John McCullagh February 14, 2008

  Below (bottom) is the last of the North Street Murals, with comments.


The eleventh mural on the North Street back wall depicts the famous Glennys shop. There is also a stylishly casual-dressed man and a goat!

T&A Gallagher tailors and dressmakers is next. Brendan Gallagher, the last in that line of tailors is just recently deceased. The image is enhanced with a young girl carrying a hen in her arms.

And speaking of hens, the next mural is of E McAteer‘s poulterers. This was Sean Og’s father, whom most of us remember. There is a girl with a hoop, a favourite childhood preoccupation of those days. Again there is a dog in the picture.

Gordons (teas) features in the following mural, one of the few words that can be read from the New Road/Water Street, the usual place where pedestrians will be gazing upon all these images. There are two men in a doorway and two dogs again on the street. Two ladies are shopping, one with a pram that looks of early 20th century vintage.

The penultimate image is of a carter delivering churns outside Tweedies shop.

Then there is a boy in the street turning cartwheels with a lady looking on. A delivery man is carrying a churn on one shoulder. This time the shops in the background include Spencers and MacCabbery.

The final image is an attribution: ‘Re-Imaging Communities Programme’ framed by ‘Theatre Curtains’ and a bill-poster. We are told that the principal artists and designers are Ed Reynolds and Dearbhla McNally. The latter is the daughter of Felix McNally the chemist (retired) of Monaghan Street.
 ….

First let it be said first that the cleansing and pastel painting of this ugly backdrop wall after the removal of the North Streets flats would of itself justify this project but it is much, much more than that!

Considerable creditable research was invested in this worthwhile project. We do not yet know how this huge area of city centre developmental land will be utilised but in the meantime it is no longer the eyesore it was for months past.

There are 17 murals here and they represent a reasonable variety of life images from days gone by. Our main point of issue with the designers is that every image is at least 50% smaller than it needs to be. Few people will venture up close as our photographer had to, because the ground underfoot is rough, uneven and uninviting to the walker. As a result these murals will almost always be viewed from a distance of one hundred metres – the footpaths of Lower Water Street (or fleetingly, by passing motorists!). I have excellent long-vision and from there, I could scarcely make out the figures on the majority of the images.

How few then will even notice the nice little touches, like MacConmara’s book in the Barber’s Shop or the Docks Strike headline in the newspaper!

I take minor issue also on a number of other scores. There remains almost as much again grey blank wall that might have been utilised and the project could have been widened to depict some of Newry’s history – and not just the social/commercial history of North Street in the 19th/20th centuries. Perhaps financial constraints forbade it.

Also there is something sanitised – as is so often the case (note Turner’s paintings of Newry) – with everybody well-dressed and every dog on a lead! Also people are mainly two-dimensional with characterised features. There is too much repeated from image to image, as though different artists had not consulted each other about supplementary images on their murals. The push-bike could not be ridden as the foot-pedal is not at right angles to the cog that drives it!

It ought to have been possible to paint some actual personalities – Brendan Gallagher sewing in the window of his shop, for example, or the famous Sean Hollywood, who walked this way every day and lived most of his life at 6 High Street just metres away from this spot: Sean was named Newry’s Man of the Century: Sean McAteer outside his shop is another possibility.

As well as shops, much of North Street was converted to boarding houses and how easy it would have been to include a Bed & Breakfast notice in some of the windows! And what of Water Street? It was inextricably linked with the North Street area. And Market Street/Square!

But overall this is a most creditable and worthwhile project. We have enjoyed very little benefit thus far of the peace process but surely gazing on these murals instead of militaristic, sectarian and jingoistic images and slogans is one thing to be thankful for!

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