Holy Trinity History leaflet

Ballywalter Parish   

    Holy Trinity Church



The early church had strong links to St Patrick. His first church was at Saul and he is buried in the grounds of Down Cathedral. In AD 556 St Comgall founded Bangor Abbey and Movilla Abbey was founded St Finnian in AD 540

           In 1193 the Benedictine  priory at Black Abbey was founded by Sir John de Courcy and his wife lady Affrica founded the Cistercian monastery at Greyabbey.


In Ballywalter the first church at Whitechurch  was built along with the old churches in Ballyhalbert and at Innishargie.  Some parts date from the 13th century and earlier, and there is some 15th century reconstruction. (the ruins can still be seen in Whitechurch cemetery on the Dunover Road). At one time they all formed part of the possessions of the Benedictine monastery at Blackabbey


At the reformation (1536) Henry VIII was declared Head of the Irish Church and pastoral duties of the existing clergy were transferred in law to the newly established Church of Ireland.

This encompassed 33 dioceses, in turn divided into rural deaneries , subdivided into more than 2000 parishes.

Black Abbey was dissolved and the building has disappeared completely, but the Reformation made little progress in the area until the arrival of Scottish settlers in the reign of James 1.  By the end of the seventeenth century they had organised into a separate religious body on the Presbyterian system.  A comparatively small section of the population continued to attend the parish churches.

    By this time the old church at Innishargie was derelict, and the parish churches at Ballyhalbert and Whitechurch were in a bad state of repair – by 1657 Ballywalter church had only a thatched roof.

  Early in the reign of Queen Anne,  a new church was built to serve all three parishes . An Act of Parliament was passed, which stated “the three parishes of Ballywalter, Ballyhalbert and Innishargie in the Diocese of Down shall be forever united, after the death of either of the present incumbents ……and that a church shall be built in one of the townlands of Innishargie, in such a place as shall be appointed by the Archbishop of the Diocese, with the consent of the owner of the land.”



 Accordingly, in 1704, a new church was erected on a central site, about one mile from the old church of Innishargie. The new united parish, was known as St.Andrew’s. This name kept alive the old link with Black Abbey, which had been dedicated to St.Andrew.

   For 140 years St.Andrew’s Innishargie was the centre of Church life in the area, however during the early nineteenth century, population increases led to the realisation that each parish needed a church of its own.



On 29th June 1844 an Act of Parliament dissolved the Union of Innishargie, Ballyhalbert and Ballywalter. The parishes of Ballyhalbert and Ballywalter were revived and a new parish of Kircubbin was created. The parish of Innishargie disappeared but St Andrew’s church at Balligan still stands within Ballywalter Parish, and forms an important part of the spiritual life of the parish with twice monthly services of Choral Evensong



 On 26th May 1848, Baron Dufferin and Clandeboye granted ‘ a parcel of ground, part of the lands of Whitechurch, as a site for a new church and churchyard’

On 31st July 1848 The Lord Lieutenant and privy council of Ireland granted permission for the site of the church to move from Whitechurch which was ‘in ruins and inconveniently situated’  to the new site granted by Lord Dufferin.

 Thus the present church site was acquired, and the architect William Burn was invited to design the building.  


WILLIAM BURN (1789-1870)

William Burn was born in Edinburgh, son of the architect Robert Burn. He trained with Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum. By 1849 he was at the height of his productivity and was one of the foremost architects of his time. He designed many important buildings and remodelled country houses. He had been invited by Lord Dufferin, the patron of the parish at that time, to submit plans for the renovation of Clandeboye House. He was unsuccessful in that but as a consolation, he was invited to design the new church for Ballywalter Parish, and Helen’s Tower on the Clandeboye estate. Holy Trinity church is one of the very few churches he designed in Ireland.  It cost £1,152..10.0 to build and the plans can be seen on history poster 1 in the church. The money was raised by public donation and the list of donors is also on the poster within the Sentence  of Consecration.



Archbishop Beresford (1773-1862) was petitioned by the first vicar, Revd Hugh Wilson to consecrate the new church of Holy Trinity.  On 24th September 1849 the Sentence of Consecration was enacted. An excerpt from that document states that “ and whereas a church has lately been erected thereon by means of subscription from……..being in length within the wall from East to West sixy-four feet and from North to South 20 feet, and the same is finished with a font, pulpit and reading desk and is now ready for the celebration of divine service therein – and has a yard for burial of the dead in circumference eight hundred and eight-three feet”

The foundation stone had been laid in 1847, and the church, dedicated in 1849, consisted of the porch, vestry, main Nave, Chancel and Sanctuary.  It had a seating accommodation of 145.


THOMAS DREW  (1838-1910)

By 1883 the congregation had grown so much that fights were breaking out on Sunday mornings as there were not enough seats for everyone!  So the select vestry decided to enlarge the church. Thomas Drew was engaged to design the renovations. He had trained under Sir Charles Lanyon and became Diocesan architect in 1865.  In Belfast his most significant work was St Anne’s cathedral completed in 1899. [NB: The William Burn original plan and the Thomas Drew additions can be seen on History poster 2]



The 1st stone for the extension was struck on 9th December 1889. A side isle, and organ transept was added. The roof of the 1849 nave and chancel was raised by 2 feet and a third window added in the chancel behind the communion table. Throughout 1890 the church was closed for the renovations and the services were conducted in the schoolhouse,( now the Parochial hall). On 23rd January 1891 the consecration of the addition, and the reopening of the church was carried out by William Reeves (1815-1892), Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore. The church building today still has many of the original features of the 1849 church and all of the 1891 additions.



The Organ

On 12th January 1890 the vicar preached a sermon for the organ fund. The collection on 2nd Sunday of every month would be given to the fund. The organ was built by Peter Conagher in 1891 and the opening recital was given by the organist Hugh Magill at the Easter Vestry meeting. It was tonally redesigned in 1964 to the specification of the late Lord Henry Dunleath making it a unique instrument of its time with the tonal range of a larger instrument.


The Font

This was erected in 1899 in commemoration of 50 years since the church was built.


The Stained Glass Windows

The church has a number of very fine stained glass windows principally erected by

Heaton Butler and Bayne of London and J.A.Clarke, & Sons ,Dublin ( for more information see church tour leaflet)

Notable among these is the Great War memorial window, commissioned by the Select vestry in 1919, in memory of Capt AES Mulholland and all who died in that war.


Battle field cross

Immediately beneath the Memorial window is a battlefield cross. It originally marked the grave of Capt Mulholland who was killed at Ypres on 1st November 1914. In the 1920’s when the War Graves Commission decided that all war graves should be marked by the gravestones seen today, the cross was brought back from France by his brothers and erected in the church.


 Snapshots in Time

 The stained glass windows and church furnishings have been given over the years in memory of family members of the congregation. Many of the earlier ones have commemorative plaques, while later gifts are recorded on the scroll contained within the Eccles Table. The original 1949 Lectern bible and prayer book can also be seen here.


The Vestry

This small robing room has many photos of former vicars including that of the first vicar, Revd Hugh Wilson



Because of the proximity of Whitechurch cemetery, in 1933 it was decided not to develop the graveyard at Holy Trinity any further and today it is a memorial garden which allows limited burial of ashes in unmarked plots in biodegradable containers. There are 8 unmarked graves from pre 1933 including the grave of the first vicar Revd Hugh Wilson. All of the graves and the memorial garden are encircled by a chain at the North Side of the church.


The compiler is indebted to

  The Vicar and Select Vestry of Ballywalter Parish for extensive access to the Vestry records for Ballywalter and Balligan Church.     M.A.Ar

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