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A SHORT HISTORY OF BANGOR ABBEY

THE VALLEY OF THE ANGELS

 

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.

Blessed the 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 prolonged.

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 monasticism".

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 century.

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.  

St Columbanus - stained glass window (photo Gifford Savage)
Stained glass window depicting
St Columbanus -
The Abbazia St Columbano, Bobbio

 
Columbanus' Tomb at Bobbio

  In 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 preacher.

 
Father God,
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 call;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

[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

  An 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 Borromeo.

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 Brehon law.


Bangor Burned

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 and Malachy.

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.

THE ANGLO-NORMANS 

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 Dublin. 

The 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 preserved. 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

James 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 settlers. 

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 and preserved. 

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 this period. 

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 1666. 

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, in 1637. 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. 

The Hamilton Ward Tomb (photo Leslie Cummings)

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., Bangor, 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 the Churchwardens
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. 

Canon James Hamilton

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 expanding community. 

In 1951 a new Parish Hall was opened.

Saint Columba's Kilcooley [photo Ron Francis - 'franomilano']

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 mural, 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.

The 'Short History of Bangor Abbey' above is taken from 'Bangor Abbey Through Fifteen Centuries' by Canon James Hamilton M.A.  - available from Bangor Abbey price = £5.00.

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