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by Kerry Dexter

The town of Newry, in Northern Ireland, takes its name from Irish words meaning yew tree at the head of the strand. It’s said that Ireland’s chief patron saint, Saint Patrick himself, planted that yew tree at the head of what is now Carlingford Lough. By the things they left behind, it’s known that long before Saint Patrick’s time, back into the Age of Bronze, Newry was a place where craftspeople lived and worked, a place of trade, and a crossroads for cultures and faiths.

So it was, and so it is still. Through the centuries, these elements have shaped this place. You will rarely find Newry on tourist itineraries these days. Vikings, though, sailed their ships up the bay and gave it the name Carlinn’s Fjord. Merchants found a stopping off place in medieval times. In Tudor days it was a port of trade, and later, during the Great Hunger, a port of emigration to England, Canada, and places beyond. As history unfolded Newry became once more a site for prosperous traders to build their homes and their businesses. As the Troubles came, Newry found itself once again a crossroads of faiths and ideas. With the peace process ongoing. it is again a center of trade — this time drawing shoppers from both Northern Ireland and across the nearby border in the Republic.

All of these elements play out as you walk the streets of Newry today. There are the shopping centers of Buttercrane and The Quays. There is the Museum of Newry and Mourne, where you may experience the foundations of the building which used to stand on its site, Bagnel’s Castle, and where, as you wind you way through learning about the history of Newry, you’ll arrive at the top floor to a thoughtful exhibit reaching across time called What Makes a Border?

As you walk down the high street — in Newry it is called Hill Street — you’ll find locally owned and run cafes, the library, clothing stores, the Super-Valu Market (great produce department and take away food section, if you’re interested), banks in Victorian era buildings, and stands where you may plug in to recharge your electric car. There is a grocers meeting the needs of Eastern European residents who came to Newry when the Celtic Tiger was roaring. You might stop in at The Corn Dolly Bakery, or at the Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Colman, an imposing building of grey stone.

related article: Meeting the Past in Northern Ireland

More cafes and clothing stores, a store which sells books and curios, Dunne’s Stores grocers, a butcher, another bakery, a candy store, a thrift store, a florist and soon enough you’ll hear music pouring out of Carlinn Records. It might be Irish music; it is equally likely to be Carefree Highway from Canadian Gordon Lightfoot or Ode to Billie Joe from American Bobbie Gentry, two selections I’ve heard on recent visits. No worries, though, within Carlinn Records you’ll find a good selection of Irish music of all styles, with especial emphasis on area favorites such as The Sands Family.


related article: Northern Ireland: travel, history, stories, songs

Across the street, your walk has brought you to Newry Market, where, should you be in town on a Thursday or a Saturday, you will find trade in full swing in this open side market under the dark green roof. Traders vary. I’ve often seen the man who sells music from the fifties and sixties, the people who have racks of shoes of all sorts, the stand that features military memorabilia, the guy who sells baskets of socks, people selling baby and children’s clothes, a man with books and the occasional bodhran on offer, folks with phone cards and foodstuff catering to eastern European tastes, ladies offering cakes, biscuits, and home baked brown bread, and depending on the season, people selling home grown cabbages, parsnips, carrots, and potatoes, and bringing along kindling wood and coal and flowers to sell also.

Of a quiet afternoon in winter, you may find cats sunning themselves on empty stands, or winding in and out among shoppers’ feet. Likely you’ll find young children running about. You’ll hear accents from Northern Ireland, and from the Republic, from Scotland, maybe, from England perhaps, and you may hear people speaking Polish or Romanian. What you’re unlikely to hear is an American or Canadian accent.

Newry Market is workaday Ireland. It is history, too. There was a market well established at this site by the 1200s. In a quiet moment you just might catch the shade of a medieval spice merchant setting out his wares, or hear the whisper of a Victorian housewife seeking food for her family’s dinner.

Photograph is by Kerry Dexter, and is copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.

Kerry Dexter is one of five writers who contribute to Perceptive Travel’s blog. You’ll most often find her writing about travels in Europe and North America in stories that connect to music, history, and the arts, including such things as Ireland in winter: a journey of trees and teaching Irish music tradition.

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