Those of you who were children in Newry in the 40s/50s will retain both pleasant and unpleasant memories of the Newry Gasworks.
The gas used to fuel domestic supplies was extracted from coal. Apart from tar, coke was the chief by-product. In the town it was used extensively as a cheaper alternative to coal.
For reasons unknown to me, Mondays and Fridays were the days most people arrived at the gasworks for their bag of coke. They needed to have their own bag and be able to hump it home alone. You’d get the allotted measure – or an extra shovelful – depending on who was manning the scales. I was always happy at the sight there of Willie Hanna or Tommy McKeown of Pool Lane. The latter man was my own grandfather! Then I was sure of a good measure!
There were other hazards. The coke was often newly extracted from the retort and might still be smouldering! You might on the journey home get the whiff of a scorching smell and you’d know the warm coke was burning through the sack on your back at least – if not the clothes on your back. You’d have to find some lying water quickly – and heave the bag off your back into it.
There was an old lady by the name of Sarah Neale one time humping her bushel of coke to her home in Kilmorey Street, oblivious of the fact that it was smouldering away. She had a big, six-foot lazy galoot of a son sunning himself there on the tide wall.
‘Hi, Ma,’ he offered laconically,
‘You’d need to hurry home or that coke will burn the back off ye!’
You may have heard of him. He was better known as The Rat Kelly!