Newtownards is a town, townland and civil parish 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 situated in the civil parish of Newtownards and the historic baronies of Ards Lower and Castlereagh Lower.[8] Newtownards is in the Ards and North Down Borough. It is known colloquially by locals as "Ards". The population was 28,050 in the 2011 Census.[4]


View of Newtownards from Scrabo Tower
Location within County Down
Population28,050 (2011 Census)
CountryNorthern Ireland
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtBT22, BT23
Dialling code02891
PoliceNorthern Ireland
FireNorthern Ireland
AmbulanceNorthern Ireland
EU ParliamentNorthern Ireland
UK Parliament
NI Assembly


In 540 AD, St. Finian founded Movilla Abbey, a monastery, on a hill overlooking Strangford Lough about a mile North-East 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.

Around 1226, the Normans, who arrived in Ireland after 1169, established a new town around Movilla, naming it Nove Ville de Blathewyc ("New Town of Blathewyc" in reference to an earlier Irish territory). A Dominican priory was built in 1244 and was also dissolved in 1542.[9]

In 1572, both monasteries were burned by the Clanaboy O'Neills under Brian O'Neill as part of a campaign to deny buildings to the English,[10][9] after which the urban settlement at Movilla disappeared and the area around it became known as "Ballylisnevin" ("the town land of the fort of the family of Nevin").

In 1605, 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 settlers, particularly from Ayr, and to a lesser extent Irvine, in Ayrshire, arrived in large numbers and the town grew quickly.[11]

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 1770. The market still operates today on a weekly basis..

On the morning of Pike Sunday, 10 June 1798, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, a force of United Irishmen, mainly from Bangor, Donaghadee, Greyabbey and Ballywalter, attempted to occupy the town of Newtownards. They were met with musket fire from the market house and were defeated. The early 19th century saw the reclamation of the marshlands south of the town. 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.[12]

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 became a commuter town. Newtownards' population reached 13,100 in 1961 and had doubled to 27,800 by the end of the 20th century.

The Troubles

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.[13] 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.[14]

Recent development

Castlebawn Shopping Centre is a proposed £250 million, 75-acre (300,000 m2), shopping centre and retail park in Newtownards. The proposals, which promise to create up to 2,000 jobs, will extend the town centre and edge of centre southwards in a three-stage development, which was expected to be completed by 2012. However, as of April 2016, only Tesco Extra, Matalan, Discount NI, Home Bargains and Burger King have been completed. Matalan, Home Bargains and Discount NI are in the retail units directly beside Tesco while Burger King and a Tesco petrol station are located in the main car park.

Following a judicial review in 2014 which overturned planning permission, the company Castlebawn Ltd went into administration.[15] The proposed development of the site looks unlikely.


On Census day (27 March 2011) there were 28,050 people living in Newtownards, accounting for 1.55% of the NI total,[4] representing an increase of 1% on the 2001 Census population of 27,821.[5] Of these:

  • 20.26% were aged under 16 years and 15.19% were aged 65 and over;
  • 51.70% of the usually resident population were female and 48.30% were male;
  • 79.35% belong to or were brought up in a 'Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related)' religion and 8.32% belong to or were brought up in the Catholic religion;
  • 76.37% indicated that they had a British national identity, 31.39% had a Northern Irish national identity and 4.86% had an Irish national identity (respondents could indicate more than one national identity);
  • 39 years was the average (median) age of the population;
  • 11.05% had some knowledge of Ulster-Scots and 2.26% had some knowledge of Irish (Gaelic).

Places of interest

The town of Newtownards is overlooked by the 100-foot (30 m) high Scrabo Tower. The tower is 41 metres high, and was erected as a memorial to Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, in recognition of his concern for the plight of his tenants during the great potato famine. It 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.

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 [16]

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.

The centre promotes cross-community contact, mutual understanding, an appreciation of cultural diversity, and is a major visitor attraction. The centre is built on ground provided by Ards Borough Council in what is to be the Whitespots Country Park. Historically, the 36th (Ulster) Division trained on the estate during the first few months of the war and German prisoners of war were interned there. A replica of Helen's Tower was built on the Somme battlefield as Northern Ireland's national war memorial.

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.[17]

Largely created by Dame Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Marchioness of Londonderry, wife of the 7th Marquess, in the 1920s, it has an unrivaled collection of rare and unusual plants.



Ards Rugby Football Club plays at Lansdowne Road, south of the town along the main Comber road. The 1st XV currently plays in the Ulster Qualifying Division 2. Former players include Blair Mayne DSO, Phil Matthews and Nigel Carr, all former Ireland and British Lions players.


Ards Cricket Club currently plays in Section 3 of the NCU Senior League. Its home games take place at Londonderry Park, which is on the Portaferry Road.


There are two local football teams: Ards F.C., who play in the NIFL's Dankse Bank Premiership, and Ards Rangers F.C., who play in the Northern Amateur Football League. Ards F.C. was founded in 1900 and plays its home matches at Clandeboye Park in Bangor, which it shares with Bangor F.C., following the sale of local ground Castlereagh Park. Ards Rangers F.C. plays its home matches at Drome Park which is directly beside the former Castlereagh Park. 1st Bangor Old Boys F.C. also play at Drome Park.

Motor sport

From 1928 to 1936, the RAC Tourist Trophy (TT) motor car races took place on a (closed) road circuit encompassing Newtownards, Comber and Dundonald in County Down, run in a clockwise direction. The pits were still visible up until the 1960s. Industrialist and pioneer of the modern agricultural tractor, Harry Ferguson, was instrumental in setting up the race, which was known as the Ards TT.

At the time it was Northern Ireland's premier sporting event, regularly attracting crowds in excess of a quarter of a million people. Although it was a speed event, the entries were handicapped to allow cars of very different sizes and capabilities to race against each other on supposedly even terms over 30 laps (35 laps from 1933) of the 13.7-mile circuit. On 5 September 1936, in wet conditions, local driver Jack Chambers lost control of his Riley beneath the railway bridge coming into Newtownards, and crashed into the crowd killing eight spectators. This tragedy brought an end to nine years of racing over the Ards road circuit.[18]

Snooker and billiards

The town currently has two snooker and billiards clubs. St Pat's Snooker and Billiards Club and the Queens Hall both compete in the Bangor District Snooker and Billiards League, while Big Break' a "Twilight Zone" franchise, competes in the Bangor and District Snooker League. Christian Kirk, who plays in St Pat's Snooker and Billiards Club, finished the 2012-13 season as the No 1 ranked billiards player in Northern Ireland. Also, Jack Simpson snooker champion of the world is from Newtownards.


Winter were a progressive rock/metal band who were formed in 1987 and based in Newtownards. They received critical acclaim for their live performances in the 1980s and 1990s, combining hard rock, multi-layered melodies, with Johnny Lennie's flamboyant stage presence and clever lyricism. They released a debut EP titled "Across The Circle's Edge" in both vinyl format (by Circle's Edge records in 1990) and in CD format (by SI Records in 1992) which received airplay on BBC Radio 1's Tommy Vance Rock Show.

Notable natives/residents

See also


  1. "Home | Department of the Environment" (PDF). Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  2. "North-South Ministerial Council: 2002 Annual Report in Ulster Scots" (PDF). Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  3. "Bunachar Logainmneacha na hÉireann". Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  4. "Census 2011 Population Statistics for Newtownards Settlement". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  5. "Census 2001 Usually Resident Population: KS01 (Settlements) - Table view". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). p. 5. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  6. "Histpop - The Online Historical Population Reports Website". Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  7. 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.
  8. "Newtownards". IreAtlas Townlands Database. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  9. Thompson, Mark (2 February 2009). "Newtownards Priory - one of the great Ulster-Scots churches". (blog). Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  10. "Newtownards Priory". Ulster Scots Heritage Trail. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  11. Bardon, Jonathan (2012). The Plantation of Ulster. Dublin: Gill Books.
  12. "Parades and Marches – Chronology 2: Historical Dates and Events". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  13. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1993". Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  14. "IRA car bomb injures 17". Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  15. John Campbell. "Castlebawn: Future of Newtownards retail plan in doubt". BBC News. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  16. "Saint Patrick's Trail". Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  17. "Mount Stewart's world-class gardens". National Trust. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  18. "Memorial revives Ards TT memories". BBC. London, UK. 18 August 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  19. "Lt Col. Robert Blair 'Paddy' Mayne DSO Freemason". Irish Masonic History and the Jewels of Irish Freemasonry. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  20. "About | WinningTrack". Retrieved 15 September 2016.

Further reading

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

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