Saint Nicholas Church – The church was almost certainly built by John De Courcy who founded Carrickfergus in 1182, but some confusion arises because of the existence of two Abbeys in the area. Saint Mary’s Abbey, Goodburn and the monastery for the Franciscans or Grey Friars.
Saint Nicholas Church
The church was almost certainly built by John De Courcy who founded Carrickfergus in 1182, but some confusion arises because of the existence of two Abbeys in the area. Saint Mary’s Abbey, Goodburn and the monastery for the Franciscans or Grey Friars.The problem is: to which monastery was Saint Nicholas’ Church attached?
Various authorities said the Franciscan Friary. They referred to a widely reported tradition that a secret tunnel linked the two and entered the Church below the present sanctuary. But when excavations were made beneath this area it was discovered that the archway was only a tomb and some bones were found in it. It seems probable that a subterraneous passage exists, but its position has not been located and future excavations may tell us more.
The claims of Saint Mary’s Abbey, Woodburn, seem to be the stronger, for in the Calendar of Documents, Ireland, about the year 1224, it is stated that a parish clergyman, Audvenus Bruis, had taken possession of the Church of Saint Nicholas, Carrickfergus, and other Churches conferred on the Canons of the Premonstration Order by John De Courcy. “
The Church looked very different then than now in several ways. The Chancel is much longer than it was originally, having been built by Robert le Mercer in 1305-6. The roof was lower. The floor is at present about three feet higher than originally, due to various roof collapses, the burning of the Church by the rebels and the several reconstructions throughout its history.
Originally the body of the Church was much wider. The massive Norman arches opened out on both sides of the nave, revealing side aisles. These disappeared in the reconstruction carried out for Sir Arthur Chichester by one Thomas Paps, “Free-mason” in 1614. The Norman pillars were encased in the present walls and did not come to light until 1907 when they were uncovered.
The visitor to the Church will be surprised to see the crooked aisle. This “skew,” as it has been called, was not due to an architectural mistake, but was done deliberately. It was said that when our Lord died upon the Cross His head fell to the right. The present Church with its cruciform shape symbolizes this in the crookedness of the aisle. The only other example of this in Ulster is that of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh.
Another unique feature is the fact that the chancel is longer than the nave. Below the crossing at the transepts the nave is 41 feet; beyond the crossing the chancel extends 74 feet.