COMBER, or CUMBER, a post-town and parish

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

COMBER, or CUMBER, a post-town and parish, partly in the barony of UPPER, but chiefly in that of LOWER CASTLEREAGH, county of DOWN, and province of ULSTER, 14 miles (N. by W.) from Downpatrick, and 91 (N. by E.) from Dublin; containing 8276 inhabitants, of which number, 1377 are in the town. St. Patrick founded an abbey here, of which nothing is now known. Brien Catha Dun, from whom the O'Nials of Clandeboy descended, and who fell by the sword of Sir John de Courcey, about 1201, also founded an abbey to the honour of the Blessed Virgin, and supplied it with monks of the Cistertian order from the abbey of Albalanda, in Carmarthenshire. John O'Mullegan was the last abbot, and voluntarily resigned the abbacy in 1543. The site and lands were granted, in the 3rd of James I., to Sir James Hamilton, afterwards Lord Clandeboy, whose successors used the greater part of the materials in erecting a mansion near the town, called Mount Alexander, which is now a heap of ruins, and the parish church occupies the site of the abbey. This place derives its name from the river on which it is situated, and which flows into Strangford Lough, on the east side of the parish. The town, which is tolerably well built, forms three streets and a large square, on the road from Belfast to Downpatrick.

Messrs. Andrews and Sons have an extensive bleach-green here, where 20,000 pieces of linen are finished annually, principally for the London market; they have also large flour-mills and corn stores. There are two distilleries; one of them, which is the property of Messrs Millar & Co., is among the oldest in the North of Ireland, having been erected in 1765. The tide from Strangford Lough flows to within half a mile of the town, and at a trifling expense might be made very beneficial to it. Great advantages would also result from the erection of a pier near Comber water foot; vessels of 200 tons might then come in with every tide. Coal is at present brought up in small lighters, but the principal fuel is peat; there is a very extensive bog, called Moneyreagh, or the Royal Bog, from which great quantities are sent to Belfast and other places. Fairs are held on Jan. 5th, the second Monday in April, June 19th, and Oct. 28th, principally for farming horses and cattle. Here is a constabulary police station. A manorial court is held here every third Thursday, for the manor of Comber, or Mount Alexander, which has jurisdiction in debts not exceeding £2 over 30 townlands in the parish of Comber, Barnemagarry, in the parish of Kilmud, and Ballycloghan, in that of Saintfield. There is also a court for the recovery of debts not exceeding £20 late currency.

The parish, which includes the ancient parish of BalIyricard, comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 17,420 statute acres, of which 16,134 are in Lower Castlereagh; about 20 are common, 117 water, and 150 or 200 bog; the remainder is arable and pasture land, of which three-fourths are under tillage. Agriculture is in a very improved state, and the soil is very productive. There are some good quarries of freestone, equal in fineness and durability to the Portland stone; and coal has been found in three places, but no mines have been opened. There are several gentlemen's seats, the principal of which are Ballybeen, the residence of J. Birch, Esq.; Ballyalloly, at present unoccupied; Killynether House, the residence of T. McLeroth, Esq.; and Maxwell Court, of J. Cairns, Esq. The living is an impropriate curacy, in the diocese of Down, and in the patronage of the Marquess of Londonderry, in whom the rectory is impropriate. The parish is tithe-free, with the exception of the townlands of Ballyanwood, Ballycreely, and Ballyhenry, the tithes of which are paid to the Marquess of Londonderry, who pays the curate's stipend. A glebe-house was built in 1738, towards the erection of which the late Board of First Fruits gave £100: the glebe consists of eleven acres.

The church is a small ancient building, in the later style of English architecture, and contains some neat marble monuments, particularly those to the memory of the Rev. Robert Mortimer, Capt. Chetwynd, Lieut. Unet, and Ensign Sparks, of the York fencible infantry, who fell in the battle of Saintfield, during the disturbances of 1798, and of the Rev. Messrs. Birch, father and son, the former of whom died in 1827, the latter in 1830, whose monument was erected by the subscriptions of 520 of their parishioners. Some fragments of the abbey are incorporated in its walls. There are a meeting-house at Comber for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the first class; another at Moneyreagh, connected with the Remonstrant Synod, of the same class; and a third at Gransha, connected with the Seceding Synod, of the second class: there is also a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists. The parochial school, in which about 100 boys and 70 girls are taught, was built in 1813, at the joint expense of the Marchioness of Londonderry and the trustees of Erasmus Smith's charity; the building is kept in repair by the Marchioness, who, in 1832, erected a house for the master. There are also national schools at Ballymaglaff, Tullygiven, and Ballystockart More than 300 children are educated in these schools, besides which, 740 are taught in 12 private schools.

A house of industry was founded in 1824, by the Marquess of Londonderry, who subscribes £25 annually towards its support: it affords an asylum for 12 of the aged poor, and also distributes meal, potatoes, &c, to 60 families at their own dwellings. There is a large druidical altar in Ballygraphan, the table stone of which, now lying on the ground, measures 19 feet by 6 and is 4 feet thick: the five upright stones are in an adjoining hedge-row. Numerous forts and raths are scattered over the parish.

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