Ballybot’s social shift has been ‘seismic’

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

FROM Queen Street to Sráid Dhoiminic, Needham Street to Sráid Phádraig and King Street to Sráid Phroinsias, Ballybot's social shift has been seismic.

In addition to having a courthouse and gaol, the district of Ballybot had its own schoolhouse.

Located in Needham Street (the family name of the Earl of Kilmorey), now Patrick Street, it stood on the site presently occupied by the SPAR shop. There was a garden each side of the entrance and a large impressive sculpture of an open book outside the building.

The foundation stone was laid by the Rev Charles Campbell, Vicar of Newry, in September 1831. In October, the following year, Rev John Henry Potts, from Ballymacarrett, Belfast, preached a sermon in St Mary's Churh of Ireland, adjacent to Newry Market, 'for the new school lately erected in Ballybot'.

The Newry Telegraph reported that following the sermon 'a considerable collection' was made and 'the intense interest with which Rev Potts was listened to best showed the feeling of the congregation'.

On 13 December 1833, Mr W N Thompson, the school treasurer, placed a notice in the press acknowledging that he had received a total of £28 15s 7d for funding for the schools (plural). £24 15s 7d had been collected in St Mary's and St Patrick's Churches and the remainder from Dr Campbell, Mr Moffatt and Mr James Waring.

The notice is significant in that the word schools (plural) is in the original press headline and in the advertisement itself. There may have been separate rooms for boys and girls classes, age groups or abilities. In 1873 it was known as the Ballybot Par School and at one period was named the London Hibernian Society School House.

An open-air Prayer Meeting took place at 4pm, on Sunday, September 18 1859, in a field adjoining Ballybot Schoolhouse. Another Prayer Meeting was also held on the following evening, in the Savings Bank, now the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre. At both gatherings, the faithful were addressed on 'The Value of Souls and the Remedy for Sin provided in Jesus Christ Our Lord'.

In August 1917, one of the school's teachers, Henry Purdy, was appointed by The Very Rev, the Dean of Derry, as the new principal of the Derry Cathedral Boys' School. Mr Purdy was trained in the Church of Ireland Training College and was respected as 'a first grade teacher'.

Ballybot School did not quite make the century mark, its end coming just three years short of its centenary. At its monthly meeing on 17 September 1928, the Regional Education Sub-Committee approved its amalgamation with Newry Model School.

Rev James Fitzpatrick, chairman, read a letter at the meeting which had been received from Mr D C Quail, County Director of Education, stating that the Minister of Education's attention had been drawn by one of the Ministry Inspectors 'to the unsuitability of the accomodation afforded by Ballybot PE School and that it should be amalgamated with Newry Model School, where there was ample accomodation'.

A Miss Barcroft, perhaps either Anna or Mary, one of the two daughters of Henry Barcroft, who resided at The Glen, pointed out that if the school closed 'many little children in Bridge Street and Dromalane districts of the town would have a considerable way to go to the Model School'. She also highlighted 'the danger of motor traffic on the streets'.

Rev Canon H B Swanzy, manager of Ballybot School, acknowledged that in the general interests of education he could not oppose the amalgamation but said he could not give his consent unless the future of his teachers was assured. The committee agreed to absorb Ballybot School into Newry Model subject to Rev Swanzy being satisified about the employment of his teachers. The building which was once Ballybot School later became the Labour Hall and was a popular venue for dances.

Fair Days were held each month in Ballybot in the mid-nineteenth century. They attracted large numbers of farmers. One particular fair that was held in October 1861 took place in fine weather and attracted a large number of farmers. There were also 'English purchasers' at the event when business was described as 'brisk and farmers show no scarcity of money and, in general, hold out for good prices'. Cattle were sold for between £6 and £14.

Newry Union Farming Society's Annual Show was held in Ballybot Flax Market. It began in 1869 and was the major exhibition for farmers to showcase their livestock. The sights, sounds and smells of horses, sheep, cattle, poultry and pigs must have been overwhelming.

For the third annual show, held on 5 July 1871, elaborate sheds were erected by the Newry Saw Mills Company, on the evening before, to provide shade for the animals. On the day of the show, an eyewitness recorded that 'from an early hour in the morning droves of stock continued to arrive until about nine o'clock when all the entries were filled in'.

Large numbers of visitors continued to arrive throughout the day. Among those attending the event, were, J J O'Hagan, Chairman of the Newry Town Commissioners, Colonel and Mrs Chichester and officers of the 16th Regiment, who were stationed in the Military Barracks, as well as H Thompson and Mrs Thompson, of Altnaveigh House, and J N Richardson, from Bessbrook.

The viewer who witnessed the spectacular scene recorded, 'at the entrance to the yard and other places adjacent, various flags unfurled, which added a gay and imposing appearance'.

Within two years of the arrival of three Dominican priests and a lay brother to their home in McAllister's Terrace, in Hyde Market, on 7 March, 1871, the foundation stone was laid for a new chapel in Queen Street. This small religious community resided in Hyde Market for only three months before relocating to The Hermitage, which was renamed Priory House. The building was located where the turning bay now is for buses arriving at St Mary's High School. It was demolished when building work began on the school. During this period the Dominicans preached in St Mary's 'Old Chapel'.

The ground for the new Church of St Catherine of Sienna was provided by John Quinn, who owned a hardware store in Margaret Street. He lived in Queen Street House, a short distance from the site of the Church.

As the Dominicans' chief benefactor, Quinn not only donated the ground, which had a quarry on the site that provided some of the stone for the new building, but he rented two adjoining properties to the priests.

Cork architect George Coppinger Ashlinn, whose offices were located in Dublin's St Stephen's Green, designed St Catherine's. He was also responsible for the bell tower, transcepts, sacristy, the organ gallery, porches and confession boxes, in the Cathedral of SS Patrick and Colman, Newry. Ashlinn was also one of the principal judges in an architectural competition to design the new Newry Town Hall, in 1890.

A number of the town's wealthy merchants were not in favour of the new chapel being located in Ballybot because, they claimed, 'only the poor lived there'. They preferred a site on the Armagh Road. However, Quinn's influence won the day.

His Lordship, Most Rev Dr John Pius Leahy OP, Bishop of Dromore laid and blessed the  foundation stone, on 23 May 1873. St Catherine's was officially opened and solemnly dedicated in October 1875. The first sermon was preached by Bishop Thomas Croke, Archbishop of Cashel. He was one of the first patrons of the GAA. Dublin's Jones' Road Sports Ground was renamed Croke Park in his honour in 1913. The collection after the first sermon in St Catherine's raised the impressive sum of £800, while £260 was raised from the sale of admission tickets alone.

The spire was not completed until 1884, and the church, which cost approximately £8,000 to build, was consecrated on 4 August 1906. Nearby Cleary Crescent was named after prior Fr Pius Cleary, who died in 1962.

In the early 1900s, there was a pork market in Needham Street and a seed market in the area of the present day Sports Centre, where the cattle market was later located.

A man named Patrick Magill owned a carriage and wagon building business in King Street. He also made and repaired farm implements and was a wheelwright and supplied wheels that he bought in from Dublin, London and Manchester firms.

Newry Steam Laundry was situated towards the end of Queen Street, on the left hand side, near Kiln Street. It was gutted in a blaze on 31 May, 1909. The press recorded that the fire 'raged with such fury that the entire buildings were burned down',

The premises of the nearby Frontier Waterworks were partly damaged in the conflagration. The total damage to all property and machinery was estimated at £5,000. The source of the fire was not discovered.

Pat Hughes, a Newry contractor who lived in Dominic Street, became known as the 'Uranium King', after stories reached the town that he was the first man to stake a claim in the 'Uranium Rush' in Saskatchewan, Canada, in August 1952.

His immense good fortune at the age of 27 even made the front page of the Belfast newspapers. His widowed mother, Mary, was expected to receive confirmation in a reply to a telegram which she had sent to her son about the uranium discovery.

Pat, who had emigrated to Canada in 1949, had returned to Newry on holidays in December 1951 before going back to Canada in April 1952. On Monday, 4 August 1952, Mrs Hughes received a cable from her son which was addressed from Beaver Lodge Lake, Saskatchewan, to her home in Dominic Street. The cable was posted on July 29 but there was no reference in the letter that he would take part in the Uranium Rush.

Mrs Hughes told the press that she could neither confirm nor deny that Pat was the first person to stake a claim.

"I feel it could be Pat," she said. "The story is so like him."

In an earlier letter that Pat had sent from Edmonton, Canada, to his friend Patrick Crawley, who lived at Merchant's Quay, Newry, he said how he intended moving to the area around Uranium City.

He pointed out that he had obtained a miner's licence and that the Canadian Government would soon be letting out land to prospectors.

"If I don't get a slice of it, it won't be my fault," Pat said.

His good fortune continued when he subsequently became one of the principal driving forces in the discovery of lucrative zinc deposits in the Republic.

Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein MP, Mickey Brady was born in Kiln Street. There is a red brick row of terrace houses in the street, named Johnston's Terrace. Johnston was the builder. He was also responsible for Aileen Terrace, apparently named after his daughter.

Mr Brady recalled that his late mother and father met at a dance in the old Labour Hall, also known as the Columban Hall, which had once been Ballybot School. The Knights of Columbanus met in the Hall between the 1930s and 1950s.

He remembers playing as a young boy in The Stone Market, where the Southern Regional College is sited, next to Kilmorey Terrace, and being paid between 3d and 6d to stop cattle turning into the side streets in Ballybot as they were been hand-driven between the docks and the cattle market.

Mickey was the youngest ever altar-boy in St Catherine's, at aged six years, and remained one until he was 17.

"It was an absolutely brilliant area in which to grow up," said Mickey. "Ballybot was full of great characters, like Eddie 'Biff' Grimes, who ran Ballybot Football Team, Paddy Ryan who owned a three-legged greyhound, Alfie Matthews who collected for the YP Pools and who had been in the Citizen Army with James Connolly and I can recall Britton Adams who ran Newry Steam Laundry."

Mickey's Granny Finnegan, who resided at 17 Dominic Street, had the cure for various ailments, saying prayers as she 'healed' visitors.

There was Colum McAteer's shop, which sold "frogs' legs and other delicacies," Nellie and Gertie Ross' confectionery shop and newsagents, 'Tee Hee' MacArdle who owned a dry-cleaning shop, McCaughey's bric-a-brac shop, Dick McKenna's Pub and Larkin's Pub, which was once Toal's Pub, and residents Molly and Phil Woodgate, the Mulgrews who chopped sticks and Mick Gavaghan's shop, in Francis Street, where children sold their buckets of blackberries.

A family called Goodwins lived above their draper's shop, where Ned Kelly's Carry Out is presently sited.

Akabar Din had a vegetable shop, with a bootmakers at the rear, in Francis Street. He also had a barber in the shop. A clock, which did not work, sat on the counter with a notice on it saying 'No Tock Here'.

Stark's factory in Cornmarket, where American GIs were billeted during WWII, created much employment for residents, said Mr Brady. For a period they had the only employer-based creche in Northern Ireland.

The factory is now Ballybot House and was once Robert Dempster's Spinning Mill, thought to be the first spinning mill in Newry. More than 500 people were once employed in the Mill, in the nineteenth century, which made it the town's biggest employer.

"There was a great community spirit, and there still is," stated Mickey. "I remember running in the 2015 election and there was a large banner which said Ballybot for Brady."

Ballybot was rocked by the horrific news in May 1956 when it was learned that three members of the Robbins family, who had emigrated from Patrick Street to San Gabriel, California, in August 1955, had perished when fire engulfed their home.

Mrs Eileen Robbins (née Jones), aged 40, her 18-year-old son Jackie and daughter Kathleen, aged eight, died. Eileen's husband, Patrick, who came from Broughton Street, Dundalk, survived but was seriously injured.

They had only moved into a new house, built with a wooden frame, one month before the fire swept through their home, which occurred on Monday, 14 May, 1956.

Mr Robbins had been making breakfast that morning before heading off for work at an electronics plant, where his son Jackie also worked. There was an explosion which instantly engulfed walls, curtains and carpets. The wooden-framed house burned down in less than 10 minutes, before the fire brigade arrived.

A telegram with the tragic news was sent to life-long family friend Miss Lily Martin, who resided in Kiln Street at the time, just a few doors away from the Robbins family, who lived in the house at the junction of Patrick Street and Kiln Street, which later became McDonald's Shop. Lily had been tying up a bundle of newspapers, which she sent to the Robbins family each week, when the telegram arrived. So moving was the story that it was even covered by the Los Angeles Times. Neighbours could hear a heartbroken Lily wailing after she had read the distressing news in the telegram.

Lily's father, Thomas Martin, was a spademaker and her granddfather, Nicholas Martin was a blacksmith in King Street. She died on 26 January 1969 at home in one of the flats in the building that was once Ballybot Courthouse.

Many residents living in the area in the 1950s through to the 1970s hailed local man, Eddie 'Biff' Grimes as the 'King of Ballybot'. Eddie managed the Ballybot Babes soccer team who played in McKinstry's Field, off Doran's Hill, on Sundays, and in The Meadow Summer League.

Under the astute eye of Biff, his teams enjoyed many glory days in the town's various cup competitions. As a young, aspiring goalkeeper, Newry's legendary Pat Jennings played in the local league. On one occasion, Biff lent him a pair of football boots, each a different size!

The charismatic Eddie was a beloved character, a renowned racounteur and wordsmith, penning a number of poems. There are many colourful stories about the larger than life Biff, too numerous to relate. He died on 22 December 1976, aged only 57. In a strange quirk of fate, his close pal Harry Shields passed away on the same day. Pat Jennings was one of the many hundreds of mourners who attended Biff's funeral.

One of Biff's quirkier poems contains the memorable lines, 'On my holidays last summer, I was bitten by a flea, I have a note for Daisy Hill for cas-u-al-ty, and if they keep me waiting there or ask me to undress, I'll go and see my Councillor and put it in the press'.

And it includes the sentiment, which is entirely appropriate for Ballybot, 'For we are proud of Newry, It's full of nature's charm, and if you are a stranger you're received with open arms'.

From a period when its citizens were not allowed to vote, Ballybot now has the offices of an MP, Mickey Brady, who was born and bred there, Southern Regional College, a Catering College, a Sports Centre, and bilingual signs, all a long way from condescendingly being regarded as Baile Bocht or 'Poor Town'.


Subscribe to read full newspaper »

Send to a friend

Please complete the following form to inform a friend about this page.

In order to process your information we must ask you to enter the letters in the image into the box:

CAPTCHA Image play audio version Reload Image

* Mandatory field - please complete