Chapel Street Rocks

When I was a youngster back home in Newry, a lot of enjoyment was spent on ‘The Rocks’ in Chapel Street. Along with the boys and girls from Chapel St, Boat St, Quay St, William St. and of course River Street, many hours were spent on those Rocks.

It had everything a kid could ever want.  It was the ultimate natural adventure playground.

At the base of the rocks on the High Walk was ‘The Green’ where we would often pass our time catching butterflies in jam jars, played marbles and other various games. Of course the older boys would participate in more ‘grown up’ games such as ‘Pitch’n’ Toss’.

The main feature was of course the rock face itself. There was a choice of various routes to gain access to the summit that led into what was commonly known as ‘The Big Hole’.   Whichever ascent was taken we somehow felt we were commandoes making an assault on the ‘Guns of Naverone’.

The ‘Big Hole’ had the appearance of a medieval venue for Druids or the like.

In the middle was a table like slab of granite resting on rocks almost like a sacrificial altar. This we used for gang meetings, playing cards or even discussions of various topics including ghost stories.

To the right of the rock face was the ‘The Castle’ and its grounds. The castle itself was situated on top of what can only be described as a long hilly field with the odd trees and shrubs scattered about. This entire area was completely protected by an eight feet wall. As there was no available access inside this fort like area, we had to scale the high walls to spend many enjoyable hours inside.

Occasionally we would undergo an archaeological search hoping to unearth buried treasure or maybe some historical artefacts that would be of great value. Alas we were never successful.

What was memorable about being in the castle was the panoramic view we had of Newry and the scenic surroundings of the mountains. It was beautiful indeed.

From the left of ‘The Green’ was a little towpath which led to another enjoyable feature, ‘The Slide’. This was not quite the ‘Big Dipper’ but to us it was every bit as exciting.  Many a time coming down that slide we almost ended up in the back yards of our neighbours on the ‘High Walk’.

Situated over the top of the rocks were various fields which served as our ‘Recreation
Grounds’. The main field was used for almost everything. The older girls – such as my sister Irene, Carmel Mc Keown (sister of Tom), Marian Rooney and Kathleen Mc Donnell – would often take their young brothers and sisters, and indeed neighbours children as well to this spot, to give parents a little respite.

Later as we boys grew older we often would use this field as a camp site, with our makeshift tents and equipment.   Sometimes we would spend the entire day there.

Next to this was a little dale or glen-like area which became a favourite on Easter Mondays because there we would picnic and ‘roll our eggs’.

Then there were the ‘Back Fields’, adjacent to the Saint John of God Nursing Home. This area had several gigantic trees of which a particular one was, for obvious reasons named ‘The Slanty Tree’. This indeed was a very sombre and spooky place and had the reputation of being haunted and of course, inevitably it had a ‘ghost story’ linked with it.

The story goes way back when Ireland was occupied by the ‘Black and Tans’. Apparently, one stormy night, two nuns were dragged from the nursing home and hanged on a nearby tree. The tree was struck by lightning causing it to topple but it came to rest at a forty five degree angle on to the tree next to it.

One particular evening when we boys were camping, the weather suddenly became overcast and within minutes we were in the middle of a thunderstorm.

As our crude tents were proving to be totally inadequate as shelter from the heavy downpour, we decided to make a mad dash to the cover of the trees in the Back Fields. Having picked our spot under the ‘Slanty Tree’ it wasn’t long before that old ‘ghost story’ was recounted.

Suddenly one of the boys shrieked,

 ‘Look!! There’s blood running down the tree’. None of us dared look up.

Then another scream,

‘Look!! There’s the nuns hanging there’.

No more was needed to be said!  I mean, that was it! Immediately everybody legged it across the fields, over or through the wire fencing, down the slide, along the towpath to The Green and finally onto the High Walk. I reckon we covered that distance in about twenty seconds flat!

When we finally managed to get our breath back, no one queried whether any ghosts or blood was seen, as we were all still in a state of shock.

Never again did we ever venture into those Back Fields either during stormy weather or darkness.

I often to this day reminisce about my childhood back home especially the ‘Chapel Street Rocks’ and the many happy memories of them – but that stormy night under the Slanty Tree certainly is NOT one of them.

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