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Grey Abbey (314914).jpg

The abbey after which the village was named
Greyabbey is located in County Down
Location within County Down
Population939 (2011 Census)
CountryNorthern Ireland
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townNewtownards
Postcode districtBT22
Dialling code028
List of places
Northern Ireland
54°32′06″N 5°33′36″W / 54.535°N 5.560°W / 54.535; -5.560

Greyabbey or Grey Abbey is a small village, townland (of 208 acres)[4] and civil parish located on the eastern shores of Strangford Lough, on the Ards Peninsula in County Down, Northern Ireland.

It lies 7 miles (11 km) south of Newtownards. Both townland and civil parish are situated in the historic barony of Ards Lower.[4] It is within the Ards and North Down Borough. It had a population of 939 people in the 2011 Census.[5]

Greyabbey is often associated with the antiques trade, there being several specialist antique shops in the village, as well as some interesting Georgian and Victorian buildings. Of particular note is Mount Stewart Estate (National Trust) as well as a traditional coaching inn.


The village (and townland) derives its name from Grey Abbey, a Cistercian abbey-monastery located on the north side of the village, dating from 1193. Historically it was also called Monesterlee or Monesterlea, which are anglicisations of its Irish name Mainistir Liath ("grey abbey/monastery").[6] It was founded by Affreca, daughter of Godred Olafsson, King of the Isles, and wife of John de Courcy, Anglo-Norman conqueror of the province of Ulster.

The site of the abbey was on the Ards Peninsula, 7 miles (11 km) from Newtownards, at the confluence of a small river and Strangford Lough. Architecturally it is important as the first fully gothic style building in Ulster; it is the first fully stone church in which every window arch and door was pointed rather than round headed.[citation needed] The abbey is located in the parkland of Rosemount House, home of the Montgomery family, to the east side of the village.

Tradition says that Affreca founded the abbey in thanksgiving for a safe landing after a perilous journey at sea. The abbey was colonised with monks from Holmcultram in Cumberland, with which it maintained close ties in the early years. The construction of the stone church began almost immediately. In 1222 and again in 1237 abbots of Grey Abbey went on to become abbots of Holmcultram. The Latin name of the abbey is Iugum Dei, which means 'Yoke of God'. Little is known of the abbey's history, though it appears to have been almost completely destroyed during the invasion of Edward Bruce (1315–18). No reliable sources concerning the value of the abbey foundation survive, but it is not likely to have been prosperous.

The abbey was dissolved in 1541. In the same year part of the monastic property was granted to Gerald, earl of Kildare. The monastery was physically destroyed during the military operations of the Elizabethan era. In 1572, Brian O'Neill burnt Grey Abbey in order to stop it being used as a refuge for English colonists trying to settle in the Ards Peninsula.[citation needed] In the seventeenth century the church nave was re-roofed and served as a parish church until 1778.[citation needed]

In the late nineteenth century, repairs were executed by The Office of Public Works (The O.P.W.). Unfortunately, an excessive amount of concrete was used, the crudity of which is still obvious today. The remains of the abbey include the abbey church and some of the conventual buildings, dating from c. 1193 – c. 1250. The original plan of the monastery can be followed with ease through foundations and earthworks. The abbot's seat has been preserved. It is fitted inside a pointed arch and flanked by detached colonettes. Corbel tables are also a rarity in Ireland, but the Cistercians can boast two of them, one at Tintern and one at Grey. At Grey the corbels were inserted when the roof was raised, probably in the early fifteenth century. There are eight of them altogether, carved with oak leaves, human figures and animal heads.

An outstanding effigy of a 'sword seizing' knight survives, thought to date from c. 1300 as well as an effigy of a woman carved in high relief and attired in thickly cut robes. Tradition relates that this is Affreca, who was buried in the abbey, but the style suggests that the effigy actually originated in the fourteenth century, a hundred years after her death.[citation needed] The ruins are now set in a private parkland, belonging to the eighteenth-century mansion, Rosemont House. The park is not accessible to the public.

Irish Rebellion of 1798 – On the morning of Pike Sunday, 10 June 1798 a force of United Irishmen, mainly from Bangor, Donaghadee, Greyabbey and Ballywalter attempted to occupy the town of Newtownards. They met with musket fire from the market house and were defeated. It is because of this association with the rebellion that the term "The Green Boys o' Greba" was given to the men of the village. GREBA is the name given to the village by the local residents, and also by those from the neighbouring areas. It is a localised "Ulster-Scots" terminology. The Rebellion of 1798 also affected the village in another form, with the death by hanging of the Rev. James Porter, Minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Greyabbey, which took place on 2 July 1798. The final resting place of Rev. Porter is in the Old Graveyard, Greyabbey, which itself lies adjacent to the ancient Abbey ruins.

  • On the Tullykevin Road in Greyabbey there is a brass plate on a field post in remembrance of a pilot who crashed and died there during the Second World War.


In the village are three places of worship, St. Saviours, Church of Ireland; Trinity Presbyterian Church; and First (Non-Subscribing) Presbyterian Church. Services in all three take place each Sunday, with various other associated meetings throughout the week. The local Roman Catholic place of worship is at St. Marys' Star of the Sea, Nunsquarter, Inishargy, with services each Saturday evening and Sunday morning, and also meetings throughout the week.

St. Saviour's is noted for having a peal of change-ringing bells, which for over 15 years were the lightest ring of bells in Ireland, until the installation of bells at Dunmanway. They remain the second-lightest peal in Northern Ireland.[7]

Loyal Orange Lodge

A Loyal Orange Lodge, working under the authority of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland sits in the Orange Hall, Main Street, Greyabbey. It takes the title of Greyabbey Loyal Orange Lodge, number 1592, and is itself part of the Upper Ards District LOL No 11, in the County Down Grand Orange Lodge. It was first formed in the village in 1863 and has had continued membership to the present day. A Junior Orange Lodge also meets in the village and takes the title of Greyabbey Junior Loyal Orange Lodge, number 253, and works under the authority of the Junior Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. The Junior Lodge was formed in 1977.[citation needed]


Greyabbey has had many musicians who have learned their skills through membership of the local bands. These bands, also known as 'marching bands' have ranged from Part-music Flute, Accordion, and the present-day First-Flute. They provide 'entertainment' for those who have membership of the band as well as those resident in the village as they take part in street parades, such as Remembrance Day, village Festivals, Somme Anniversary, and Orange Lodge Sunday Service parades and Boyne Anniversary parades. The village also has had the traditional Ulster Lambeg Drums as part of the music scene of the area. The history of these large percussion instruments goes back to the Williamite Wars in Ireland, circa 1690.


The nickname of the local residents of the village is the 'Greba Cras', deriving from the name of the village, 'Greyabbey', and from the abundance of 'Crows' who make their homes in the trees that grow on the outskirts of the village. A mythical story regarding this nickname tells the reader that in times gone by, when the Abbey was inhabited by the monks and they wanted to share the company of a female they would wrap their habit (cloak) around themselves, turn themselves into a crow, fly over the Abbey wall, lift an unsuspecting female, bring her back into the Abbey, and turning back into human form have some fun with her, before turning back into a crow and fly her back over the wall. A story, or yarn, to be surely taken with a large pinch of salt.


The star of Ards Football Club's successful 1968/69 Irish Cup campaign came from the village. Billy McAvoy hit four goals in the Irish Cup Final replay when Ards, from the County Down town of Newtownards, defeated Distillery 4-2 after extra-time to win the cup for the third time in the club's history.[9] This equalled the post-war record for the number of goals scored by one person in an Irish Cup Final, a record which still stands today, (2016).

Senior football in the village is run under the auspices of the Rosemount Rec. Football Club, while a summer junior, (school-age), football tournament is organised by the Abbey Star Juniors Football Club.


There is a DRD Water Service wastewater treatment works at Greyabbey, which employs sophisticated membrane technology. This facility and a similar Works at Kircubbin, were completed under the same £3.5 million contract. The original Greyabbey Wastewater Treatment Works was designed to treat wastewater for a population of 1,000. Since being upgraded, it is capable of treatment for a population of 2,500. The Works at Greyabbey helps to protect the marine environment in Strangford Lough. Two sea defences are located at Greyabbey on the eastern side of the Lough.


2011 Census

In the 2011 Census Greyabbey had a population of 939 people (406 households).[5]

2001 Census

Greyabbey is classified as a village by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (i.e. with a population between 1,000 and 2,250 people). On Census day (29 April 2001) there were 1,011 people living in Greyabbey. Of these:

  • 18.9% were aged under 16 years and 22.9% were aged 60 and over
  • 50.5% were female and 49.5% of the population were male
  • 86.4% were from a Protestant background and 6.6% were from a Roman Catholic background
  • 1.9% of people aged 16–74 were unemployed

For more details see: NI Neighbourhood Information Service

Civil parish of Greyabbey

The civil parish contains the village of Greyabbey and Mount Stewart house and estate.[4]


The civil parish contains the following townlands[4] (with the localised meaning in parentheses):

  • Ballyblack (Black's townland)
  • Ballyblack Little
  • Ballyboghilbo (the townland of the cowherd)
  • Ballyboley (townland of the summer pasturage)
  • Ballybryan (Brian's townland)
  • Ballycastle (townland of the castle)
  • Ballyewry (townland of the place of yew trees)
  • Ballygrangee (townland of the grange)
  • Ballymurphy (Murphy's townland)
  • Ballynester (the townland of the doorkeeper)
  • Ballyurnanellan (the townland of the yew of the island)
  • Blackabbey (the Black Abbey)
  • Bootown (Booth's townland)
  • Boretree Island East
  • Cardy (the forge)
  • Chapel Island
  • Gordonall (Gordon's lands)
  • Greyabbey
  • Island South
  • Killyvolgan (central wood)
  • Kilnatierny (the Lord's little wood)
  • Mid Island
  • Mount Stewart (the mount of the Stewarts)
  • Rosemount (the manor house)
  • South Island
  • Tullykevin (Kevin's hillock)


Islands dotted around Strangford Lough and set within the Greyabbey Parish area include : Boretree Island; Boretree Rock; Chanderies; Chapel Island; Gabbock Island; Hare Island; Mid Island; Pattersons Hill; Peggys Island; Pig Island; South Island; Turley Rock; and Whaup Rock.

See also


  1. ^ The Scottish Connection Archived 15 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine North Down Tourism.
  2. ^ Drumming Recital at Greyabbey Primary School Ulster-Scots Agency.
  3. ^ Ulster-Scots Steid-Names: Gie Greba's Heid A Bit O Peace The News Letter.
  4. ^ a b c d "Greyabbey". IreAtlas Townlands Database. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Greyabbey". Census 2011 Results. NI Statistics and Research Agency. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  6. ^ Placenames NI Archived 2012-03-17 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "St Saviour Greyabbey -". Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  8. ^ "Holly Hamilton". Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  9. ^ Ards homing in on bright future Belfast Telegraph, 16/02/16
This page was last edited on 29 June 2021, at 15:22
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