St. Nicholas Church
Is there a building in Northern Ireland more marked by history than St Nicholas'?
Built by Ulster Anglo-Norman conqueror John de Courcy in the late 12th century, it seems every invasion or change of power or tumultuous local event has left its imprint here. It was the Governor of Carrickfergus and architect of the Plantation, Sir Arthur Chichester who transformed de Courcy's ruin into the beautiful church we see today in the early 1600s.
Burned by rebels, captured by French soldiers, it is also the story of ordinary people in past times, their lives poignantly captured in elaborate marble memorials.
In St Nicholas' resides the living history of this part of the world.
Encased in the present walls for hundreds of years, the original Norman pillars are now evident again.
In the baptistery nearby, once used as a Coroner's Court, you'll see sword cuts in the stone, left by soldiers as they sharpened their halberds.
There's so much else to see, from an exquisite copy of the Book of Kells to the staff of Bishop John MacNeice, rector here and father of poet Louis, Communion table and chairs, dating from the 1600s, carved in ancient Irish bog oak and an ancient piscine, once used to ward off witches.
Don't miss the Leper window where Communion was given to those afflicted with the terrible disease, probably drawn by the healing well of St Bride or the ancient leper hospital here.
Then picture yourself in the Freeman's Aisle, gazing up not just at the rector but Sir Arthur, one of the architects of the Plantation, and his family in the aisle above. Beneath his aisle lies the Chichester Family tomb, now sealed off.
But you can view the unique marble and alabaster memorial to Sir Arthur, wife Lettice and baby son Arthur who died in infancy.
Beneath them is a bust of Arthur's brother John, whom he replaced as governor after John's head was removed by one of the McDonnell clan. It is said that visiting the church the beheader was heard to announce, “how the deil he cam to get his head again? for he was sure he had anes taen it frae him.”
And as you end this journey through history, gaze back down the central aisle. Very unusually, its crookedness symbolises that Christ's head fell to the right when he was crucified.