Castlereagh and Corry

The mid to late 1700s was among the darkest periods for the great majority of the Irish people, dispossessed, disenfranchised, barred from holding public office or filling most positions of employment because of their Catholic faith, landless and spoken of, and to, as inferior beings. The feelings engendered were exacerbated by living among others who were benefiting from the expanding Industrial Revolution of Britain. This prosperity was unashamedly built upon the ruthless exploitation of the resources (human as well as material) of the colonies. 

Read moreCastlereagh and Corry

History of Newry Workhouse : Part 3


The area of administration was constituted by taking a large market town as a nucleus and attaching to it the surrounding rural district with an approximate radius of ten miles. Since such had been the rationale behind the establishment of market towns here following the Plantation, it resulted in a much more stable and homogonous Union than the average Poor Law Union over England and Wales.  Indeed our local government ever since has been based on similar regions.

Newry Union was one of the most populous.  It stretched from Rathfriland to Jonesborough to Mountnorris.  It ranked as thirty fourth in Ireland and was declared on May 3 1839.  It encompassed an area of 138,000 acres which in 1831 had a population of 88,181 (incidentally close to today’s population of Newry & Mourne District Council). Its electoral divisions then, with their respective populations were:

In County Down : – Newry, 10,004: Ouley 2,974: Crobane 3,601: Donaghmore 2,378: Glen 2,985: Warrenpoint 4,125: Upper Clonallan 4,053: Rathfriland 4,419: Drumgath 2,683: Hilltown 2,457: and Clonduff 3,320.

County Armagh : – Ballybot 5,831: Mullaghglass 2,294: Poyntzpass 5,311: Mountnorris 3,276: Belleeks 3,193: Tullyhappy 3,133: Ballymoyer 2,729: Jonesborough 3,972: Killeavey 4,199: Camlough 4,572: Forkhill 3,851 and Latbirget 2,921.

The number of ex-officio guardians was ten, and of elected guardians thirty one.  Of these, four were elected by the division of Newry, two each by Ballybot, Warrenpoint, Rathfriland, Poyntzpass and Camlough, and one each by the other divisions.  Ballybot division was in the borough of Newry and the baronies of Upper and Lower Orior.

The number of tenements valued for poor law rates was as follows: in the borough of Newry, 2,745: in Newry Lordship, exclusive of the borough, 1,794: in Upper Iveagh 5,542: in Lower Fews 361: Upper Fews 530: Lower Orior 2,330: Upper Orior , exclusive of the borough 5,255: and in the whole Union 18,557. Of this total, the numbers with their values were as follows:


Of rateable value less than (

Irish Lucky Charms – Why and How

Irish Lucky Charms

There are many lucky charms and symbols that are related to the Irish and are considered lucky. Many of these have historical significance, and many are simply based on myth, legend, or folk tales. Here’s a good way to get an idea of the mythical and cultural history of the Irish and their luck (and also have a good laugh): If you have never seen the movie ‘Darby O Gill and The Little People’ – you need to sit down and watch it to get sucked in to the magic and tales of Irish folklore and fairies.. and of course the luckiest battle of wit you will ever see!

Any true believer in Irish Folklore will inform you that catching a leprechaun fairy (leprechauns are members of the Fairy Folk) will bring good luck. If you can hold on to him tight enough, and technically hold him hostage for long enough, the leprechaun will grant you three wishes in exchange for his freedom. The mischievous little green man is also well known to hide his pot of gold at the end of rainbows, so if you’re lucky enough to get to the end of the rainbow, finders keepers.. eh?.

History of Irish Good Luck Charms

According to the book “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures,” by John and Caitlin Matthews, the legend of the leprachaun can be traced back to eighth-century tales of water spirits called “luchorpán,” meaning small body, according to John and Caitlin Matthews book the legend eventually evolved into a mischievous household fairy said to appear in cellars, play tricks on people, and drink heavily. Like any good Irish man or woman, right? Although a mascot of Ireland and supposed bringer of luck in the form of gold and wishes, the leprechaun is not the only symbol or charm in Irish tradition.

Four Leafed clover

Four-leaf clovers are a rare find, and were used as magical charms by Celtic priests who believed the little gem would protect them against evil spirits. The Celts believed that four-leaf clovers would allow them to be able to see mischievous fairies, and dodge their shenanigans, which were viewed as unlucky. And you would understand why if you had experienced the little menaces as many an Irish man has – just ask Darby O’Gill! They are to this day still believed to have magical powers including luck, hope, love, and faith. Four-leaf clovers are incredibly rare, which is one of the things that leads to them being seen as so lucky.

A Lucky Penny

As long as you have a penny in your pocket you are never broke! The idea of a lucky penny is “a small sum given back ‘for luck’ to the purchaser or payer by the person who receives money in a bargain or other transaction,”. In It is still a tradition to some Irish people to give a luck penny in some instances like buying a new home, or your granny will always pop a lucky penny in the new purse she buys you for Christmas. Not so nice when she puts one in the mix of her yummy fudge and forgets to tell you! Giving a Luck Penny originates back to an old Irish tradition originally associated with the buying and selling of farm animals. After buyer and seller agree their deal, it is sealed by each spitting into the palm of their hands, and closed with a lovely firm handshake.

Irish Lucky Penny
An Irish Lucky Penny is an Example of Traditional Irish Lucky Charms

Now, the seller must immediately give back the buyer a gift of a sum of money for “Good Luck”. This is an important ritual because failure to give back a Luck Penny could bring ill fortune to them both. Traditionally, (and you couldn’t break tradition now, could you?) both buyer and seller then head to the local pub where the “Lucky Penny” is used to buy the first round of celebratory drinks for them both.

In the days when a penny had a lot more value, the “Luck Penny” was just that, a penny. These days the “Luck Penny” gift is more of a token than of any real monetary value. Nevertheless, the tradition of referring to this gift of cash as a “Luck Penny” remains.


Horseshoe charms are one of the hugely popular good luck charms popular throughout Ireland. Again, there’s a fairy link here – horseshoes were made of iron, which fairies cannot stand, so it was important for warding off their mischief. There’s another legend about Saint Dunstan, a blacksmith who was ordered by the devil to shoe his horse. Instead, he nailed the shoe to the devil’s foot only removing it after the devil promised to stay away from any home with a horseshoe. Hence, displaying a horseshoe in the house is considered to be lucky for warding off evil.

Irish Good Luck Charm Horse Shoe
Irish Lucky Horseshoe Lucky Charm

Luck of the Irish

‘Irish luck’ might seem like a strangely pervasive term in light of a nation that has experienced a devastating potato famine, generations of English oppression, and a history of relentless rain. Nonetheless, Ireland is imagined by many as a nation brimming with lucky gold coins and shamrock charms.

The phrase, ‘luck of the Irish’ is commonly thought to mean “extreme good fortune.” However, according to Edward T. O’Donnell, an Associate Professor of History at Holy Cross College and author of “1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History”, the term has not an Irish origin but in fact an American one.

During the gold and silver rush ears in the 19th century, some of the Irish miners (or of Irish American descent) made great fortunes. Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the development of the expression ‘luck of the Irish’. Of course, it carried with it a certain tone of sarcasm, with an undertone of the idea that, only by sheer luck, and not brain power, could these eejits succeed.

Many suggest the phrase stuck around in part because of the note of irony attached to it, considering how actually, the Irish have actually been pretty unlucky throughout history – from the ruthless pillaging of the Vikings, to families pulled apart by emigration, death and famine, and today’s prevailing discrimination against redheads. But despite this, and partially fueled by the fact that thee Irish have suffered their fair share of ill fate, they have developed a dark sense of humour.

Needless to say, Ireland’s folklore is embellished with luck, even if its factual history is not. Ireland is a luscious and welcoming country full of cosy pubs, friendly faces, beautifully haunting music and gorgeous moors of emerald green.

Irish Lucky Charms

With an incredible heritage of which to be proud, and a global significance of which to be proud – it seems that the Irish are a little lucky after all. And that is most definitely worth a toast and a singsong over a pint of Guinness on St Patrick’s Day!

So in the words of the Fairy King according to Darby O Gill himself;

 ‘Tis more than your wish was. Nayther you nor anyone who sits at your table, through all your life, will ever want a bite to ate or a sup to drink, nor yet a silver shilling to cheer him on his way. Good luck to all here and goodbye!”

Leprechaun Good Luck Charm

Some Irish people still see the leprechaun as a good luck charm. Leprechauns are not real, but they do come from popular Irish folklore. These small people were the shoemakers who took what they made from making shoes and put them in a pot at the end of a rainbow.

People often times look for leprechauns to try and get them to give away a piece of gold, but also because leprechauns are supposed to be good luck!

On a New Ireland

That this issue is not a priority for any political party on these islands currently is a matter of great concern. Brexit – and the very real danger of an imminent no-deal Brexit – dominates all, yet this too is most relevant. It is difficult not to conclude that Sinn Fein, in particular, wishes for that outcome, so that opposition (to a United Ireland) within the protestant community will be silenced in the face of economic catastrophe, loss of agricultural and economic support in the form of EU grants, trade and business contraction and increasing danger to the ongoing Peace Process from a porous but ‘hard’ border.

In the North, we have not a single leader in any party of the intellectual status capable of comprehending, much less solving the issues soon to face us. The DUP in particular, bereft of a single leader or potential leader is content in the short term to wallow in their very temporary position of influence nationally. Apart from the ‘cultural’ issues of ever-higher bonfires, indiscriminate loyalist marches and displaying portraits of the Queen, the DUP has a negative agenda only: no Irish Language Act, no abortion reform, no LBGTQ+ rights. Looking South gives little cause for optimism too.

The two decades since the signing of the historic Good Friday Agreement have been totally wasted. A sizable section of the nationalist community is turning away from the established political parties and looking to the burgeoning Civil Forum movement for leadership and inspiration. Try as they do, these good people seem unable to recruit intelligent, concerned and rational civic protestants to the cause. Yet it is less than two years till the 2021 referendum results confirms the inevitability of a pro-nationalist majority in the North, as well as in the South. By then it will be much too late to do the essential groundwork.

No one wants a sizable, obstructionist, malcontent and disaffected unionist minority in an all-Ireland Parliament intent only upon destruction. Yet how now does one mine the positive and progressive from this community which has so much to offer and will find widespread support in all communities for its efforts to maintain the best of British in our future society.

After much pain, anger and uncertainty, protestants (if not their political ‘leaders’) are coming to the realization that they have to reconsider their past and approach their neighbours, not in terms of ‘sell-out’ or ‘compromise’ but as an exercise in influencing the future.

To start, on the imminent ‘celebration’ of its centenary, the Northern state must be viewed as a failed entity which was ever viewed with bemused distaste from London. Today Boris, ever more dependent of the DUP votes, is happy to wrap the flag about him and wine and dine them, but inevitably he will dump them, to the huge relief of the British political establishment which is diminished and embarrassed by their presence.

The North – protestant and catholic alike – has a great deal to offer a future Ireland. It’s time to talk about it.

50 years ago: PD March


Civil Rights Movement

One knows one is ageing fast when yesterday’s happenings are surreal, like a dream, quickly forgotten, yet events of 50 years ago shine brightly in one’s memory.

Today’s Irish News, ON THIS DAY column, recounts the events surrounding a Peoples Democracy protest in Armagh City on July 11 1969.  Despite the detail below, I remember it for two reasons :

 1. This was my first direct confrontation with the extremism and bitterness of loyalism, led of course by the great Satan himself, Ian Paisley – and I was shocked and very scared, knowing that these counter-demonstrators would like nothing better than to attack and severely injure – if not kill – us, for demanding One Man One Vote and equal rights and treatment.  There was no doubt whatsoever that the police – RUC – were on their side and, but for the TV cameras, would also like such a result.

2.  One of our number, my school colleague and friend from Derrybeg Estate Newry, Gerry Ruddy, was accompanied by a young Queens student, Briege, from The Bone, Ardoyne, North Belfast, and the two were inseparable and very much in love.  As always, the human story was more meaningful to me. 

I am happy to report that they married soon after, reared a family and are together to this day.  Briege was a lovely girl, is a fine lady and occasionally makes the headlines this time of year, representing the interests of the much beleaguered residents of the Holy Land.  Anyway, the story from the newspaper follows …

Four members of Armagh Civil Rights Committee, including Senator Garry Lennon, leader of the Nationalist Party in the Senate, staged an all-night sit-in at Armagh City Hall.

This followed clashes in the streets between members of Peoples Democracy and the police.  About 200 PD supporters staged an impromptu march. 

When they reached the top of Scotch Street, which leads to a Protestant area (sic!) they were confronted by 30 policemen And three Land Rovers. 

Scuffles broke out and stones and bottles were thrown. 

Two PD members were reported to have been slightly injured.

Last Bessbrook Tram

bessbrook and newry tramway

 Last Run on Bessbrook and Newry Tramway

One local reporter shared the last tram run to Bessbrook, as it set out from the Edward Street terminus in January 1948, with a young boy, and one man and one woman.  This is his story. 

In answer to his query, Mrs Hannah J Copeland replied that departure time was five thirty.

‘You mustn’t be on the tram often or you’d know the time she goes?’ 

‘No.  I’ve never been on it before and I’m all my life in Newry’, I answered.

‘Well, you’ll never be on it again’, the man cut in, ‘For this is the last.’

He waited for a reaction.  Then he continued,

‘We’re from Craigmore and she goes past the door.  When she goes, we’ll have nothing.’ 

 His wife was in the spirit for reminiscence.

‘I could cry this night.  I am on this last run, and I well mind being on the first.  I was a wee girl sitting on my father’s knee.’  

I sought for suitable words of reassurance.

‘Sure they’ll likely give you a bus?’

‘They likely will.  But they’ll have to give us a road first!’

Her husband concurred.  ‘There’s forty or fifty families up in Craigmore and now we’re nowhere.  Don’t know what’ll come of us.’

Two more men, John Meeks and William Barr boarded.  The conductor, Tommy Anderson joined our group.  Someone recognised the young chap as a Master Johnson.  Of the newcomers, Davy Burns was the most expansive. 

‘Ah mind when the fare to Newry was only tuppence.  That was before the Bessbrook ones all wore boots!’ he added, enigmatically.


‘There was good craic on the final tram from Newry at night.  Everybody talking.  If you opened yer mouth too wide you might get a clout of a half-pint bottle!  If you complained of thirst, you might get offered an acid drop.  The morning tram was even noisier.  Full of girls going to the mill, and them all singing as like as not.’ 

He was enjoying himself.

 They’d ask if you liked it. 

‘You’re not good,’ I’d say, ‘but give us another verse anyway’. 

Off they’d go, laughing and singing.  Them was good times but now they’re gone.  There’ll be no fun like that on the buses.’

The lights dimmed, indicating that the car was slowing to a stop.

‘End of the line’, the Conductor called to the Copelands.  Was it said with irony, I wondered.  Goodbyes and good lucks were exchanged.  They had petitioned the Directors of the Mill for a reprieve but with little optimism.

At Millvale along the line, our last passenger, bar myself, Jack Cowan got off. 

Tommy Anderson told me the story of the two Brook men one time approaching the tram.

‘Are you going on the tram?’ asked the first.

‘No’, replied the other, one Willie Bradley.  ‘I’m in a hurry today.  I’ll walk it!’  

At the terminus, the foreman concurred.

‘It’s sad but it had to happen.  She’s too slow,’ he added. 

Sheltering from the icy wind, awaiting the return tram to Newry, I had time to reflect on the Bessbrook/Newry tram’s history.  It had opened with a flourish just sixty three years before in September 1885 and only two years after the Irish Tramways Act that enabled its construction.  Its primary purpose was the conduct to Newry Port of the products of the Bessbrook Spinning Mill and the carriage of raw materials in the opposite direction.  Michael Faraday had only recently made his great electrical discoveries.  It was less than four years since the world had had its first electric tramway.  Electric traction with the third rail system was developed by Siemens and Halske and shown at the Berlin Exhibition of 1879. 

It was expected the Bessbrook tram would haul 28,000 tons of product a year.  An ingenious innovation was incorporated in the local system, the flangeless wheel and shoulder rail construction of Mr Henry Barcroft of the Glen in Newry.  This enabled the wagons to be used on the rail or on road, as desired.  This was a unique world development.  Another advantage was the ability to carry passengers too.  At its maximum the driving car carried a load of 56 tons and thirty four passengers at a speed of 12 m.p.h.  A 56 H.P. turbine made at Belfast fed the two dynamos via the mid-rail system.   Yet at all road crossings, primarily for safety reasons, an overhead wire was substituted for the rail conductor. 


My reverie was interrupted by the conversation buzz arising from the queue at the corner of the Square, awaiting transport to Newry.  This was a different crowd entirely from that whose camaraderie and bonhomie I had so recently shared.  Modern youth, self-possessed and self-assured, dressed in nylon macs and slouch hats with fur-lined bootees, not the peaked caps, and shawls and aprons of my recent companions.  There were boys with girlfriends, a soldier going back from leave, and a gang of nippers, long-trousered and becapped, movie bound to Newry.  Up at the front, girls joked with the Conductor, and from the rear floated the strains of the current croon sensation – ‘How are things in Gloccamara?’ – not liltingly as Davy Burns might recall, but ‘swooningly crooned’ – you know what I mean! 


And so I ended my journey on the last tram to Newry.  The Brook ones would tell you it was the longest tram in the world, because the track looped at both termini.  My lasting impression was sympathy with Willie Bradley’s complaint – maybe it was ‘too slow’. 

 All that’s left is the occasional patch of overgrown track, such as up Derrybeg lane or to the back of Clonmore on the Armagh Road.

Such is progress.

Read moreLast Bessbrook Tram

History of Newry Workhouse : Part 2


History of Newry Workhouse   [Part 2]


John McCullagh BA , BSc

Prior to the 1830s some little local Poor Relief was sporadically offered – mainly through the Churches – in almshouses to orphans and to the most destitute.  Under the Poor Law Act of that decade a central Board, known until 1847 as the Poor Law Commission and thereafter as the Poor Law Board had overall responsibility for relief.

Read moreHistory of Newry Workhouse : Part 2