Gap of the North


Gap of the North, written by Noreen Cunningham and Pat Maginn and published in 2001 by O’Brien Press is an excellent handbook for the tourist and the local enthusiast alike.  
It is described as the guide to the archaeology and folklore of Armagh, Down, Louth and Monaghan and it fulfils that function excellently in a handy softback volume.  Suffice it to say that Newry Journal considers it an indispensable reference for many of our articles. 
It comes with a handy map showing all 48 monument types and gives the monument type, location, grid reference and status of each, before describing it in detail and recounting associated folklore.  
The project was initiated and supervised by Anthony Cranney who was also responsible for many of the photographs.  If you want to visit all, you will also need the appropriate O.S. maps.  
A few reservations only.  The Crown Mound (31) is in private ownership and cannot be visited.  This ought to be noted.  I feel it would have been helpful if the access routes to mountain sites, like Clermont Cairn on Black Mountain had been marked.  Perhaps a few such mountain trails could have been detailed.
But I’m nit-picking.  It is a terrific handbook and great value at under

Frontier Town: Canavan

The research and writing of ‘Frontier Town : An illustrated History of Newry’ was undertaken by Tony Canavan when he was curator of Newry Museum over a decade ago.  Though Canavan is a famous name in Newry, Tony is from Belfast.  He returns here shortly to give a lecture in the Carlingford Lough series.  I’ll be there.

I am an ardent fan of this wonderful history.  It is excellently researched and reads like a racy narrative.  We are very lucky to have such a tome at our disposal – that is, those of us who purchased early and have looked after our copy.  I say this because Blackstaff [ISBN 0-85640-430-6] unfortunately bound this paperback volume with a brittle gum than deteriorates with time, and most copies are by now, literally in bits!

I seldom hear reference made to Canavan’s work locally – in Newry History Society, for example – and wonder if begrudgery has again raised its ugly head.  Certainly any localised research must begin here.  His Preface succinctly expresses the role of the town in Irish history.  Personally I still prefer Frontier Town to Newry City, the former conjuring thoughts of our pivotal role so often in the past: the latter a sop – from QE2 – to aspiring ‘spinners’.

Those of us who lived through much of the twentieth century may take exception to parts of his final chapters, though it is always most difficult to assess living history.  He wrongly identifies Irish Labour [I was a member and attended Annual Conferences in Liberty Hall, Dublin] on Newry Council with Northern Ireland Labour Party and casts the principled rump led by Tommy McGrath as ‘dissidents’ when they were faithful to party policies, whereas Pat McMahon – whom he extols – went on to unfairly allocate homes on the basis of ‘I want my bite of the cherry!’

He dates the Great Hunger from 1844-1849 and alleges it had no effect on the town.  Readers of Workhouse History on these pages will disagree!  There are other anomalies but errors are few.

If you only ever read one book about Newry, make sure it is Canavan’s!



Voices & The Sound of Drums

I know nothing at all about the book I’m about to ‘review’ except that it was entitled ‘Voices and the Sound of Drums’ and it was written by Patrick Shea and published in 1981 by Blackstaff. 

I came across this short excerpt and was mightily impressed.  I’ll really have to make an effort to locate it (Amazon, again!) and buy a copy.  I hope you conclude likewise.

During our lunch period I walked along North Street, a tumbledown part of old Newry, to the Butter Market and found myself in the midst of a hiring fair; a fair in which the merchandise was human beings.  Those doing business were standing about in small groups, talking quietly; a sturdy man holding out for what he thought he was worth as a ploughman, a rosy-cheeked servant girl listening and nodding as details of the offered engagement were explained to her by a farmer and his wife, a mother handing over her fourteen-year-old son on the understanding that in return for his apprentice labour on a farm he would be kept and given three meals a day and after six months she would be paid perhaps five or six pounds. 

Hiring fairs were peculiar to the northern part of Ireland.

Do any of you know this book?  Was Patrick Shea a relative of Jack, our Laughing Policeman of Derrybeg Lane?  And of Dorothy (Dodo to us rude and uncouth schoolboys, although I remember this dear and unassuming teacher taking us for amateur drama practice in the living room of her own home in Derrybeg Lane on Saturday afternoons, for no reward!).  Gone now to her eternal reward, it’s too late to tell her how much I appreciated her.

[Yes I know the latter two were brother and sister, and were O’Shea – but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of some familial relationship with the author!]

P.S. I’ve just received an e-mail from Peter, the son of the author of this book.  He lives now in Australia but is visiting us in May.  And YES, Jack and Dorothy were brother and sister to Patrick. 

I’d love to meet him then.  Perhaps he will loan me a copy of the book, so I can do a proper review!)