Bonamargy Friary in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, was a Franciscan friary established by Rory MacQuillan in the 15th century. The original friary was dissolved in 1584 and the building was burned in 1589 when it was being used by the British army. The friary was later repaired and in 1626 it became a base for missionaries.
Today the grounds are accessible and open to explorers. Visitors can view the well-preserved ruins of the cloister, a small gatehouse that includes a workroom and steps leading to accommodation on the upper level, a church complete with remnants of an altar, and an ancient graveyard. There is also a crypt which is now sealed, and this contains the earthly remains of several dignitaries.
The reclusive Julia McQuillan – known as “the Black Nun” – lived alone at the friary when it was abandoned in 1641. Folklore tells that Julia was murdered as she sat looking out of the upper floor window, while others say that Julia simply slipped and fell, or that a loose rock struck her. For safety reasons, the staircase is now sealed but a group visiting the site only a few months ago used a spirit box at the gate and called out to Julia’s spirit. Whether you believe in this equipment or not, the words “I was killed” came through loud and clear.
Whatever happened to poor Julia, past visitors have noted that some of the steps leading up are in better condition than others. It was a popular belief that bad luck would strike anyone who walked on the 13th step and this step was therefore avoided.
The Black Nun was said to have been able to foretell the future, but not everyone is convinced as to whether this was true. It is said that she foresaw that the Tow River in Ballycastle would one day run red. A couple of centuries later, a worker fell into the river and dragged through a water wheel, his blood turning that section of the river red. She is also said to have predicted that two standing stones, one at Carnduff and the other at Barnish, would become united despite the 4-mile distance between them. Sure enough, the stones were taken and placed side by side at a pier in the old harbour.
The Black Nun lived a simple life but before her death, she expressed a wish that she should be buried by the entrance to the church. This was so that people would walk over the grave when arriving for worship – a testament to her humility.
Her grave is marked by an unusual stone (some say it is a rounded Celtic cross) with a hole through the centre. A local legend spoke of a ritual that would supposedly awaken her spirit, but out of respect for the dead, I will not share that here. It is however said that Julia’s ghost haunts Bonamargy Friary anyway.
Locals have reported hearing strange noises when walking through the deserted ruins, and the lady herself – dressed in her black robe – has been sighted on the stairs where she died and wandering through the grounds of her home. Witnesses have also seen her peering through the window on the upper floor. Many who have encountered Julia’s spirit have reported a feeling of peace and well-being during and after their encounter.
Anyone visiting the site hoping to experience paranormal activity should be warned of an event that took place in the early 2000s which suggests that a darker entity may also reside within the otherwise peaceful and holy site.
A reporter for the BBC was taking photos near the Black Nun’s grave when a young family inadvertently wandered in to shot. Realising that they were intruding in a photo, they stepped into a passageway and waited for the photographer to finish. As they did so, a large stone flew by them and smashed into the ground. They fled the passageway and reported the incident, fearing that the structure was unsafe. An investigation followed and – rather worryingly -concluded that the rock had come from a sidewall and that it had been pushed – with force – from behind.
Legend has it that when Bonamargy Friary was abandoned, the monks hid sacred treasures in an iron chest and buried it in the ground. People have tried to find it over the years, but maybe there is a protective spirit watching over the site, who will try to scare and even attack those who get too close – possibly using stones from the ancient building itself.
In fact, was it perhaps a rock displaced by this spirit that killed Julia McQuillan?
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