John McCullagh March 30, 2004
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I read in the papers – 50 years ago column – of a debate in the Council over the fate of 51 fowl kept in an enclosure behind the Bungalows Clanrye Avenue and thought back to the times we would choose to return to The Meadow by The Line, just so that we could observe this mini-menagerie that some resident so thoughtfully provided for our education.  I think the directive – it went against them – must have been ignored for I remember often taking the same route for the same purpose.  Vincent McAllister thinks the fowl belonged to the Kellys. 

Then I attempted to remember the surnames of those early tenants.  I’ll need help here too, but here’s a start!  There were Kanes, Courtenays, McGraths, McNultys, McGiverns, Larkins, McCambleys, Hughes, Carrolls (and Smith before them!), Hartes, Mooney’s, O’Hare, Campbell, McShane, McCulloughs, Kelly’s, Millar’s, Murphy’s, Moan’s and Dorans.  Marie, daughter of the latter man, a market trader, later married my friend (and fellow Journal writer) Tom McKeown and now lives on Chapel Road.  She makes fantastic ornaments from exotic birds’ eggs – something I’d like to feature in a future article!

Inevitably one reflects on those no longer with us [one recent much-missed one is Terry Kane] but another thought just struck me – i.e. what a high percentage of former residents still reside in the vicinity.  Some McCambleys still live in the Bungalows, but others in Clanrye Avenue [they’ve got the shop there now] and Iveagh Crescent.  Maurice Kane lives virtually opposite his old family home.  There are Courtenays, Larkins, McGraths etc. in the Meadow and nearby.  My milkman, Gerry Kelly came from Clanrye Avenue.  Peter McNulty had the Fair Judge until recently; the Mooneys moved to Daisy Hill Gardens, the Hartes to Derrybeg.  It all lends a greater sense of continuity in this ever-changing world.  I’m told by Pat Hughes that there was a recent Reunion organised by Karl McGrath.  Karl has brothers and sisters married, with children and grand-children all over Newry. 

The original houses here – Orlit Homes, I think they were called – were Nissen hut types of semi-circular corrugated metal and way below the standard of other public housing of the time.  I can’t recall how many years these ‘temporary’ dwellings remained before they were eventually replaced by the pre-fabs that persist today.  I read through the minutes of Council meetings of the time and they were few enough, those good Councillors who protested this point.  The debate reminded me of that other, a generation later, over the destruction of the oldest part of Newry, to be replaced with stackable boxes known as high-rise flats, the home of the future.  They were lined with dangerous asbestos, the reason for the current delay in their demolition.  What excuse was offered for the erection of ‘future’ homes so obviously inferior to others recently completed in Drumalane and Rooney’s Meadow?  The excuse?  Demand was so great, it could only be urgently met with the quick construction of such homes. 

It is important to review this, because a further generation was penalised.  When Thatcher’s sale of Council-owned [Housing Executive, in Northern Ireland] homes increased the nation’s home-ownership percentage, these tenants (or sons/daughters of the original tenants) were offered dwellings that – being ‘temporary’ to begin with – had deteriorated substantially more, but for no less cost.  I had many friends among the sons of those first occupiers, and some who inevitably felt they were treated as less-worthy because their homes were smaller, less-well equipped etc. than those of their neighbours.  Of course, you and I know that some of the best and foremost of our townspeople lived here: we currently have a few Council Executive officers who were raised here – for goodness sake Tommy McGrath, our most illustrious-ever Councillor grew up in the Clanrye Avenue Bungalows – but it is undeniable that these homes were relatively unfit and when I see the originals still occupied in districts of South Armagh and elsewhere, I tremble with rage against the short-sightedness of previous Councillors.

There’s a fine new row of modern town houses rising on this site, next to the Clanrye Fold.  Let’s wish the tenants well.  It would be nice to see the next generation settle in this very desirable, residential area.

P.S.  Did you know this site was a Council landfill, some eighty years ago?


Newsflash:

I just heard from my milkman, Gerry Kelly that it was his father who kept the poultry.  They also grew a wide selection of vegetables in that huge well-tended garden backing on The Line.  It was not Council decree that put an end to all of that industry.  His father suggested two significant contributory factors.

The older generation among you will remember that for a protracted period the adjoining waste land [later to become Clanrye Avenue car park: later still Clanrye Fold] was occupied by large numbers of the travelling community.  Grandpa Kelly remembers a time when he noticed that

‘Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat’…

Only the geese and all the other poultry – with a substantial part of the Christmas dinner trimmings – disappeared overnight. 

No evidence was produced [indeed left over] so no charges were preferred.  No more chickens!

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