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History made as new gaslamp is unveiled

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

History made as new gaslamp is unveiled thumbnailEAMON Walker, of the Newry Maritime Association, pictured standing next to the new lamp on the parapet of the Dublin Bridge.

IN glorious Spring sunshine, as impassive motorists and curious shoppers passed by, a group of fortunate guests witnessed an historic event, on Newry's Dublin Bridge, last Saturday morning.

A new replica gaslamp, placed on the base of the original lamp, was unveiled on the parapet of the bridge. It is the latest noteworthy project of the Newry Maritime Association (NMA).

The impressive lamp is only a short distance from the site of the old Gasworks in Kilmorey Street and the honour of its unveiling was bestowed on retired master signwriter and decorator, Michael McCaul Snr.

Michael can still recall the operation of gaslamps in Newry and the town's last lamplighter, Jimmy Canavan, prior to the final electric streetlights being switched on to illuminate the town in 1952.

Stressing the significance of the occasion, Newry Maritime Association PRO James McAreavey said that the unveiling was creating a tangible link with the past, not only with the period of gas lamps lighting up Newry's dark streets, but the former importance of the area as a thriving mecca of commerce and retail.

He expalined that NMA Chairman Michael O'Hare thought it would be "an excellent idea to refurbish this iconic artefact from our almost forgotten past."

Mr McAreavey told the onlookers that with the setting up of the Newry Gaslight Company on 1 September, 1822, Newry became one of the first towns in Ireland to have municipal lighting.

He pointed out that the town had a total of 250 gaslamps, which were only lit during winter months. The lamps were mounted on cast iron pillars, most of which were cast in the nearby Soho Foundry.

“Here on Dublin Bridge, there were two such lamps mounted on the parapets and sadly just one survives today," said James. "Back in the day the Dublin Bridge area was home to the thriving port, a busy railway station and a plethora of indigenous businesses which were supported by a tight-knit community."

It was thanks to the generosity of JR Lighting, and the colloborative efforts of McCaul Signs and the Modern Fireplace Company that they were now able to unveil "this beautiful bespoke piece for all to see and enjoy."

Those present then listened enthralled as Mr O'Hare (NMA Chairman) read a detailed account of his walk home from school to his native Fathom, through Abbey Yard, down William Street and on to the Dublin Bridge, creating wonderful word pictures of places and characters.

'The silence broken in Abbey Yard as the few became the crowd, flights of feathers struggle for height among the pounding feet.

'Biz Quinn stands in the tiny shop doorway hoping to catch the remaining pennies like a spider in a web. Three boys share a fag at McCourt's, a penny each to qualify. McClelland's fruit shop at the corner, mouth waters, pictures in my mind of exotic places.

'A bell ringing! The railway gates closing at Dublin Bridge Station. Charlie McGrath's new barber sign like a big screw going nowhere. Don't like that new clinic, can still smell ether. I shudder.

'Jack McAteer puts petrol in a Morris van with a big dinge in the front mudguard, pipe swings out from the wall, why does it not leak?

'A docker with blackened hands staggers from the Dublin House (pub) cursing after burning his nose lighting a butt he had snigged earlier. Hear the train, huf, huf, huf, to the footbridge, smoke and steam, my clothes smell, see the signal man hand over the baton to the driver as the train makes its way across the canal on its way to Edward Street Station.

'Looking down, I see cattle, sheep and pigs in the stockpens waiting to board The Dundalk, berthed at the Steam Packet, bound for England on the tide. Timber boat discharging new timber from Finland, smells good! Man with moustache is cross as I pick up scraps for lighting the fire. I escape with my bundle. Coal dust everywhere, the black faces with big shining shovels, the oak must be discharged.

'Steam engine pushes coal wagons from the Provincial gates down alongside the canal, some run and crash into the buffer with a resounding crash. All the Drumalane children turn off for home, suddenly I am alone!

'The smell of woodsmoke coming from the tinkers' camped on the old Greenore railway. Getting closer. I hear the tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, as the tinker puts a new bottom in a tin bucket.

'Grubby children play swinging on the big wooden railway gate. I see the beaten path up the field to Mickey Moore's well for clean water. The Oak catches up with me at the quarry on her way to the Victoria Locks to await the tide. I take off my shoes and socks and feel the warm dust between my toes.

'A sudden light summer shower and the fresh smell of rain on warm tar as I pop the bubbles with my big toe, stop at the hidden place for a drink, pushing the ferns aside, it's cool. Lifting down the small school milk bottle off the flat stone, rinse and fill, it tastes good.

'Mrs Kelly is hanging washing on the hedge. I say hello. Next, I meet wee Peter the lamplighter. He is trimming the wicks and filling the navigation lamps with paraffin oil.

'Round the corner home, my belly grumbles as I smell the fresh bread mamma has baked, a big hug and a piece of soda farl with homemade rhubarb jam, so good to be home!'

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