As stated on our Newry Workhouse series, Dessie McGennity’s family moved from the workhouse to the castle above Chapel Street’s High Walk. Des was only seven years old and remembers how frightening it could be. On winter’s nights the wind howled ‘like a Banshee’ and made the shutters bang. It was bitterly cold with the stone floors, walls and stairs. There was an absence of heating and the outside toilet was ‘little more than a hole in the ground’.
That unique building, owned by the Earl of Kilmorey, was constructed by a Major Halliday reputedly as an Inland Lighthouse (it might at least, with a brazier fire atop, indicate to incoming vessels the approximate destination in Newry) but became known as Halliday’s Folly. A large stone in the grounds is inscribed with the date 1828 but Dessie has failed to establish more of its history.
The McGennity family emigrated to Coventry in 1939. However it was a case of ‘from the frying pan to the fire’ when the English city became the target of the Luftwaffe. They spent many nights in the underground air raid shelters, emerging to find their homes and entire streets just a mound of rubble.
Returning home in the 60’s Dessie and his wife Brea resided in Derrybeg Estate. He became deeply involved with its Community Association and the Confederation of Community Groups (again, with your editor!). Dessie worked as doorman of the Independent and St Joseph’s Club. Des and Eugene Markey set up the Junior Winter League. From this developed the Carnbane League. A strong advocate of civil rights, Des and Bria played host on the occasion of the Great Newry March following on Bloody Sunday, to a number of English students. So impressed were his guests that they secured a job for Des as porter at their Nottingham University. Markey would then sometimes introduce his friend in company, along the lines of participants of University Challenge, with the phrase,
‘Des McGennity, Nottingham University, reading – gas-meters and pornography!’
A few years ago, Dessie McGennity, Paddy Smith and Frankie Keenan, all of whose families once resided in the castle above High Walk, revisited the scenes of their boyhood, climbing over the wire and high wall to gain access.
It was a macabre trip ‘down memory lane’, much unlike, we trust, the upcoming Streets Reunion.