It is said that Castlewellan once had a cobbled stone street with a row of tiny thatched houses and shops on either side. This may or may not be true and there are various opinions as to where the main town was at that particular time. One small house stood where the Garage is now situated on the Newcastle Road. This very ancient two roomed building had long outlived its usefulness as a dwelling and was used in 1920-30 as a Cycle Repair Shop by Arthur Magennis from the Corncrane Square. It is a pity it had to be demolished about 1931 to make room for the building of a motor garage and petrol pumps. This up and coming Motor Car Business was opened by Willie Wallace whose father was a Manager in Murland's Mill at that time. This Garage was later bought by two Hilltown brothers. Pat and Eddie Murray who worked there until 1978, at which time they both retired and sold to Brian Lennon, an Aughlisnafin man who had concentrated more on sales as the cars of the 1980s have reached a stage where less repairs are needed. In 1986, Lennon demolished the lot and built a small shopping area complete with large canopy over the pumps.
On the Newcastle Road bordering the Meadow, from the 1900s, lived Doctor McNabb, one man who believed walking was the only way to good health and he lived to a ripe old age doing that. Dr. McNabb died in 1965. Hugh ("Sandy") was another one of those Doctors who fully clarified an ailment to his patient as he did to Johnny Magorrian from Bunkershill. This man went with a heart complaint and after a thorough examination was shown the door. "But what about my heart?" asked Johnny, only to be told "It will do you your day" which it did until he died, over twenty years later in 1966.
Money was so scarce in the 1900s that Dr. McNabb bought a new car, taxed and insured for the road but couldn't raise the price of the insurance the 7 following year, so the car had to be sold.
When someone told him another Doctor was coming to the Town he replied "There is plenty of room for two Doctors in Castlewellan but not enough money for one".
Hugh's house has been private since his death having accommodated one of the longest reigning M.D.'s the Town has ever known. It is now occupied by Eamon O'Neill a School Teacher and the local Councillor. For a long time, from the 1920s until the late 1960s Castlewellan had a representative, Felix McKenna and if ever there was a purpose made Councillor, he definitely was one. Felix was a Craftsman at his job and many a Castlewelian man is indebted to him for services rendered. He always had a witty remark to suit all occasions. One summer's day while sitting alone, (being a Bachelor), in his little house in Ballybannon and with his goat standing in pure soil in the paddock, he spied a well dressed man walking up the lane and thought he must be a Cruelty Officer. Felix slipped out unnoticed and put a pair of specs 7 onthe goat. When the man, who was not as first surmised, remarked about the scarcity of grass, Felix replied "Do you know, I see the animals are even using glasses to look for it". Felix McKenna died eventually from injuries received when he was knocked down by a car on the Town Street about the late 1960s.
The only person in Castlewellan to supply Home Grown Timber in plank or post form was Willie Kirkwood. He came from the Rathfriland area and when he commenced business in the existing yard, he lived for a while in Charlie McElhill's before buying the end house of the terrace, beside the Presbyterian Church, on the Newcastle Road. His Timber Yard is directly behind this, and is run today by his two sons, Willie and Bruce. When the old man died after being there since the end of the last century, his sons bought in a lot of extra space, did away with the old circular saws and instailed a more modern band saw as well as pressure preserving equipment. They now make all shapes of huts, sell fencing wire, posts and cement, finding it difficult to meet the demand. Bruce recalls earlier days when it was necessary to cut up the best of timber into firewood and hawk it around the Town. When Bruce was asked, recently, how he liked his spanking new car, he said "Do you know I thought more of the old banger I could hardly afford". Old Willie Kirkwood employed the Brannigans from Moneyscalp, who were expert Timber Men, bearing in mind that to get a large twisted old tree onto a saw bench and slice it into slabs with the least possible waste, was no easy job. The descendants of those Brannigans are still in the Scalp, with the same love for working timber.
While thinking of the Brannigans, a little story about a relation, who lived opposite the cemetery on the Castlewellan Newcastle Road springs to mind. This man Brannigan had a son, a Priest who visited America as a young man, about the mid 1970s. While walking through one of the large cities he called into a shop and bought a small radio at a cost of around 30 Dollars. He gave a 50 Dollar Bill to one of two coloured boys behing the counter. This guy put the Bill in the cash box and made no effort to hand over the change. Knowing he was being conned, the Priest reached for the radio, but, the one guy grabbed it and threw it to the other fellow. Disgusted Brannigan went out and rang for the Cops. Shortly afterwards a Police car pulled up and out stepped two burly Lawmen. "Who called us" asked the bigger of the two. "I did said the Priest". "What's your name"inquired the Cop. 'Brannigan" was the reply. "That's a very Irish name" said the Cop, adding "It's very common around a small Town in Ireland, called Castleweilan". "Believe it or not that's where I come from" said the Priest and was surprised to be told by the Cop that he was 'Cowan' from Leitrim. He was advised to stay on the Main Streets in American cities. Father Brannigan got his change and his radio and took Cowan's advice. Efforts to trace Cowan's near relations have been unsuccessful to date.
The Presbyterian Church on the Newcastle Road was built in 1854 and was renovated about one hundred years later. At this time a new pipe organ was donated and fitted by the Stewarts, Bertie and John, who were once the owners of McCrackens Drapers. In 1937 a Minister, the Reverend James Bridgett, B.A. was installed in this Church and became acquainted with Patsy Mullen the Garage man who repaired a large number of old brass articles for him. Mr Bridgett was proud of his collection but was thoroughly disgusted to awaken one morning to find someone had entered his home and stolen the lot. A pair of brass firetongs, repaired but never collected, belonging to Mr. Bridgett, still stand in Mullen's Sitting Room reminding him of the rascally action which robs any man of his hobby. The Rev. Bridgett retired in 1972 and moved from the Manse, the two storey house sitting in it's own grounds just below the new Public Elementary School, to Newcastle. The new Clergyman, now trusted with the spiritual welfare of the Presbyterian congregation, is the Rev. W. P. Scullion, B.S., B.D.
Now and again a man appears in most little Irish communities and becomes a legend, not for medals won for athletics, not for having performed some deed of gallantry, but simply for being nabbed for making poteen. And John Brannigan from the mountainous area one mile out the Rathfriland Road, must surely be Castlewellan's man.
About the 1980s Northern Ireland was in political turmoil and every shed and outhouse in the Country was being thoroughly searched. While giving Brannigans the once over, dozens of English Soldiers lay in brilliant sunshine in the shuck of the road for half a mile on either side of the house. A few others had a look around and a hoard of bottles filled with liquid, found under straw was completely ignored by the Englishmen. However, unfortunately for Brannigan the nose of a local U.D.R. man a half a mile away started to twitch and led him to the hoard. This was immediately identified for what it was, mountain dew. On the mention of the Police, Brannigan grabbed an axe, ran up the mountain and smashed a 200 gallon barrel hidden in the bushes. This let 200 gallons of wash into the drains under the ditch. Within minutes the Soldiers were yelling and running about the road chased by millions of wasps attracted by the wash, which had by then reached the shucks of the road. The Police duly arrived and an Army Officer was heard calling to the Sergeant "It's even oozing out of the mountains". The booze was taken to the Town Barracks and Brannigan charged. John received a short stretch in Gaol, for only a few of the corked witnesses appeared in Court. When Inspector Joe McComiskey was jokingly questioned about this later, he laughingly replied "John Brannigan made the best brandy I ever tasted".
Poteen making has been part and parcel of the way of life in Ireland for hundreds of years. The folklore and mystery surrounding this spirit has brought the name of many an Irishman onto the pages of books the World over. Everyone knows, that poverty and loneliness in the remote areas of this Country, forced people to invent some means of escape, so they concocted the Mountain Dew. The greatest tragedy to befall Ireland, would be the disappearance of the Poteen Maker, and that clear inoffensive-looking liquid to become a national myth.
He is known as Poteen Johnny and once lived in Moneyscalp
He became a Palate Wetter with a little secret help
famed from here to Katmandu for his home brewed mountain dew
And throughout the world his unquenched thirsts are now so very few.
He was the eldest of three sons. His parent's pride and joy
From the early age of only two there was something about this boy
He had the knack of boiling spuds and barley and yeast and things
And a whiff of steam from his dream machine
and you were in heaven with a pair of wings.
One summer day when there was no hay to hide his barrels of wash
Johnny was all surrounded and 'there was nowhere he could dash
The army and the R.U.C. his wee door had broken down
Then very gently by the hand they took him to the town.
The judge so sweet and dressed so neat as he sat on his cushy chair
Is it a licit ill still or illicit still just to help to clear the air.
It's a shame to see the likes of thee standing before the crown
When all you've done was just clean fun washing the odd throat down.
So on a holiday I will send you just a little gift from me
No hotel up the mountain side or cottage by the sea.
And when you return from your short sojourn if a noise out rear scares you
It could be me down on one knee trying to join the queue.
He was the eldest of three sons his parent's pride and joy
At the early age of only two there was something about this boy.
He had the knack of Boiling spuds and barley and yeast and things
And a whiff of steam from his dream machine
And you were in heaven with a pair of wings.
|Written by PatsyMullen in 1993
as a tribute
to, and with the co-operation of Johnny a
lifelongfriend and one of the every disappearing local characters.
James McAleenan, related to the Builders, commenced his career as an Auctioneer in the 1890s, in a small shop in the Lower Square. This place was part of James McKenny's prior to the fire. James McAleenan had one son, Ben, and three daughters, Catherine, Gertrude and Nana, and it is on record that the eldest was the first child christened in the then new R.C. Church. Ben was an enthusiastic Footballer and kept goal for Annsborough about the 1910s. In 1900 James McAleenan moved to the large two-storey building facing the Presbyterian Church, and with the help of his three daughters, ran a Ladies Clothing and Wool Shop. That whole family had died by the 1960s and this place has been non-business since, except for a small section at the rear which was, until 1986, used as a Doctor's Surgery.
With the closure of Bustards in the 1920s Castlewellan had at least a dozen Footware Repairers on the loose. Some started small Confectionery and Shoe Repairing Shops in Mill Hill and the Town. One man, Johnny Little, opened a Cobblers in the house next door to the Northern Bank, but moved a year later to the Newcastle Road. He had just got a new house and workshop built in 1927 by the Contractor who was building the Masonic Hall at that time. The Hall was demolished in the early 1970s, but Johnny's house is still to the fore and occupied by his son, Jackie, a Painting Contractor. When this little house was completed at a cost of £170, it was the last house on that side of the road. By the time Johnny died in 1972, the expanding Town had changed that. The Builder of those two places was 'Porter' from Ballyward.