Newry’s First Citizen Is Proud Of Historic Roots

SOME famous personalities have come from that historic area of Newry, stretching from Abbey Yard to Trevor Hill, once known as `the Back of the Dam,` wiped out by the dual carriageway.

But none would have been more popular or respected than the Mayor of the frontier city, Cllr Jackie Patterson. His adroit, balanced and good-humoured handling of the diverse elements on Newry and Mourne district council is matched by the rapport with all creeds and classes, during a hectic term of office, that drew to a close.

Proud of the Castle Street, Water Street and North Street region, where he was born and reared, the Independent councillor was pleased that the go-ahead was given for the final demolition of that planning monstrosity, the North Street Flats, for which he has campaigned so long.

Pointing out that this had been the original commercial and industrial centre, as well as the main thoroughfare in the frontier town, he referred to the superb architectural heritage of the original Georgian buildings, stating that they could have been refurbished.

And Newry’s former first citizen recalled: “That area, from Boat Street to Kildare Street, was once a hive of industry and commerce. There were cotton mills, linen and yarn factories, rope-works, coach-makers, tanning yards, a distillery, brass-foundry, glass-works and flour mills.”

Among the leading figures who were born or resided there, Jackie Patterson referred to the late Archbishop Francis Carroll; a Mayor of New York, Hugh Grant; Prime Minister of Victoria in Australia, Sir Patrick Jennings, who was knighted by Queen Victoria and knighted by the Pope; Trevor Corry, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and soccer superstar, Peter McParland, born in North Street.

And, of course, there were lots of characters in the “Good Old Days,” such as `Biddy Ardee`, `Gussie Begley,` `Pancake Lizzie.` and `Cush Murphy.` King Billy was reputed to have stayed in the house where Bella Cregan later lived, on his way to the Battle of the Boyne.

Meanwhile, young Patterson, who left the Abbey primary school at the age of 14, went on to become President of the Christian Brothers Past Pupils Union, succeeding Dr Seamus McAteer, John Bell, Des Murphy, Matt McAteer and Barney Maguire. Motivated by the need to preserve local history and heritage, he was co-founder of the Old Newry Society, along with Dr Padraig Quinn, Major Reside, Dr Una McClafferty and Sean McAteer.

On leaving school, Jackie had got a job with Richard Garland, owner of the Boulevard Hotel at Marcus Square. He would exercise and ride ponies at shows in Newry, Dundalk and Fintona, winning awards. A few years later, he served his time as a bricklayer with the firm of Felix O’Hare, involved in the construction of St Mary’s High School, the Shandon Park and Derrybeg estates.

Appointed Foreman Bricklayer with Newry Urban Council, he was promoted to Assistant Town Inspector. And when Newry and Mourne district council came into being in 1973, Jackie Patterson was appointed to the post of Cleansing Superintendent, from which he took early retirement.

The Mayor’s sporting career commenced as a forward on the Newry Shamrocks minor side, graduating to the senior squad, playing alongside T.P.Murphy, Tim McCoy, Donal Quinn and Paddy Walsh.

A member of the Cathedral Boys Choir, he was recruited by Miss Ethel Fitzpatrick to represent High Street in the Top Talent Contests. Also in the show were Oliver Hanna, Victor and Noel McLaughlin, Pat and Gerald Rocks. Jackie combined in a comedy duo with Brian Larkin; and such an impact did they make that the `couple of swells` act was chosen, along with Clodagh Rodgers of Eurovision fame for the Concert of the Stars.

The future council chairman’s role in the C.B.P.P.U. began when he was invited by the Council’s Finance Officer, the late Joe Morgan, to join the organisation. The past pupils’ union had been founded by the legendary Bro Newell, with the aim of raising funds to construct a new monastery for the Christian Brothers on Courtney Hill, He was elected President in 1974.

Jackie’s grandfather, Billy Morgan, had been a wholesale grocer, delivering goods on a horse-drawn float to shops around the town. His other grandfather, Joe Patterson was employed at Newry Gasworks. The Patterson family is one of the oldest in Newry, having operated an iron foundry at Castle Street, which gave employment to over 300 workers. They manufactured the railings which surround Newry Cathedral, St Mary’s `Old Chapel,` and other edifices.

On his mother’s side, the Morgan’s were well-known ferriers, who owned much of the property in Castle Street. There were six boys in the family, - Jackie, Willie, Joe, Jimmy, twins Martin and Dennis, along with Brendan; also three sisters, Mavis (Mrs Eddie Burns), Anne (Mrs Mickey Keenan) and Patricia (Mrs John McCann.)

Active on the billiards scene in the 60’s, Jackie Patterson was a member of the Catholic Workingmen’s Club team, which won the Newry and District League on several occasions. However, the onset of the `Troubles` made it difficult to carry billiards cues through the town at night. So competitions had to be put into cold storage.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008