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City of Merchants Festival: Timeline of Newry's history

The first ever City of Merchants festival takes places in Newry this weekend in celebration of the city's history, and maritime and industrial heritage.

Often referred to as the ‘Gateway to the North’, Newry is believed to date back as far back as the Bronze Age.

Here's a look through the rich history of the city:

1144: St. Malachy established a Benedictine Monastery on the site of the earlier foundation but by the end of the following decade the Benedictines had been superseded by the Cistercians who established their Monastery under the terms of a charter granted in 1157 by Muirchertagh MacLochlainn, King of the Cenel Eoghan.

The Cistercians, of French origin, were quickly followed into the area by their compatriots, the Normans.

1539: An English mercenary, Nicholas Bagenal, fled to Ireland to escape English justice after being implicated in killing a man in a brawl.  In 1578, Bagenal erected Saint Patrick’s Parish Church, which is believed to have been the first purpose-built Protestant Church in Ireland.

1680: The town of Newry was heavily damaged during the Williamite War in the late 1680’s, with only a few houses and the castle surviving. However, within decades, the maritime importance of the town was enhanced by the completion of the Newry Canal in 1742, famous for being the first summit-level canal in the British Isles.

Employees of the Victoria Bakery pictured in Castle Street before setting off on a works outing in the 1930s..jpg
Employees of the Victoria Bakery pictured in Castle Street before setting off on a works outing in the 1930s. (Newry and Mourne Museum)

1850: The commercial growth of Newry increased its political influence, ensuring it became a major urban centre in the 19th Century. In 1815, Newry’s growth as a trade centre continued as a new Customs House and Merchants Quay were built.

1900: Throughout the 1900’s Newry continued to be a strong area for business and trade, due to its positioning between Belfast and Dublin.

Today, Newry is host to many successful international businesses, such as Glen Dimplex, First Derivatives and Norbrook Laboratories. In addition, Newry has a reputation as being one of the best provincial shopping towns in Northern Ireland, with two thriving shopping malls, The Quays and the Buttercrane Centre. As well as being a significant city for business, Newry is also a bustling centre for the arts.

the Newry Mineral Water Company’s Downshire Road factory from an 1881 invoice.jpg
The Newry Mineral Water Company's Downshire Road factory from an 1881 invoice. (Newry and Mourne Museum)

2002: Newry was granted city status as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

2017: Newry celebrates its first City of Merchants festival to celebrate its history, heritage and culture, its important past, milestones achieved and the contributions made that has made Newry what it is today.

Foster-Newell Department store%2c Hill Street%2c Newry c. 1967.jpg
Foster-Newell Department store Hill Street, Newry c.1967. (Newry and Mourne Museum)

4 facts you might not know about Newry

  • Although the market at Newry has a medieval origin, the right to hold a market every Thursday was confirmed to Arthur Bagenal in 1613 by James I.
  • Inspection of the Victoria Bakery building at the time of its closure in the mid-90s led to the rediscovery of Bagenal’s Castle, built by Sir Nicholas Bagenal in the mid-16th century.
  • The Newry Canal opened in 1742. It is the oldest Canal in Ireland or Britain and when functioning as an inland transport waterway, it ran for 18 miles to Lough Neagh.
  • MacNeill's Egyptian Arch is a railway bridge located near Newry, which was selected for the design of the British One Pound coin to represent Northern Ireland for 2006.

The City of Merchants Festival runs from Friday, September 29 to Sunday, October 1

A float featuring a model of house type built by James Fleming%2c a local builder..jpg
A float featuring a model of house type built by James Fleming a local builder. (Newry and Mourne Museum)

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