Many Personalities Lived And Worked On Main Street (part 2)

The Connolly boys would play on the street with the Boyd’s, - Russell, now the proprietor; Eamonn, who is a doctor; Michael, a priest who died recently, and Paddy.

Their sisters were Lulu, Ann, Ronnie, Margot, Gabrielle and Ellen. Other play-mates were the O’Hare’s, whose father had a nearby public house and grocery shop. Though they were on the main route from Belfast to Dublin, traffic was very light, mainly horses and carts.

There was lots of life on Hill Street, where shops stayed open until 9 p.m., while people were going to or coming from the Frontier cinema and the many pubs in the locality. The nearby market also brought a lot of hustle and bustle on Thursdays and Saturdays. Among the characters were Biddy Ardee, Alice the Blow, `Rubber Gubs` McCabe and Terry on the Rocks, shell-shocked in the war.

The shops next to the market in Jack Connolly’s time, were Kevin Cahill, the butcher; McMahon the barber, - son Jimmy, a Carrickcruppen and Armagh star, died prematurely; - Mc Manus the Pawn; Harris Rundle, optician; Richard Sloan, iron-monger; Peter Connolly’s shoe-shop; O’Hare the chemist, - later Frank Sweeney’s; Louis Jellett (tobacconist), D.L. McArdle, chemist, and, at the corner, J.V. Kelly’s drapery shop.

Just returned from the USA, where he has been adjudicating at National Irish Dancing Championships, Jack Connolly, whose School of Irish Dancing produced a host of champions, reported that the success of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance has led to a tremendous upsurge of interest in Irish dancing. He adjudicates at various contests, as well as testing prospective teachers, in America and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, jazz musician Tony (Nat) Coleman has happy memories of the years he spent at D. L. McArdle’s chemist shop, beside J.V. Kelly’s. Also on the staff was Liam O’Hare from Warrenpoint, who opened his own shop near the Frontier Cinema; Tom (Slim) Murray, married to Josephine Harbinson of O’Neill Avenue, who would `walk` the greyhounds for doggie magnate, Jack Mullan; Frank Brooks and Desmond Connolly, who gained a Gold Medal for Pharmacy, as did his boss.

Tony played all over Ireland with the Sky-rockets and the Clubmen, while his daughter Janet has won Gold Medals in athletics, while Lorraine has sung on TV, and now lives in Jerusalem. He related how, between DL McArdle’s and JV Kelly’s shops, was the entrance to the `smallest pub in Newry’, owned Mick Barry. Messrs McArdle and Kelly, along with solicitor Gerry Curran, later a coroner, and Jimmy Brady, would gather there for lunch. `The craic would be mighty.`

J.V Kelly was president of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Newry, and had been bestowed with the Bene Merenti Medal by the Pope. Those on the staff included Jimmy Warner, Pat Burns and Jimmy Dougan. His son, John, a member of the Irish Senate, was a professor at University College, Galway, while another son, Jim, is in the wholesale drapery business.

Meanwhile, Brendan Gallagher, who had a grocery shop across the street, was a Scoutmaster, life-long Pioneer and Newry Mitchels GFC stalwart, serving his time at Quinn’s the Milestone, now Dunnes Stores. He was the only trader in the frontier town, legally entitled to stay open on Wednesdays. Appointed Ships Chandler, he would supply vessels at Newry port.

The first supermarket in Newry was Quinn’s the Milestone, now Dunnes Stores on Hill Street, founded by John Quinn from Lisnacree. His family included Ruairi Quinn, former leader of the Irish Labour Party and Irish Finance Minister, as well as Fearghal Quinn, head of the Superquin chain, and the late Dr Padraig Quinn.

Managed by Tom McGahon, the staff had their own football team, which competed in the Newry GAA Works League. They included future Down stars, Tony Hadden and Kevin O’Neill, Cllr Pat Toner, and Tom McKay, later Head of the Training and Employment Agency; with Dessie Fearon, Nickey Garvey, Sean Toal, Myles Bradley, Seamus Crossey, Ray Kelly and Jim Murphy. The staff also included Pat Larkin, Paul Murphy, Kathleen and Maura Burns, also Mary Bennett.

Tom McKay recalled that prominent Gael, Larry Beattie had a shoe-shop opposite; next to the chip-shop run by Gerry Pagni, - who was on an Abbey CBS side which won the MacRory Cup, and who moved to Dungannon, - then Bennetts newsagents, with a printing business in Mill Street. The Catholic Repository, run by Miss McCorry, which also sold newspapers, was 50 yards away.

Maybe the most dynamic and progressive person to run a business on Hill Street was Sadie Cunningham, daughter of the esteemed draper, Willie O’Hare. Educated at the Poor Clares’ primary school and the Sacred Heart Grammar School, she learned the trade at her father’s shop in Marcus Square. After marriage to Charlie Cunningham, they started the first all-boys clothes shop at Hill Street in 1973, later moving to Margaret Street.

A founder member of the Newry Chamber of Trade in 1978, along with Declan McChesney of Cahill’s as first president, she was later elected to the top post. Then followed her appointment as President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Trade in 1993, - the first woman to achieve that high office, serving for four years.

Explaining the purpose of establishing the Newry Chamber of Trade, she stated: “The needs of retailers, - those in touch with the public, - were not being served by the Chamber of Commerce at that time. We were championing the cause of the independents, and promoting in-town shopping at a time of recession and terrorism, also fighting to protect and enhance the vitality of Newry town centre.”

Launching the `In-town` campaign in 1995, Sadie Cunningham said: “This is aimed at maintaining town centres as the cultural, retail and tourist heartlands of the local community. We, as retailers have played an important role in keeping communities together under pressure, from which most would have buckled.”

That role has been adopted by former Mayor of Newry, Cllr Jackie Patterson, as chairman of the City Centre Partnership. His experience of growing up close to the city centre, aware of its history, ethos and tradition, as well as the quality and diversity of the personalities, who worked and often lived above those premises, should prove invaluable to the important and challenging task which lies ahead!

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008