to Sundial Trails in Ireland
by Michael J. Harley

County Down is one of the nine counties in the Province of Ulster in the North of Ireland. Renowned for its world famous scenery, it is rich in prehistoric remains, and the ruins of medieval castles and monasteries dot the landscape. Our 100km Down Sundial Trail starts in Bangor in the north, a popular seaside resort with a pier and marina, and ends in Newcastle in the south of the county 'where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea'. The National Trust maintains seven historic villages/homes/gardens here and of course Down has its sundials.

The Bangor Monastery Dial

In the Rose Garden in front of Bangor Town Hall (formerly Bangor Castle - built 1847) there is an ancient vertical stone dial 1500mm high 300mm wide by 200mm thick dated circa 900 A.D. Originally located in Bangor Monastery, of which nothing remains, it was relocated to the Castle over 100 years ago. Only five timelines of a possible twelve remain on the damaged 'U' shaped head and nothing remains of the gnomon but the hole in the slab where a wooden or metal gnomon would have fitted. Three crosses are carved on the stele.
British Sundial Society SR Noiety Register No 4219
Lat 54° 40' Long 5° 40'
Irish Grid   J 350 53 . 38235

The Bangor Abbey Dial

Next stop is but a few short steps to the North Down Heritage Centre in the Town Hall grounds where you can see a fine model of what the ancient monastery might have looked like. On display here is a John Bonar sun, moon and tide slate dial, 400mm by 350mm by 15m thick, dated 1630. Originally designed for Bangor Abbey Church on the site of the ancient monastery, it too was removed to the Castle over 100 years ago.

This is an equatorial dial which means that it should be set up at an angle parallel to the equator so that the summer sun shines on the upper face and in winter on the lower face, which is also elaborately carved. It had movable arms one of which was fitted with weights, like an astrolabe, and could be turned until the moon appeared in the eye-piece. This eliminated the need for a shadow, and the dial could have been used whenever the moon was visible. The dial also has a wind rose, with the name of a port opposite each point of the compass. The compass bearing is what is called the 'port establishment', which very roughly gives the direction of the moon at the high tide for the particular harbour. Ayr, London, Bristol, Dublin and Cork are among the thirty places featured. The dial is covered with mottos and verses in Latin and Scots.
One of only four known by this early 1600's Ayr school teacher, another is in the archives of the Drumfries Museum, Scotland.

Photo Copyright North Down Heritage Centre and M.J.Harley © 2001
Lat 54° 40' Long 5° 40'
Irish Grid   J 35053 . 38235

The Mount Stewart Dial

Leave Bangor on the A20 heading south 10km to Newtownards. Go through Newtownards, stay on the A20, head southeast towards Portaferry on the Ards Penninsula. After 8km you arrive at Mount Stewart House, a National Trust property on the shore of Strangford Lough. An 18th century ancestral home and one of the greatest gardens in the country, it is well worth a visit in its own right. But located in the Lily Garden is the object of our visit, a circular brass dial 200mm in diameter mounted on a 1200mm high pillar. The inscription reads

Serene I stand among the flowers
And only count life's sunny hours
For me dark days do not exist
I'm a brazen faced old optimist

British Sundial Society SR NoietyRegister No 3608
Lat 54° 33' Long 5° 36'
Irish Grid   J 35527 . 36951

The Nendrum Dial

Return to Newtownards and this time take the A21 to Comber 9kms. Leave Comber on the A22 road to Killyleagh, turn-off 1kms south of Comber to Nendrum Monastery, a further 8km. Located on Mahee Island in Strangford Lough, it is accessed by narrow bendy roads and a causeway. Founded in the 5th century, the remains of a round tower, stone enclosures and a church are still to be seen. Here you will find a vertical stone dial 1900mm high 400mm wide by 150mm thick dated circa 900 A.D., the same period as the Bangor Dial. It was reconstructed from pieces found during excavation in 1924. There is a visitor centre on site.
British Sundial Society SR NoietyRegister No 3614
Lat 54° 30' Long 5° 38'
Irish Grid   J 35330 . 36387

The Corbally Dial

Return to the A22 and continue south 24kms, passing through Balloo and Killyleagh to Downpatrick. Located on the Mall, Down County Museum (once Downpatrick Gaol) has some restored cells and houses exhibits on the history of Down. The museum has eight slate dials, some of them damaged, in it's archives (not on display). The photo shows one of these, an unusual horizontal dial, 490mm by 395mm wide, The smaller of the two central dials is delineated for Jerusalem and the main dial is for Corbally 5km east of Banbridge. There is an eight point windrose at the base of the gnomon. The four subsidiary dials, one at each corner of the plate are for Savanna, Calcutta, Botany and New York. The Botany gnomon is missing, the others are bent. Made for a Jas. Murry in 1834 by J. McNally. The quotations are in Latin and English, "I shew by the kindnefs & splendour of the sun" " Sol gloria sphira" "Life in it's greatest vigour is altogether vanity" "Brevis huminum vita" There is a Places - Lat - Long table between Jas Murry - J McNally names, for the five locations delineated. The method of showing the date is unusual in that it uses the ancient Greek numbering system used in monumental Athenian inscriptions of the 1st Millenium B.C.

There is another McNally dial in the museum but one of the corner subsidiary dials is broken off and missing. Anyone wishing to view these dials must phone ahead first to enquire if it is possible. 028 4461 5218
Photo Copyright Down County Museum and M.J.Harley © 2001
Lat 54° 20' Long 5° 44'
Irish Grid   J 34742 . 33726

The Tollymore Dial

Leave Downpatrick on the A25 heading for Newcastle. Travel south west 20km (through Clough where you make a right turn), to Castlewellan. Leave Castlewellan on the A50 for 1km then take the B180 to Bryansford and follow the road sign to Tollymore Forest Park 3km. The first national park in the British Isles, it covers an area of 500 hectares at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. At the entrance to the park high up on the octagonal belfry tower of Clanbrassill barn is a painted vertical stone dial 700mm high by 600mm wide. The barn was built by Lord Clanbrassill c.1760 and the clock and bell are dated 1785.
British Sundial Society SR NoietyRegister No 3616
Lat 54° 13' Long 5° 58'
Irish Grid   J 33262 . 33167

Here our trail ends..but not quite.
When you return to our starting point in Bangor take the A2 heading west towards Belfast for about 5kms and you will come to Ulster Folk & Transport Museum at Cultra. This open air museum has a typical Ulster town of 100 years ago, farms, cottages, livestock, award winning railway collection and a TITANIC exhibition.
Yes - they do have sundials but they are not on display yet. Maybe someday soon ...

Lat 54°39' Long 5° 47'
Irish Grid   J 34306 . 38025