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Comber Parish (Castlereagh Lower portion), County Down


Ir. An Comar ‘the confluence’


Town is 5.5km SW of Newtownards

bar: Castlereagh Lower

It has been suggested by several authorities (Reeves EA 197; O'Laverty ii 139; McKay DUPN 1999; Strangford Lough 287) that Comber is so named because of its situation close to where the Enler River (in its tidal course known as the Comber River) flows into Strangford Lough.  However, technically this is not a confluence (the flowing together of two or more streams), and places located at the mouth of a river are usually named bun or inbhear in Irish. It may be preferable to favour Knox's suggestion as to the origin of the name, i.e. the confluence of two streams which form the Enler River (Knox Hist. 522). 

The confluence in question seems likely to be the meeting of the Enler River and the Glen River, a small tributary which rises in the SW part of the parish.  The Glen River enters the Enler in the townland of Town Parks near the Church of Ireland parish church, which appears to occupy the site of the 12th-century Cistercian abbey. According to Sir James Ware, writing in 1658, this abbey was founded in 1199 and, along with Tracton in Co. Cork, was populated by monks from Alba Landa (Whitland) in Carmarthenshire, Wales (Charts St Mary's ii 233).  Like the mother house at Whitland it was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin (Monasterium Beatae Mariae).  There was also an early Irish monastery established at Comber.  According to the Tripartite Life this was built by Conla, one of two local brothers whom St. Patrick encountered (Trip. Life i 164; O'Laverty ii 139).  Jocelin states that Conla offered a remarkable field called Elom and that the monastery was built here (Jocelin's Patrick 186).  However, the exact site is not known, and since Elom may well be an echo of the biblical Elim (Exodus 15.27, Numbers 33.9), the place-name is probably of little help in locating it.

Most of the parish of Comber is in the barony of Castlereagh Lower, with just the two townlands of Clontonakelly and Crossnacreevy belonging to Castlereagh Upper.  It is a very large parish, consisting of 42 townlands.  This is largely the result of it having absorbed the lands of the Cistercian abbey at Comber and two former parishes, namely Ballymagaughey (Balimcgehan in the Papal Taxation of 1306), Ballyrickard (first mentioned in an inquisition of 1547).  It is also likely that it absorbed the chapel of Rogerestone (if this is not identical with Ballyrickard).  Despite the size of the parish, a tongue of the neighbouring parish of Dundonald terminating at Castlebeg comes within 2 miles of the town of Comber. There is an unusual arrangement whereby the Enler River forms the boundary between the two parishes for  much of its length.  Conversely, at Ballyhanwood and Ballymaglaff the parish of Comber comes very close to the town of Dundonald.


McKay, P. (2007): A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names, p. 45; PMcK 2009; revised PT 2012.

Additional Information

Other portion in Castlereagh Upper; see the town of Comber for historical forms of this name.

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Castlereagh Lower
Parish in 1851
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