Holywood Spectacles

Holywood Spectacles

Holywood, Northern Ireland

Finlay’s Stone

Sitting in the middle of a lawn at Willisden nursing home, Church Road, Holywood is a great block of stone.  For years, this remarkable stone has fascinated mathematicians especially lovers of geometry.  It looks rectangular but we are told it could be cuboid.  Seemingly it’s all about proportions.

By now, you are saying to yourself ‘this is all Greek to me’. Believe it or not, by saying this phrase you are actually coming nearer the truth, because running right through this bewildering stone are Greek proportions which represent the recurring proportions that go through the whole of art, as we know it today in western civilisation, and most certainly in the whole of architecture.

Willisden nursing home was formerly the home of the man who manufactured the big green blocks of Finlay’s soap that was very popular with housewives fifty and more years ago. You will probably remember Finlay’s warehouse in Victoria Square where Churchill House used to stand.

It is easily seen that Mr.Finlay had a great love affair with mathematics and this not so well known, Holywood stone sums up the whole of art in the western world.

By the way, a bar of Finlay’s soap is an exact miniature in proportion to this unique stone.

Johnny the Jig

This statue, in High Street, is “Johnny the Jig” by local sculptor Rosamund Praegar

Standing in the centre of the Children’s playground on Main Street in Holywood is the bronze statue mounted on the granite of ‘Johnny the Jig’. Behind the smile on this little fellow’s happy face is a true story but a rather sad one. It was created by the famous Ulster sculptress.

Behind the smile on this little fellow’s happy face is a true story but a rather sad one.

It was created by Holywood born the famous Ulster sculptress Rosamond Praeger who loved children. The statue is a memorial to Fergus Shane Paul Morton who was killed in a car accident close by while doing bob-a-job for the Boy Scouts in Easter 1952.   His parents Paul and Elizabeth Morton commissioned the statue.


Probably more than anything else, Holywood means Maypole –the only one left in Ireland with its little sailing boats flying merrily on its crossbars in the breeze.

Maypole Holywood
The Maypole. Situated at the intersection of Shore Road, Church Road and High Street.

Photo © Kenneth Allen (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Maps of 1623 show the town to consists of two cross streets, and something like an ole is indicated in its present position.

At least we know the custom of a May day dance in Holywood, dates from the early days of the 18th century when sailors from a ship stranded on the sandbanks close by setting up a mast and danced around it with the girls of the town.

The May day festival, as it uses to be celebrated in England was directly derived from the Roman Feast of flowers. The setting up of the maypole was accompanied with much festivity and rejoicing.

“This morning as the sun

Did rise

We dressed the pole you to


With our fiddle and pipe so


To bring you good cheer on

The First of May”

The Maypole is a symbol of life, and as such must be forever bittersweet, grave and gay.

The maidens of a bygone day believed that to wash one’s face in the dew about sunrise on May Day ensured a lovely complexion. Certainly, it would be as lasting as many ‘made’ by present-day artificial aids.

Final thoughts:

My Lady’s Mile and Nun’s Walk refers to a convent that once stood there.  I often wondered why do none of the roads and streets make mention of St.Laiseran and John se Scaro Bosca, a Holywood scholar one of the earlier founders of Oxford, and known to have died in the University of Paris in 1236.

THE MOAT, possibly the burial place of McNasca family that gave the name Ard McNasca to Holywood.  It was used as a defense position by the Sackville, the Normans, who built a castle upon it.

The Old Friary was founded around the year 1200; an earlier church, founded by St. Laserin, [ of whom little is known] whose feast day was kept on the 25th October, occupied the same site.

The place in ancient times was called Ballyderry [The Town of the Oak Wood], and on account of the religious establishment, this name became in Latin, Sanctus Boscus, Holywood.


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