Newry - Story of Belfast

WE find Newry is mentioned in ancient MSS., 900 years before Christ. It is in the richest part of Ulster, a post, market, and seaport town of most ancient history. It lies thirty miles southwest of Belfast. The massive form of Slieve-gullion and the romantic outlines of the Mourne Mountains with the addition of the surpassing beauty of Carlingford Lough would make Newry a place full of interest, but when we know that, from the earliest ages, it was renowned for its sacred buildings and famous School of Learning, we find Newry is one of the most important of our old towns.

A desperate battle took place in the year 332 A.D. A rampart was built from Scarva extending to Jonesborough, still called the Dane's "Cast" which was a marvellous piece of work to have been done fifteen hundred years ago. St. Patrick gave the name "Na Yur" the yew tree at the head of the strand. He planted the yew trees and one great tree which overshadowed the abbey gate. A Cistercian abbey was founded in the year 1153, by King Morice McLoghlin, who got the consent of all the kings and peers in Ulster and Errigal to open it, and is almost the only monastic charter in existence. It is a most curious and unique document, and it is now kept in the British Museum.

A celebrated grove of yew trees was afterwards on the site of the abbey and two remarkable trees were called the Newries. Several of the yew trees still flourish, and are still evergreen.

One of the most famous of the collegiate schools was in Newry and it was there King Alfred the Great was sent to receive his education.

Newry was granted to Sir Richard Bagnal, and he turned the beautiful territory of the abbey grounds into his own palace garden. He built St. Patrick's Church in 1578, and it was destroyed in 1641, but after the restoration it was repaired, re-roofed and enlarged. A castle built by De Courci was destroyed by Edward Bruce, and it was rebuilt and again destroyed by Shane O'Neill. But the most disastrous destruction was done by James II. who left only one castle and six houses. All the houses in Newry were formerly built of granite, but ruthless and utterly useless devastation seemed the usual line of treatment in those old times. There are in Newry two St. Patrick's and two St. Mary's. The Roman Catholic St. Patrick's is a very handsome Gothic structure and a place of considerable monastic celebrity. Human remains of a very large size were dug up near the abbey. They had shoes on the feet. Bishops and abbots were formerly buried with shoes on their feet.

The men of the Kingdom of Mourne were said to be the finest-looking men to be found in all Ireland, and old writers say that Newry claims the honour of having the most beautiful women in Ireland, and that no other part of the country can show so much character to correspond.

The greatest cattle drive in all history occurred in Mourne when Turlough O'Neill carried off at Kilmorey 3,000 cows belonging to Sir Richard Bagnal and the Dean of Armagh, in the year 1557.

In the year 1814, during some excavations, a large quantity of coins were found near Newry. Two hundred were found at Castle Lenahan which were enclosed in a cow's horn, and had been buried in the earth. Some bore the head of Edward I., and some the head of Robert Bruce, and they had been buried for 500 years. In a bog at a place called Lougriecouse, there was found, twenty-three feet below the surface, the body of a Highlander fully dressed. The dress was perfect but the body crumbled away when it was moved. Newry is now a pleasant thriving business town, and the memory of the old times still lingers.