Most people are well acquainted with the narrow street which runs the full length of the Town, behind the main buildings. It starts at the Chestnut Inn and emerges through a sharp bend onto the Main Street near the Orange Hall. While passing this entry, the ring of the Smithy is a reminder of the old forge and all the different businesses which have come and gone in this backway, called Mary Street.
The Smithy, the first on the left, was owned in the '20s, by Alex 'Pam' Rodgers, who lived in the little house at the corner of the Street in front of the Smithy. One of his sons, James Jun., opened a record shop in this little dwelling house but closed about 1940, to drive a U.T.A. bus. This small shop, beside the Gospel Hall, is still empty.
The Blacksmith shop was then bought by a man McGarvey, who, after working there for six years, sold to Paddy, John and Peter Kelly, in 1947. As the years passed~Paddy bought off John and then Peter and worked on his own account till he retired in 1980. The forge was always a great spot to spend an hour, especially on a wet day when people would gather to fill their shoes with hot ashes to help dry them out and warm themselves up. On entering the door for a~.1iet chat, a visitor was immediately requested to crank one of those hand-operated flexible drive clipping machines which never seemed to cut. When the poor fellow was exhausted, the Blacksmith handed him a 'touch and called someone else to turn the machine. The touch was a short pole with a rope loop at one end. The loop was slipped over the upper lip of the horse and twisted till it really hurt him, and was supposed to keep him amused while his hair was half cut and half plucked' The operation often took hours, with tempers frayed on both sides, and one end of the business
the Smith dreaded. On the May Fair mornings, the strong men from Belfast would call into the Forge and collect horse shoes, which they kept bending in the vice till they would hardly hold together and would then be seen later in the day, bursting veins, ripping those shoes in front of a crowd of wide eyed spectators.
The poor old blacksmith gets it rough but in spite of all the heartbreaking work, there is one thing he never does - drive nails on Good Friday.
Paddy Kelly died in 1985, and the Forge is now run by his son, Anthony, who gained a lot of experience working in the Carragh Horse Racing Stables.
Prior to and throughout the 1930s, the May and November Fairs were known as the 'Hiring Fairs'. Some farmers with a large family of adult sons could ill afford to support them on a small farm and were obliged to let some of them hire themselves to another farmer who needed help. The wages were about £6.00 for six months, plus food and board, which was in an outhouse with very few facilities. Those two fair days were also the time to buy or sell horses and the Lower Square was the place to view the animals for sale, at prices to suit every pocket. Peter King, the Care owner, fell in with a man looking for a horse to do a turn, and Peter had just the one. After the nag had gone through all the manual tests and all the questions had been asked and answered, a deal was struck for thirty shillings. This was about the cheapest class of horse; a good working one from a reputable dealer with a guarantee for a week or two would have cost up to forty pounds.
Working with horses was a dicey business, as some would work like a Trojan for one man and do absolutely nothing for another. Francy Murray, from the Corncrane Square, was a bread server between the 1940s and '60s, who had experience of this type of horse behaviour. He worked for Hughes' Bakery, having the bread sent from Belfast by train and later by road. One morning, a lorry driver passed a remark that the beautiful horse Francy had been issued with a couple of days earlier, was a real rascal and would wreck all before it. Being fore warned, Francy was ready for this one and, sure enough, one evening in Kilcoo, the horse took off and headed for the Town. Having been in this situation before, Francy gave the horse its head till it tried to turn into Claremont Avenue, where it was kept. A good whack with a whip sent the horse straight through the Town at speed, making people think Francy had gone daft. This battle between man and horse continued down Mill Hill, through Annesborough and up Ballybannon. By the time the halfway mark was reached on the hill, horse and man had had enough. Francy wiped the foam from the horse and, with a few pats on the head, was then master of this animal.
Sometimes things didn't work out just as well for other people, like Barney and Hugh Jennings, who bought a pony in the Fair and thought they would try it out the following day. On hearing a pony trotting down the Rathfriland Road, a man who lived at Seaview, a quarter of a mile from the Town, stopped at his gate-way to see who was approaching and observed it was the Jennings's, sitting in a little gig with their new pony in harness. This was a sight to behold; with knees lifting till they were tapping on the bits, this pony was sure reaching for the road while the proud men aboard were enjoying the ride to the full. When this delightful little rig had just passed, the man at the gate, thinking "No artist could capture a sight like this in oils", turned to walk up the path to his house, only to be brought back to earth by the sound of a crash. Racing out again, the man was shocked to see Barney and Hugh sitting on their backsides in the centre of the road, surrounded by a heap of broken timber. Rushing to their assistance, as did Robert Thompson, the Vet, who was walking up the road at the time, the man asked, "What the hell happened?". Hugh replied, "The son of a bitch kicked us to ribbons". Why? - Only the pony knew that and he was miles away by then! Although this was an hilarious situation, no one laughed because this was a common occurrence and could happen to anybody.
The real excitement of the Fairs, was in the Upper and largest of the three Squares. The Town came to life at the crack of dawn with Dan 0 Boyle, a local man, wheeling out the stalls for hire at one shilling and sixpence per day, and which were stored in the lower part of the Market House at that time. Under the Market House Clock there was a row of threepenny side-shows, like the Woman's Head suspended on a cobweb. It was amazing to see the bright living eyes and the smile on the face -- all suspended in mid air. Some said it was worked with mirrors and lights but all the same it was good fun. There were the shooting galleries, the card sharps and the men selling lotions to cure anything from bald heads to broken legs. To get a better view of the proceedings, people could search through chests of the old-fashioned wire rimmed spectacles, sold at sixpence a time. The sheer mass of colour from the thousands of Japanese paper decorations, the hoards of balloons and the music from the gramaphone stalls, must have had the cows in a quandry as they stood for sale at the side of the Market House.
It was customary for the schools to close for the May Fair, and this gave the boys a chance to make a few pence - herding cattle or holding horses while the owner gargled his throat, in one of the Town's thirteen pubs. In the meadow, in the 1920s and 30s, there would have been McGivern's large fun fair, with every conceivable type of entertainment, accompanied by the great steam organ which could have been heard all over and kept the entire Town in a festive spirit for weeks. If all this was of little interest to the man who admired pigs or sheep, then the Corncrane Square was the place for him, for this was where those animals were bought and sold. The May Fair brought the tinkers who parked along the roads to the Town. Some of them were hard working people, like the Johnstons, in their beautiful little square horse-drawn caravans, which were covered with very intricate woodcarvings and half doors, surrounded with brass ornaments and lamps. Those people were true tinkers, who make all sizes of tins and cans and sold them to the shops.
Castlewellan had a few strange visitors in its time, but none less welcome than those in 1955, when the people in Mary Street heard a weird sound which seemed to get closer. Suddenly the sky was filled with millions of honeybees. The daylight was almost blocked out and the noise of the bees as they passed over, at little more than head height, was loud and terrifying. The invaders gathered in a huge ball of bodies in a tree further up the Town and there was relief all round when some bee keepers took the lot away.
Another strange sky visitor was a helicopter, which ferried provisions from
the Town to farmers in the mountainous areas of Slievaniskey, during the great
snow fall, in 1966. Helicopters at that time were something country folk had
only heard about and it created much interest as it sat in the Upper Square.