A Visitors Guide to Newry, Mourne and Gullion
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Myth and Legend
The legends of the Celts (or Gaels) are among the oldest in Western Europe. While they are not literally true they most probably are based on actual events.Cuchulainn Many legends centre around the Red Branch Knights (Curraidh na Craobhe Ruaide) who hailed from Emain Macha, near present day Armagh. One of the best known stories is of the Cattle Raid of Cooley (Táin Bó Cuailgne) initiated by Queen Maeve of Connacht. The sole defender of Ulster against this attack was Cuchulainn. This was an adopted name. His given name was Setanta. Setanta as a boy traveled from Muirthemne to Emain Macha to join the Red Branch Knights. After being invited to a feast at the home of Culain, the smith to King Conor MacNessa, Setanta arrived to find the gate already locked. Modern Armagh mural depicts Cuchulainns death He had to scale the gate to gain entrance to the party but he was immediately confronted by Culain's guard dog, a huge and ferocious hound. The dog, as he was trained to do, attacked Setanta. Having only his hurley and ball to defend himself he struck the ball hard so that it lodged in the hound's mouth. Setanta then strangled the animal. Those inside were drawn outside by the commotion. Culain's face fell at the sight of his dead hound. Seeing his disappointment, Setanta offered to act as Culain's guard until such time as a new hound could be trained. At this Cathbad the Druid stepped forward and named the young boy 'Cuchulainn' which means the hound of Culain. Cuchulainn was later to become the greatest hero of the Red Branch Knights and of all Gaelic legend.

Saint Patrick - Patron Saint of Ireland
It is believed that the Irish were quick to accept Christianity. St Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland while on exile from France(?). During one of his many missions he set up camp at a sandy stretch of the Clanrye River and planted a Yew Tree as a symbol of the growing faith. It is this story which gave Newry its name, "Iubhair Cinn Tragh" (the Yew tree at the head of the strand). A monastery grew up around this Yew tree, which was later replaced in 1144 by a Cistercian Abbey. I have read that Saint Patrick was born Maewyn Succat in Wales in AD387, the son of Calphurnius, a Roman official. At 16 he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland, where he was held captive as a Shepherd for six years until he escaped to France. There he converted to Christianity. He died on March 17, 461. 
During the eighth century, Ireland and in particular Newry was frequently invaded and raided by the Vikings. Monastries were particularly prone to attack and St Edna's (Killeavy Old Church) suffered this fate. A Viking Handle - Ulster Museum - Click to enlarge Viking longships entered Carlingford Lough to travel up the Clanrye River through Newry to attack other areas inland. In fact the name Carlingford does not denote a crossing point as might be assumed from the English "ford". The area was given this name because of the inlet's resemblence to a Scandanavian Fjord and it was called for the (unknown now) Viking named Cairlinn. 
The constant encroachment from the sea ended in the tenth century when King Murtagh eventually defeated the Vikings. King Murtagh was the 'over-king' in Ulster. By 1014 Brian Boru established himself as the high-king of Ireland but was killed at the battle of Clontarf. In 1157 the High-King of Ireland Murtagh MacLoughlin granted to the guardians of the monastery in Newry a large tract of land, encompassing parts of Down, Armagh and Louth, to own and rule. However, in 1162 the monastery suffered a severe fire which destroyed all the furniture and the legendary Yew tree which Patrick planted. 

The Norman Invasion
Power struggles continued throughout Ireland. Rory O'Connor was in dispute with Dermot MacMurrough in Leinster and managed to drive him out and establish supremacy. Dermot, however, sailed to Wales to seek the help of some Norman barons. Even he could not have guessed at the price Ireland was to pay for this treachery. More and more Normans arrived in search of expansionist glory and possessions.Display of Norman Swords at Ulster Museum The Norman invasion of Ireland can be dated to 1167. John De Courcey arrived in Down with an army and defeated the Irish in 1177. De Courcey became over-lord of an area between the River Bann and the east coast, and built several motte-and-bailey type castles, the remains of one of which still exists beside the Crown Bridges at Sheeptown,  on the road between Newry and Hilltown.Norman Armour - Display at Ulster Museum Hugh de Lacy was later installed as Earl of Ulster by King John. He treasonably declared independence and King John led an invasion into Ulster from Carlingford (at which place he built a castle which still stands today). King John defeated de Lacy and returned to England. 
In 1315, spurred by the struggle in Scotland, Robert the Bruce's brother Edward arrived in Larne with an army, intending to free his fellow Gaels from foreign domination. He captured Newry and was crowned king of Ireland. After traveling and waging war around Ireland he was eventually killed in 1318. Warfare continued between the Irish and the English, and Newry was at the forefront of these struggles. The monastery too was experiencing ever increasing internal problems and was becoming more involved in local politics. As a result of the Norman Conquest Ireland became part of feudal Europe and a lordship of the English crown.

The O'Neills
The O'Neills led a Gaelic alliance which struggled to halt the English advances into Ulster. During the early sixteenth century Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England and King of Ireland, beginning his protestant reformation. He sought complete control of the country. Henry the Eighth To accomplish this measures were set in place to remove Gaelic dress, customs and language. The main measure was 'surrender and re-grant' whereby the old Gaelic lords surrendered to the king and in return were allowed to hold their lands from the king but under a new English title. In 1542 the Great O'Neill accepted surrender and re-grant and became Earl of Tyrone. By 1550 the monastery in Newry had been forced to surrender to the English crown (under the Dissolution of the Monasteries) and came under secular control. This passed to Nicholas Bagenal, a marshal of the English army and an acquaintance of O'Neill. Conn Bacach O'Neill died in 1559 and was succeeded by Shane O'Neill who despised the Earl of Tyrone title. He claimed his historical rights in Ulster, and gathered forces to resist the English. English control of south Ulster depended on their hold of the town of Newry. After many battles and a negotiation with the English Queen Elizabeth, Shane O'Neill was left temporarily to reign in Ulster. He built a castle near Newry and removed Bagenal. O'Neill's dominance in Ulster became a worry to the English and in 1565 forces led by Bagenal re-entered Newry and regained control. O'Neill's power began to fade and he was killed two years later.

The town of Newry began to grow industrially and commercially aided by a successful port.Hugh O'Neill

Hugh O'Neill became the English recognised "Earl of Tyrone". Hugh's acceptance of English ways at first earned him the nickname the "Queen's O'Neill". Queen Elizabeth However Hugh O'Neill remained at heart Gaelic and was to pose the greatest threat to English rule. Henry Bagenal had succeeded Nicholas Bagenal and greatly resented Hugh O'Neill's favour with the English Queen. This resentment was exacerbated when Hugh fell in love with Henry's youngest sister Mabel. Sadly a few years after they married Mabel died.

The Queen continued to overthrow the Gaelic system and eventually this infringed upon O'Neill's lands. Conflict followed and he was declared a traitor. Hugh renounced his English title and became O'Neill Mór (the Great O'Neill). O'Neill formed an alliance of Gaelic lords and war with the English ensued between 1593 and 1603. Hugh O'Neill was also fighting on behalf of the Catholic faith, against the protestant reformation, which increased his support among the Irish and meant that he could enlist help from Spain which was also fighting the English. Newry was the centre for the English forces with Bagenal in command. The Irish adopted ambushing tactics to inflict the greatest possible loss. In the many battles that followed the Irish armies often defeated the English forces and forced them to retreat back to Newry. The English sensing defeat, negotiated with Hugh O'Neill who retained a Gaelic Ulster but Newry was left in the hands of the Bagenal family. Newry was under siege and Bagenal reinforced his command. In an ensuing battle Henry Bagenal was killed and the English were overcome, leaving Newry susceptible to Hugh O'Neill. News of this victory over the English spread through Ireland and rebellion increased.

Lord Mountjoy succeeded as lord deputy and pursued the battle with O'Neill. His strategy included the erection of forts to hinder the movement of the Irish, and the destruction of the Irish crops and livestock to bring famine to O'Neill's people. Mountjoy succeeded in breaking up the alliance of the Gaelic leaders. O'Neill desperately needed a Spanish landing. When this came it was at the wrong time and at the opposite side of the country at Kinsale, near Cork. O' Neill marched with other Gaelic forces to meet the invading Spanish. The battle that ensued on Christmas Eve in 1601, brought a severe defeat to the Irish and O'Neill retreated to Ulster to await his inevitable defeat.

Mountjoy's battle tactics had left much of Ulster in a state of deprivation and famine. O'Neill surrendered and eventually O'Neill and some companions sailed for Spain. This has been termed the 'Flight of the Earls'.

King James had succeeded Elizabeth to the English throne and decided that the best way to ensure a stable Ulster free from rebellion was to 'plant' it with English and Scottish settlers. Land was taken from the Irish and given to the new plantation settlers, who would be loyal to the interests of England.King Charles 1600-1649

The plantation was, however, not as successful as hoped and rather than replacing the indigenous population the new settlers were scattered throughout, since enough settlers could not be found. Differences and grievances between the native Catholics and plantation Protestants about land and loyalties increased underlying tensions and hatred. Rebellion broke out in 1641 in parallel with rebellion between parliamentarians and monarchists in England, which resulted from discontent with Charles I's rule. Oliver Cromwell Charles was executed in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell sailed to Ireland to suppress rebellion.

His 'New Model Army' ruthlessly did so. Cromwell's army plundered Drogheda to the south of Newry, burning the town, murdering its inhabitants and heaping repeated atrocity upon recurrent humiliation of the Irish people and their faith. The English armies took much of Ulster largely unopposed, butchering the few that stood in their way. The English set about marching south to overcome the last vestiges of resistance from the Gaelic Irish and Old-English (Naturalised Normans).

By 1660 the English monarchy was restored, after the civil war between the parliamentarians and monarchists. Irish Catholics had hoped that the new King James II would restore the lands that had been granted to the Cromwellian newcomers, but in 1688 William of Orange came to England to challenge his father-in-law James II's claim to the English throne. James sought refuge in Ireland whence William pursued him. Battles between the Williamites and Jacobites occurred which culminated in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, which saw the defeat of James and the accession to the throne of William. The subsequent peace allowed industry and commerce to be rebuilt and thrive. These times saw the emergence of several wealthy families such as the Needhams and Corrys in Newry. They are still remembered today in street names and monuments.

Deep set fears resulted in new laws, introduced by the Irish Parliament following the defeat of the Jacobites. These 'Penal Laws' prevented Catholics from practising their religion, and excluded them from politics and property ownership. Following the destruction of the town in 1689 planning and rebuilding began focused around the quays and supported by Nicholas Bagenal and the wealthy families in the town. Bagenal died in 1712 and the ownership of Newry and Mourne was then passed on to Robert Nedham who encouraged commerce and was benevolent to the religious sensibilities of the inhabitants. Needham provided sites at nominal rents for the building of churches and encouraged the construction of warehouses and bridges.

The Canal
The discovery of coal at Coalisland on the shores of Lough Neagh meant an alternative source of coal for Dublin. Previously Dublin's coal had been imported from Newcastle-upon-Tyne at great expense. Transporting the coal by road to Dublin would be expensive and so it was proposed to build a 'navigatable trench' or canal from Lough Neagh to Carlingford Lough to enable transportation of coal by ship from Coalisland down the east coast to Dublin. Work began on building the British Isles first inland canal in 1731.

The canal never fulfilled its purpose of transporting coal from Tyrone but became the centre of trade of Ulster. Newry became the busiest port in the north of Ireland and created many wealthy merchants.

Low lying marsh land along the river and canal was drained and reclaimed. Housing and business was built and the town expanded to Ballybot on the Armagh side of the river. However throughout Ireland in the Eighteenth century many young people left for new lives in the American colonies, fleeding the rising rents, the linen industry crisis and religious restrictions.

By 1770 Newry possessed 1600 houses many of elegant style and decoration. The town had its own theatre and had attracted persons of such notoriety as George Frederick Handel and Jonathan Swift. On his visit Jonathan Swift commented 'High Church, Low Steeple; Dirty Streets, Proud People'. Industry grew around the canal, linen mills, breweries, saltworks, a sugar refinery and an iron foundry. All found success due to the accessibility the canal provided.

The canal thus catapulted Newry from being a small port to an international trading centre, trading with America, Jamaica, the Baltics, Poland, France and England. The commercial growth of the town increased its political influence and Newry was set to become a major city of influence in the ninteenth century.

During the late 1770's Isaac Corry was returned from Newry as MP to the Irish Parliament. This was a time of political discontent. Isaac Corry attached himself to Flood's 'Patriot Party' which was opposed to Irelands subordinate position to the British Parliament. This feeling was enforced when the American War of Independence was being fought. Irish politicians wanted more independence and an end to the 'penal laws'.

The important American market was cut off due to the war of Independence and ships began to be hijacked around the British coast due to the actions of American rebels who took refuge in France - an ally to American independence. Ireland as a subordinate to Britain was expected to field troops in America leaving Ireland exposed. It was left to the merchants to raise volunteers and equip them, to defend the ports and coast from invasion. A large number of unattached young men joined the Newry volunteers. Being a volunteer ensured instant social status. Although the volunteers were never tested in battle they showed the abilities of the wealthy merchants to organise and administer a large armed force.

During 1779 and 1780 restrictions on Irish trade to countries which were seen as a threat to English interests was removed, but the patriot party not only wanted economic freedom. The Volunteer Convention of 1782 called for an independent legislature and freedom from English influence, religious equality and freedom of trade. The Declatory Act of George I began a series of measures to return legislative power to the Irish parliament. Some envisaged this as the redemption of Ireland - but this was not to be so in reality.

The Westminster government began to try and take the power and influence from the patriot party and did so by approaching Isaac Corry with the bribe of a new position and salary. Corry accepted and thus transferred his allegiance to British influence in Ireland.

The United Irishmen
Theobald WolftoneWhat remained of the volunteers, led by William Drennan, were hard-line and politically aware and were inspired by the eruption of revolution in France in 1789.

'to subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England....and to assert the independence of my country - these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland... to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter - these were my means' Theobald Wolf Tone

Drennan had the idea of forming an organisation which would establish liberty, equality and fraternity.Henry Joy McCracken This organisation was formed in 1791 under the name of the High Society of United Irishmen and had a strong support in Newry. Theobald Wolf Tone as the leader of the United Irishmen paid a visit to Newry in order to reconcile and unite the different Catholic factions in the area. An armed rising was planned. Newry was an Irish stronghold and as such was subject to the government's policy of breaking up the United Irishmen. This resulted in murder and atrocity. A gallows was built beside St Patrick's church and so-called 'traitors' were hung and beheaded. Rebellion broke out in May 1798, with a notable battle at Ballynahinch, although Newry remained largely uninvolved due to the treatment received from the government.Samuel Neilson

Neither the eight years hardship I have endured, the total destruction of my property - the forlorn state of my wife and children - the momentary failure of our national exertions - nor the still more distressing usurpation in France, have abated my ardour in the cause of my country and of general liberty. You and I, my dear friend, will pass away, but truth will remain.
Samuel Neilson - founder of United Irishmen  

The defeat of the United Irishmen was followed by parliamentary union between Great Britain and Ireland and to achieve this William Pitts British Government entered a campaign of bribery to gain support for this act. Issac Corry was subject to this and in return for his support for the Act of Union he was promoted to the position of Chancellor of the Irish exchequer. In Newry, Corry received support from the citizens as they thought the Act of Union would lead to full Catholic emancipation. When the act of Union failed to fulfill this the citizens ceased to support the Act of Union and Isaac Corry. In the end, Corry built a road around Newry to avoid contact with the town's people - this is still called the 'Chancellors Road'.

Meanwhile Newry's growth as a trade centre continued. A new customs house was built on Merchants Quay and in 1815 Newry's population was 13,500, an illustration of the attraction of this port drawing people in from the surrounding countryside. However, the port at Belfast was becoming evermore a rival to the port at Newry.

Many important events occured at this time. The last of the Nedhams, William Nedham died in 1806. His estate was passed on to Viscount Kilmorey of Shropshire, and the Kilmorey family began to exert political influence on the town. In 1819 St Mary's on Hill Street was completed, having been built to replace St Patricks (The High Church). Although this initially caused a split in the Church of Ireland worshippers in the town, this was resolved when St Patricks was fully restored in 1866. Also in 1822 Newry Gaslight Company was established in order to light the streets of the town. This was to be of great social benefit, although initially some citizens viewed it as another 'English Intrusion'.

At this time Newry still had no council or public administration to regulate public affairs. This was put to rights when the elevated Earl of Kilmorey proposed a Board of Commissioners responsible for lighting and cleaning the streets. The towns citizens were to pay rates to the Board for these services and thus the Earl of Kilmorey and others with shares in the gaslight company were to benefit directly.

The Board of Commissioners consisted of 21 members, the majority of which were appointed by the Earl. The citizens of the town vehemently opposed this and thus it was rejected from parliament.

By this time Catholics had become less restricted by the government and began to acquire wealth. This gave Catholics more influence particularly in Newry which was a predominantly Catholic town. This influence was used to build the Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Colman in Hill Street and was opened in 1829. This was the first Catholic cathedral following Catholic emancipation.

The failure of the Earl of Kilmorey's attempts to set up a board of commisioners increased efforts to set up a municipal government for the town. In 1828 an act was passed establishing a board of 21 commissioners of police. Commissioners were elected and levied rates. They were responsible for the lighting and patrolling of the streets, and eventually the paving and sweeping of the streets.

Daniel O'Connell - The LiberatorIn 1830 the fever hospital and dispensary was extended and reduced the number of cases of typhoid and cholera. This then led to the construction of a large hospital on the Rathfriland Road capable of treating 10,000 out-patients.

Daniel O'Connell dominated Irish politics in the half century following the act of Union between Britain and Ireland. He created and moulded public opinion to gain Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Public awareness of the lack of liberty and equality grew. In the early 1840's O'Connell tried to gain repeal of the Act of Union, but drew back at the risk of violent confrontation. During this campaign, however, there emerged young men, such as John Mitchell, who formulated ideas which have remained important to this day.
The Great Famine

Poverty was still rife throughout Ireland due to the system of land-leasing and this led many influential figures calling for reform. This reform took the shape of the 'poor law'. Each of the administrative areas in the country had a 'workhouse' to provide relief for the poor. These workhouses were often seen as the 'last resort of the desperate', due to the conditions within. They provided only the basic necessities and were designed to be unattractive so that only the most destitute souls would turn to them. The workhouses were pushed to breaking point with the onset of the Great Famine.
Much of the hardship caused by the Famine was due to the nature of land holding in Ireland at this time. Land was owned by and rented from Protestant Clergy and plantation settlers, rent was paid in the form of corn which was then sold abroad. This left the Irish farmers with small amounts of land with which to feed their families- the answer to this was the potato. The potato was capable of feeding a family for a year on just one acre of land. The potato crop had allowed Ireland's population to flourish to 8 million in 1841. The problem came when the potato crop repeatedly failed between 1844 and 1849. One million people dies over these five years and a further one million emigrated. It is important to note that Ireland could have fed itself despite the failure of the potato, had the landlords had the compassion to let their tenants keep the corn which they paid as rents.

Other parts of Ireland suffered more, for in Ulster there had grown up what was known as 'Ulster Custom'. Under this a little fairness prevailed with some fixure of rent and lease, thereby encouraging land improvements. In other parts, once a tenant had made improvements to his land he was liable to be evicted on the grounds that the property was more valuable and a new tenant would be prepared to pay a higher rent.

Newry too was less affected by the famine due to the fact that its wealth was based on commerce. However, people who had been evicted were forced to leave their land due to starvation, and these people congregated in Newry while en route to England or on the 'coffin ships' to America.

Passenger lists and ship details were recorded for ships leaving from Newry and Warrenpoint and are held in the public records office (PRONI) Balmoral Avenue, Belfast.

During this time of social deprivation, several young men came to prominence as influential political thinkers. Two of these were from Newry, John Mitchel and John Martin.John Mitchell Statue - Newry Town Centre Thomas Davis declared the concept of Irish nationality as embracing everybody who lived in Ireland regardless of creed or origin. John Mitchell revived the physical force tradition in Nationalism.

John Mitchel was the son of a Presbyterian minister and as such was well educated, he met John Martin at school and the two became friends. At this time Daniel O'Connell was seeking to achieve a repeal of the Act Of Union. Mitchel often traveled to Dublin and with his radical views soon became a member of a group calling themselves, 'Young Ireland'. He started writing and editing for newspapers with a unique and passionate tone set in radical nationalism. John Mitchel's coat & sash of the 82 Club, so named to commemorate the independence gained in 1782 and abolished in 1800 - Ulster Museum exhibit Mitchel was very angry at the tragedies which had been imposed upon the Irish and soon called for an active violent campaign to drive out the British. He found support all over Ireland and especially in Newry. The insurrection of 1848, against a backdrop of famine, was unsuccessful and for his views Mitchel was condemned of Treason and sentenced to Penal Transportation. The rest of his life was one of long, frustrating exile in Bermuda and Australia. John Martin was also sentenced and sent into exile but later returned to play a part in the Home Rule party.

Newry continued to prosper as a commercial centre and in 1845 the Richardson family of linen manufactures established the model town of Bessbrook. Bessbrook was the first planned 'model village' in the British Isles. John Cribb Richardson was a strict Quaker and deliberately left the village without a public house, a pawn shop or a police barracks. The village remains intact to this day but is now home to a British Army heliport, the largest in Europe.

During the 1850's a large scale improvement programme was conducted on the canal in order that it could compete more effectively with the port at Belfast and utilise the new steam engines. The cargoes carried on the canal continued to grow and consisted of linen, coal, butter, meat and bricks. Quays were built at Warrenpoint in order to let larger ships dock there, and Warrenpoint also became a lively holiday resort.

The next revolution to strike in Ireland was the development of the railways. Acts of parliament were passed in the 1840's to construct lines to link Newry to Enniskillen, Newry to Rostrevor and Portadown to Drogheda via Newry. The link to the railroad provided new means for prosperity and the transport of goods, and ultimately saved Newry when the decline of the canal set in.

In 1875 John Michel returned to Ireland after escaping exile in America. He stood for election in County Tipperary and was returned twice after this election was nullified due to his being a felon. He returned home to Newry but died on the 20th of March 1875, due to ill health. He was buried with his parents at the Old Meeting House on High Street. At his funeral an old friend John Martin caught a chill and died a few days later.Newry Town Hall - Click to Enlarge

By this time several acts had been passed which improved quality of life in the town. These were the Towns Improvement (Ireland) Act 1854, and the Impovement and Water Act. The Towns Improvement Act allowed a new local authority of elected town commissioners to levy rates and improve the town. They commissioned the building of Newry Town Hall in 1893.

Unfortunately neither the canal improvements nor the railway development were enough to save Newry from decline, as Belfast continued to boom due to its deep water port with its ability to accommodate larger ships. By 1880 Newry had reached the peak of its growth, it still remained a busy port and market town, but was overshadowed by Belfast. It retained its obsession with political events and was soon to be a frontier town once again.

Home Rule
After the failure of the Fenian Rising in 1867 the key issues for the Irish were land reform and Home Rule. In 1873 the Home Rule League was founded drawing attention to land issues and home rule issues. Charles Stewart Parnell 1846-1891- Leader of the Irish People In 1885, Eighty-Five home rule candidates were returned to parliament and Newry was dominated by Home-Rulers. Parnell was elected and militancy increased. The Home Rulers embarked on a policy of obstruction, to disrupt the British Parliament and draw attention to Ireland's problems. In 1886 Gladstone introduced a bill to grant home rule to Ireland, and this was met by Unionist resistance. At this time socialism and the rise of trade unions were having a profound effect on social change and political issues, not least of which was Home Rule. The landlord system was under attack as demands increased for land reform. Michael Davitt 1846-1906Michael Davitt led farmers in a campaign to own the land they farmed. The 'Land War' of 1871-1882 was waged with moral force, using large demonstrations, 'boycotting' and supporting evicted tenants they highlighted that the landlord system was no longer defensible. Successive land acts enabled tenant farmers to buy their land and gave rise to rural Ireland's characteristic as a land of independent small farmers.  
Irish affairs dominated Westminster and the Liberal Party had come to power. This created two important policies for Ireland. The Parliament Act of 1911 meant the House of Lords could only delay the passing of an Act but could not reject it, so when the Liberals passed the Home rule bill in 1912 it was passed as a reality and acceptable to Nationalists. At this time republicanism and Sinn Féin were coming to prominence and had much support in Newry. Unionists continued to oppose Home Rule and the likelihood of armed resistance became a reality. Unionist opposition began with the formation of the Ulster Defence Union in 1893. Then with the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant by Edward Carson in 1912. In 1913 there was a declaration from Unionists for a provincial government.

Edward CarsonThis set the stage for Unionist opposition to Home Rule squarely in Ulster, with Newry at the frontier. Unionist shows of strength and parades were numerous especially in Newry, a predominately nationalist town. A few years later the Irish Volunteers were formed to protect the Irish interest in Home Rule, and defend against the Unionists. The Irish Volunteers were composed of Home Rulers and Republicans influenced by the IRB.

Both the UVF and the Irish Volunteers recruited and drilled in Newry, both realising the importance of the town. However, these groups always sought to avoid open confrontation until such a time as a war was declared. The Home Rule bill continued through parliament to become law in August 1914- Unionists threatened rebellion and civil war seemed inevitable. However, with the outbreak of World War I, the British Government decided not to continue with the Home Rule Act while the country was at war. Many people on the Nationalist and Unionist sides enlisted in the army to fight in France. Those who did not enlist benefitted from increased trade. In 1917 to prepare for an election constituencies were changed and Newry was submerged into the larger South Down constituency.

Patrick Pearse - Author of much of the ideology behind the RisingDuring the war the situation in Ireland was changing, culminating in the Easter Rising in 1916, led by Patrick Pearce. James Connolly - Socialist and Union Organiser, Commander of Irish Citizen Army The people of Ireland were now demanding full independence. This increased support for Sinn Féin throughout Ireland,  and in Newry campaigning between the Nationalist party and Sinn Féin for a by-election in 1918 culminated in a public rally with Eamon De Valera as a speaker. Although Sinn Féin did not win this by-election they saw huge increases in support.

Resistence in Newry increased but a truce occured when the war ended in Nov 1918, to be followed by an election in December. Sinn Féin wanted to win as many seats as possible for the Irish Parliamentary Party. The Sinn Féin candidate for South Down was Eamon De Valera. However in certain areas there was a fear that the nationalist vote could be split allowing a Unionist candidate to win. South Down and South Armagh were such constituencies. Following bargaining Sinn Féin decided to withdraw its candidates allowing the nationalists a free run. The result of the election was Sinn Féin 73 seats, Unionists 26 seats, Nationalists 6 seats.

Poblacht Na hEireann - The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic - to the people of Ireland
Irishmen and Irishwomen: In the name of God and the dead generations from which she receives her tradition of nationhood. Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
Having organised and trained through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army, having patiently perfected her disciplines, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying at first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfeathered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and independent. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished this right, nor can it be extinguished  except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation of the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again assertion it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms in the cause of its freedom, of its welfare and of its exaltation among the nations.
The Irish Republic is entitled to and hereby claims the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve, to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland, and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of Most High God, whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish Nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
Signed on behalf of the provisional government,
Thomas J Clark, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas McDonagh, P H Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, Joseph Plunket


Sinn Féin gathered in Dublin in January 1919 declaring themselves as Dáil Éireann - the Irish Parliament. A government and constitution was formed to create an Irish Republic as proclaimed in the Easter Rising of 1916. Open conflict followed. The Republican forces were now called the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who began a war of ambush and assasination. The custom house on Merchants Quay was the first target of the IRA in Newry. Further ambushes by the IRA were answered by the retaliatary measures of the RIC and British army. In November 1920 an RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) officer was shot dead in Newry, reprisal consisted of the arrests of suspects and destruction of Republican property. This 'ambush and reprisal' became the pattern of things to come throughout Ireland. In December the IRA attacked the RIC barracks in Camlough and ambushed police reinforcements. In reprisal houses facing the barracks were demolished and a pub and house were burned. This house was owned by Frank Aiken the local IRA commander.Eamonn De Valera - South Down TD

Conflict and casualties increased, and a nine-o'clock curfew was imposed. An election was to be held in May 1921 and for the first time incorporated separate parliaments of 'Northern Ireland' and 'Southern Ireland'. Northern Ireland consisted of the six more Northeastern counties. In the other 26 counties Sinn Féin stood unopposed, but in Northern Ireland they met opposition. Eamon De Valera again stood in South Down and was returned. Having nothing to do with the Northern Ireland parliament, he represented the South Down constituency in the Dáil, in Dublin.

The establishment of the Northern Ireland parliament led to a more determined IRA campaign. Increased attacks during June and July included the derailment of a troop train at Adavoyle. Negotiations between the republican and British governments led to a truce in July 1921 while discussions took place in London. Michael Collins led these negotiations on behalf of the Irish. These negotiations led to the signing of 'the articles of agreement for a treaty between Great Britain and Ireland'. A bitter debate and vote followed with the articles being accepted 64 votes to 57, in the Dáil.Michael Collins - Commander-in-Chief Northern Ireland was given the option of withdrawing from the Irish Free State and the border was to be decided by a Boundary Commission. With the onset of the war which followed this vote the Boundary Commission decision was delayed until 1924. The bitter Irish Civil War which divided families and friends between the pro- and anti-treaty factions caused much death and destruction around the island. Michael Collins led the pro-treaty lobby and became Commander-in-Chief of the Free State Army. In one of the darkest days in Irish history Collins was killed by Republican forces in his home county of Cork on 22 August 1922. 

The IRA continued its campaign in the north opposed by the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) and the B specials. The IRA were led in now by local man Frank Aiken. IRA supporters and nationalists refused to recognise the state of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland parliament re-introduced measures such as oaths of allegiance and 'six-shilling' rule for eligibility to vote. The elections were thus boycotted by nationalists.

The Boundary Commission reconvened in 1924 to review the border situation and listen to arguments which would affect the position of the new border. The problem was weighing up arguments between the wishes of the people and economic conditions. The commission accepted that the citizens of Newry, South Down and South Armagh favoured inclusion in the Irish Free State.

The argument on economic grounds was that Newry was a self-contained economic unit which was dependant on and depended on by large areas around it including portions of the Free State and that it and the surrounding areas should be transferred to the Free State.
The pro-Northern Ireland lobby argued that Newry was dependant on and controlled by Belfast, the larger provincial town. They also argued that because Belfast's water supply was in the Mourne Mountains they could not let the area pass to the Free State as management and jurisdiction of the supply would be too great. The commision accepted this stating that "a separation must be avoided".

This meant South Down had to remain in Northern Ireland, requiring Newry to also form part of Northern Ireland, and if Newry were to lie in Northern Ireland then so too would South Armagh as these areas were significantly interconnected.
The commision decided that Newry, as a centre of commerce and industry was interlocked to the economy of the region and that the economic integrity of Northern Ireland outweighed the desire of the inhabitants of the area.
Newry found itself on the on the border and became a frontier town once again. It became a focus of republican resistence to the statelet of Northen Ireland and remains so to this day.


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