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Location within County Down
Population9,071 (2011 Census)
Country Northern Ireland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Historic county
Postcode district BT23
Dialling code 028
Police Northern Ireland
Fire Northern Ireland
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Northern Ireland
54°32′38″N5°44′06″W / 54.544°N 5.735°W / 54.544; -5.735 Coordinates: 54°32′38″N5°44′06″W / 54.544°N 5.735°W / 54.544; -5.735

Comber (from Irish : An Comar, meaning 'the confluence') [2] is a town in County Down, Northern Ireland. It lies 5 miles (8 km) south of Newtownards, at the northern end of Strangford Lough. It is situated in the townland of Town Parks, the civil parish of Comber and the historic barony of Castlereagh Lower. [2] Comber is part of the Ards and North Down Borough. It is also known for Comber Whiskey which was last distilled in 1953. A notable native was Thomas Andrews, the designer of the RMS Titanic and was among the many who went down with her. Comber had a population of 9,071 people in the 2011 Census. [3]



The confluence of two rivers, which gave the town its name, is that of the Glen River and the Enler River which meet here. There is believed to have been a church here since the time of Saint Patrick, while a Cistercian abbey was founded around 1200 on the site of the present Church of Ireland church, a site likely chosen to take advantage of the good access to Strangford Lough. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1541, the abbey fell into ruins and its stone has since been used in other buildings.

St. Mary's Church of Ireland StMarysComberExterior.jpg
St. Mary's Church of Ireland
Interior of St. Mary's Church of Ireland StMarysComberViewFromChancel.jpg
Interior of St. Mary's Church of Ireland

During the influx of Scots in the early 1600s (see Plantation of Ulster), a settlement grew up at Comber, although it was focused about one mile (1.6 km) further south than at present, in the townland of Cattogs, and there is evidence that the settlement was a port used by traders and fishermen. By the 1700s, however, the focus of the town had moved to the area of the present main Square and Comber became established as an industrial centre with several mills.

The Andrews family made Comber a centre of both linen production and grain processing by the second half of the 1700s. Whiskey distilling was a prominent industry by the mid-1800s, the most prominent of the distillers being John Miller, uncle of William James (Lord) Pirrie and Eliza (wife of Thomas Andrews Snr.). One member of the Andrews family, Thomas, rose to fame as designer of the ill-fated RMS Titanic , although he tragically lost his life when the ship sank in 1912. By 1841 the town had 1,400 inhabitants. The 20th century saw Comber lose much of its industry but re-establish itself as a commuter town for the Belfast urban area, swelling in population from 4,000 in 1961 to 8,933 according to the 2001 census.

The Square. The Gillespie Memorial and St. Mary's Parish Church can also be seen. Gillespie and St Mary's.JPG
The Square. The Gillespie Memorial and St. Mary's Parish Church can also be seen.

In Comber's square stands the statue of Major General Rollo Gillespie. Gillespie was a local war hero from the 19th century, famous for his heroic exploits in India. It was constructed under the oversight of John Fraser, the first county surveyor of Down, and was unveiled on 24 June 1845 (St. John's Day). Fifty lodges of the Masonic Order were present, in what is believed to be the biggest Masonic gathering in Irish history. It was calculated that 25,000 to 30,000 people crowded into the town to witness the ceremony. The column is 55 feet high. At the foot of the column are many Masonic symbols and his famous last words "One shot more for the honour of Down". The Square also has a memorial to those who died on the Titanic, which has strong links to the town. The town has its own "Comber Titanic Audio Trail which guides you to special places of interest throughout Comber that relate to the Titanic story."

In 1978, the Provisional Irish Republican Army bombed La Mon restaurant, killing 12 people.

The Enler River in Comber has flooded many times. As a result, the Comber flood wall was built along the river through the town which has held the water back since.

The town

Comber grew as a market town with many family-run and independent businesses, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The town still remains home to a number of independent and artisan stores. The town holds a farmers market on the first Thursday of every month. The market sells fresh, seasonal food and plant products.

After achieving EU Protected Geographical Indication status in 2012, the Comber potato (Comber Earlies) became a global brand. The potatoes are now celebrated annually at the Comber Earlies Food Festival in June, together with the Comber Earlies Growers.

The town has also benefitted from a £2.4 million public realm scheme. The scheme encompassing High Street, The Square, Bridge Street, Bridge Street Link, Killinchy Street and Castle Street has reinvigorated Comber, creating a unique and uniform identity for the town centre. The design concepts were developed in partnership with Ards Borough Council, and, community and business representatives. Making the announcement, Minister McCausland said: “This represents a significant investment by the Northern Ireland Executive and Ards Borough Council. The scheme has been designed to bring the maximum benefit to all of Comber’s residents and to make the town centre much more attractive to visitors. This scheme is a fundamental part of the strategy ‘Envisaging the future of Comber’. “I know from the success of public realm schemes in other towns, that this investment will make a significant contribution to improving the fortunes of the town centre. This funding demonstrates my ongoing commitment to the regeneration of Comber.” Mayor of Ards, Councillor Stephen McIlveen, welcomed the confirmation of funding. He said: "This investment by DSD and the Council will transform the visual appearance of the town centres, enhancing their appeal as places to visit and shop, with the associated positive economic impact. I look forward now to seeing the designs developed and finalised and to work beginning."

Like the rest of Ireland, the Comber area has long been divided into townlands, whose names mostly come from the Irish language. Over time, more rural townlands have been built upon and they have given their names to many roads and housing estates. The following is a list of townlands within Comber's urban area, alongside their likely etymologies: [4]

The Comber Greenway is a 7-mile (11 km) traffic-free section of the National Cycle Network, along the old Belfast-Comber railway line. The cycle path starts on Dee Street in Belfast and finishes at Comber. Now completed the Greenway provides an eco-friendly cycle path with views of Stormont and Scrabo Tower. This attracts many cyclists into the town boosting the local economy. The current route of the Greenway was originally used as the route for the Belfast and County Down Railway. The railway was in use from the 1850s to 1950 when it was permanently retired. Throughout the 1950s the track was lifted in stages and infrastructure, including bridges, removed. Local activists and politicians have proposed plans to extend the Greenway into the town centre directly which they say would benefit the local businesses even more.

Castle Espie is a wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) on the banks of Strangford Lough, three miles (5 km) south of Comber, County Down, Northern Ireland. It is part of the Strangford Lough Ramsar Site. It provides an early wintering site for almost the entire Nearctic population of Pale-bellied Brent Geese. The Castle which gave the reserve its name no longer exists. Castle Espie was officially opened as a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre by Lady Scott on 4 May 1990. The site had previously been a limestone quarry, and also had a brickworks, pottery and lime kilns for producing lime from limestone, as well as part of a farm.

In September 2007, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant of £2.96 million towards a major wetland restoration project at Castle Espie, the largest investment in biodiversity in Northern Ireland. At the heart of the project, costing £4m in all, will be the restoration and improvement of intertidal and freshwater habitats along the shores of Strangford Lough to encourage more species and greater numbers of waterbirds to feed, roost or breed at Castle Espie, as well as restoring important habitats. A new ecologically sustainable visitor centre would also be constructed, and other improvements would be carried out to hides and observatories.


Comber railway station on the Belfast and County Down Railway, opened on 6 May 1850, but finally closed on 24 April 1950. [5] Comber also has a good public transport network with buses travelling to Belfast and Newtownards everyday on a frequent basis.

In 2003 'phase two' of the Comber bypass was officially opened for traffic.[ citation needed ] This new section starts at the end of the dual carriage way from Newtownards and links up with the existing section via a roundabout on Killinchy street. Comber is also connected by a direct cycle route to Belfast. Known as the Comber Greenway, this traffic free cycle path runs for 7 miles (11 km) along the old railway track bed.


One of the three local primary schools is Comber Primary School. There are 15 teachers at the school. Notable alumni include Northern Ireland footballer Stephen Craigan.

The other local primary school is Andrews Memorial Primary School, operating under the headmaster, Ralph Magee, which is of a similar size and as part of the school buildings includes the Andrews Memorial Hall, which was built by the citizens of Comber in memory of Thomas Andrews, the shipbuilder of the RMS Titanic.

The third primary school is St. Mary's Primary School, which is much smaller in size.

Many pupils from these schools go to Nendrum College, Comber, next door to Comber Primary, and Regent House Grammar School, Newtownards.


On Census day (27 March 2011) there were 9,071 people living in Comber (3,811 households), [3] an increase of 1.5% on the Census 2001 population of 8,933. [6] Of these:


John Miller Andrews John Miller Andrews.jpg
John Miller Andrews
Edward de Wind Blue Plaque Edmund de wind Blue Plaque.jpg
Edward de Wind Blue Plaque



The Ballydrain Harrier and Athletic Club was founded in 1932 and originally trained from The Old Schoolhouse, Ballydrain. For many years it was one of the most successful clubs in Northern Ireland, but went into decline, and by 2010 had only a few members left. A move to training at the North Down Cricket Club brought about a resurgence in membership, continuing to grow quickly with members training and racing weekly.


The Ards Circuit through Comber was a motorsport street circuit used for RAC Tourist Trophy sports car races from 1928 until 1936. At the time it was Northern Ireland's premier sporting event, regularly attracting crowds in excess of a quarter of a million people.


One of Comber's finest sporting moments came on Christmas morning 1991 when local amateur football team Comber Rec., managed by Mervyn Boyce, overcame favourites Brantwood to lift the Steel and Sons Cup for the first time.


Comber is also the home of one of Ireland's oldest and most successful cricket clubs, North Down Cricket Club, which has played its home matches at the Green since 1857. It has won the NCU Challenge Cup a record 30 times, the NCU Senior League outright on 17 occasions and the Irish Senior Cup 3 times since its inception in 1984.


The club was formed by members of North Down Cricket Club in 1896 and is one of the founder-members of the Ulster Hockey Union. The first reported Club match in Ulster was played in Comber against Cliftonville on 7 November 1896, with North Down winning 8–0.

In 1899-00 North Down won their first two trophies. In the only year when the Keightley Cup for the Ulster Senior League was played for on a knock-out basis, Antrim were defeated 3–2 in the final and in the Kirk Cup Final Cliftonville were beaten 4–2. [7]

The men's section fields six adult teams, with the First Eleven competing in the Ulster Senior League One. There are boys youth teams at under-12, under-13 and under-15 levels.

The ladies section field four adult teams, a veterans team and girls teams at under 11 and under 14 levels.

North Down Hockey Club is based at The Green in Comber, home of North Down Cricket Club. The first hockey pitch was at the Castle Lane side of the ground on the cricket outfield. A celebration game against Cliftonville as part of the Centenary was played on this same pitch.

In 1994 the decision was taken to play all first team games on the artificial turf pitch at Glenford Park, Newtownards. In 1999 the team returned to Comber and now play at Comber Leisure Centre. The Club still uses the synthetic pitch at Glenford Park and also at Nendrum College, Comber so that all home games are played on synthetic surfaces.

See also

Related Research Articles

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  1. Official Report Monday 14 April 2008 Northern Ireland Assembly. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  2. 1 2 "Comber". Place Names NI. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  3. 1 2 "Census 2011 Population Statistics for Comber Settlement". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  4. "Northern Ireland Placenames Project". Archived from the original on 1 October 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
  5. "Comber station" (PDF). Railscot - Irish Railways. Retrieved 17 September 2007.
  6. "Census 2001 Usually Resident Population: KS01 (Settlements) - Table view". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). p. 2. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  7. Belfast Newsletter 23 April 1900 Page 3