All the way back to 1819 and everything you wanted to know about Newry Abbey but were too scared to ask! NEWRY ET MOURNE!!!!

Frontier Sentinel Saturday March 4 1916

Newry 97 Years Ago … (From Bradshaws General Directory, 1819.)

Historical Sketch

(In the following historical sketch the derivation of the name of Newry (recite Iubhar Chinn Trachta) is incorrectly given. The name means: “The Yew Tree at the Head of the Strand”)

Newry is situated 54 deg. 10’ north, and longitude 6 deg. 16’ west. It stands on a small river called the Newry Water, which has its course in Drumlough, near the town of Rathfriland , in the barony of Upper Iveagh. This river meets the tide at Newry and forms the boundary between the counties od Down and Armagh.

Newry is 50 Miles from Dublin, 30 from Belfast and 14½ from Armagh. Formerly the principal part of the town stood immediately along the side of a steep hill, which stretches north and south; but since its commerce became more considerable, in consequence of the improvements made in its navigation, the streets have extended in the direction of the river and canal. Since the river and tide have been confined by embankments, many good houses have been built on ground formerly flooded by the tide.

Charles Havern, a man of one hundred and eleven years, remembered when the Low Ground was altogether a marsh and afterwards when there were two bleach-greens where the coffee-room now stands.

So late as the year 1700, Mill-street, contained only six or seven slated houses. Market-street had a few of the same description; but the rest were merely thatched cabins. At this time the town was surrounded by woods. A large piece of timber was placed over the ford of Sugar-island, for the accommodation of foot passengers. by a person named Murphy. In consequence of this, the stone bridge afterwards built over the river at this place bore the name of MADDA-MURPHY-BRIDGE, or the bridge of Murphy’s stick. It is a good bridge of five arches. Formerly there were ten arches; but five of them being of no use for venting the water, it was thought unnecessary to retain them.

The road through the town northwards formerly lay through Ballybot, Mill-street, Market-street and High-street, and united with the Banbridge road at Stream-street. But latterly the line of road has been much improved by a new cut, in the direction of the river, along the level between the turn-pike and the Low Ground. The line to Rathfriland has also been improved by a cut more northward, which meets the Banbridge road at the end of the town. The old line runs through High-street, Church-street and Pound-street.

Above the town the former Dublin road was very steep and difficult for horses drawing loaded cars and carriages. A considerable time ago the line was much improved by a cut more westward, which has made the ascent more gradual and easy. The Dublin bridge, by which this road unites with the body of the town, was lately rebuilt and rendered much handsomer than the old one.

A little below this bridge there are some remains of a ford observable, by which there had formerly been a passage over the river at low water.

The most considerable ancient establishment at Newry was the Monastery, which deserves to be particularly mentioned on account of the subsequent appropriation of its privileges and possessions.

In the year 1157, an abbey of Cistercian monks, dedicated to St. Mary and St. Patrick, was founded at Newry by Maurice McLaughlin, king of Ireland. But it is recorded that in 1162, the abbey and a library connected with it, were consumed by fire. The endowments were confirmed by Hugh de Lacy, earl of Ulster, in 1237.

This abbey flourished until the reign of Henry VIII, who changed its constitution into that of a collegiate church for secular priests, in the year 1543, at the suit of Sir Arthur Magenis, who was at the time knighted, and received £50 of the king’s bounty. The college consisted of a warden and vicars choral. Henry granted to them a confirmation of all their possessions, in his thirtieth year, reserving to the crown a yearly rent of four marks.

The Latin name of the abbey was NEVORACENSE MONASTERIUM. In the foundation charter it is called IBAR CYN TRACTA, that is, the flourishing head of a yew tree. The reason why it obtained this designation appears from an old tradition, that two large yew trees grew within the precincts of the abbey. From this circumstance, it was called, in the barbarous Latin of the age, MONASTERIUM DE VIRIDI LIGNO, and in Irish Na Iur, or the yew trees. This gave rise to the plural appellation, by which it was afterwards most commonly known, THE NEWRIES. The authors of the old county Down survey, who wrote about the year 1740 state that it “was still fresh in the memories of some ancient inhabitants of the town, that in the year 1688, certain English soldiers, in burying their dead, discovered, in the south-east quarter of the abbey, the stumps of some trees of fine wood ; and without regard to the place, rooted up and converted them to several domestic utensils, the wood being red and bearing a fine polish.”

This abbey was situated in Castle-street at the head of the street which is opposite to the new church. Part of the building still remains, and is at present occupied as two dwelling-houses. The walls are extremely thick and strong; and the alterations in th building which have been made in modern times were attended with unusual difficulty and labour. Within the last sixty years, there was a very massive stone staircase outside the building. It was no easy task to take this down, owing to the extreme hardness and solidity of the work. It is said that the men employed found it necessary to blow it up with gunpowder.

Large quantities of human bones, some of them of very uncommon size, have been dug up at different times, both in front and rear of this edifice, a circumstance which proves that the ground contiguous to the abbey had been appropriated to the burying of the dead. About eighty or ninety years ago, a merchant of the town, on digging foundations within the precincts  of the ancient abbey, found a human skeleton, seven feet in length. Some remains of shoes which bore the impression of buckles, and some remnants, probably of the shroud, were discovered (1). Several fragments of stones, with heads and other figures rudely sculptured upon them, are to be seen in some of the adjacent buildings. These formerly belonged to the buildings of the abbey.

After Henry VIII. had disclaimed subjection to the papal see, the college was dissolved; and in the succeeding rein of Edward VI. the lordship was granted to Marshal Bagnal, who made the abbey his place of residence.

A mitred abbot formerly possessed the lordships of Newry and Mourne, in which he exercised episcopal jurisdiction. On the dissolution of the abbey the powers and privileges enjoyed by the lord abbot devolved on the temporal proprietor, Sir Nicholas Bagnal, to whom a patent was granted by Edward VI. on account of his excellent services as marshal of Ireland. He rebuilt the town. and strengthened it with castles and other defences. He also built the church, the steeple of which bears the Bagnal arms, cut in stone, dated 1578. Within it’s walls his remains were afterwards interred.

The patent granted to Sir Nicholas Bagnal expresses the nature and extent of the grant briefly, and principally in general terms. But the letters patent granted by James I, ann 1613 to Arthur Bagnal, Esq, are full and explicit, and recite particularly the townlands included in the grant, the privileges to be enjoyed, and the jurisdiction to be exercised within the manors. The proprietor being entitled to the several immunities and privileges enjoyed under the former ecclesiastical establishment, is permitted to use in his court the seal of the ancient charter, on which is represented a mitred abbot in his able, sitting in his chair, supported by two yew trees with this inscription: - SIGILLUM EXEMPTAL JURISDICTIONS DE VIRIDI LIGNO, ALIAS NEWRY ET MOURNE


(1) It is said that the former abbots and the bishops were buried in their shoes.

(to be continued)

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