Old Newry History : Part 1

Brother Mallon of the Abbey Monastery community, who taught for much of his career in St Mary’s Secondary School on the Falls Road in Belfast, is a Newry man through and through and is back living in Newry in his retirement. These are his notes on Old Newry  ….

Most of old Newry was located on the lower slopes of that granite ridge which stretches from Windsor Hill (a modern name, after the English Royal house) to Courtenay Hill – and especially on the southern half of that hillside.

The 1760 map of Newry indicated Market Street and the ‘Old Market’ at the bottom of High Street – appropriately named, unlike the High Streets of most English towns, though after the St Patrick’s High Church on the hilltop. On the ridge too was ‘The Shambles’, a public area for slaughtering cattle, near the present entrance to ‘Bagenal’s Castle’. Also there, up to its confiscation and dissolution in 1550 was located the early Cistercian Monastery, founded in 1144.

In the eighteenth century Newry had the first summit-level canal of all these islands. This means that the water-level was fed from a summit lake near Acton, Poyntzpass to maintain the water level in the canal for barges and boats to pass through.  It was finished in 1742 with the intention of bringing coal from the newly-mined seams in Tyrone to the capital in Dublin. The coal output soon proved disappointing but the canal prospered for a while in exporting mainly farm produce and importing timber, raw materials and some finished goods. By the end of that century, thanks to the canal, Newry had become the premier port in Ulster and fourth in all Ireland.

This was the dawn of its heyday and among the many well-known personalities to visit Newry were the writer and preacher Jonathan Swift, the Methodist founder John Wesley, the great composer George Frederick Handel and the nineteenth century novelist Thackeray. Also in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries we had prominent political figures such as Parnell, De Valera and Jim Larkin as regular visitors here – the last named having local grandparents.

Royal Coachbuilders of Newry …

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