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In 1877, the Newry Volunteer Fire Brigade was founded and twenty years later, in 1897, they appointed an individual who would become their most famous firefighter, James Heather.

In August 1898 Heather rushed into a building that had collapsed in North Street and suffered severe injuries while rescuing a young boy. Other incidents that captured the attention of local papers included Heather saving a child named Lizzie Sheehy from drowning in the sea at Warrenpoint. This happened in June 1936 while he was out walking his dog. According to the Larne Times, a Mr. Garnet W. Holt brought this courageous rescue to the attention of the Royal Humane Society who presented Captain Heather with a certificate to mark his achievement.

James Heather (on the right), Honorary Captain of Newry Fire Brigade, leaving Buckingham Palace on 4th March 1930, after receiving the Kings Police Medal from HM King George V, for '39 years of Exemplary service distinguished by Special merit and Ability'.
James Heather (on the right), Honorary Captain of Newry Fire Brigade, leaving Buckingham Palace on 4th March 1930, after receiving the Kings Police Medal from HM King George V, for '39 years of Exemplary service distinguished by Special merit and Ability'. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

James Heather was the first civilian to be awarded the King’s Police and Fire Medal and was presented with the medal at Buckingham Palace by King George V in 1930. He received the award in honour of his “39 years exemplary service distinguished by special merit and ability.” He wore his Newry Fire Service Uniform at the investiture ceremony. Other awards which he received include the Certificate of the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire.

Interior of Heather’s bar at 8 Water Street, Newry in 1963.  © William McAlpine
Interior of Heather’s bar at 8 Water Street, Newry in 1963. © William McAlpine

Aside from serving as Hon. Captain of the Newry Volunteer Fire Brigade, Heather was also Hon. Captain of the Warrenpoint Fire Brigade. At the opening of the new Warrenpoint Fire Station in August 1953, he was quoted in the Northern Whig newspaper as saying that the one regret he had in life was that, at the age of 86, he was no longer able to serve in the Brigade nor was he able to hunt, a pastime for which he held a great passion. He was a member of the Newry Harriers for over fifty years and was named Hon. Huntsman. 

Born in Water Street in Newry, where his father owned a public house at number 8, James Heather had many ties in the local community. He was the Vice President for the Newry Agricultural Society and was eager to share his memories of Newry and the area which included meeting the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough as a young child when they attended the Royal Irish Show which was held in Newry in 1879.

Newry Fire Brigade pictured with a fire engine in the mid-20th century. Originally based at Newry Town Hall, the Fire Brigade was relocated to Newry Gasworks in 1910. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Newry Fire Brigade pictured with a fire engine in the mid-20th century. Originally based at Newry Town Hall, the Fire Brigade was relocated to Newry Gasworks in 1910. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

James Heather passed away at the age of 90 in January 1958. In honour of his achievements in the local area, Heather Park in Newry was named after him.

The Museum is open to the public seven days a week with admission free of charge. For opening hours, information on events and exhibitions, other services and bookings please phone 0330 137 4422 or visit www.bagenalscastle.com

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