minister of the Presbyterian Church in Bangor. Gilbert Ramsay's grave-stone may be
seen by the wall to the south of the church gates. The names of Revd.
James Ramsay and Revd. Robert Hamilton are also on this stone.
Sir James Hamilton, who had been ennobled as first
Viscount Clandeboye in 1622, and having acquired vast estates, died in
1643. Though he was married three times, he had but one son, James, who
became first Earl of Clanbrassil in 1647.
Viscount Clandeboye's direct
line of succession died out within four generations, his great-grandson
dying in infancy in 1670.
The Hamilton tomb is presumed to be the inner tomb of
the Ward vault in the south transept—the place which 1st Viscount
Clandeboye "had prepared for himself in the church of Bangor, in which
his whole family is now laid by him".
It is strange that not even a
solitary memorial stone exists to commemorate these original members of
the Hamilton family.
Gilbert Ramsay was followed by James Hamilton as
impropriate vicar of Bangor in 1661. Little is known of him save that he
had been rector of Knockbreda. and was afterwards vicar of Tullynakill.
He was buried at Knockbreda, where his tombstone has been appropriated
for a "John Pink, Strandtown".
The Abbey church was repaired in 1693, the steeple
being then added. The elaborate
monument in the tower is in memory of James Hamilton, Esq.,
and his wife, Sophia Mordaunt, who were responsible for this work. In
the walls of the tower are inserted two small stones, which record that
in 1693 were John Blackwood and John
Cleland, and that a certain Francis Annesley gave £5 towards the raising of the steeple.
THE LATER CENTURIES
The Abbey church was extensively repaired in 1833 at
a cost of £950, and in 1844 it was enlarged by the addition of the
chancel and transepts.
The Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland took
away the last tiny remnant of the once great possessions of the church
at Bangor. In 1869, the Irish Church Act deprived the Incumbent of
Bangor of £55 per annum.
The Revd. Edward Maguire, D.D. (afterwards Dean of
Down) became Incumbent in 1876, and soon realised the necessity of
building a new church to accommodate the church population of Bangor.
The foundation stone of this church (St. Comgall's)
was laid in 1880, and it was completed in 1899. In 1882 the new church
became the Parish Church of Bangor, and for a number of years the Abbey
was forsaken. But when the Revd. Canon
James Albert Carey, M.A., became
rector in 1916, he initiated the restoration of the Abbey, assisted by a
devoted band of loyal helpers. The old church was re-opened in 1917, a
high standard of music being a feature of the services.
THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE
With the growth of Bangor, the necessity for the
division of the large and populous parish became urgent. The Parish of
Bangor Abbey was accordingly created, Reverend Canon James Hamilton being
instituted as first Incumbent on St. Comgall's Day, 10th May, 1941.
So was begun a new chapter in the distinguished and
tumultuous history of this ancient centre of Christian worship and work.
The Abbey is now the centre of vigorous parochial life, ministering to
the spiritual welfare of a loyal and devoted people in the midst of an
In 1951 a new Parish Hall was opened.
In 1973 a daughter-church was built in Kilcooley
Estate and dedicated to St. Columba.
It is fitting that this great Irish
saint should be remembered in the place where, it is believed, he came
to visit his old friend and fellow-missionary, Comgall.
The latest page in the long history of Bangor Abbey
has been the extensive Restoration which was carried out in 1960. Of the
old church, only the walls, tower and spire remain. The tower and spire
were repaired and the church reroofed. A larger and more adequate
chancel now takes the place of the former one. Care was taken to
harmonise the new and the old. In place of an east window, a
painted by the well-known artist, Kenneth Webb, depicts the Ascending
Christ giving His missionary command, "Go ye into all the world . . .
.", whilst attentive to His words are Comgall, the great teacher of
missionaries, Columbanus and Gall.
Canon James Hamilton retired in 1979, and was
succeeded as Rector of the Abbey Parish by the Reverend Canon Hamilton
Leckey, M.A., formerly Rector of St. Mary's, Comber.
On St. Comgall's Day, 10th May 1991, a Service of
Thanksgiving, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Re-Establishment
of the Abbey as a parish and the Institution of the Reverend James
Hamilton as Rector, took place in the Abbey. New porch doors and other
gifts were dedicated by the Bishop, The Right Reverend Gordon McMullan
to mark the occasion. The preacher was the Very Rev. Victor Griffin
(Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin).
Canon James Hamilton died in 1997.
Canon Hamilton Leckey,
Dean of Down, retired in 1996 and was succeeded by the present incumbent Reverend Canon Ronnie Nesbitt.