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.
Bouillon Castle was mentioned first in 988, but there has been a castle on the same site for a much longer time. The castle is situated on a rocky spur of land within a sharp bend of the Semois River.
In 1082, Bouillon Castle was inherited by Godfrey of Bouillon, who sold it to Otbert, Bishop of Liège in order to finance the First Crusade. The castle was later fitted for heavy artillery by Vauban, Louis XIV's military architect in the late 17th century.
The castle is entered over three drawbridges. The main courtyard then leads to the ducal palace with its 13th century Salle Godefroy de Bouillon. From there visitors climb up to the top of the 16th century Tour d’Autriche for a breathtaking panorama of the town and river, before they way back via the torture chamber, citerns and dungeons, and past the 65m deep well Shaft.