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Cistercian Abbeys: COMBER

Name: COMBER Location: Comber town County: Down
Foundation: 1200 Mother house: Whitland (Wales)
Relocation: None Founder: Brien Catha Dun/White family
Dissolution: 1543 Prominent members:
Access: No remains

Comber abbey was colonised with monks from Whitland in Wales, January 1200. An early Irish monastery, founded by St. Patrick, previously existed on the site, but is thought to have been defunct by the time the Cistercians arrived. The site of the abbey lies at the northwest end of Strangford Lough, at the mouth of the river Enler. The Latin name of the abbey is derived from its natural surroundings: ‘Comar’ is taken from the Irish word ‘comar’ meaning the confluence of two streams. The founder of the abbey cannot be verified. It is thought to have been either Brien Catha Dun, who was slain by John de Courcy c. 1201 and from whom the O’Neills of Clandboy descended, or the Whites, a family from England. Very little is known about Comber Abbey and there are no reliable sources concerning the value of the property, although the abbey is unlikely to have been prosperous. The last abbot, John O’Mullegan, resigned voluntarily in 1543 and the property eventually passed in 1607 to Sir James Hamilton, Viscount Clandeboye. The buildings were burnt in 1573 during the earl of Essex’s campaigns in Ulster. Scottish settlers used the abbey as a source of building materials and the stone was also carried away for use in the construction of Mount Alexander, home of the Hamilton family (which is now destroyed).

The site of the abbey is now occupied by St. Mary’s Protestant church and a building to the south of the church reuses a dressed stone with a mason’s mark. A fragment of a thirteenth-century tomb slab is the only relic from the abbey. St. Mary’s church is generally accessible to the public.