The northernmost end of Strangford Lough is fringed by an airport, Ards Airport, which is home to the Ulster Flying Club. Just beyond is the town of Newtownards – Ards is also the name of the peninsula which juts out between the Lough and the Irish Sea. The town’s history stretches back to the time of St Finian, who in 545 founded a monastery close to the present-day town. Three centuries later the Vikings came rampaging through the area and destroyed the monastery. The next major arrival was that of the Normans, who in 1226 founded a town which they named Nove Ville de Blathewyc. Fast forward to 1605, when the town acquired the name of Newtown, later expanded to Newtownards. The town saw action during the Irish Rebellion, when an attempt to occupy it on the part of the United Irishmen was met with musket fire from the market house. The only recent turbulence came during The Troubles in 1993, when there was a car bomb attack on a bar. Due to its proximity to Belfast, just 10 miles away, the town now largely operates as a commuter town for people working in the city.
St Finian’s legacy lives on in the town in the form of Movilla Abbey, built by the saint in the 6th century. Little remains of it today apart from what is left of the abbey’s 15th century church. To the north of the town is the Somme Heritage Centre, which is a memorial to the Irish soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1917. The museum makes use of sounds and smells to give a realistic and moving sense of what it was like to be in the trenches. Newtownards is overlooked by the Scrabo Tower at the top of Scrabo Hill on the site of a hill fort. The tower was built in 1857 in memory of Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquis of Londonderry. There is also a country park on Scrabo Hill, with magnificent views over Strangford Lough and the surrounding area.
|View from Scrabo Hill. Photo by Colin Park, via Wikimedia Commons|