Newtownards (Irish: Baile Nua na hArda[9]) is a town in County Down, Northern Ireland. It lies at the most northern tip of Strangford Lough, 10 miles (16 km) east of Belfast, on the Ards Peninsula. It is in the civil parish of Newtownards and the historic baronies of Ards Lower and Castlereagh Lower.[10] Newtownards is in the Ards and North Down Borough. The population was 29,677 in the 2021 Census.[4]

View of Newtownards from Scrabo Tower
Newtownards is located in County Down
Location within County Down
Population29,677 (2021 Census)
• Belfast9 mi (14.5 km)
CountryNorthern Ireland
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtBT22, BT23
Dialling code028
PoliceNorthern Ireland
FireNorthern Ireland
AmbulanceNorthern Ireland
UK Parliament
NI Assembly
List of places
Northern Ireland
54°35′28″N 5°40′48″W / 54.591°N 5.68°W / 54.591; -5.68

History edit

Irish settlement edit

In 540 AD, St. Finian founded Movilla Abbey, a monastery, on a hill overlooking Strangford Lough about a mile northeast of present-day Newtownards town centre. "Movilla" (Magh Bhile) means "the plain of the sacred tree" in Irish, which suggests that the land had previously been a sacred pagan site. It became a significant Christian settlement - a centre for worship, study, mission and commercial trade, well known throughout Ireland. It was sacked by the Vikings sometime after AD 824, though survived for a thousand years as a monastic settlement (becoming part of the Augustinian Order in 1135), until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1542.[11]

The Normans conquered east Ulster in the 1170s, founding the Earldom of Ulster. Around 1226, they established a new town around Movilla, which became known as the "New Town of Blathewic", after the Irish territory of Uí Blathmhaic.[12] A Dominican priory was built in 1244 by Walter de Burgh[13] and was also dissolved in 1542.[14]

In 1572, both monasteries were burned by the Clannaboy O'Neills under Sir Brian McPhelim O'Neill to deny buildings to the English, who were attempting to colonize the Ards.[15][14] After this the urban settlement at Movilla disappeared and the area around it became known as "Ballylisnevin" ("the town of Nevin's fort").[16]

The Scottish town edit

Market House, Newtownards

In 1605 (prior to the official Plantation of Ulster in 1610), Hugh Montgomery was granted the lands and set about rebuilding what was by then known as Newtown, later expanded to Newtownards. Official records show the town was established in 1606. Montgomery built a residence in the ruins of the old priory, the tower of which remains. Scottish Protestant settlers, particularly from Ayr, and to a lesser extent Irvine, in Ayrshire, arrived in large numbers and the town grew quickly.[17]

Due to the shallow mud of Strangford Lough, Newtown never developed as a port, with goods instead transported from the nearby town of Donaghadee on the Irish Sea coast of the Ards Peninsula. Instead, it became a market town, with the Market House in Conway Square constructed in 1771.[18]

United Irishmen rebellion edit

North Down and the Ards were briefly held by United Irish insurgents in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. On the morning of 9 June, "Pike Sunday", United Irishmen, mainly from Bangor, Donaghadee, Greyabbey and Ballywalter, under the command of the Presbyterian licentiate (later American diplomat) David Bailie Warden, marched on the town. They were driven off with musket fire from the Market House, but the garrison, consisting of troops from the York Fencible Regiment of Foot subsequently withdrew, allowing the rebels to establish a French revolutionary-style Committee of Public Safety. The "Republic" in Newtownards did not survive the rout two days later of the main rebel force at Ballynahinch.[19]

The Great Famine edit

During the Great Famine, which resulted from the dependence of small tenants and cottiers on a blighted potato crop, the largest local landowner, Lord Londonderry, rejected rent reductions on grounds of "personal inconvenience". By 1847 the 800 inhabitants of the town were witness to "emaciated and half-famished souls" queuing at soup kitchens and overflowing the newly built workhouse. Despite Lord Londonderry's objection, with the upgrading of the road to Donaghadee several public works programs for famine relief were instigated. In general, conditions on the land, not as acutely subdivided as in western districts of Ireland, and the availability of weaving and other employments, saved the town from the worst.[20][21]

Victorian growth edit

The early 19th century saw the reclamation of the marshlands south of the town. At the same time, its growth was accelerated by integration into the Belfast and Lagan Valley industrial region and market. The Belfast and County Down Railway connected Newtownards to Belfast, via Comber and Dundonald, in 1850, and to Donaghadee in 1861. By the same year, the town's population had risen to 9,500. (This rail line was closed in 1950.) On 12 July 1867, despite the Party Processions Acts, the Orange Order paraded from Bangor to Newtownards. The parade was organised by William Johnston (sentenced to a short term in prison the next year for his actions) and about 30,000 took part.[22]

As the nineteenth century progressed the economy became increasingly tied to the growing city of Belfast and the town continued to prosper and by the 20th century had increasingly become a commuter town. Newtownards' population reached 13,100 in 1961 and had doubled to 28,000 by 2011.[23]

The Troubles edit

During the Troubles, Newtownards was the scene of a car bomb attack on 5 July 1993, when Roma's Bar in Regent Street was targeted. The pub was destroyed, but has since been rebuilt. The attack was carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army with a 700 kg (1,500 lb) device.[24] There were no fatalities. Police said the 10-minute warning, telephoned to a local radio station, was "totally inadequate." The warning said the bomb contained 1,500 pounds of explosives.[25]

Recent times edit

On 1 November 2021, a bus in the town was hijacked and set on fire by two masked assailants allegedly protesting the Northern Ireland Protocol.[26]

Places of interest edit

Scrabo Tower (with Newtownards in the background)

Scrabo Tower edit

The town of Newtownards is overlooked by the 100-foot (30 m) high Scrabo Tower. The tower is 41 metres high, and was erected on Scrabo Hill as a memorial to Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry in 1857. Those loyal to the Stewart family suggested the inspiration lay in the gratitude of his tenantry for his solicitude during the famine. Given the popular criticism the Marquess in those years, this seems doubtful. In 1847 he and his wife made contributions of £20 and £10 to their local relief committees. The following year they expended £15,000 renovating their home in Mount Stewart.[27] Only 450 subscribers were connected to the estate on which there were 1,200 tenants farmers and many associated employees. Two-thirds of the cost was met by 98 subscribers (on a list headed by Emperor Napoleon III of France), most of whom were fellow gentry.[28]

The Scottish baronial-style tower is open to the public and houses a historical and local environment exhibition. The basalt-topped sandstone hill at Scrabo is one of the dominant features of north Down. The tower now stands in Scrabo Country Park with its woodland walks and parkland through Killynether Wood.[29]

Movilla Abbey edit

The ancient ruins of Movilla Abbey, monastic settlement are situated within the grounds of Movilla Cemetery. Nothing visible remains today of Finnian's original Celtic Abbey, but the 15th Century Augustinian ruins still stand, and are worth seeing. They are a part of the St Patrick's Trail Tourist Route[30]

Somme Heritage Centre edit

The Somme Heritage Centre, which is situated a little north of the town, is the Somme Association's flagship project. Situated adjacent to the Clandeboye Estate outside Newtownards, the centre is a unique visitor attraction of international significance showing the reality of the Great War and its effects on the community at home. The centre commemorates the involvement of the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) divisions in the Battle of the Somme, the 10th (Irish) Division in Gallipoli, Salonika and Palestine, and provides displays and information on the entire Irish contribution to the First World War.[31]

Mount Stewart edit

On the east shore of Strangford Lough, a few miles outside Newtownards and near Greyabbey, stands Mount Stewart, an 18th-century house and garden – the home of the Londonderry family. The house and its contents reflect the history of the Londonderrys who played a leading role in British social and political life. The ninety-eight acre garden at Mount Stewart has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[32]

Demography edit

2021 Census edit

On Census Day (21 March 2021) the usually resident population of Newtownards was 29,677.[4] Of these:

  • 8.70% belong to or were brought up Catholic Christian and 70.97% belong to or were brought up in a 'Protestant and other (non-Catholic) Christian (including Christian related)'.[33]
  • 72.17% indicated that they had a British national identity,[34] 5.91% had an Irish national identity[35] and 39.29% had a Northern Irish national identity.[36] Respondents could indicate more than one national identity

2011 Census edit

On Census Day (27 March 2011) the usually resident population of Newtownards was 28,050 accounting for 1.55% of the NI total.[5] Of these:

  • 98.67% were from the white (including Irish Traveller) ethnic group.
  • 8.32% belong to or were brought up Catholic Christian and 79.35% belong to or were brought up in a 'Protestant and other (non-Catholic) Christian (including Christian related)'.
  • 76.37% indicated that they had a British national identity, 4.86% had an Irish national identity and 31.39% had a Northern Irish national identity. Respondents could indicate more than one national identity

Sport edit


Ards Rugby Football Club plays at Lansdowne Road, south of the town along the main Comber road.[37]


Ards and Donaghadee Cricket Club currently plays its home games take place at Londonderry Park, which is on Portaferry Road.[38]


There are two local football teams: Ards F.C., who play in the NIFL's Danske Bank Premiership, and Ards Rangers F.C., who play in the Northern Amateur Football League.[39]

Ards motor racing Circuit

The Ards Circuit through Newtownards was a motorsport street circuit used for RAC Tourist Trophy sports car races from 1928 until 1936. At the time it was Northern Ireland's premier sporting event, regularly attracting crowds in excess of a quarter of a million people.[40]

On 5 September 1936, in appallingly wet conditions, local driver Jack Chambers lost control of his Riley approaching the Strangford Arms in Newtownards at the Newtownards rail bridge and crashed into the crowd, killing eight spectators. This tragedy brought an end to nine years of racing over the Ards street circuit.[41]

Notable natives/residents edit

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Bunachar Logainmneacha na hÉireann". Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  2. ^ "Home | Department of the Environment" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 April 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  3. ^ "North-South Ministerial Council: 2002 Annual Report in Ulster Scots" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 August 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b c "Settlement 2015". NISRA. Retrieved 18 August 2023.
  5. ^ a b "Census 2011 Population Statistics for Newtownards Settlement". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). Retrieved 13 August 2019.   This article contains quotations from this source, which is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0. © Crown copyright.
  6. ^ "Census 2001 Usually Resident Population: KS01 (Settlements) - Table view". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). p. 5. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  7. ^ "Histpop - The Online Historical Population Reports Website". Archived from the original on 7 May 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  8. ^ For post 1821 figures, 1813 estimate from Mason's Statistical Survey For a discussion on the accuracy of pre-famine census returns see JJ Lee "On the accuracy of the pre-famine Irish censuses Irish Population, Economy and Society edited by JM Goldstrom and LA Clarkson (1981) p.54, in and also New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700–1850 by Joel Mokyr and Cormac Ó Gráda in The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Nov 1984), pp. 473–88.
  9. ^ "Bunachar Logainmneacha na hÉireann". Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  10. ^ "Newtownards". IreAtlas Townlands Database. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  11. ^ "Movilla Abbey". Irish Stones. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  12. ^ "Newtownards, Co Down". Place Names NI.
  13. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Newtownards" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 594.
  14. ^ a b Thompson, Mark (2 February 2009). "Newtownards Priory - one of the great Ulster-Scots churches". (blog). Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  15. ^ "Newtownards Priory". Ulster Scots Heritage Trail. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  16. ^ Creedon, John (2020). That Place We Call Home: A Journey Through the Place Names of Ireland. Gill Books. ISBN 978-0717189861.
  17. ^ Bardon, Jonathan (2012). The Plantation of Ulster. Dublin: Gill Books.
  18. ^ "The Market House". Newtownards Historical Series. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  19. ^ Stewart, A.T.Q. (1995), The Summer Soldiers: The 1798 Rebellion in Antrim and Down Belfast, Blackstaff Press, 1995,ISBN 9780856405587.
  20. ^ "Irish Famine: How Ulster was devastated by its impact". BBC News. 26 September 2015. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  21. ^ McCavery, Trevor (1994). Newtown: a History of Newtownards. Gatefold Paperback. ISBN 978187013246-6.
  22. ^ "Parades and Marches – Chronology 2: Historical Dates and Events". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  23. ^ "2017 Mid-year Population Estimates for District Electoral Areas" (PDF). Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. p. 23. Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 July 2019. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  24. ^ "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1993". Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  25. ^ "IRA car bomb injures 17". Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  26. ^ "Newtownards: Bus hijacked by masked men and set on fire". BBC News. 1 November 2021. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  27. ^ Kineally, Christine (2013). Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland: The Kindness of Strangers. London: Bloomsbury. p. 53. ISBN 978-1441117588. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  28. ^ McCavery, pp. 140-141
  29. ^ "Scrabo Country Park - Historic Sites, Houses, Castles & Buildings in Newtownards, Newtownards - Discover Northern Ireland". Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  30. ^ "Saint Patrick's Trail". Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  31. ^ "The Somme Association". Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  32. ^ "Mount Stewart's world-class gardens". National Trust. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  33. ^ "Religion or religion brought up in". NISRA. Retrieved 18 August 2023.
  34. ^ "National Identity (British)". NISRA. Retrieved 18 August 2023.
  35. ^ "National Identity (Irish)". NISRA. Retrieved 18 August 2023.
  36. ^ "National Identity (Northern Irish)". NISRA. Retrieved 18 August 2023.
  37. ^ "Ards rugby club to redevelop grounds with social enterprise fund loan". The Belfast Telegraph. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  38. ^ "Ards and Donaghadee cricket clubs merge". The Newtownards Chronicle. 18 February 2022. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  39. ^ "Ards Rangers". Northern Amateur Football League. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  40. ^ Ireland, Culture Northern (23 December 2005). "The Tourist Trophy Races". Culture Northern Ireland. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  41. ^ "Memorial revives Ards TT memories". BBC. 18 August 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  42. ^ Lightfoot, Henry (2011). Presenting Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley: The True Story of the Hottest Team on Television. John Blake. ISBN 978-1843584391.
  43. ^ "Cavan, Harry (Henry Hartrick)". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  44. ^ "Colville, Sir Robert". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  45. ^ "About | WinningTrack". 30 December 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  46. ^ "Nick Earls". Prague Writers' Festival. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  47. ^ Callaghan, Mary Rose (2000). Jumping the Bus Queue: The Older Women's Network Poetry Collection. Older Women's Network. p. 35. ISBN 978-1900578165.
  48. ^ "Eddie Irvine: Formula 1 is now embarrassing". The Belfast Telegraph. 18 December 2013. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  49. ^ "Martyn Irvine retires from competitive cycling to take up new role". The Belfast Telegraph. 1 November 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  50. ^ "Legge gets helping hand with some alternative comic moments". The Belfast Telegraph. 3 January 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  51. ^ "Singles Winners". British Isles Bowls Council. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  52. ^ "Lt Col. Robert Blair 'Paddy' Mayne DSO Freemason". Irish Masonic History and the Jewels of Irish Freemasonry. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  53. ^ "Co Down teenager Barry McClements chasing Paralympic glory after "never letting his disability hold him back"". Belfast Live. 26 March 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  54. ^ "Commonwealth Games: NI secretary calls for ban on gymnasts to be lifted". BBC News. 31 May 2022. Retrieved 31 May 2022.
  55. ^ "Billy Weir: Colin Nixon's dismissal from Ards was a classless way to end the reign of an Irish League class act". The Belfast Telegraph. 21 February 2019. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  56. ^ "Newtownards musician Ricky Warwick releases new single". News Letter. 5 February 2021. Retrieved 25 November 2022.

Further reading edit

  • Hanna, J. and Quail, D. 2006. Old Newtownards. Stenlake Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781840332902.

External links edit