THE MEADOW : Early Days Reminiscence of the first generation
Work began on the building of The Meadow housing estate in 1947.
In those early years after the first homes were allocated there were enough of us ‘baby-boomers’ to be excellent company for one another, the terror of neighbouring districts, and the scourge of responsible adults all over the town. We came and went as we liked. We had a dozen ways in and out apart from Clanrye Avenue, the only access road.
By way of example, Powell’s grocery store (where West End Stores is now) displayed their wares on the pavement outside the shop on Monaghan Street – rather foolishly I thought – for we could not pass without snatching a few apples and bolting up The Line to feast on them. We could choose to disguise our home base by running up the Camlough Road and diverting across fields, descending via the steep embankment opposite the Clanrye Avenue aluminium bungalows, or The Pighall Loanan, or adventuring further afield towards the Egyptian Arch and Derrybeg. To the east side we could have ventured through The Valley or Edward Street railway line.
The map’s triangle (elsewhere herin reproduced – bounded by Monaghan St, Upper Edward St and Railway Avenue) can be seen in the 1950s map, and above it the new Meadow Housing Estate surrounded by our ample play space and isolated retreats. Off Killeavey Road was the Town Dump, soon after, thankfully, to be closed and sealed.
The old road to Camlough and South Armagh had climbed sharply from Ballybot through Bull’s Hill. The Camlough Road we are familiar with climbs much less steeply but the modern route still overlooks The Meadow from a height of more than one hundred feet.
The old Pighall Loanan used to continue through Rooney’s Meadow at the base of this ridge, tracing the path of today’s Orior Road towards the Bessbrook Tramline and eventually meeting with the Bricky Loanan. The last tram ran in January 1948, just weeks before we, the first residents, moved in. The abandoned track was ours!
Violet Hill and Chequer Hill at the eastern end of the natural meadow formed a boundary there but our homes were not built to that edge. The town dump, or pithead, was located on the Bricky Loanan, and the adjacent and parallel tramline and railway line demarked the valley’s edge. Indeed the region townward of this (Cecil Street area) was known as The Valley, as was its football team.
The aluminium bungalows of Clanrye Avenue (supposedly temporary war-time accommodation, but still there, even if the original ‘tin bungalows’ were subsequently replaced with newly-prefabricated homes) were built on an earlier town dump. They buffered the new Meadow Estate from the town proper and formed our southern boundary. We claimed the intervening Retaining Basin (The Resi) as our private preserve – our very own play area.
When, for administrative purposes, towards the end of the nineteenth century the whole town of Newry was incorporated into County Down, this line became the new county border at the town’s north-west end. Before that the County River had formed this boundary. This explains the origin of the mixed GAA County loyalties of our inhabitants. It also explains how and why so many of us recently could easily shift allegiance to the finally-successful Armagh Senior side! Between one team and the other, our generation has had it really good since the early sixties.
The line also marked the border between town and country. This division was starkly underlined because for almost two more decades, Sandy McNeill of Monaghan Street (he lived where Magennis and Daughter now have insurance premises) continued to raise milk cows on these fields. To the north, where St Bridget’s Church now stands – and past, to Fiveways and beyond – was the farm of Mr Woods. Much later one of his daughters married our mate Bernie Hollywood, and another Teddy Flynn of Forkhill.
At the time we were the bane of his life and he was just Aul Woodsie to the trespassing marauders we became. Like all farmers he had a pack of yapping dogs, which unfortunately for us did not respect the limits of his property and would hound us back into the Meadow Estate. I remember him ploughing his lower fields that bordered the railway line, using yoked shire horses. This was in the mid-fifties, before the invasion of all Irish farms by the ubiquitous tractor.
We watched from the safety – we thought – of the GNR line, where of course we were also trespassing, but not on his property. Even his dogs couldn’t reach us there, across the railway’s water catchment sheuch. Any responsible adult who saw us there, tried to scare us or move us on. It was irresponsible and dangerous of us. Some of our young playmates in the Meadow later died in accidents with trains, but near the junction with Monaghan Street. We held firm. This was one of our more exciting and remote playgrounds. Besides, the channel to the side of the line that drained both the railway and the adjoining fields was the home of our precious Sprickly Beds.
Here too we could turn halfpennies into pennies by the simple expedient of laying them on the steel line and waiting for a train to pass. We never tired of attempting to pass these forgeries regardless of our continued lack of success.
We used the Railway Line (we climbed over the wire fence where St Patrick’s School playground now faces Violet Hill Gardens) as our arterial route to all points north transferring to roads at convenient railway junctions. Walking south we had The Line – as we still do – and had neither need nor inclination to use GNR property to access the town. The guards were vigilant. Besides, we could be marked men [we called each other men] – recognised as the thieves of the dobbin from carriages parked in railway sidings there, a story I will shortly allude to. Also we would be suspected of attempting to board trains without paying. We did that too, but not by that route!
… Meadow 2 ? …