Abbey Carvings

The long-defunct ‘Open Window Annual’ may, or may not, have been just that, but to the best of my knowledge the only extant editions are those for 1901-2 and 1902-3. It was a local magazine – not unlike today’s Newry Journal

but published by Hodgett’s of the Newry Reporter. 

Since Bagenal’s Castle has been much in the news of late, and a museum bearing that name is soon to open on Castle Street, we thought it appropriate to quote from an article on the subject, written by the Rev Canon Lett, for the former edition.

‘.. Sir Nicholas Bagenal built a castle at Newry adjoining an abbey belonging to the Cistercian Order, in the grounds of which grew a venerable yew-tree that was reputed to have been planted by St Patrick himself.

Not a trace of this abbey now exists, except the name of Abbey Yard – and a granite gravestone on which is carved in relief, a large cross and which is now built upside-down into the wall of an entry leading off Castle Street ……..

A few portions of Bagenal’s Castle still remain but are altered into small dwellings now occupied by workmen.

As the visitor stands beside the well-built and thoroughly modern bakery buildings in Castle Street, he can discern, although greatly altered, the remnants of two of the original gables of Sir Nicholas Bagenal’s Castle….

Newry Castle appears at one time to have been the abode of the Lord Abbot of Newry who claimed in virtue of his office, and exercised, ecclesiastic rule over parishes of Newry and Mourne or Kilkeel which were exempt from all other episcopal jurisdiction.’

We offer this as some contribution to the ongoing debate about the authenticity of the recently renovated property as ‘Bagenal’s Castle’. 

We know little of Canon Lett or of the sources upon which he bases his assertions. Yet the same remains true of Small’s general, inaccurate and rambling History of Newry which appeared a generation before and which is often cited as an impeccable source. Also, it must be said, of the many conflicting assertions of the present developers and the Friends of Newry Abbey who argued in opposition to them.

The controversy might be summarised as follows: is the present site of the renovated museum also both ‘Bagenal’s Castle’ AND Newry’s Cistercian Abbey buildings? What is the evidence? If it is, should Bagenal’s name alone be  immortalised? And why?

We will have to continue this debate over a period of time.  First, however, a few obvious questions.  Why were the above carvings – the only clear link with the old Abbey and claimed to be extant at McCann’s Bakery, then spirited away?  Where are they now?  Will they be again incorporated into the Museum?  [Editor’s Note, added 2010: they have been!]

Have any of our readers any contribution to make to the whole debate?  Does any person remember the ‘large cross built upside-down into an entry off Castle Street’?  Please contribute.  It’s YOUR history, you know!


… more later …


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.