John McCullagh December 8, 2005
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My late friend Donal Monaghan, who sadly departed this life last week used to reminisce with us on what life was like in the Bridge Street area in the 1940s-1950s where he grew up.  Though our photo below is of the age before, Bridge Street changed little until much later.

 

‘It seems hard to believe now, when it is virtually impossible to cross that main thoroughfare without the benefit of traffic lights, that then it was quite safe to play children’s ball games right there in the middle of it. It was towards the end of the 50s before motorised traffic came to dominate. Petrol rationing left it uneconomical to invest in motor cars.

Our ball games included some that later came to be seen as girls’ games; Queenio, Queenio; England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales – and others whose names I forget. Neighbours then included the O’Donnells, one of whom, Turlough would later become a High Court Judge and another, Donal, local newspaper Editor. There were the O’Hanlons, Kane’s, who also had a shop, Paddy McGivern and family:  there was also the McShanes, Pat, Brian and Kevin, Jim and Mickey Hollywood, Seamus Sands, Teddy McAllister, the O’Keefes and many more.

Though this now might be considered one of the busiest and least safe areas of Newry Town Centre, then we had no problem about leaving our front doors on the latch. It was up to the last in at night to put the snib on the lock. In front of our house – Brookside – was a large open area known as The Lawn where all the children of the street played. There were lots of sallows (sally rods), bushes and trees where our vital bows and arrows could be harvested. Robin Hood and Cowboys and Indians dominated the Hollywood films of the day, and consequently our play life too.

The Brook – of Brookside – was the Glen River that tumbled from high above in Turner’s Glen and in the hot summers we would dam its waters close by and use the pool created for swimming. Older, more adventurous boys swam in the Canal or in The Tide, down the Rampart at Greenbank.

The Old Distillery – of which building a wall stump survived until recently where The Quays have now extended their car park – was another adjoining play area. It was covered in ivy that lent a mysterious air to ‘Our Castle’.

We had Fishers and Haldanes close by where we could beg or flinch a plank of wood to build our own ‘buggies’ or ‘go-carts’. Wheels came in the shape of ball-bearings given to us by sympathetic garages. Old pram wheels were a good alternative but didn’t offer the accompanying metal rumble which drew welcome attention to us as we careered from Glen Hill towards the Railway Crossing. There was a skill to attaching the axle, the wheels and the guiding rope – a skill that few boys and not all parents had acquired! The hole through the plank and axle had to be bored with a red-hot poker.

The proximity of the Railway meant we could watch the comings and goings when, most of the time, we ourselves didn’t get to travel. Though we did get the odd trip to Omeath or Warrenpoint by train, something that many kids in Newry since have not enjoyed. Adults used the occasion – and the kids! – to smuggle alcohol and butter, readily available in the Free State. 

The Loyes had a sweet shop next to the Railway. Winnie Loye worked as Manager in the Imperial Cinema on The Mall and had a soft spot for her neighbours from Bridge Street. As a young ‘courting’ lad, I often had the double-seat at the back reserved  exclusively for me!  Though it was a real ‘flea-pit’ we therefore preferred the Imperial to the other two cinemas, the Frontier and the Savoy. It’s hard to believe that the latter was considered exclusive and plush!

One of my nicest early memories is of the Christmas crib in the Dominican Chapel and the special effort those priests made at that time of the year. On reflection it might have occasionally been considered a little tacky, but not to us as children!

Sometimes known as Sailortown (because of the numbers of people who earned their living from the nearby Docks) that small network of streets centring on Bridge Street, including Pool Lane, Thomas Street, Queen Street and King Street constituted my world before we later moved to a house in High Street.’

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