Likely unspotted by most visitors to St Malachy’s in Hillsborough, County Down, beneath each window is inserted a sandstone head, each one different from the other . Seemingly the site of the present church has been used as a place of worship since 1636, with the outline of the present building dating from 1663. The church as seen today was reconstructed incorporating older walls by Wills Hill, first Marquis of Downshire between 1760 and 1772 before being open for worship the following year. Yet these heads, in a different stone from that used elsewhere and some of them well worn by the elements, suggest reuse from an even older church? No doubt a reader – perhaps someone who worships at St Malachy’s today – can provide an explanation.
The head looks 12th century.
The 1636 church at Hillsborough was actually about half a mile away in what is now the grounds of Hillsborough Castle. This was destroyed in the 1641 Rebellion. The first church on the present site was built in 1663, and these carved dripstones date from that time. The Georgians retained more of the seventeenth century building than is now apparent: the burial vaults and the lower sections of the nave walls and most of the transepts survive from that period. The purpose of these carved heads was to allow condensation to trickle from the window embrasures, down a channel in the wall and out beneath the chins of the dripstones. The Georgians retained them for this very purpose. The carvings on the north side of the church are – unsurprisingly – quite weathered, but those on the south are very well preserved. I am one of the bell ringers here. In fact, the bells date from 1772 and are good examples of Georgian casting.
Thank you for this information; from an earlier message you sent, I was aware of your link with the church and was therefore hoping you would respond…
Thanks. This blog is a must-read!
Agreed Simon, fabulous writing and detail here. Dripstones? Who knew.
I love it that they are smiling!