Newry and Bronte country
Newry was founded by Cistercian monks in 1144, but for most of its history has been a garrison town. Because of its proximity to the Republican border and its strategic position at the narrow point between the mountains, Newry is often referred to locally as the 'Gap of the North'.
There are few traces remaining of early building programmes at Newry, most of what remains dates from the 18/19 th centuries. An exception is St Patrick's Church built in 1578, the first Protestant church erected in Ireland, which inspired Jonathan Swift's sour observation on Newry, ‘High church, low steeple, dirty town, proud people'. Perhaps the most interesting building in town is the Catholic Cathedral on Hill Street situated in the pedestrian precinct. The rich mosaic pattern along its interior walls gives a Byzantine feel.
In addition, there is a striking vaulted ceiling of decorative sweeping plaster arcs accompanied by vivid stained-glass windows. Other 18 th century buildings survive in Upper Water Street and Trevor Hill and the White Linen Hall is a fine example from the period.
Newry Town Hall, built in 1893, is most remarkable for its location. Built on a bridge that spans the Clanrye River, it manages to straddle two counties, with half the structure in County Down and the remainder in County Armagh. The Town Hall is home to the Newry Museum, history-based with assorted exhibits including Nelson's table from HMS Victory. The neighbouring Newry and Mourne Arts Centre incorporates ever-changing displays of local artistic aspirations.
The quiet river valley running between Banbridge and Rathfriland is referred to as the Bronte Homeland. The reason for this apparently strange reference to a family more readily associated with Yorkshire, is because this place is the childhood home of Patrick Bronte, father of the three famous literary sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. In fact, it was home to numerous aunts and uncles of the Bronte ‘clan'. Patrick Bronte lived and worked here before moving to Haworth in Yorkshire, and the ruins of his cottage at Emdale are preserved. Two other Bronte houses nearby are still occupied.
The ultimate stop on the Bronte tour is the hilltop parish church and school at Drumballyroney where Patrick taught before going to England, it forms the nucleus of the Bronte Interpretive Centre. Even if this tour sheds no new light on the three famous sisters, it at least provides a good enough reason for threading one's way through the delightful countryside of a little-visited part of County Down.