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Skeleton found

Ashgrove, Killinchy Road, Comber

A short essay by Adrian Hanna 7th May 2022

Every now and again a discovery is made which throws an insight into the ancient peoples who once lived in and about Comber.. Comber has been occupied by humans since the end of the ice-age where the land was bountiful and provided for all of man's needs. The Lough Shore provided escalopes and fish traps were located everywhere in these placid estuarine waters. Foraging for mushrooms and other fungi, further inland where there was a plentiful supply of berries growing on wild shrubs. Hunting would have provided a good portion of the daily food intake to sustain a healthy life. Once farming was introduced people began to settle rather than continue with the nomadic hunter gather form of life. Settlements have been established perhaps in the form of Crannogs round the shores of the lough. These provide an easily defensible position for several families in a communal home raised above the water. Stockades were another way of having a secure dwelling place together with their animals and other close family relatives. Even small villages and other structures have been lost in the midst of time. New Comber Village on the Ballydrain Road just outside Comber has vanished leaving virtually no trace of it ever having existed.


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Ancient dwellings have a tendency to dissolve back into the land leaving no obvious trace until someone makes an accidental discovery. I remember visiting a beautiful home down in the village of Garrison Co Fermanagh. This was a large building made from wood and timber, wattling in the walls with a thatched roof, it was warm and comfortable inside and a delight to the soul. The owners eventually died and there was nobody to take over the house. The house rapidly began to crumble and fall leaving nothing but the large cast iron cooking range and a few stones from the hearth. Some of the stones used would have come from the Roogagh River situated just a few yards behind the house. The house was built in the early 1600's from materials found locally and readily available. This was in the days of the Ulster Plantation when farmers and others ventured forth to seek a new life. It takes a very careful observer to discover the remains of ancient dwellings in the soils and clay. All that is left is staining in the soil where the wood and other materials have degraded over the years. Sometimes one can find stones which were used in the construction of a hearth for the fire. A fire was an important element in sustaining the family and the preservation of the fabric of the house. Wood and straw thatch degrade very rapidly when they get damp. The smoke from the fire keeps insects at bay and the tar which condenses on the walls and within the helps to waterproofs and preserve the structure.

         Finding this skeleton was a great achievement by the contractor while he was preparing the site for the development of luxury houses. This was a single skeleton laid properly to rest in the days long forgotten. Probably buried close to the family home, perhaps even within the garden. For obvious reasons I will not give the exact location of the find as this may cause distress to someone occupying a house built over an ancient grave. Too may people believe in spirits that wander for no good reason, when the spirit of life leaves at the moment of death the body is at eternal rest and it too will begin to go back into the soil from whence it came.
Job 33:6 "Behold, I belong to God like you; I too have been formed out of the clay." The skeleton was a chalk stain in the clay which would make exhumation almost impossible with the loss of any vital historic evidence. They may be able to extract some DNA evidence from a tooth. This would reveal where the person came from and perhaps identify any descendants still living in the neighbourhood

         In the time before industrialisation Comber region situated at the head end of Strangford Lough sighted next to a fertile plain called the Plain of Elom. A local Chieftain Conla, offered Patrick a place to build a church. The very approximate date would have been 30 years either side of AD432. St Patrick blessed Conla, and Comber got its first monastery. Fragments of this monastery have been stolen and widely used in the construction of other local buildings. However the monastery did not entirely vanish it went through many evolutions and iterations is now the site of St Marys Church in the square of Comber Town. Some of the original stones were found in a local garden and were gifted back to St Mary's. These carved stones have been included round the door of the new transept where they will be preserved for milenia.
Since industrialisation the region round Comber has been degraded with Clay pits, there is a train lying at the bottom of one of these clay pits. Castle Espie wildlife trust has filled in the clay pits and turned it into a haven for wildlife. The natural balance of nature is steadily returning to how it was many years ago. One set of hands hell bent on making money the other hands determined to put nature back as it once was.

         On the shore at Rough Island, Island Hill just outside Comber a human skull was found which brought great consternation to the town as there had been extensive searches by the Police in an attempt to locate the body of a missing girl. On the 19/20th April, 2013. Police sealed off the beach at Rough Island following the discovery of a human skull. The Police have not given further information nor will they until they establish the identity of the deceased. Comber is a small town and the rumour spread like wildfire that the body had been found. It turned out that this was the skull of someone from the Middle Ages 1400–1500 which had lain undiscovered since. Whilst my Friend Phil Cobain and I were there on the beach we saw and heard nothing nothing we were searching for the mollusc arenaria to use as bait when fishing for bass. Once the Police established the age of the skull the townsfolk stopped gossoping and the story has now faded into the past.

A typical Crannog of the age.

From Historic Scotland 19-9-2019


A typical Stockade of the age.

From Gregor Historical web site

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