Newry.ie

If you too have a dream, don't keep it to yourself!Today Newry.ie launches Newry 2020, our own personal vision of where we would like to be in six short years time and hopefully the vision helps in a very small way to move our wonderful city forward by making it a much more attractive place to live and visit.

Fifty years ago in August past Martin Luther King had a dream. Two months earlier I arrived kicking and screaming into the world at Daisy Hill and 50 years later I too have a dream, maybe not as well written as MLK's but nevertheless it's an important dream or rather a vision.

I hope our campaign will provoke debate, suggestions, support and more importantly action in the six years leading up to 2020.

The Present

To go forward you first have to confront the present and also look at where we were in the past.

For many years Newry was billed and is still being pushed as a shopping destination, nothing more, nothing less and while that certainly may have been of benefit to our endless stores it's not something you want to base your city's magnetism on in the long term, rather it should be a bonus that people find when here for other reasons.

During years of conflict confidence and ideas were thin on the ground.

To attract visitors to Newry we have to look and then ask ourselves do we have something to offer them that other places don't, and unfortunately at this very moment in time we don't have a lot. This is certainly not meant to be a negative statement but rather a reality check on the base we need to build from.

Carlingford as mentioned recently began as another sleepy little village with not much going for it until, just a decade or two ago a plan was hatched, and today it is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe!

At present Newry is a relatively expensive place to stay in and certainly not somewhere the budget traveller will hang around, so instantly you're off the circuit for the young backpacker, Paddywagon tours, working class families etc.

The Arts and concert scene has so much potential but it's not being realised. Money isn't available, Events happen sporadically, very little is known about them six months or even six weeks plus in advance. Visitors haven't anything to plan to attend when they book a trip months before they go so they will probably go somewhere else.

Our unique Canal is just sitting there unnoticed, rather than utilised on a constant basis. The Albert Basin could be so good ...

Many many Buildings lie derelict and the shuttered shops add to the ghost town effect after 5.30pm in almost every street in the city. There's absolutely no life in Hill Street (our main street) at night time.

Newry's first Triathlon has major potential for the sporting types. Photograph: Columba O'HareIf a tourist asked you for tips on what to see or do in Newry what would you say? You would maybe send them to Bagenal's Castle/ Museum and perhaps the Cathedral followed by the Railway Bar, if it was a Thursday night and then they could go to . . . ? - oh of course Warrenpoint's beautiful and Slieve Gullion, The Mournes are worth a visit - Bye!

In case we paint too bleak a picture it is definitely a fact that right now things are changing for the better at a pace. That's why we think our campaign is timely and it's hoped this rambling article can contribute in  a small way towards the goal of our new vibrant friendly city. 

Newry is perfectly placed geographically for visitors to stay here while taking trips to the Ring of Gullion, Mournes, Carlingford, Armagh etc, it's just we don't have the infrastructure in place just yet to keep them interested here for a few days in our own right!

Optimism for the Future

Particular items giving cause for optimism include our new found multicultural City, no longer just our 'two' communities. Also the revitalisation of Newry Canal along the Quays helped by the IWAI and Newry Maritime Associations' constantly pushing for progress.

The annual Oktoberfest that has really went from strength to strength, Newry Town Hall used for the recording of regular TV Series such as Opry an Iúir, the Hello Newry campaign to market our Cathedral and Creamery Quarters and our new Irish Centre of Excellence Gaeláras Mhic Ardghail.

New visionary venues with character (and characters!) such as Maya Cafe, Grounded, McCoey's Cafe, Sugar Supper Club who who aren't afraid of organising 'out of the ordinary' events. 

Newry's answer to The Spirit Store - Amplified's mission of providing and hosting the best in local and niche music and entertainment, including the outstanding Day of the Dead event at the weekend. Other places of entertainment such as the Bank running a Murder Mystery event and local bars having a regular live music slot. Pride in Newry Festival of course as well as the latest Paranormal/ Historical Tours and hopefully the upcoming City on Ice. 

Sticky Fingers is bringing a world class festival to Newry in February next which should give us a good idea of what is needed to attract visitors. Newry Marathon and Newry Triathlon will just grow and grow and of course websites such as Newry Times, Destination Newry and ourselves that showcase our story to the world.

Many Council run events have also lifted the spirits and profile of our City including the Halloween Concert, St Patricks Day and Festival of Water, the one big difficulty these events have is that we all only find out the details about them a couple of weeks beforehand so they are of very little use in attracting visitors which is quite a shame. For example a Jimmy Buckley fan who found out in January that he was playing in Newry at Halloween could have made a weekend of it but in reality with only two weeks notice had probably other plans made by then.

That aside I don't think there has been a point in the history of Newry with as much cause for optimism so lets grab the opportunity with both hands and strangle any remaining negativity out there.

Events like Culture night can inspire us to look outside the box. Photograph: Columba O'HareThings we would like to see in place by 2020 include in no particular order (as they say in the X Factor)

1: A vibrant activity filled Newry Canal well on its way to being navigable as far as Sands Mill from the North and as far as Sugar Island from the South (The middle bit is allowed to take a bit longer!) Several Barges moored along the Quay, they could be  a restaurant, a craft shop, a bar even a nightclub, don't really mind but something that will bring a completely new lease of life to Merchants Quay. We don't care what way the Barges get there either, by crane is probably the only option at present.

2: An Albert Basin that is at the hub of Newry with regular large concerts and events and boats regularly coming and going without having to book a slot at Victoria Lock.

3: An Altnaveigh House inspired signature project promoting and encouraging all of the residents and visitors to Newry to find out more and even participate in Newry's colourful Loyalist/ Unionist culture and make it a part of the day to day fabric of our City.

4: The re-opening of the Gallows Hill tunnel from the Bank of Ireland to Gallows Hill/ Heather Park as a historical hub. What a tourist attraction that would be. Don't think any other town or city in Ireland has such a facility sitting there and not used. Edinburgh make so much use out of their underground tunnels.

5: Organise a Time Team or Archeological Dig to find out more about our past, particularly in the location of the old Cistercian Abbey.

6: Begin a Smash the Shutter Campaign (not literally) with incentives from Council to encourage shops and premises to get rid of their pre ceasefire monstrosities or at least to leave their shop windows on view without shutters till Midnight as a starter. That alone would brighten up Hill Street amazingly. Don't be afraid, we have CCTV?

7: Don't talk about it do it - Put the mechanism in place that will encourage business people to let out the floors above the shop for accommodation.

8: Bring back the Bessbrook to Newry Tramline at least in part. How? We don't know.

9: Run a week long multicultural International festival organised by our new residents.

10: Open a Backpackers Hostel as well as more competition in the Hotel sector. Newry has no Budget accommodation and needs it badly. If anyone has a few thousand to lend us, we would love to buy Wylies Shop in Canal Street, the former residence, for one night only of a certain Mr Eamon De Valera and open up Dev's Hostel!

11: Oktoberfest and Pride in Newry should become week long festivals attracting people from far and wide.

Sugar Island's new venue the Sugar Supper Club. Give us some more of these type of places please. Photograph: Columba O'Hare12: We need pubs with character. Ireland is visited by tourists as much for the crack as for anything else. In Newry we have the characters in abundance, we just need the locations to be more proactive in attracting people beyond their regulars. Immediately springing to mind would be a Bar with hundreds of beers of the world or every Irish Whiskey under the sun, even a bar that brews it's own and sells all known Irish Craft Beers - a unique selling point in other words. Bring back the old traditional pub with snugs and music filling the air.

13: The renewal of the Arts in Newry with a new arts facility we can all be proud of, possibly as the Newry Masterplan envisaged i.e. the Town Hall connected with an aerial walkway to the Arts Centre thus making the two one. We do know that our council need to invest many thousands into the Arts here. Armagh Market Place have at least one event on each night with plenty of notice on what's coming up. Why can't we have that in Newry?

14: The restoration of our few left notable buildings and their use for tourism. For example one of the old buildings along the canal could be used as a Maritime Museum. Goes without saying the complete cessation of demolition of our existing heritage!

15: A Park, yes a Park. We need a park. Someone work out where to put it! Albert Basin might be a suggestion.

16: A programme of week or fortnight long Summer Schools as Gaelige based at the Gaeláras. Potential to attract people from around the world looking to brush up on the culture of their forefathers. Again Altnaveigh House could organise Cultural Summer Schools based at their premises.

17: We would love a council that isn't based completely around so called one side or the other but a complete mix of the fabric of Newry and Down/ Armagh and hopefully a few non locally born new faces, who unlike ourselves don't have the cloud of Northern Irish politics around them.

18: The Renewal of the Sugar Island Area as our City's Cultural or Arts Quarter with happening restaurants, bars, fringe theatre you name it.

19: Many more of Newry's historical Churches/ buildings/ graveyard where John Mitchell is buried could open on a regular basis for tours.

Call to Action

We will stop there. No doubt people may see this as a lot of 'pie in the sky' but like Martin Luther King, we all need dreams and as someone told me once DNA - Dreams Need Action.

Newry has more that it's fair share of movers and shakers. In many cases the people with the ideas don't have the financial wherewithal to bring their dreams to reality while people with the money don't have the ideas. Now why don't we all sit down together?

Please share your ideas with us either here or by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and aim high. Better to aim high and have to lower your expectations that aiming low and never getting off the ground.

 

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