Tradition and Culture

Cloughmore Stone

Land of Legend

Secrets of stone, early Christian remains, sport, mythology, history, archaeology, walk in the footsteps of giants.

Echoing with the heroic deeds of Cuchulainn and Fionn MacCumhaill, the Newry and Moune area is steeped in the legends of The Ulster Cycle and The Fenian Cycle. Both heroes are said to have been given their names on Slieve Gullion, mountain of myth and mystery.

Newry's History

The Newry and Mourne area is renowned as the stomping ground of the mythical Ulster hero, Cuchulainn and his legendary battles with Maeve, Queen of Connaught.

The Dorsey Rampart, an Iron Age earthwork that controlled access to Ulster's Royal capital Eamhain Macha (the present day Navan Fort near Armagh) is only one of numerous prehistoric and early Christian sites throughout South Down and South Armagh.

In the 16th Century St. Patrick is said to have planted a yew tree at the head of the Clanrye River, from which Newry gets it name - 'yew tree at the head of the strand'

In Irish 'lur Cinn Tra, shortened to 'An tlur' and anglicised as Newry. A Cistercian monastery was founded on the site in 1144 from which the present city can trace its origins.

The strategic importance of the abbey estates in counties Down, Armagh and Louth is illustrated by the historic struggle for control between the English Crown and the O'Neills during the Nine Year's War in the late sixteenth century.

During the eighteenth century Newry's economic importance as a major trade centre grew after the construction of the first summit level canal in Britain and Ireland from Carlingford Lough to Lough Neagh.

Being a border area has often been a source of conflict in recent times, but interaction through the centuries, peaceful or otherwise, between the diverse inhabitants of the Newry and Mourne area has created a fascinating and complex history which is reflected in our distinctive cultural heritage of today.

Stone & Earthen Monuments

Our landscape reveals many traces of previous centuries.

The area contains a wide variety of stone and earthen monuments, dating from as far back as 4000BC. From these ancient remains, through early Christian churches and monuments, medieval forts to the mills and viaducts of the industrial age and the impressive Mourne Wall, our ancestors have bequeathed a story in stone of the passing of the ages in Newry and Mourne.

Archaeology

There is a wealth of archaeology to be explored, with the area being inhabited by man for 6,000 years. There are a number of Neolithic burial Chambers, such as 'The Kings Ring' in the Slieve Gullion area, which has stones over 2.4m tall flaking the entrance to the burial chambers.

A number of dolmens are found all over the region, notably Kilfeaghan Dolmen near Killowen which has a cap stone of approx. 40 tonnes, Goward Dolmen near Hilltown and Ballykeel Dolmen near Mullaghbane.

There are also a number of stone cairns such as the Slieve Gullion summit cairn which is the highest surviving passage tomb in Ireland or Britain.

Ulster Scots

The Ulster Scots tradition within Newry and Mourne is ever growing and there is a desire amongst individuals and community groups to express their cultural identity through music - fiddle, drums, pipes, fife and song.

New cultural activity groups (highland dancing/re-enactment group and fife and drum band) have been established in Kilkeel while in Newry, Altnaveigh Pipe Band has established the Altnaveigh House as a community and cultural development organisation.

The Ulster-Scots culture can boast of having world-class musicians, particularly in Highland piping and drumming and plays its full part in the wonderful musical melting pot between Scotland, Ulster and the rest of the island.

The dance tradition in Ulster-Scots is becoming stronger with both Highland Dancing, Scottish Country Dancing and Ulster-Scots Square and Country dancing enjoying a revival. It's argued the American Bluegrass and Country traditions owe much to the Ulster-Scots emigrants of the 18th century.

Poetry & Song

During the last great age of Irish Literature in the 18th century, the Ring of Gullion was famed for it's strong associations with 'fili agus filiocht' (poets and poetry), with all the major poets coming from this area. Their remains can be found in Creggan Church and graveyard in Slieve Gullion, which is known as the poets graveyard. There are three waymarked trails, for walking or cycling, around Mullaghbane, Forkhill and Creggan, collectively titled The Poets' Trail, along which you can visit locations associated with these bards and find out more about them.

There is a tradition of seafaring poetry based around the Mournes area with its traditional fishing industry along the fishing villages of Kilkeel and Annalong.

I see of the Big man's Point
I see off Dunmore,
The Ghosts of long-line fishermen
That sailed from Mourne's shore

Ghost of the Long-line by Tom Porter

Literature

An oral tradition in storytelling, Celtic myths and legends created a rich environment for the Gaelic poets in the 18th and 19th century and the short stories and prose of Michael J Murphy. South Armagh is regarded as an important area for the collection of folklore by Michael J Murphy and this work most certainly led to the amateur drama revival of post war years and the emergence of local plays and playwrights.

One of Newry's best known writers was the United Irishman, John Mitchel. In May 1848 Mitchel was convicted of treason, sentenced to fourteen years' transportation and sent to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). Mitchel's Jail Journal which he wrote on board the prison ship, has been described as one of the classics of prison literature, and it is also considered one of the central texts of Irish nationalism. He wrote in The Nation newspaper and subsequently was Editor of The United Irishman. He published The Life and Time of Aodh O'Neill, Prince of Ulster, called by the English, Hugh, Earl of Tyrone, with some account of his predecessors, Con, Shane and Tirlough, 1845. William Dillon, son of John Blake Dillon described Mitchell as "The greatest man of letters that Ireland has produced since Swift".

Jonathan Swift often visited Newry and preached in St Patrick's Church. He described the town in the mid-eighteenth century thus:

High church, Low steeple
Dirty streets and Proud people