MY MEMORIES OF NEWRY IN THE 30’s/40’s
1937 Mary Street
Three years old – off to school! St.Joseph’s – too convenient for this young ‘un who promptly returned home at every given opportunity! Mother cured that by marching me off to St. Clare’s – the other side of town – no escape!
1939 World War Two!
Gas masks, sand bags, barbed wire, black-out, barrage balloons, identity cards, rationing of food, clothing, fuel etc, soldiers in khaki and the BBC!
The 40’s The BBC Home Service with daily reports on the War; air raids, bombings, ships lost at sea, men and women dying, Mr. Winston Churchill and Lord Haw-Haw!
The Light Programme with Music While You Work, Tommy Hanley in Itma, Jimmy Edwards in Take It From Here, Dick Barton and his partner Snowy White and Children’s Hour with Uncle Mac, Cecily Mathews and Nelson Havelock.
Going to the cinema. Newry was blessed with three "picture houses". The Frontier, the Imperial and the Savoy. The latter being the grandest and nearest to home, was my favourite. The "girly" stars of the time were Shirley Temple, Margaret O’Brien and Elizabeth Taylor. Later on there would be Debbie Reynolds, June Allyson and a host of others for the boys to drool over and for us girls to try (but mostly fail) to look like!
We had Westerns – the cowboys with their guns and the Indians with their bows and arrows fighting things out on the big screen. We had lavish musicals – Holywood style productions with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. We had drama and suspense with gangsters and their molls, usually starring Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, Sidney Greenstreet etc. We had of course, endless war films and John Mills and Richard Attenborough were it seemed, never unemployed!
And we had the newsreels with the all too vivid scenes of war.
Going to the Town Hall. I did a lot of that! Drama, Opera, Operetta, Musicals and Pantomime. So much entertainment! So much talent! Newry was and is, bursting at the seams with talent.
In between times of course I did the odd bit of smuggling. Well, didn’t everyone? I’d visit my maternal grandparents in Dundalk and arrive home two sizes, at least, larger than when I set out! There’d be butter and bacon and other foodstuffs wrapped in "tar" paper and positioned around my middle and tobacco for Dad’s pipe and maybe some sweets or chocolate in my upper half! Always a nerve-wrecking journey and a relief when the Customs at Killeen had either ordered everyone off the bus or failed to notice that I was an extremely well-fed young ‘un (for the times that were in it!) or simply waved the bus driver on.
My first self-propelled transport was a three wheeled tricycle. Then came my first two-wheeler. My Dad bought it second-hand and I remember how he lovingly re-painted it for me so that it would look like new. And he just as lovingly taught me to ride it. And when he gave that final push and I pedalled off and didn’t fall off, he gave a great cheer and I felt like I’d conquered Everest!
And there were dogs – always dogs in those days. My Dad, for a time, had greyhounds and on occasions I’d accompany him to the dog-track, down the Warrenpoint Road. Later came wire-haired fox terriers. Dear old Judy and Bran. Granpa Hunter favoured Springer Spaniels and my Grandfather in Dundalk had a Dalmatian. So, yes, there were always dogs! Don’t ever remember having a cat.
Holidays were usually day trips to Warrenpoint, Omeath or Carlingford. But most of the time my school holidays were spent in Dundalk. From there I’d get to Blackrock and Gyles Quay. One very memorable holiday was spent at Bray, Co. Wicklow. I was seven years old and I remember birthday cards being delivered to the hotel. I still have some of them! I learned to swim at Warrenpoint Baths, enjoyed picnics in the Park and rode the hobby-horses and swing-boats when the Amusements arrived for the Summer months. Lovely carefree days when the sun always seemed to shine and when it did rain, it didn’t matter. One of the very best picnics I ever had was in the pouring rain, sitting alongside a hedge, up the Camlough Road! It was different you see, so it was fun!
Street games were anything with a ball, skipping, hop-scotch, whip and top, etc and with the use of a stout rope. I could swing round the gas lamp-post which was almost outside our front door. All such innocent stuff by today’s standards! Far off travel and dreams were found at the Newry Public Library and all for free! There was a time when that little Library was almost my second home and books were food and drink. An excellent diet!
Shopping was such a laid-back affair! No "super" markets then. Bread was delivered to the door and/or home baked. Milk was fetched from Corr’s shop and was usually still warm and so creamy and almost straight from the cow. Groceries were "messages" from Whitten’s in Sugar Island and the very fine Newry Market provided most other essentials. No contrary, self-willed shopping trolleys to do battle with then! A basket carried on one’s arm was quite sufficient to carry the brown paper wrapped, string tied "messages" and the very necessary ration books!
Timoneys in Canal Street provided the most delicious ice cream! It was ice cream to die for and a cornet or slider would be a treat after Mass on Sundays. Alternately, a dish from home could be filled with the creamy concoction, plus raspberry sauce, for the sum of one shilling! I do so hope that Timoneys is still in business!
Sundays were all about religion. Nine o’clock Mass at the Cathedral, Sunday School in the afternoon and Devotions at six thirty/seven o’clock. And at other times, the seemingly never-ending processions around town. There was the May procession, the Corpus Christi procession, First Communion processions and Confirmation processions. Processions from the Cathedral and the Dominican Church. But the nicest procession of all was "up the hill" at St. Clare’s Convent.
The hill was in the gardens to the rear of the Convent and the pupils would walk up to the Grotto to leave flowers for Our Lady. I wonder if there is a hill out at that fine new Sacred Heart School and if there is, do the pupils walk up it in the month of May? I somehow doubt it. But maybe someone will tell me different!
And while on the subject of religion, I can honestly say that although Edward Street housed both Catholics and Protestants, the only time I was ever aware of sectarianism was on the annual Orange day. Some, not all, of my usually polite and friendly companions of the day before would shout abuse and chalk "Papish" across our front door. The following day all would be back to normal! I thought it sad then and I think it sad now.
I feel exceptionally privileged to have been born and reared in Newry and this cameo of my memories does not even begin to do justice to my time in that place, so long ago.
… When women ‘had their place ‘ …