Inler Angling Club

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Tales Along the Inler

It is a well known historical fact that many towns exist as they do today because of one vital geographical feature... a river! Such it would seem is the case for Comber.

"The name was variously written Comar, Comer, Cumber; from comar 'a confluence'. It is frequently applied, in Ireland, to places situate at the junction of rivers, either with rivers, or with large sheets of water. In the present instance it belongs to the town land where the river Inler enters Strangford Lough, and as the church stood on it, the name is borrowed for the whole parish. 

Muckamore, in the county of Antrim, derives its name from Magh-comuir 'the plain of the confluence' being the angle formed by the junction of the Six-Mile-Water with Lough Neagh. The town land Ballentine, in the parish of Blaris, was formerly called Down-cumber, because of its situation at the union of Ravernet river with the Lagan. To a similar junction of a smaller stream with the Ballynahinch river, the townland of Cumber, in the parish of Maheradrool, owes its name. To the same origin may be traced the name Cumber in Derry, and Castlecomer in the Queen's County. Another famous spot of this name was the cumar, or meeting, of the three waters, the place where the Suir, Nore, and Barrow meet together." Reeves, Eccles. Antiquities, p. 197.

When settlements were first established a river was a source of life. Later when harnessed it became a source of power, in some cases it can be a source of beauty and in others a purveyor of ugliness. Through the years the Enler was used for industrial purposes and still has to some extent connections with industry, unfortunately, evidence of these connections past and present are still visible today at various stages along the river.

So in an attempt at least, to uncover some of the history related to the river we shall follow the river's course as far as needs be, upstream against the current.

The Marshes

We begin our journey at was once Marsh Bridge, which marks the edge of tidal water. The bridge was built originally to carry the Belfast and County Down Railway, which opened in 1848, across the river on its way to and from Newtownards.

Since the closure of the railway, the bridge lay dormant while the ivy crept slowly over it, obliterating from sight much of the fine stonework which had gone into the actual construction of the bridge. Today, the beautiful stone bridge is gone, replaced with an eyesore of concrete and iron, as the line is now the 2nd stage of the 'Comber bypass'. 

It no longer rumbles to the sound of the train wheels on the tracks, but to the sound of motor vehicles and the echo of voices of people as they walk along it's footpaths.

Old Comber

Continuing upstream the next thing that would have struck you would have been a large carpet factory on the right-hand bank, now demolished and mostly cleared. 

This was also the site of what was once a great Comber institution, it was called Old Comber and it was procured from the grain grown in the immediate vicinity. In fact, royalty had a few cases sent over. If you haven't already guessed the commodity... it's whisky.

This site was called the Lower Distillery and was originally a paper mill. In 1825 William Bryne established the distillery. One already existed on the other side of the river from the year 1825 and was known as the Mound Distillery, later the Upper Distillery. This distillery got its power from the Glen river which flows from Ballyalloy Lough to the Inler (beside the Pigeon club, and now known as 'The Meetings'). The lane leading down to the distillery was known as Waterford Loney, originally because there was a ford across the river at the bottom of the lane. It was later known as Potale Loney, we now know it today as Park Way.


In 1841 Lord Londonderry inspected the town of Comber and wrote some very harsh and scathing comments on the state of the place. He did likewise in Newtownards. He considered the school "both neglected in interior cleanliness and outward management, the garden and premises indicating sloth and filth".

We have to remember that there was no normal sanitation scheme in existence at that time and that most of the houses had no back doors. Slops, filth and rubbish were pitched onto the street and allowed to rot. For this reason, one place in Newtownards was locally known as 'Chuckiestown', as all slops and dirt were thrown on the street without warning. The open drains in the streets were seldom cleaned out and consequently were blocked. No wonder, disease, especially 'Consumption', later called T.B, was rife and people including the wealthy had very large families (fifteen to twenty) in the hope that some of them would live past the age of fourteen years. James Andrews, at this time had nine sons and three daughters. 

It was also at this time that the so called 'tunnels' were made. They had nothing to do with smugglers, brandy, silk, tobacco etc. These 'tunnels' were originally open drains from the large houses of the wealthy to the river. Then to protect their delicate noses from the stink, the drains were bricked over and the whole thing covered with soil. In the course of time, when proper sanitation was provided, they fell into disuse and were forgotten about. Occasionally they come to light now, and of course people jump to the conclusion that they were tunnels used by smugglers. They were well planned and provision was made to prevent flooding from the river when the water-level was high. This was achieved by putting in doors which opened towards the river and when the flood water came up from the river, the doors closed. 

One of these doors was discovered when the new Enler car park was being constructed. It came from what had been 'The Old House' in Castle Street, a residence of one of the Andrews' families, and is now the site of Supervalu, and went towards the river.

The flood door, made of solid oak is still there in perfect condition. Another, although not as good, came to light when the foundations for the New Hall at the Church of Ireland, were being dug. This was a stream taken off the Glen River, which flows between the Upper Distillery and the car park in Killinchy Street. It was probably used by the Cistercian Abbey to clear their kitchen drain and reredorter (latrine) into the River Enler, and later used for the same purpose by the Glebe House, built in 1738. This stream flowed in the open at the bottom of the gardens of the houses on the south side of Bridge Street, within living memory, but when the Glebe House was removed, it dried up.

The Bridge

A little further along the river and one comes upon the familiar Newtown Bridge known locally as Munn's Bridge. This structure carries the main road to Newtownards from Comber. It used to be the closest point of access to the Ards Peninsula coming from the South Down area, but now the Strangford ferry is operating some of the pressure has been relieved, considering that the bridge was built in 1843 and modified in 1986, it has stood up well to the stress and strain through the years from horse and cart to juggernaut.

Sitting slightly apart from the bridge there was a small concrete structure rather like a small roofed house with one door and no windows. What in fact it was, a ram. The purpose of which was to simply pump river water to the school to flush the toilets.

About 100 yards further on up the river bends to the left and at this point the river used to run off down into Lower Crescent to be collected in a dam. The route of this run-off can be traced on the old Ordinance Survey maps of the area and it can be seen that its runs down along the side of the Lower Distillery. All of the run-off paths have been filled in with roads running over them and the fact that the river was once there it practically indistinguishable.

The run-off eventually ran back into the main river once again at a point just below where the old factory sat. Today you can see the massive steel wall which was put up to stop the river flooding onto the streets of Comber.

From this point on your progress would have been slightly hindered in places by the overgrowth and corroding path which of course is not like today with its tarmac path and steel bridge, you would have reached a place called 'the Piggery'. I say colloquially because there is no evidence of pigs or a piggery about the place. The reason for it was on the opposite side of the river where there were a couple of stone buildings. These were originally part of the Andrews mill complex. Now, of course, there is nothing left.

Beetling Green

The nearest building, the smaller of the two, was in operation sometime in the late 1800s as a Beetling mill. What you may well ask is a Beetling mill? This is where the process of fabric flattening takes place. The flax was thumped with large blocks of wood and then left out in the sun to be bleached. The fabrics were then left on the bleaching green - where every lunchtime Mr J. Andrews would bring the workers to play cricket, and that is how it got the name 'The Green' which still has today as North Down Cricket Green.

The other building was, all six storeys of it, a flour mill from the 1800s to 1900. It then became a grain store. The grain store was then given over to the Distilllery, and in 1912 a German bought it to extract starch from rice.

One point to bear in mind is that at one time there was quite a big factory down on this particular site beside the river. There were numerous buildings rather like the big mill Andrews had on the hill but on a smaller scale, complete with chimney, but the chimney did not last long as one night , that was remembered for years after as the 'Night of the Big Wind'. The storm was so fierce that it blew the chimney down demolishing as it fell a considerable part of the factory below. 

When the rest of the mill was eventually pulled down in the 1900's the contractor in charge of the demolition Mr Birney had other plans for the stones. Other than dumping them, he built a row of houses which became known as Birney's Row and are now part of Railway Street.

When WW2 started American troops were billeted in the mill, and in a lovely summers evening in 1978, the huge mill was destroyed by mindless thugs and set on fire.

The Weir

Further upstream is regarded by many, as good fishing grounds. Certainly the water is clearer and due to the construction of small weirs at various stages along the river, water can be fast and flowing in one spot, still and deep in another. 

A weir to measure the flow of water was built in 1982/3. In May of  '83' a six-year-old boy was rescued by an off-duty policeman after hearing the boys screams as he was struggling in six foot of water. It was headlines in the Newtownards Chronicle 12th May 1983 and as a result a ten-foot strong wire fence was erected around the weir. The mouth of the weir, is regarded as one of the best fishing spots.

The Arches

Upstream we continue and would have come to the old bridge at Castle Lane, known to many as 'the Arches' because of its characteristic shape, now demolished and replaced in 1995 with a single arch bridge which incorporates one of the original stones with a masons mark.

However the real name for the bridge is Kennel Bridge which is an uncharacteristic name for a bridge but the story behind it will explain all: There was at one time a castle on Castle Lane, part of which is still standing today, as part of Mr A. Murdock's farmyard supposedly.

The Castle was built in 1622 by the 1st Viscount Montgomery as a wedding present to his bride to be, Miss Jean Alexander, the daughter of the then Secretary of State for Scotland. It was from this lady's name that Mount Alexander acquired its title. 3rd Viscount Montgomery was later made Earl of Mount Alexander by Charles II.

Around the time that the castle was built the Kennel Bridge was built also, and it was down beside the bridge that the Viscount kept his hunting dogs, so what could be more apt than Kennel Bridge; still I suppose to those who know it as the Arches it will remain the Arches. It will be remembered to many as a quaint and picturesque bridge that was in the old Irish tradition.

To Dundonald and Beyond

Now we are into the countryside, as the river winds and stretches through good arable fields which made Comber famous for its potato, we come to a spot that once held a sluice gate. This supplied the Mill Race with much needed water for the industries in the town, and also diverted flood waters in times of heavy rain. The sluice became a casualty of the first drainage scheme on the early 60's, and sadly it and the mill race are no more.

A bit further up is Clydesford Bridge, once known as Knocknashem Bridge, on the Ballyrainey Road. At this point the Inler is joined by a tributary of the Ballystockart River, which has it's beginnings in the Castlereagh Hills. The main stream itself, coming from Dundonald and the Holywood Hills.

The Club's Beginnings

The Inler Angling Club, as we know it today, was formed in the 1950's. Then, the river was self stocking & held a good head of brown trout, but following ill-conceived drainage schemes, habitat was degraded to a point where it became necessary to introduce stocked fish to augment the dwindling stocks of indigenous brown trout. These introduced fish were initially imported from Lough Leven in Scotland. Subsequent stock were mostly sourced from the Department's Movanagher Fish Farm.

Surprisingly, Rainbow trout were introduced during the 1980's. This occurred only once due to a shortage of brown trout.

An experiment also carried out over a four year period in the 80's, saw salmon introduced into the river after many years of absence. Eyed ova were sown in a number of feeder streams, but unfortunately this proved unsuccessful and, to date, there has been no evidence of any returning fish.

And finally...

En-route I have mentioned particular places and their history and although I have discussed a considerable amount of Old Comber it is only a fraction of the compete history of the town.

When gathering information for this article it was put to me that I should mention the state of the river itself. Having seen the Inler along the length and breadth of it, it is my opinion that on the whole the river is not in too bad a state, though there is still room for improvement in certain places.

Tennis Court Corner, pictured in 1977

Many thanks to all those people who helped in any way with the IAC 'Tales Along the River', particularly the Newtownards Chronicle for their story, which originally was printed on 29th Sept & 6th Oct 1977, and the Ballynahinch Library for their help in the research. And never forgetting the late Mr Norman Nevin, without him much of this information would have been lost.

Compiled By Paul Allaway