Comber Abbey/St Mary’s Parish Church

The church is just off the main square in Comber.

A monastery on this site was recorded as being burned by Vikings as long ago as 1031. A Cistercian Abbey was built by the Anglo-Normans here in the early 13th century and was occupied by monks from Wales. Like many other religious buildings in east Ulster it was destroyed by Sir Brian O’Neill in 1572. Some stones from the old abbey are displayed in the current church. Scots settlers in the early 17th century would have worshipped here, in a church restored by Sir James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery.

As was the case throughout Ards and North Down, there were tensions between the largely Presbyterian congregation and the established Church. Comber’s Presbyterian minister, Rev James Gordon, was ejected from the pulpit in 1661. His replacement, Rev William Dowdall, was so disliked by the local congregation he was physically attacked.

The present church was built in the late 1830s but contains some 17th century monuments. You can see two memorial stones in the tower, probably marking Ulster-Scots marriages of 1633 and 1637.

The ancient graveyard has one of the highest numbers of early gravestones in North Down and Ards, many of whom commemorate early 17th century Scots settlers and their descendants. A memorial to three members of the York Fencible Infantry, killed at the Battle of Saintfield on June 9th during the 1798 Rebellion, can be found inside the church.


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