Newry in the 1920’s

There was a great variety of feelings palpable in the attitudes and the demeanour of Newry people in the immediate aftermath of the 1921 Government of Ireland Act : anger dominated – at forcible inclusion in the Six County State, but the people, though largely nationalist, were divided denominationally and politically, and each side was resentful of things from the recent past and suspicious of the other side’s every move.  Yet apprehension for the future was the overriding feeling. 

Although this was one of the few areas which Redmond‘s Nationalist Party had held against the rising tide of Sinn Fein in the 1918 election, the Republican movement had – since the introduction of the Special Constabulary (Black and Tans) and the iniquitous Act – taken a strong hold in the district. There were many violent incidents to fire the blood on both sides. Police had been ambushed and killed; savage reprisals were undertaken by the Specials; some of the town’s menfolk were ‘on the run’ south of the border; some of these were, under orders of special legislation, prohibited from returning to their homes in the North. 

There had been curfew which kept the resentful townspeople indoors after dark; one young man had been taken from his lodgings late at night and his cries had been heard by the curfewed people as he was dragged through the deserted streets to a shed on the Armagh Road where, on the following morning, his monstrously-mutilated body was found. There was the attack on Protestant homes in the Altnaveigh area at the foot of the Camlough Mountains in which a number of the occupants had been killed and homes burned. Nearby two Catholic brothers, one of them mentally defective, had been taken from their cottage home and shot dead at the roadside. And Wolff Flanagan, a resident magistrate was shot dead as he left mass in Newry Cathedral. 

Eventually peace was restored by force of arms but the air was full of recrimination and distrust. The Boundary Commission was then an unending topic of conversation. If the declared intention of adjusting the border in accordance with ‘the wishes of the inhabitants’ meant anything, there was no doubt Newry would end up ‘in the South’. One of the town’s leading Unionists was so sure of it that he swapped his home for the Warrenpoint house of a Republican businessman.  

There was an outcry when only minor tinkering was recommended and Newry remained part of Northern Ireland. Republicans north and south had again been deceived by perfidious Albion. But the Southern Government’s cries of protest sounded hollow as they had had their man on the Commission too. We were left with the legacy which still beleaguers us today.

Indeed one has to wonder, as the Belfast Agreement dissolves through non-enactment, whether Republicans and nationalists have not once more been outmanoeuvred by wily perfidious Albion, as she settles again into an ever-extended period of ‘direct rule’ from England!

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