Newry, located in the south east of Northern Ireland on the border of Counties Down and Armagh, has a long and distinguished history.
St Patrick planted a yew tree at the head of the strand of Carlingford Lough, which pointed its dark green fronds towards the heavens for 700 years. The city's name originates from this story, with the old name being Iuir Cinn Tra (The Head of the Strand), which eventually was revised and shortened to the word Newry.
The monastery founded by St Patrick was burnt in 1162 along with the yew tree. Newry became an important centre in the area under the rule of DeCourcy, the Anglo Norman subjugators of Ulaidh. He built a castle which was later burnt by Edward Bruce in 1315 and after being rebuilt it was again destroyed by the O'Neills. A Cistercian Abbey was founded in 1157 by Maurice McLoughlin, King of Ireland and its charter was confirmed by Hugh deLacy, the successor of DeCourcy.
Birth of the modern town
After its dissolution the monastery was granted by Edward VI to Nicholas Bagenal, who adopted the Abbot's house as a residence for himself. In many ways Nicholas Bagenal seems to have been the real founder of the town of Newry. He colonised it, rebuilt the castle and in 1578 erected the Parish of St Patrick's, perhaps the earliest Protestant church in Ireland.
When the forces of King James II were retreating before William during the Williamite war, they set fire to the town in 1689 and only six houses and the castle survived. Within decades, however, the town's fortunes were rising. The town was rebuilt, had the busiest port in Ulster and the first summit level canal in the British Isles, which was completed in 1742. This stimulated the flow of goods (brown linen, butter and linen) and led to a period of prosperity which explains the many fine buildings and public places that can still be seen today.
St Mary's church dates from 1819 and has a tower and spire 150 feet in height. The Cathedral of St Patrick and St Colman on Hill Street is a handsome perpendicular style building. Built in 1829 of local granite to a cost of £8,000, it was the first Catholic cathedral opened after the granting of Catholic Emancipation. The tower and transept were added in 1888 and the nave extended in 1904. The interior marble work and mosaics took five years to complete.
The imposing, broadly classical Town Hall constructed in 1893 is unusual in that it was built on a three-arched bridge astride the Clanrye River. The reason was reputedly to settle the rivalry between the people of Armagh and Down as to which county the Town Hall should be sited; the river being the traditional county boundary at this point. On the bridge is the Russian Trophy, a 19th century cannon captured during the Crimean War. This was given to the town in recognition of the men from Newry who volunteered to fight in the war. The Russian Eagle can be seen on the barrel of the gun.
The railways arrived in 1849 bringing not further development but subordination as traffic on the inland canal dramatically decreased and Belfast's dominance in Ulster grew.
However, a ship canal from the Albert Basin to the sea and the loss of much cotton to the world market because of the American Civil War allowed Newry and Bessbrook, which were linked by an innovative tramline, to develop a flax spinning industry. The Newry Mills were located to the west of the town.
By 1881 the population of Newry had reached its 19th century zenith of 15,590 but from the turn of the century until the 1960s there was a period of decline as the inland canal, the mills, the tram and the railways all closed.
Newry is one of the country's foremost shopping destinations with an array of traditional independent traders and multi-national retailers, which combine to provide great shopping opportunities. Hill Street in the heart of Newry is the focal point for shopping and holds a market every Thursday and Saturday. This the town's main shopping street provides a fine range of family owned businesses. Modern, extensive shopping and entertainment complexes include The Quays and Buttercrane Centres. The town that was built on its trading traditions today still provides some of the best shopping in Ireland.
Newry has a vibrant nightlife with excellent restaurants and bars. It offers value for money cuisine, great entertainment and a relaxing atmosphere in its range of traditional bars, modern themed pubs and restaurants. A wide variety of accommodation exists in the town.
The Newry Heritage Trail, available as a free download, takes you through the city's many attractions and is a useful way of absorbing Newry's interesting and varied architecture.