One of the interesting general histories of Newry past is that of Thomas Bradshaw, contained in Bradshaw’s General Directory of Newry (and other towns) of 1820. We quote sparingly from it ….
‘Formerly the principal part of the town stood immediately along the side of a steep hill which stretches nearly north and south: but since its commerce became more considerable, in consequence of improvements made in its navigation, the streets have extended in the direction of the river and the canal. Since the river and tide have been confined by embankments, many good houses have been built on ground formerly flooded by the tide.
Charles Havern, a man of one hundred and eleven years of age, remembered when the Low Ground was altogether a marsh; and afterwards when there were two bleach-greens where the coffee-room now stands.
As late as the year 1700 Mill Street contained only six or seven slated houses. Market Street had a few of the same description; but the rest were merely thatched cabins. At this time the town was surrounded by woods. A large piece of timber was placed over the ford at Sugar Island for the accommodation of foot passengers, by a person named Murphy. In consequence of this, this stone bridge afterwards built here over the river bore the name of Mudda Murphy’s Bridge – or the Bridge of Murphy‘s Stick.
It is a good bridge of five arches. Formerly there were ten arches; but five of them being of no use for venting of water, it was thought unnecessary to retain them.’
A few lines of comment would not be out of place.
The steep hill is the North St/Water St/Market St/Castle Street area that Newry Town Council saw fit to demolish in the 1960s to drive a main arterial inter-city route through the heart of our town. The Low Ground is the Hill Street area which again today abounds in coffee-shops! The anti-flooding measures have had to be renewed and extended over the centuries, most recently up to last year by the Rivers Authority.
Bleach-greens were for the bleaching white of linen cloth, manufactured in the town’s vicinity.
The comment about the Stone Bridge‘s ten arches, five of them being useless, begs the question of why it was erected so in the first place.
And to my mind harks back to the Bagenal days when he was attempting to milk the maximum subvention from the English Exchequer for the building works he undertook about the town. A river that required TEN arches was clearly a more formidable obstacle than a mere five arch bridge!
Stand at the cannon today and gaze across. Why, you must wonder, were those far arches built into the bank of the river rather than helping to span or ford it?
I propose one theory.
Does any one have a better theory?