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Comber Abbey, County DownComber Abbey Archaeologist, County Down

North Down & the Ards Peninsula

The Comber Abbeys

Tradition has it that Christianity came to Comber in the fifth century A.D. Apparently Saint Patrick, having visited his favourite convert, Mochaoi (Mahee) at Nendrum, travelled north on his way to Donaghadee and passing through the Comber district, Patrick was abused badly by Saran, one of the sons of Caelbadh, the local Chieftain of the area. Conla, brother of Saran, hearing with great sorrow, how uncivilly Patrick had been treated, went to apologise for his brother’s behaviour and to venerate Patrick. He consecrated himself and all his property to his service, offering to him a remarkable field called the Plain of Elom, for the purpose of erecting a church thereon. (Its situation was most likely on the plain across the river from the present Cricket Green.) Conla built the church and Patrick blessed him and told him that his family and descendants would be great and powerful.

The Augustinian Monastery

Conla’s Irish Church flourished and in the course of time became an Augustinian Monastery. It was known locally as the Black Abbey, because of the black habit worn by the monks.

The Augustinian Abbey became obscured in later years by the fame of the Cistercian Abbey; it completely disappeared from history, although portions of the buildings remained until 1644. The Cistercians took over its townlands.

The Cistercian Abbey

A Cistercian Abbey was built in Comber in 1199. St. Mary’s Parish Churchyard in The Square was the site of this Abbey. This is near to the estuary to Strangford Lough in the confluence of two rivers - the Enler and the Glen. These rivers were essential to the abbey, not only for fishing but also for sanitary purposes. The Cistercians wore white habits so were known as White Monks.

The abbey was occupied by monks from Whitland, Carmarthenshire and it prospered until such establishments were dissolved by Henry V111. In 1543 the last Abbot, John O’Mullegan resigned the Abbey and its possessions to the Crown. Stones from the abbey were used for building around the town.

Until 2002 it was thought that there were no relics from the Abbey until nineteen carved stones were found in a local garden. These stones are now on display in St Mary’s Church which is open during the day.

 

Examples of Christian Heritage in later centuries thanks to St. Patrick’s influence:-

Derry Churches
These ruined churches are situated one and a half miles north east of Portaferry on the Tullymally Road, east of the A2 to Cloughey and are signposted from Portaferry.  Evidence dates these 2 small churches as being pre-Norman and are associated with St. Cumain (see also St Cooey’s Wells).

Saint Cooey's Wells
South of Portaferry and towards Ballyquintin Point (signposted), stand the Holy Wells founded in the 7th century by St. Cooey.  According to tradition, it was here that St. Cooey performed his penitential exercises in the late 7th and 8th centuries.

Saint Patrick's Church, Lisbane, Ardkeen (between Kircubbin & Portaferry)
Built in 1777.  The statue of St. Patrick was brought from Scotland to Ballywalter and then by horse and cart to Lisbane.  Parking is available at The Saltwater Brig public house.  The church is 100m further down the road towards Portaferry.

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