19th century reflections

Mary Feeney, one of eleven children born in Newry to Sarah and James Feeney, recounts anecdotes told to her by her mother about life in Newry close to the end of the nineteenth century.

‘My granny and grandfather moved to Newry from Belfast, where they lived above Hennessey’s Butchers in Bridge End Street. They had three children there and six more were born in Newry. My grandfather got a job in Newry Mineral Water Co which is what brought them all to Newry.

The family settled in Monaghan Street. My mother remembered Parnell coming to town. Her father played in the brass band that turned out to welcome the great leader of the Irish Party.

During the winter when fuel was hard to come by, they used to erect an Aunt Sally in their back garden. The GNR railway men when their train was passing by used to sling coal lumps at it to try and knock her over. All us children would gather up the coals after they left. Free coal!! Mum said the slogan then was, “Home Rule and Free Coal”.

She remembered the mummers (Wren Boys, she called them) coming round at Christmas.

“Hell’s Row, Bell’s Row, Riddell’s Row

The Devil’s Row

Three Straws across the well

Monaghan Row beats Hell”.

It went something like that! The people she remembered and spoke about included McCrinks, Willis’ Bakery, the first Milestone John Quinn, Flunkey Fegan and the O’Hare’s – that is probably the Commission Agent, Betting Shop family.

She used to go into the bakery and ask for a halfpenny bun. When the man behind the counter was not looking, she would turn on the treacle on top of the bun, and then run like hell’s blazes. Her mother sent her one night to the chemist’s for flea powder. The shop was closed so she shouted through the letterbox at the owner, telling him what she wanted. He shouted back at her, “Go home and let them bite you tonight, and come back tomorrow when we are open!”

She remembers going to Dempster’s Field to hear the British Army Band playing. Newry was a British Army garrison town in those days. History is repeating itself, says you!

She and her brother James went on a railway bogie to the scene of the Tynan Railway Disaster, when an excursion train full of children crashed and rolled down an embankment. Many lives were lost. She saw the bodies of little children being laid out on the side of the track.

Her brother James was educated at the Newry CBS and I have his Leaving Certificate dated 1894. it was signed by Brothers Brady and Nalet. He should have received a Royal Humane Certificate if they were being issued at that time for, according to my mother, he jumped from the viaduct to save the life of a young boy, and for his reward, he got sixpence. He fought in Mons in the Great War and came through unscathed but he died in Havana in 1927 after a dockside accident. He is buried in a Convent graveyard in Havana.

My mother died in 1968 aged 86 years. Her stories could fill a book.”

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