Newtownards is a large town, townland and civil parish in County Down, Northern Ireland. It lies at the most northern tip of Strangford Lough, 10 miles (16 km) east of Belfast, on the Ards Peninsula. Newtownards is the largest town in the Borough of Ards. According to the 2001 Census, it has a population of 27,821 people in 11,502 households, placing it in the "large town" class. Approximately 86 percent of the population is from a Protestant background and nine percent from a Catholic background. It is known colloquially by locals as "Ards".
In 545 AD, St. Finian founded a monastery near to present-day Newtownards. He named it "Movilla" (Magh Bhile, "the plain of the sacred tree," in Irish), which suggests that the land had previously been a sacred pagan site. The monastery was destroyed by the Vikings sometime after AD 824. In the 12th century, it joined together with Bangor Abbey as an Augustinian monastery. Later, the monastery was raided by Hugh O'Neill from mid-Ulster, after which the urban settlement at Movilla disappeared and the area around it became known as "Ballylisnevin" ("the town land of the fort of the family of Nevin"). The Normans, who arrived in Ireland after 1169, founded a town in the same place around 1226, named it "Nove Ville de Blathewyc" ("New Town of Blathewyc"; the name of an earlier Irish territory), and established a Dominican priory. The town declined, however, and by the 15th century the land was controlled by the O'Neill clan, with the town virtually abandoned.
In 1605, Hugh Montgomery was granted the lands and set about rebuilding what was by then known as Newtown, later expanded to Newtownards. Official records show the town was established in 1606. Montgomery built a residence in the ruins of the old priory, the tower of which remains. Scottish settlers arrived in large numbers and the town grew quickly. Due to the shallow mud of Strangford Lough, Newtown never developed as a port, with goods instead transported from the nearby town of Donaghadee on the Irish Sea coast of the Ards Peninsula. Instead, it became a market town, with the Market House in Conway Square constructed in 1770. The market still operates today on a weekly basis.
On the morning of Pike Sunday, 10 June 1798, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, a force of United Irishmen, mainly from Bangor, Donaghadee, Greyabbey and Ballywalter, attempted to occupy the town of Newtownards. They were met with musket fire from the market house and were defeated.
The early 19th century saw the reclamation of the marshlands south of the town. The Belfast and County Down Railway connected Newtownards to Belfast, via Comber and Dundonald, in 1850, and to Donaghadee in 1861. By the same year the town's population had risen to 9,500. (This rail line was closed in 1950.)
On 12 July 1867 despite the Party Processions Acts, the Orange Order paraded from Bangor to Newtownards. The parade was organised by William Johnston (sentenced to a short term in prison the next year for his actions) and about 30,000 took part.
As the nineteenth century progressed the economy became increasingly tied to the growing city of Belfast and the town continued to prosper and by the 20th century had increasingly became a commuter town. Newtownards' population reached 13,100 in 1961 and doubled to 27,800 by the end of the twentieth century.
During the Troubles, Newtownards was the scene of a car bomb attack on 5 July 1993, when Roma's Bar in Regent Street was targeted. The pub was completely destroyed, but has since been rebuilt. The attack was carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army with a 700 kg (1,500 lb) device. There were no fatalities.
Incidents which resulted in fatalities as a result of The Troubles.