Nestled in the serene yet haunting landscape of Ballycastle in County Antrim lies Bonamargy Friary. This ancient Franciscan monastery, established in 1485 by Rory McQuillin, carries a weight of history and mystery that has drawn curiosity and trepidation for centuries. Its name, translating to “foot of the Mari River,” only hints at the depth of stories buried within its grounds. Among these tales is the chilling legend of Julia McQuillin, the Black Nun, whose spirit is said to linger in the ruins of the friary.

Bonamargy Friary, a small yet significant Franciscan establishment, saw its share of turmoil and transformation over the centuries. Initially founded by Rory McQuillin, it later fell into the hands of the McDonald family, who used it as a mass grave following the brutal massacre on Rathlin Island in 1575. English forces, acting under Queen Elizabeth I’s orders, aimed to dismantle the power of the McDonalds, leading to a bloody conflict that left the friary steeped in sorrow and death. The friary’s final recorded religious service occurred on All Hallows in 1639, hosting 700 Highland Scots refugees. By 1641, the friary was abandoned, becoming the solitary residence of Julia McQuillin. Known as the Black Nun, Julia’s fierce piety and unforgiving nature marked her time at Bonamargy with a blend of sanctity and severity.

Julia McQuillin, a woman of intense religious devotion, lived alone in the abandoned friary after its desertion. Her strict adherence to her faith and fiery temperament made her both a respected and feared figure. Julia’s disdain for sinners was well-known, even extending to her own sister, whom she loathed for her perceived unchristian behavior. One stormy night, Julia’s estranged sister arrived at the friary, desperately seeking shelter from the harsh elements. Despite her contempt, Julia’s sense of duty compelled her to offer refuge. However, this act of mercy brought her no comfort. Instead, she felt revulsion, leading her to pray outside in the rain. It was during this fervent prayer that she saw a divine light emanating from her quarters. Rushing back, she found her sister on the brink of death, who uttered a final prayer before passing away.

This moment profoundly affected Julia, leading her to a path of humility and forgiveness. Upon her death, she requested to be buried at the entrance of the chapel without a coffin, allowing visitors to walk over her grave as a testament to her newfound humility. Her resting place is marked by a modest Celtic cross, symbolizing her penitence. Julia McQuillin’s legacy extends beyond her mortal life, with tales of her prophetic abilities adding to her mystique. She foretold advancements such as iron ships and Ireland’s independence, the latter envisioned as arriving with a ship ablaze. Some of her predictions were cryptic, contributing to the enduring fascination with her life and death.

The friary remains a hotspot for paranormal activity, with numerous reports of ghostly encounters. Visitors often describe sightings of Julia’s apparition, dressed in a black habit, wandering the grounds or peering from windows. While many report feelings of peace during these encounters, others recount an unsettling eeriness. One notable account from 2005 details a man and his family witnessing Julia’s spirit, leaving them frozen in shock and awe. The exact circumstances of Julia’s death remain shrouded in mystery. Some believe she slipped on the friary’s now-sealed staircase, while others suspect foul play, suggesting a loose stone might have caused her fall or been used as a murder weapon. This sinister theory gains traction from eerie occurrences such as the unexplained falling stone in the early 2000s, which narrowly missed a visiting family and led to the permanent sealing of the passageway.

These events raise questions about a potential dark presence within the friary. Could this malevolent force be responsible for both Julia’s death and the ongoing disturbances? The unsettling similarities between the falling stone and Julia’s alleged cause of death add a layer of intrigue to the already mysterious site. Bonamargy Friary’s haunting history is deeply embedded in local folklore. One legend suggests that performing a ritual around Julia’s grave can summon her spirit. Despite this, sightings of her ghost are reported even without the ritual, indicating her strong presence in the area. The friary is also linked to tales of hidden treasure, with only one clue remaining—a candle in the eastern window marking the burial site at the furthest reach of its light.

In the 1820s, an oak chest containing 14th-century religious manuscripts was discovered in the ruins, sparking speculation about the friary’s hidden riches. Whether the treasure is real or merely a legend, the friary’s allure continues to captivate those intrigued by its storied past. Bonamargy Friary stands as a testament to the intertwining of history and the supernatural. The tragic events, prophecies, and ghostly sightings create a rich tapestry of mystery and intrigue. Julia McQuillin, the Black Nun, remains a central figure in this narrative, her spirit a reminder of the friary’s turbulent past and the enduring power of faith and redemption.


As visitors walk through the ancient ruins, they are enveloped by a palpable sense of history and an eerie feeling of being watched. The stories of Bonamargy Friary continue to be told, each retelling adding to the legend of the Black Nun and the mysteries that lie within this hallowed ground. Whether driven by historical curiosity or a desire for paranormal encounters, those who visit Bonamargy Friary leave with a deeper connection to its haunting legacy.

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