Precisely 100 years ago, the Christian Brothers established their secondary school at Abbey Yard in Newry; and many generations of students have passed through those portals. In 1966, the new grammar school on Courtenay Hill was offically opened, and plans are in progress for a move to Ashgrove.
Headmaster Mr Dermot McGovern, a past pupil of the Abbey primary and grammar schools, became the first lay head teacher of a Christian Brothers’ school, during their 140 year history in the frontier town, when he took charge in 1995.
Over the previous century, many notable personalities graduated from that huge grey structure at Abbey Yard. They included eminent Jewish surgeon, Dr Abrahamson; Archbishop Francis Carroll, Bishop John Crawford, from Warrenpoint and Lord Jusfice Turlough O’Donnell, Also on roll were future doctors, teachers, lawyers, chemists, journalists, civil servants and businessmen.
On the political front were Frank Aiken, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs; Seamus Mallon, M.P: former Deputy First Minister, Stormont MPs, Assemblymen and local councillors, including Jackie Patterson, Mayor of Newry, and past president of the Christian Brothers’ Past Pupils Union.
The legendary Brother Newell, knoWn as ‘Wee Tarzan,’ had launched the C.B.P.P.U. as a fundraising channel for the new monastery, a residence of the brothers. Other presidents included historian and human rights campaigner, Dr Seamus McAteer, Des Murphy, Mick Mathers, Martin Goss, Barney Maguire, Paddy CUllen and Austin Kane.
Many spOrts stars have donned r the red, black and amber Jersey,such as Gerry Brown, Barney Carr, TP Murphy, Sean and Kevin O’Neill, Tony Hadden, John Murphy, Val and DJ Kane, from Down’s ‘Sam Maguire Cup winning sides. And ten players in Armagh’s historic squad were ex-Abbey boys, including the McEntee twins, the O’Rourke and McNulty brothers, Oisin McConville and manager, Joe Kernan. Also International soccer stars, Peter McParland and Pat Jerinings, as well as British boxing champion, Dan McAlinden.
History was made in 1954, when an Abbey CBS side, coached by Gerry Brown, brought the MacRory Cup to the Newry school for the first time, amid great jubilation. The all-conquering heroes were paraded through the streets of the town, preceded by bands. In fact, the golden jubilee of that auspicious occasion will be celebrated in the Carrickdale Hotel in February 2004.
Among the best known members of the Christian Brothers’ community were 96 year old Brother Aidan Byrne and 97 year old Brother Dominic O’Donnell, who were honoured by Newry and Mourne district council at a special reception in 1995. Brother Byrne died a year later.
Council chairman Danny Kennedy stated: “Generations of young men, who attended the Abbey schools, have gone out into the world better equipped to take their places in the academic or commercial spheres. They had the benefit. of having been taught by the Christian Brothers. You have seen many changes in your lifetime, but I trust that your faith in mankind has remained unshaken. We hope that many more will come forward to meet the challenges that lie ahead.”
Canon John Kearney, Adm., a past pupil, declared: “The Christian Brothers have welcomed us with open arms. They have imbued
many young men with a sense of dignity, empowering them to become good citizens of their town and country.” And council vice-chairman Pat McElroy reported that the Order had shown much charity to townspeople’ especially during and after the war, when life was difficult. They provided food and clothes to the needy.”
A native of Co Wexford, Bro Byrne had taught for many years in the old Carstands primary school, and later in the secondary school. Mick Mathers, well-known in musical circles, recalled his visit to a nursing home in Dublin, when Brother Byrne made a special plea to be buried “among the Newry people.” The Superior, Bro Beausang acceded to the request, and the adopted son of the frontier town was interred in St Mary’s Cemetery. Incidentally, Bro Beausang, known affectionately as ‘Bo’, involved in the Irish language and schools drama, described life in the ‘Master’s House; which adjoined the secondary school. He reported how the Brothers “rose at 5.45 am, gathered in the chapel for prayer and meditation, then walked in singe file to the Dominican church for Mass at 7 am. There would be spiritual reading during breakfast.” Recalling how the qualifying examination for free education at secondary level had been introduced in 1948, he stated that the headmaster for the primary school had been Bro Hennessy, assisted by Bros Cloke, Gleeson, Nannery, MCGreevy, Skehin, Lynch and Drohan. The lay teachers had included Petey Curran, Joe Sally and Johnney Walker.
After spending 26 years in Belfast, Bro Beausang was posted back to Newry as deputy headmaster in 1981. It was “like coming home from the high seas to calm waters. But what changes! The Abbey House was empty; the Brothers had gone to a new monastery on Courtenay Hill. My neighbours had all gone, – the Keenans, Prices, Carrolls and Campbells. Old Mrs Keenan’s sweetie-shop, and Annie Dowdall’s pub had vanished. And the old Abbey building looked sad and desolate.”
But, ten years later, the former secondary school had been transformed into the modern headquarters for Clanrye Abbey Development’s training and employment agency. This had been achieved by a team, led by Paddy McGuinness of Concern, funded by many groups. And Minister of Commerce, Richard Needham had officially opened the renovated Master’s House.
‘Bo’ also referred to the “red-letter day” in 1954, when the MacRory Cup had been won by an Abbey CBS side for the first time. Two bands met the victorious squad on the outskirts of town, and the players were carried shoulder-high through the streets, cheered by large crowds. Bonfires blazed in Abbey Yard, while the players and management team stood triumphantly on the steps. A week later, we won the Corn na n-Óg trophy, amid similar celebrations.”
The coveted trophy had been won after a replay at Ballybay against St Patrick’s College, Cavan. The original match had been brought to a tragic end, due to the sudden and unprecedented death of the referee during the game, when Cavan were leading by three points.
That Breffni side were reckoned to be one of the strongest of the Irish colleges, awe-inspiring against the smaller and lighter Newry lads.
Added to that was the impressive tradition of their opponents, whose former players included John Joe O’Reilly and Phil Duke. And neither the Newry school nor the county had ever won an Ulster title.
Since most observers predicted an easy Cavan victory, this imposed a severe strain on the Abbey players’ morale. But manger Gerry Brown had emphasised that his side had the beating of their opponents, a message hammered home by the supporters of the supporters, waving red black and amber flags and scarves, chanting the school anthem: “Come on, the good old Abbey boys.”
And the opening minutes banished , any feeling of inferiority, as the Newry side sized up the ‘boys in blue, showing skill and determination. Cavan’s confidence seemed to slip away, as they realised they had a fight on their hands. At midfield, captain Gerry Butterfield and Gerry Geoghan held sway, and delivered with accuracy. In defence, Raymond Hollywood, Finbar Conlon and Pat O’Hagan proved too strong, while goalkeeper Anthony McKay was a safe pair of hands.
Meanwhile, Kevin O’Neill was showing the assurance, which became a hallmark during Down’s conquest of the Sam Maguire Cup in 1960. He was ably supported by Keegan, McSherry, Brady and Keegan. Eleven times the ball soared over the bar from an Abbey boot, while St Patrick’s replied with one goal and three points. The final whistle signalled pandemonium, as fans rushed on to the field to acclaim their heroes.
But hurling was the first sport played at the primary and secondary schools, being introduced in 1925. A field was purchased from Mr Matt McCann of the Victoria Bakery, for use as a pitch. So Bro Rice, a native of Kilkenny, decided that hurling should be played by secondary school pupils for a set of medals. Hurling was also popular with pupils at the Carstands primary school, encouraged by such teachers as Peter Conlon and Francis Byrne.
So the foundation was laid for a succession of famous teams. The Abbey provided the county minor hurling side, which won the Ulster title in 1930, 33 and 34, playing against Kilkenny in the all-lreland semi-final. This was the first Down team to compete at Croke Park at championship level. And the school’s senior side gained entry to the Leinster colleges senior championship, winning the John Quinn Cup by defeating Kells CBS.
Among the players on those teams were Peadar McArdle, Oliver Keenan, Luke Curran, John White, Sean Southwell, Dan McDonald, Dennis Larkin, Jim Judge, Brian O’Rourke, Phil Gunn, Bertie Gallagher, Gerry Blair, Joe Fitzpatrick, Paddy Curran, as well as the future Dr William Corish and Dr S Hollywood.
Gaelic football was introduced to the Abbey CBS in 1935, and hurling declined. But past pupils helped to from such clubs as Clann Uladh, Bessbrook Geraldines, Camlough Shane O’Neill’s and Corrinshegoe. Clann Uladh eventually amalgamated with Newry Shamrocks.
When the Christian Brothers first arrived in Newry during the 1850s, they rented a house at Downshire Road, and started a primary school in Kilmorey Street, now the site of the Gateway Club. They moved later to the Carstands school at the junction of Margaret Street and the Mall. In 1903, a building at Abbey Yard was purchased and converted into a residence, while adjoining property became the secondary school.
During the 40s and 5Os, the school was staffed by Bros. Magee, Newell, Liston, McGreevey, Nagle and Rehill, along with lay teachers such as Paddy Crinion, ‘Todd’ Sweeney, ‘Judy’ Hoey, ‘the Gut’ Fitzpatrick. Cathedral organist, Joseph Delafaille was music teacher, succeeded by Gus Toremans.
One past pupil, Jim McParland, a native of Queen (now Dominic) Street, recalled being lead-singer at Masses in both the Cathedral and St Catherine’s on Sundays. He also sang and played clarinet with St Catherine’s Concert Band, under conductor Luke Burke, raising money for a new Christian Brothers’ School on Courtenay Hill.
And he revealed that the legendary tenor, John McCormack had sung in Newry’s Dominican church, to an audience of half-a dozen! The famous artist had been en route from Dublin to Belfast, and decided to call on an old friend, Theodore Lynch, organist at the Newry church. He was taking choir practice, so John McCormack joined them and sang a few songs, to the delight of a few people, who had dropped in to say a prayer.
Jim McParland spent some years in Birmingham as a professional singer, returning in home in 1941, taking a post with the Ambulance Service. He has been in great demand for concerts and other events, saying that he must have sang at weddings in every church from Derry to Dublin. Jim has twin daughters, Geraldine, who is a hair-stylist in Mary Street, Newry and Mrs Kay Thomton, who operates a business in Warrenpoint.
Indeed, there have been other past pupils on the entertainment scene,such as ace-comedians Charlie Smyth and Sean Canavan; Frank Hall (RTE) and Brian Durkan (UTV), as well as those like Mick Mathers, Brendan Carroll, Raymond McCourt and Aidan Finnerty, who have provided pleasure and laughter over the years.
Of course, the Abbey boys have been high-flyers in various examinations. They have gained top marks in the North and the British Isles at GCSE and’ A’Level, as well as competitions such as the Young Scientist of the Year.
That small band of Brothers, who arrived in Newry 150 years ago, and laboured unselfishly for local youth since then, would be pleased by the impressive range of achievements, gained by their students in every walk of life.
Published by the Newry Democrat – 9th December 2003 – By Fabian Boyle