is a small town
in County Down
, Northern Ireland
, 5 miles south of Newtownards
, at the northern end of Strangford Lough
. It had a population of 8,933 people in the 2001 Census
. It is a centre of potato
growing and is also known for the Tudor Cinema. It is situated around 15 miles (24 kilometres) ESE of Belfast
, in the heart of potato
-growing country. Comber comes under the control of Ards Borough Council
. It is also known for Comber Whiskey
which was last distilled in 1953 and today fetches a handsome price.
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 St Patrick
, while a Cistercian
abbey was founded around 1200 on the site of the present Church of Ireland
, 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.
During the influx of Scots in the early 1600s (see Plantation of Ulster), a settlement grew up at Comber, although it was focused about a mile 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 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.
In Comber's Square, you cannot fail to see 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 unveiled on 4 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".
Norman Nevin MBE was not a native of Comber but much of Comber’s past was researched by him. He came originally from Newtownards, but settled and taught in Comber, developing a great love for the town. Over the years Norman Nevin became a well-known and popular figure here. In addition to his role as headmaster of Comber Primary school, he was Lieutenant Colonel of the Army Cadet Force and an Elder in First Comber Presbyterian Church. He never married, and it is said that he regarded the school as his family, maintaining an interest in his former pupils. He has been described as “a great man with high moral values and integrity. Norman was born on 3rd. May 1909 and died on 19th. February, 1996. - Just short of his eighty-seventh birthday. He left behind a wealth of information about Comber, which he meticulously studied over the years. He could often be seen about the town with a camera, recording people and events. He also wrote this story up to about 1984 and, probably, had it typed up by his school secretary but always refused to have it published. Unfortunately, the printed document was on A3 size paper which was too large for comfortable reading. The document was housed in Comber Library and was at one stage photo-copied and reduced in size to A4. This did not however make it any easier to read as the type was also reduced to a very small size. His works were transcribed to pdf format by Erskine Willis January 2008 and is currently available for download here
Comber railway station on the Belfast and County Down Railway
, opened on 6 May 1850
, but finally closed on 24 April 1950
One of the three local primary school
's is Comber Primary School which operates under the headmaster
, Don Halliday. There are 13 teachers at the school. Notable alumni include Northern Ireland footballer Stephen Craigan
The other local primary school is Andrew's Memorial primary school 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 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.
Comber is classified as a Small Town by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (ie with population between 4,500 and 10,000 people). On Census day (29 April 2001) there were 8,933 people living in Comber. Of these:
- 19.7% were aged under 16 years and 18.0% were aged 60 and over
- 48.3% of the population were male and 51.7% were female
- 3.7% were from a Catholic background and 91.6% were from a Protestant background
- 2.8% of people aged 16-74 were unemployed.
For more details see: NI Neighbourhood Information Service
- Comber is most famous for being the birthplace of Thomas Andrews (born in 1873), the RMS Titanic's shipbuilder, who died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
- Thomas Andrews had a famous brother John Miller Andrews, who became Northern Ireland’s second Prime Minister between 1940 and 1945. He was born in 1871 and became a flax-spinner and a wealthy landowner in Comber. He died in 1956.
- Comber's main square has a statue of ’Rollicking Rollo’ - Sir Robert Rollo Gillespie (1766-1814) born in a large house on the south side of the square. He soldiered in Ireland, the West Indies, Java and Nepal, fought duels, acted as a secret agent against the French and was killed in action.
- Racing driver Jonny Kane (born 14 May, 1973), was born in Comber. He was crowned British Formula Three champion in 1997 and went on to become 'rookie of the year' in the 1999 IndyLights series in the USA.
- Edmund De Wind, was born in Comber and was a Canadian (also considered Irish) recipient of the Victoria Cross in World War I. He was a member of The Royal Irish Rifles, killed during the First Battle of the Somme on 21 March 1918, after repelling attack after attack until he was mortally wounded and collapsed. There is a housing estate in Comber named after him built in the 1950s. Edmund was officially remembered in Comber on Friday 14th September 2007 through the unveiling of an Ulster History Circle "Blue Plaque" in his honour.
From 1928 to 1936, the Tourist Trophy (TT) motorcar Races took place on a road circuit encompassing Newtownards
, Comber and Dundonald
in County Down. At the time it was Northern Ireland’s premier sporting event, regularly attracting crowds in excess of a quarter of a million people. The first driver to complete 30 laps of the circuit was the winner. On September 5
, in wet conditions, one driver lost control of his car and crashed into the crowd, killing eight spectators. This tragedy brought an end to nine years of racing over the Ards road circuit.
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 CC, who have played their home matches at The Green since 1857. They have won the Northern Cricket Union Senior Challenge Cup a record 30 times, the Senior League outright on 17 occasions and the Irish Senior Cup 3 times since its inception in 1984.
the hockey club has a wide range of all ages across the age range from the juniors to the veterans in both male and female caterogaries