Ethel Fitzpatrick lives today at Carrick Ard on the Fullerton Road, just yards from where she grew up in High Street. She has contributed a lot to Newry and her people.
She is Past-Chairman of Newry & Mourne Arts Committee, for years presided over Newry Musical Feis and before that again produced prizewinning shows in the popular Top Talent Contests.
Known affectionately by one and all as Miss Ethel, she is a vivacious raconteur and a teacher of high renown. She once turned down an attractive offer to present educational programmes on American television, preferring to live and work in Newry. She was a gifted actress with the Abbey Players and she sparkled in comedies with Newry Musical Society and in a number of pantomimes. She has given elocution classes to hundreds of Newry folk over the decades and she has also conducted the Phoenix Singers. Amongst the hundreds she has inspired with her love of music, dance and the spoken word are Sean Hollywood, Margaret Nolan and Gerard Murphy. The latter in tribute remarked, ‘When she saw how I loved Yeats, she took me to his birthplace in Sligo and showed me the scenes that inspired his poetry.’
Comments in Guestbook here have already shown how much she inspired a wider audience of Newry people. Those privledged few who visited her school classes could feel the sense of mutual love and harmony. There was a certain inevitability about the way her St Clare’s class won the prestigious Harry Heather Trophy at Newry Musical Feis for thirty years in a row.
Her stage career began with the Abbey Players under producer Jimmy Canavan. She joined Michael Mathers, John Bell and Kathleen O’Donnell in presenting O’Casey plays. She had a variety of Newry Musical Society roles opposite Michael Mathers in shows such as ‘Desert Song’ and ‘Rose Marie’. She recalled once having to ride a donkey which was pulled up a ramp at the back of the stage while Terry Rafferty brought up the rear carrying a brush and shovel to gather the droppings.
In the late 50’s she joined with Pat Byrne and Quinn Bennett to form the Newry Pantomime Society which put on productions in the Town Hall (fund-raisers for the new Parochial Hall). Other artists included Charlie Smyth, Irene McCourt and Hugh Magee. With the launch of the Top Talent competitions she took on responsibility for the High Street entries and appeared in comedy sketches. She helped to present Newry’s entry in the Top Towns Competition. A Pub Opera that Miss Ethel organised was televised on the David Frost Show.
When she retired from teaching, members of the choir of Newry Catholic Girls Club, which she had conducted to success at festivals in Belfast and Dublin, gathered to serenade and to honour her. She advised they start anew. They did. They are today’s Phoenix Singers.
Perhaps the least of her achievements was to be serenaded at Stormont Castle by the then Secretary of State Tom King, rendering ‘The Mountains of Mourne’!
It’s comforting to know that Miss Ethel is now enjoying a long-delayed rest!