The town is advantageously situated on the Newry water. The western part, called Ballybot and sometimes Southwark, in Armagh county, is connected with the eastern, in the county of Down, by four stone bridges and a swivel bridge. The general appearance of the place, as seen from without, is cheerful and prepossessing: the old town, on the eastern side, situated on the side of a hill, with its church and spire rising above the houses, leads to an expectation of a correspondence of character in the interior; but the reverse is the case. Like other old towns, the streets are narrow, precipitous and inconvenient; but the modern part of the town, generally called "the Low Ground," is very elegant; the houses lofty and built of granite; the streets wide, well formed, and paved, with nagged footways. Marcussquare, with several lines of new buildings, presents very elegant specimens of domestic architecture. A great number of excellent springs issuing from the rocks eastward of the town, and more than 200 wells, have been formed in various parts, but no artificial means have yet been adopted to provide a supply of water on a scale commensurate with the domestic and manufacturing demands of the population. The streets and public buildings are lighted with gas supplied by works established by a company in 1822. Much has been done within the last few years to improve the general appearance of the town and neighbourhood; a new line of road has been opened, and an excellent approach formed from Warren point, where the river expands into the bay: the north road has been widened and improved, and several very handsome terraces and detached villas have been built: among the bridges, already noticed, is one of a single arch of elegant proportions, called Needham bridge; and an iron swivel bridge is about to be thrown across the canal, which, when completed, will open a communication from the Monaghan road to the very centre of the town. The assembly, news, and coffee rooms were built by subscription in 1794; the assembly-rooms are spacious and elegant; the news-room is well furnished with newspapers and periodical publications, and is open on the most liberal terms to strangers: the offices of the Commissioners of Police and of the Savings' Bank are in this building. Two newspapers are published here, each twice in the week. A barrack affords accommodation for 44 officers and 670 non-commissioned officers and privates of infantry, and 10 horses, with an hospital for 30 or 40 patients.
Newry is much more a commercial than a manufacturing town. There are two iron-foundries, each on an extensive scale, for light castings. The manufacture of flint glass is also carried on largely; a distillery in Monaghan-street consumes annually 25,000 barrels of grain, the produce of which is consumed in the counties of Down, Armagh, Louth, and Monaghan: there are also large manufactories of cordage and of spades, shovels, and other kinds of ironmongery. One of the most complete and extensive bleach-greeus in the country is at Carnmcen; and at Bessbrook is a mill for spinning linen yarn. The Newry flour-mills, worked by water, consume 900 tons of wheat annually, and there are several others in the immediate neighbourhood, the produce of which is mostly shipped to Liverpool. An oatmeal-mill grinds 17,000 barrels of grain annually, which is wholly purchased for the Liverpool and Manchester markets; and in the neighbourhood there are several others equally extensive.
The trade of Newry, now of much importance, has gradually risen to its present height from the protection afforded to the merchants by Wm. III. Prior to that time the river was not navigated above Warren point; Newry being then considered as a creek to Carlingford, which was the port for all this part of the coast. But during the reigns of that monarch and his successors, several grants were made for clearing and embanking the river and improving the harbour. At length, in consequence of the many obstructions arising from the nature of the river, and the advantageous situation of the town as a central mart for the introduction of foreign commodities into the interior of Ulster, it was determined to form a line of inland navigation from Newry to Lough Neagh. The communication is carried on from the Newry water by an artificial cut by Acton, Scarva, Tanderagee, and Gilford to Portadown, where it is connected with the Bann, whence it proceeds in the bed of that river to the lake. It was commenced in 1730, and connected with Lough Neagh in 1741, but in consequence of the inconveniences arising from the accumulation of mud and sand in the mouth of the river, near Newry, it was deemed adviseable to prolong the navigation towards the bay to Fathom: this portion of the work, which is two miles in extent, was completed in 1761; the entire length of the navigation, including that of Lough Neagh, is 36 miles, and the total expense was £896,000. In 1726, the customhouse was removed from Carlingford to Newry: the amount of the first year's customs paid here was only £1069. 12., and there were then but four trading barks belonging to the port; the gross amount of customs' duties for 1836 was £58,806. 2. 6. About 1758, a very considerable trade was carried on with the West India islands, and although at that time the vessels trading with foreign countries were prohibited from sailing direct to the Irish ports, being compelled to land their cargoes in some place in Great Britain, the Newry merchants succeeded in establishing a very lucrative traffic with the most celebrated commercial marts in other countries. This branch, however, was afterwards nearly lost by the competition of the superior capital of Great Britain, until it again revived after the restrictions were taken off the commerce of Ireland, in 1783. The port is very favourably situated for trade at the inner extremity of Carlingford bay, an arm of the sea extending nine miles south-east, and two miles in breadth at its mouth between Cooley point, in the county of Louth, and Cranfield point, in that of Down. Vessels of the greatest draught can come up to Warren point, within five miles of the town, where they can ride in from 6 to 8 fathoms of water in all states of the tide in perfect security. Proceedings are also in progress by D. Logan, Esq., in pursuance of a plan recommended by Sir John Rennie, for deepening and securing the channel from Narrow water, and scouring it by a steam dredge and other means calculated to facilitate the admission of vessels of a larger class than those which at present come up to the quays: the total expense of these improvements has been estimated at £90,000. The despatch of business is also facilitated by the construction of a line of quays on the eastern bank of the canal, bordered by stores and warehouses, at which vessels can unload: farther north are basins or floating docks, where boats navigating the canal can take in and discharge their cargoes. The custom-house, a neat and commodious building, is situated on the quay, in a position well adapted for business, and has extensive yards and stores for bonding goods adjoining it.
The most important branch of the commerce is the cross-channel trade, which has increased to a great magnitude since the introduction of steam navigation. The principal exports in this department are linen cloth, grain, live stock, butter, and eggs. In 1834 there were exported to Liverpool, of linen cloth, 4965 boxes; butter, 92,000 firkins; wheat, 4166 tons; barley, 6698 tons; oats, 38,000 tons; flour, 9163 tons; oatmeal, 18,654 tons; flax, 868 tons; eggs, 4688 crates; oysters, 482 hogsheads; horned cattle, 7115; pigs, 65,493; and horses, 498; besides which, large consignments of most of these articles were made to the Clyde. The principal imports in the same trade are tea, sugar, iron, salt, British hardware and soft goods, and general merchandise. Three steamers are employed in the Liverpool trade, and two in that with Glasgow; a steamer also trades regularly to Dublin. The average time of the passage to Liverpool is 16 hours; to Glasgow, 14; and to Dublin 12. The chief branch of foreign trade is with the United States and British North America. The chief exports are linen cloth, blue, starch and whiskey; the imports, timber, staves, tobacco, ashes, flax, and clover seed. The Baltic trade consists of the importation of timber, tallow, ashes, flax, and hemp: hides and tallow are imported from Odessa; mats, tar, pitch, flax and flax seed from Archangel; and wine, fruit, oil, lime juice, brimstone and barilla from the Mediterranean. The number of vessels belonging to the port is inadequate to the extent of its commerce, a great portion of which is carried on in vessels of other countries: the Baltic trade is carried on exclusively in foreign bottoms; the United States' trade in American vessels, the trade to British America and Russia in British ships, and the coal trade chiefly in Whitehaven vessels. The market day, under the patent, is Thursday, but a market is held on Tuesday for grain, and on Saturday for meat. The principal market-house is near the site of Bagnal's castle; there are also separate markets for butchers' meat, meal, potatoes, grain and hides, and two for linen yarn. Fairs are held on April 3rd and Oct. 29th.
The present flourishing state of Newry may be attributed originally to the favour shewn by Edw. VI. to Marshal Bagnal, to whom the abbey and surrounding territory were granted, with very extensive privileges, in consequence of his services in Ulster, and were continued to him by Jas. I., vesting the ecclesiastical and municipal authority in the proprietor, who, by virtue of these grants, appointed the vicar general, seneschal, and other inferior officers. A charter of the 10th of Jas. I. (1612) made the town a free borough, by the name of "the provost, free burgesses, and commonalty of the borough of Newry," granting the provost and 12 free burgesses the power of sending two members to parliament, and making the provost judge of a court of record, to be held weekly on Mondays, with jurisdiction to the amount of five marks. A charter granted by Jas. II., in 1688, is not considered to be of any validity. A grant of Jas. I., in 1613, to Arthur Bagnal, empowered a court to be held before the seneschal of the manor, for pleas to the amount of 100 marks: the jurisdiction of this court extends over the borough, and a number of other townlands in Down and Armagh, comprehending 9664 acres in the former, and 11,434 acres in the latter, of these counties. The court is held every third Wednesday: the seneschal limits his jurisdiction by civil bill to £10; he also holds a court leet, once or twice in the year, at which constables are appointed. All the provisions of the act of the 9th of Geo. IV., c. 82, for watching, lighting, cleansing, paving and improving towns were introduced here shortly after the enactment of that statute: the number of commissioners was fixed at 21. The police of the borough is principally attended to by the constabulary forces of the counties of Down and Armagh: the leading streets are kept in repair by county presentments. These arrangements have tended much to the improvement of the neatness, cleanliness, and good order of the town: the expenditure is defrayed by a local tax, amounting to about £1150 annually. The elective franchise, conferred by Jas. I., was altered at the Union, when the representation of the borough was limited to a single member, which continues to be the present arrangement. It was a scot and lot borough, but the right of election is now vested in the £10 and certain of the £5 householders; the privilege of the latter cannot be perpetuated, but expires with the lives of the few remaining electors of this class, or with their removal from the premises occupied at the period of the general registration: the seneschal of the manor is the returning officer. The borough includes within its limits a large rural district, comprehending 2500 statute acres, the precise limits of which are detailed in the Appendix. The general quarter sessions for the county of Down are held here alternately with Downpatrick; and and those for the Markethill division of the county of Armagh, in Ballybot. Petty sessions are held every Friday. The court-house, built by subscription for a market-house, and converted to its present purpose in 1805, is an unsightly old building in an inconvenient situation. There is a bridewell for the temporary confinement of prisoners until they can be sent to the county prison at Downpatrick.
The parish comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 22,491 statute acres, of which 968½ are in Oneilland West, and 450l¾ in Lower Orior; the remainder constitutes the lordship, in which is included a small isolated portion, locally in the barony of Upper Iveagh: about 489 acres are covered with water, and about 260 are bog; the remainder is mostly arable, under an excellent system of agriculture, with some rocky mountain. Though the site of the town is low, as compared with the surrounding country, the climate is pure and salubrious, and the prospects in most parts beautiful and picturesque. The river on which it is built, anciently called the Clanrye, but afterwards the Newry water, flows, after quitting the town, in a south-eastern direction through a highly cultivated tract of rising grounds, well planted and studded with numerous villas and seats, into Carlingford bay, which is bounded on each side by the mountains of Rosstrevor and Fathom: the mountain of Altnaveagh, in the lordship, affords excellent pasturage, and much of it is cultivated; but the greater part of the Fathom range is sterile. The geological features of the district are very striking; it forms the western boundary of the granitic range in this part of Ireland; and granite, sienite, and porphyry are found in it in all their varieties. The old town is almost exclusively built of porphyry; the new of granite. Whyn dykes, in which beautiful specimens of zeolite are frequently found imbedded, penetrate the granite in several directions; in some places layers of quartz are interposed between the strata. Oxyde of manganese is of frequent occurrence; clay-slate, with mica extensively disseminated through it, appears on the Armagh side; and schist to the north of the town. In the townland of Creeve many springs burst out of the granite and quartz rocks, in the streams of which is found a metallic residuum in large quantities, resembling copper, which mixes with the sand and is very heavy; near the toll-gate on the Belfast road is a vein of the newly discovered mineral, trephine; and a still greater body of it was discovered, in 1835, near Mount Kearney. To the north of the town, on the Belfast road, is a very copious chalybeate spring, highly beneficial in scorbutic cases. The principal seats in the vicinity of the town all of which are embellished with rich and flourishing plantations, are Fathom, the residence of - Benson, Esq.; Greenpark, of - Thompson, Esq.; Derramore, of - Smith, Esq.; Drumbanagher Castle, of Lieut.-Col. Maxwell Close; Drummantine, of - Ennis, Esq.; and Narrow-water, of Roger Hall, Esq.
The peculiarities of the ecclesiastical arrangements of the lordship proceed from its connection with the monastery already noticed, which, after having risen to a great height of prosperity by the fostering care of many successive kings, underwent the fate of all the other monastic institutions during the reign of Hen. VIII. After the dissolution it was converted into a collegiate church for secular priests, which having soon fallen to decay, the abbey, with all its possessions, was granted by Edw. VI. to Sir Nicholas Bagnal, in as free, fulll and ample manner as it had been enjoyed by any abbot. Hence, the episcopal jurisdiction previously exercised by its clerical head devolved at once upon its new proprietor, whose representative, the Earl of Kilmorey, exercises it to its fullest extent, as lay abbot; appointing spiritual officers, holding ecclesiastical courts, granting probates of wills and licences of marriage, and performing every other episcopal act with as plenary power as any bishop, being subject only to the Lord-Primate, as metropolitan. The living is a donative, in the patronage of the Earl of Kilmorey, as lay abbot, who, as such, possesses the whole tithes; yet in the royal visitation book of 1615 it is stated, that Nova Ripa, alias Nieu Rie, is among the parishes under the jurisdiction of the see of Dromore. St. Patrick's church, built by Sir Nicholas Bagnal in 1578, burnt in the civil wars, and restored after the Revolution, was originally the parochial church; but, in 1811, being much dilapidated aud too small for the increasing congregation, an act was obtained under the provisions of which a new church was built on an enlarged scale and on a new site, to be henceforth the parish church of St. Mary's, Newry, This church, built in the Gothic style, with a tower and spire 190 feet high, was finished in 1819, at a cost of £12,566. 15. 4½., British currency, exclusively of £2469. 4. 7½. expended in the purchase of the site, and in obtaining two acts of parliament. The funds for liquidating this charge arose from a bequest of £3138. 9. 2¾. from the late W. Needham, Esq., lord of the manor; a bequest of £1346. 15. 4½. from Sir Trevor Corry; a donation of £923. 1. 6½. from the Earl of Kilmorey, a donation of £461. 10. 9½. from Gen. Needham; £2520 raised by the sale of the pews, and £6646. 3. 1. by parochial assessment; it is endowed with £300 per ann., payable by the lay abbot in lieu of tithe. In 1829, the old church of St. Patrick was repaired and fitted up as a chapel of ease: the living is a chaplaincy or donative, in the gift of the Earl of Kilmorey, who endowed it with £100 per ann., subject to the peculiar jurisdiction of the vicar-general of Newry. In the R. C. arrangements the parish is the head of the diocese of Dromore, being the bishop's parish or mensal, and is co-extensive with that of the Established Church; containing three chapels, two in the town and one at Shinn, 4 miles distant, which are attended by the same number of curates. The older R. C. chapel, a well-built but plain structure, with three galleries and a spacious cemetery attached to it, was erected in 1789. Being found too small for the accommodation of the numbers that attended it, a new chapel was erected in the low ground, in the pointed Gothic style, 120 feet long, 74 broad, and 46 feet high to the ceiling. The faÃade consists of a centre and two wings, with a deeply receding doorway, and is highly ornamented. The interior consists of a nave and two side aisles detached by rows of moulded granite pillars, supporting lofty pointed arches, over which are the clerestory windows by which the centre is lighted: the great altar is surmounted by a large window of three lights. This chapel is considered to be the diocesan chapel of the Bishop of Dromore, who resides at Violet Hill, to the north of Newry, where there was formerly a house of lay friars, which has been transferred to the town; in which also is a seminary for preparing the youth of the Catholic church for Maynooth college. A convent of the order of St. Clare was removed hither from Dublin, in 1830: the house, with its appendages, was presented to the community by the Rev. J. Gilmer, of Rosstrevor, since which time the nuns have built a large and handsome chapel in the Gothic style, and also a schoolhouse for the education of female children, which receives aid from the Board of National Education. There are in the town a congregation of Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the second class, who have a large and elegant meeting-house; one in connection with the Remonstrant Synod, and one with the Seceding Synod, both of the first class; also places of worship for Independents, Primitive and Independent Wesleyan Methodists, and Kellyites. Three schools in the lordship, connected with the Board of National Education, are situated in Newry and at Grinane; there are four in connection with the London Hibernian Society, one of which, founded in 1825, is built on an acre of land given by the Marquess of Downshire; and another, in Ballybot, on land given by Lord Kilmorey. Other schools have been aided by donations from the Marquess of Anglesey, the late Rob. Martin, Esq., who left a bequest of £7 per ann., and J. Dickinson, Esq., who left one of £8 per ann., for their endowment. About 880 boys and 960 girls are educated in these schools: there is also a private school, which affords instruction to about 50 boys and 20 girls.
The Mendicity Association was established in 1820, and is now merged in the workhouse: it is supported by subscriptions and bequests, among which is one of the late Wm, Needham, Esq., who, in 1806, bequeathed £50 per ann. for 50 years to the poor of the parish. A bequest of £30 per ann. by the late W. Ogle, Esq., to the poor is given in equal shares to the vicar, the parish priest, and the Unitarian minister, for the paupers of their respective congregations. The interest of £2000, bequeathed by Sir Trevor Corry, is distributed by his nephews, Trevor and Smithson Corry, Esqrs., among poor housekeepers. There are six almshouses, erected at the expense of the Rev. J. Pullayn, vicar-general, without any endowment attached to them; the inmates are appointed by the vicar of Newry. Among the more remarkable relics of antiquity may be noticed a large and perfect rath, about 1½ mile from the town, on the Rathfriland road, called Crown Rath. It is an earthwork, 112 feet high, nearly circular at the base, which measures 585 feet in circumference, with a flat top of oblong form, and is surrounded by a fosse 20 feet broad and 10 deep. On the south side of the fosse is a square platform, surrounded with an intrenchment, the glacis of which declines towards the old ford of the river. Many other remains of forts and many cromlechs are to be found in various parts. Newry is said to have been the birthplace of Jarlath MacTrien, who was prior of Armagh in 465; also of Dr. Parry, who was raised to the bishoprick of Killaloe in 1647. It gives the inferior title of Viscount to the Earl of Kilmorey.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840 by Samuel Lewis