GREY-ABBEY, a post-town and parish, in the barony of Ardes, county of Down, and province of Ulster, 6 miles (S. E.) from Newtownards (to which it has a sub-post-office), and 95 (N. N. E.) from Dublin, on the road from Newtownards to Portaferry; containing 3700 inhabitants. This place derives its name from a monastery founded here in 1192, by Afric, wife of John de Courcy, and daughter of Godred, King of Man, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, for monks of the Cistertian order, who were brought hither from the Abbey of Holme-Cultram, in Cumberland. The establishment continued to flourish till the dissolution, and had ample possessions in Great and Little Ardes. Towards the close of the reign of Elizabeth it was nearly destroyed, in the rebellion raised by Tyrone; and in the 3rd of Jas. I. the site and precincts, together with all its possessions, were granted to Sir James Hamilton. The village is pleasantly situated on Lough Strangford, and on the road from Portaferry to Belfast; and the neighbourhood is embellished with some elegant seats and beautiful scenery. Mount Stewart, the splendid residence of the Marquess of Londonderry, is a spacious mansion, situated in an extensive demesne richly wooded and pleasingly diversified with water. On the summit of an eminence in the grounds is an elegant building, a model of the Temple of the Winds at Athens, erected under the personal superintendence of J. Stewart, Esq., whose skill and taste in Grecian architecture have procured for him the appellation of the Athenian Stewart; it is built of stone from the quarries of Scrabo, and the floors, which are of bog fir found in the peat moss on the estate, are, for beauty of material and elegance of design, unequalled by any thing of the kind in the country; nearly adjoining the village is Rosemount, the residence of Mrs. Montgomery.
According to the Ordnance survey the parish, with some small islands in Strangford Lough, comprises 7689 statute acres, nearly equally divided between tillage and pasture, the land on the shore being good, but in the interior boggy and rocky; very little improvement has been made in agriculture. Excellent slate is found in the townland of Tullycaven, but the quarry is not judiciously worked. There is a very extensive bog, which supplies the inhabitants with abundance of fuel, and beneath the surface are found large oak and fir trees lying horizontally at a depth of 15 and 20 feet; the fir is in a fine state of preservation, exceedingly hard, and susceptible of a very high polish.
A great quantity of calico and muslin is woven here by the peasantry at their own dwellings, and many of the females are employed in tambour-work. It is a perpetual curacy, in the diocese of Down, and in the patronage of W. Montgomery, Esq., in whom the rectory is impropriate: the tithes are included in the rent, and the perpetual curate's stipend amounts to £96. 19. 10½., of which £13. 16. 11. is paid by the impropriator, £9. 4.7½. by the Marquess of Londonderry, £4. 12. 4.
by A. Auchinleck, Esq., and £69. 6. by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners out of Primate Boulter's fund. The church is a small neat building, erected in 1778, and contains some handsome monuments of the Montgomery family. Here is a place of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the third, class.
There is a school on Erasmus Smith's foundation, for which the school-house was built by the late Marchioness of Londonderry, and 60 of the children are supported and clothed by the present Marchioness; and a male, female, and an infants' school, to which Mrs. Montgomery annually contributes £6, £12, and £6 respectively. In these and six other schools about 460 children are educated.
The remains of the abbey are beautiful and picturesque; the eastern gable is nearly entire; and contains five lancet-shaped windows, of which the stone work is quite perfect; there are also a window of the same character on the north and south sides of the choir; the nave, which till 1778 was used as the parish church, is tolerably entire, and is now the mausoleum of the family. There are the remains of several ancient monuments, and within the choir are two recumbent effigies, said to be those of John de Courcy and his wife, finely carved in freestone. There are also several other walls remaining, serving to give an idea of the former extent of the buildings, which appear to have been in the purest style of early English architecture. A very large tumulus was opened in 1825, by Dr. Stephen son, and found to contain 17 stone coffins, formed by placing together several flag-stones on edge, and covering them with one large stone; one of these in the centre was larger than the rest, and in each of them was found an urn of baked clay, containing granular earth of a dark colour.
from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.