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Comber’s Christian heritage goes back a long, long way, well over 1,500 years in fact, to the days of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, said to have landed on the banks of the River Slaney near Downpatrick in AD432, and it was nearby at Saul that he built his first church. If we can give any credence to the ancient traditions, Patrick is said to have come to the Comber area. Unfortunately he did not receive a hearty Comber welcome. Rather, he was “sorely abused” by Saran, a son of the local chieftain. Saran’s brother Conla, however, was more sympathetic. He apologised for Saran’s behaviour and is said to have offered Patrick a “remarkable field” called the “Plain of Elom” on which to build a church. Patrick blessed Conla, and Comber got its first monastery.

Where exactly was the Plain of Elom? The short answer to this is that we don’t know. Some have speculated the site of the monastery to be on what is now the ground of North Down Cricket Club in Castle Lane. They base this assumption on the discovery of stone-lined coffins here in the mid 19th century. And indeed old maps mark a lane running from the Enler car park in the general direction of Castle Lane as the Monks’ Walk, perhaps the remnant of some ancient memory.

Comber monastery was part of the ancient Celtic Church, and was probably initially no more than a group of huts made of wood or basketwork. To find out what it may have looked like, we have only to visit the ruins of Nendrum, 6 miles away on Mahee Island. Comber, Nendrum, Bangor and Movilla were part of a network of monasteries in what became known as the Land of Saints and Scholars.

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