Holywood Priory was founded by St. Laiseran before 640 on the site of the present ruins of the medieval Old Priory. The present ruins are 12th century Anglo-Norman Augustinian Abbey built by Thomas Whyte and much of these ruins remain. After the Black death (1348-1350) Niall O’Neill refurbished the church for the Franciscan Order.
The Priory was dissolved on New Years Day, 1541, by Henry VIII with its lands passing into the hands of the O’Neill family and then to Sir James Hamilton, First Viscount Clandeboye. Hamilton laid out the town, with a maypole at the crossroads and most of the early buildings are clustered round the Priory. The tower dates from the 1800’s when this was the site of the town’s Parish Church.
The adjoining burial ground has been used for centuries. Scottish settlers who arrived with the Hamilton/Montgomery Plantation in the early 17th century are buried here, though the earliest surviving gravestone is from 1645.
The city walls of Avila were built in the 11th century to protect the citizens from the Moors. They have been well maintained throughout the centuries and are now a major tourist attraction as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can walk around about half of the length of the walls.
The layout of the city is an even quadrilateral with a perimeter of 2,516 m. Its walls, which consist in part of stones already used in earlier constructions, have an average thickness of 3 m. Access to the city is afforded by nine gates of different periods; twin 20 m high towers, linked by a semi-circular arch, flank the oldest ones, Puerta de San Vicente and Puerta del Alcázar.