Layd Church, Antrim, Ireland

Layd Church is situated one mile from the seaside town of Cushendall on the north-east Antrim Coast. The church ruin that exists today dates to the 17th century but it is believed that an earlier church was situated at Layd from the late 13th century. In 1291 it is recorded in the Papal Taxation documents of Pope Nicholas III as ‘Ecclesia-de-Lede’, stating it ‘hath no land but 20 acres of glebe’, glebe was the land assigned to support the priest. It has been inferred that the church was originally founded by Franciscans but this fact is uncertain. The church appears to have been existence for at least 250 years and was described in The Ulster Visitation book of 1622 as, “Ecc. De Laide – Ruynous” (ie in ruins), this is probably due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries of the mid-16th century. In 1683 in ‘A Briefe Description of the County of Antrim’ Richard Dobbs described the church as still being in ruins and said it, “seems to have been a handsome country church with a square steeple about 30 foot high”. In 1696 it was rebuilt/restored and became a Protestant Church, it is quite telling that it was a rebuilt due to the height of the graves that surrounded it, by 1847 these graves are recorded as being five feet higher than the floor inside the church. It was reconstructed with local red sandstone and schist rock and was in use for just under a hundred years. Three generations of the same family, the McArthurs, who preached in Irish, served as clergymen from 1696 to 1793 when Layd fell into ruin due to the construction of a new church nearby.

Layd is one of the primary burial place of the MacDonnell Clan alongside Bonamargy, including Dr James MacDonnell who was a pioneer in the use of chloroform during operations. The graveyard is full of interesting markers such as the ‘holestone’ known as Cross Na Naghan. There are several stories relating to this unusual headstone, which features a large circle at its top with a hole in the middle. The first is that it was brought by the first MacDonnells who settled nearby and when found discarded years later on agricultural land was removed and brought to Layd. A second story related to St Naghan, who was a former Pictish king and a founder of Christianity in Sctoland who was believed to have brought the stone with him. Many scholars believe that this may relate to a pre-Christian form of marriage where a couple joined hands through the stone, and proclaimed marriage to each other for a year and a day, after a year they could decide to proceed together into the future or split. Some folklorists have stated that women would pass baby’s clothes through it when pregnant to aid a safe childbirth, whilst others say that it was to mark the portal to the ‘otherworld’, its true meaning will forever remain lost to antiquity.

Layd church is a very secluded and peaceful place, almost hidden from all sides until it appears out of nowhere down a small country lane, most certainly worth a visit.

GPS: 55.09204, -6.05017

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