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Mary and Pat Cunningham have been waiting for 57 years for a park in Newry! That's how long they have lived in the City, the only one in Ireland without a Park!

The couple are in their early 80's and are very proud of where they live. While their family has 'flown the nest' they both keep very active, walking and cycling regularly and together with their involvement in so many local community organisations it's amazing they had time to talk to at all. (They were going to practice some of their ukulele tunes right after our chat!)

In an emotional throwaway comment that certainly sticks Mary says "I don't want to die, thinking I never experienced the joy of being in the park in Newry."

While neither of them has any intention of 'bowing out' for a long time yet either in their pastimes or in their lives, they are comfortable pointing out that, like many people of a certain age in Newry, time can not be taken for granted and that a proposed 8 year timeline to build a park in Newry is just ridiculous. Both of them are adamant that they won't be voting for any MLA's or Councillors who haven't made sure the park has happened or at least a major start made to it by the time elections come around next. #NoParkNoVote

A campaign was started for a Public Park at the Albert Basin in Newry by community group Newry 2020 back in 2014. In 2017 Councillors unanimously voted to build the park in the current Council term (which runs to May 2023) but as recently as June a Council solicited Concept Design Proposal document declared the project would take 8 years from when it starts, but to date Council haven't announced a start time!

As Pat a former Project Management Lecturer at DkIT says " It could be stretched over eight years ... but it could also be built in nine months!"

Video - The Margaret Island musical fountain in Budapest. Absolutely no reason an iconic feature like this couldn't be built in the new peoples' park at the Albert Basin, with a nightly show just after dark that would atract visitors from far and near.

So Much Potential

Mary a former Teacher at St Clare's  School and Consultant to the Family Caring Trust thinks it is a disgrace that Newry is the only city in Ireland that doesn't have a park.

"We have an abandoned space with so much potential with the waterway etc and all we need is that our Councilors with a bit of generosity of spirit and answering the call to be creatively brave at this time, that they could listen to the needs of older people. We have a range of interests that could be accommodated in the putting together of this park and I think there is a great need for support in the management of our older people's physical and mental well-being and even just to think about the park itself as a place to walk in." says Mary.

When their children were growing up they got into their car to go to Kilbroney or Gosford to get a space where the children could play safely. Pat says "It's all right building play parks and all of that but children get bored of that and it's too confined. They're useful in their own way, but a bit of greenery where children can get lost and have their own way of playing would be great."

Mary drives up to Carnbane to walk along the towpath but she would love to be able to go into town and a have a bigger space where she would feel that much safer walking, and join up with other people over a cup of coffee in a social atmosphere. She  sees the park as a place that would draw older people together.

She says "Thinking of the various groups that I'm involved in as an older person, the charities and also community groups around, they could surely make use of this space.I'm thinking of U3A and the group there that do 'walk and talk' and what a place to be able to go as a group, do their walking and talking and perhaps meet together then for a cup of coffee afterwards.

"I'm thinking of the artists, the people who do art in the U3A, what a place that would be for those people to come and show their art work, in the summertime, in the good weather."

Building a Sense of Community

Mary adds "This is all about building a sense of community for people. Thinking of the Accolade Choir, the Accolade Ukulele Group. We go down to Warrenpoint every week and we sing and play the Ukulele in the park in Warrenpoint. How wonderful it would be for us not to have to drive to Warrenpoint and drive home again but just come into the city and go to this park and play for our own community and put on concerts.

An annual festival of light in Tallinn where thousands visit to see the candlelit displays. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
An annual festival of light in Tallinn where thousands visit to see the candlelit displays. Something that could be easily reproduced at the Albert Basin. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

"We have the water as part of the park, there's not many places that have that. When we were in the U3A and we were learning how to kayak we had to go out to Camlough. What a gift it would be that we would be right on the doorstep of the U3A building and just go over and use that area, for fishing, and for so much. It would accommodate older people and younger people, not just young ones out canoeing.

Taking Cars off the Road

Pat explains that many aren't able to drive "As you get older and people get older and people don't have a facility to maybe to jump in a car and go 10/20 miles to a park.

"People would be able to if you had access, particularly if the park was accessible through the mid region of canal and river down from various points, straight down there and they could get in, mothers in the morning when they leave children to school, grannies around dinnertime, meeting children in the park coming from school. It would be a regular meeting point."

 Pat believes the new public park in Newry would also take cars off the road. "I think it would be a very eco friendly way of solving the traffic problem with Newry. How many cars coming up and down through Newry that have been down to visit other towns with parks like Kilbroney, Rostrevor, Warrenpoint etc. I think it makes sense. If you did a cost benefit analysis on it I think it would work out."

The couple feel that groups like the Accolade Choir could put on performances during the summer as well as Carols at Christmas time. "I'm sure that the park would lend itself to festival celebrations and again, we could come and be part of the community." adds Mary.

Green Prescriptions

Mary also feels that for too long people and Councillors see older people as fragile, needing protection and weak, but for many that is far from the truth!

"We need them to sit up and to listen to us, to stop thinking of older people as being fragile and vulnerable. And for the doctors, they could give out Green Prescriptions. When people are coming saying they're feeling depressed and they're feeling low, very often, they're suffering from isolation, social isolation, nobody in contact with them.

"What a gift the park would be for them to be able to go and meet their friends to have that sense of community and not be alone."

Mary  adds "Really and truly the bottom line is that our Councillors have a duty of care to all the citizens but especially to older people. And I think it's time they listened and started to do something because the one thing about us is we're not getting any younger. I've been waiting for 57 years for a park. I don't want to die, thinking I never experienced the joy of being in the park in Newry."

Shovel Ready

Pat had the impression two or three years ago that the park was almost shovel ready, the plans designed, approved and costed and that all it needed was the procurement system to go through, which should only have taken about four or five months and that we would have had the park by now.


Pat Cunningham is frustrated that the present Albert Basin resembles a scrapyard. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Pat Cunningham is frustrated that at present the Albert Basin resembles a scrapyard. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

"It just frustrates me that as I cycle down past it there now and look in and see that space and it's just like a scrapyard. With the combination of the water there and everything else it could be a real attractive place for people to go and I'm really frustrated that the Council don't seem to have an action plan. They have plans, they have ideas but they have no action to carry it out." explains Pat.

He believes that although Council did promise the Newry community that they would have a park at the Albert Basin during this Council term, the way things are going there's no way that's going to happen now as they seem to be caught up with different projects, one vying against the other with different people having different ideas of what is the more important.

'Nice Council Offices'

"I think we older people are losing out. It's the nice Council offices etc that seem to be the attractive project. It's not what Newry really needs, it needs a green project." says Pat.

Pat's career started off in quantity surveying which grew into him becoming a Senior Lecturer in DkIT dealing with project management in construction and procurement systems, contracts, etc so he certainly knows how projects like this are supposed to happen!

He explains "It needs a strong action plan where dates have to be set, a procurement system worked out, costed, get it shovel ready and completion dates and everything else. Once people have that and they see a start being made ... even though it does take say three years

"These projects need to be proactively engaged in, as If they're left to drift and no one is making decisions about it one thing overlaps another and nothing happens because they're all waiting for one another."

Definite Route in any Procurement

Pat adds "There is a definite route in any procurement, a way for getting a project, first of all it has to be a dream for somebody, it has to be a design, the designs have to be approved etc etc ... There's steps along the way and there's no use letting things drift, because things change, ideas change, new consultants come in and that but you have to have a definite line of approach and an action plan date that it's not left. And if there is a hang up or slow down it's obvious, and there's a reason for it.

"We can't do this because we found soft ground or there's need for piling or there's treasure been found. All of these things can happen in projects but if there's an action plan and a plan laid out, a bar chart, critical path through, you know where you are. This would feed into the people and the people would see and understand what's happening with weekly, monthly reports in the press, how progress is going, interviews with people who are seeing it and what their ideas are and possibly minor changes through it with the finishing date very clearly ahead of us."

"There's about 20 processes in between so they have to begin and they have to have that laid out and they've got to work at those. It could be stretched over eight years ... but it could also be built in nine months!" concludes Pat.

'This is the year it's going to happen'

Mary recalls her optimism when the campaign began "I remember the time the campaign started and you were getting signatures on paper from people who wanted the park. I signed up and I firmly believed it was only a matter of once the Council saw that, they would say, well these people want something, and I thought it would be the next year.

"It's a bit like that song He stepped in and he stepped out again. Each year your heart kind of raises up thinking this is the year it's going to happen."


* This story is one of a series of articles in conjunction with Newry 2020 highlighting the need for the new Newry City Park to be made a top priority and built urgently.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sandra Parker · 1 months ago
    Totally support a Newry City park .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gemma Cunningham · 1 months ago
    Never underestimate the power of the grey vote!! 
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dvaid Cunningham · 1 months ago
    I am reading this in Rosario, Argentina, as a son of Pat and Mary Cunningham, (one of many who flew the nest :) - I am so proud and full of love for me mum and dad and their succinct and persuasive argument for Council to just get that get their 'shovel out' and lets together build this park! Newry - it seems our only option is #NoParkNoVote (big hug to you all) David Cunningham 


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