Newry.ie

A portrait of Newry Town Surveyor Charles Blaney was unveiled at Newry Library on Friday in appreciation of his contribution to the fabric and structure of Newry. Mr Blaney was Town Surveyor for an incredible 57 years from 1902 to 1959.

The event was organised by Newry Maritime Association. The portrait was painted by artist Nuala Ahern Collins in 1960 and it will be on permanant display in the Heritage section on the second floor of Newry Library. Young Mourne Artist, Stephen Rooney had the task of cleaning up the painting.

Marie Gavin, Area Manager, Libraries NI spoke at the event about the Heritage section of the library and it's collection of Irish history, local history and family history as well as historical maps of County Down from the 1830's.

Members of the Blaney family at the unveiling of his restored portrait in Newry Library. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Members of the Blaney family at the unveiling of his restored portrait in Newry Library. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

James McArevey, Newry Maritime Association explained that Charles Blaney was born in Rossnagill, County Donegal in 1877, the youngest of a family of 4 and he qualified as a civil engineer from UCD. In 1898 he qualified aged 21 and he got a job with Belfast Corporation as an Assistant Surveyor

As Mr McArevey commented "Here in Newry we had a surveyor called Jospeh Devenish Pearce and he had been in situ for 43 years when he tendered his resignation in 1902.

"Newry Urban Council which had just been formed in 1899 following the abolition of the town commissioners, advertised for the position of town surveyor. There were 11 applications and one Charles Blaney was given the position in October 1902, over here in the boardroom in the Town Hall."

The young enthusiastic Mr Blaney was just 25 years of age and as Mr McArevey commented had quite a job on his hands.

Pictured unveiling the newly restored portrait of Charles Blaney were from left: James McArevey, Newry Maritime Association; Michael Blaney, Grandson and Jim O'Hagan, Chief Executive, Libraries NI. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Pictured unveiling the newly restored portrait of Charles Blaney were from left: James McArevey, Newry Maritime Association; Michael Blaney, Grandson and Jim O'Hagan, Chief Executive, Libraries NI. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

"The Accommodation we had in Newry was very poor. There was a lot of disease because we were depending on a series of wells around the town which got contaminated. There was a cholera outbreak in the late 1890's and it was into this environment that Charles Blaney came. We had poor gas lighting. The road infrastructure, stones rolled with dust and when it rained, turned into a quagmire, so Charles Blaney had quite a task on his hands"

Tasks for Mr Blaney included getting a clean Water supply, Sewerage system and housing. "It was for social housing today that Charles Blaney will be mostly remembered, because on his watch, we had the big estate in the Meadow, Rooney's Meadow, we had Drumalane on the south side, we had O'Neill Avenue, John Martin Gardens, this was all done on Blaney's watch and this is what marks him out as being different. Put literally Charles Blaney transformed the face of Newry! He made it into a modern town, compared to what he had inherited, a Dickensian gathering when he came here in 1902."

Mr Blaney also presided over the conversion of the former military barracks in 1923 which became Linenhall Square and in later years Mourneview Park. Reconstruction of the Quays at the Albert Basin was another achievement as well as the construction of four bridges across the canal at Dublin Bridge, Ballybot, Monaghan Street and Sugar Island.

Chris Cassidy, Newry Library, nephew of the artist Nuala Ahern Collins who painted this portrait of Charles Blaney in 1960. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Chris Cassidy, Newry Library, nephew of the artist Nuala Ahern Collins who painted this portrait of Charles Blaney in 1960. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Concluding James McArevey said "In October 1959, he tendered his resignation in the boardroom in the town hall. At this stage Charles Blaney was 82 years old. He had done an incredible 57 years, a tenure that was unparalleled and will never ever be eclipsed. He is more an institution than a man"

As an acknowledgment of his service Charles received an MBE for his services.

Charles Blaney's Grandson, Michael Blaney was at the unveiling and commented "My Grandfather would have been wondering really what all the fuss was about. He would have seen it all as only doing his job, and he certainly wasn't doing anything more than that. I think it was interesting, there was a comment attributed to him on the evening that he was presented with this portrait, where he had said he couldn't think of anything more fitting as a long term tribute than a portrait that the family could have to remember him after he was gone. I think also today rather than only having it in one of our houses it's fantastic just to have it here in the library where people will be able to see it going forward and be able to know a little bit about some of the work that he did down over the years."

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