History of Newtownards and the Ards Peninsula
The Ards Peninsula
The Ards Peninsula with it's mild climate and fertile land has been inhabited from prehistoric times. Stone Age men, Celts, Normans and Scots have left marks on the landscape to record their presence.The commanding heights of Scrabo Hill to the north west of Newtownards have long provided attractive sites for human habitation. Bronze Age axe heads have been found there.
Their have been settlers at the head of Strangford Lough from the earliest of times The Normans in the thirteenth century built a colony and called it "Nova Villa de Ardes" and later in the early seventh century during the plantation of Ulster, the Scottish settlers built New Town which is now known as Newtownards
The Old Priory
The Dominican Friary of Villa Nova was founded about 1244 and became a place of much importance.. Built by Sir Robert Savage a Norman Knight. In a state of dereliction in 1606, it was repaired and used by Sir Hugh Montgomery the Scottish settler. He added the tower at that time.The remains of the priory may be seen in Court Street in Newtownards
The ruin of the Norman church can be found at Movilla on the outskirts of Newtownards. It was built by the Norman Knight, John De Courcey in the mid thirteenth century on the site of the monastic abbey. Movilla Abbey was established by St Fennian in the fifth century and was considered to be a great centre of religious and scholarly learning.
The abbey was built by the wife of John De Courcey, Affreca the daughter of the King of Man. Whilst she was crossing the Irish sea in a violent storm, her life was spared and in thanksgiving, built the abbey. Grey Abbey is 8 miles south of Newtownards.
The Market Cross
The Cross was where the town market was held in the seventeenth century. The market moved to Conway Square when the market house was built in the eighteenth century. The Market Cross is the only one to be found in Ireland and is similar to those found in Scotland. It was built by the Scottish settler Sir Hugh Montgomery and can be seen today at the top of High Street.
Rosemount House is situated in Greyabbey next to the Abbey. It is the home of the Montgomery family since the seventeenth century and is the third house to be built on the site, the other two having been destroyed by fire The land was given by Sir Hugh Montgomery to one of his sons in the seventeenth century and is still lived in by members of the family.
The Market House
Situated in Conway Square in Newtownards was formally the town hall and market house. Today it is used by the Borough Council. as an Arts Centre. Built in 1765 by Alexander Stewart who at that time was the landowner of the town and surrounding townlands. His descendants became the Marquesses of Londonderry with the family seat at Mount Stewart.
The family seat of the Marquesses of Londonderry, sits within the demesne of approximately 900 acres. There was a large white house on the site and was demolished to make way for the present building. The west wing of the house was commenced in 1805 by the 1st Marquess of Londonderry and the main entrance and east wing were completed by the third Marquess of Londonderry in 1845. The house, gardens and demesne are now owned by the National Trust.
The tower was erected in memory of the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry and it's official name is the Monument to the third Marquess of Londonderry. The third Marquess was Adjutant General to the Duke of Wellington during the Napoleonic wars and held positions of British Ambassador to Vienna and Berlin. The tower sits on top of Scrabo Hill overlooking the town of Newtownards
Built on land donated by the 7th Marquess of Londonderry who was a keen aviator. The first commercial flights to Northern Ireland landed at the airport and is used extensively today by private and charter aircraft The airport is on the Portaferry Road, south of Newtownards