Chapter 30


The Commercial Hotel on the Lower Square, was owned in the 1900s, by Morgans. Mrs Morgan, being a sister of old Tommy McCann, the Publican in the Town, was therefore an aunt of Tom McCann, the present day Chemist. The Morgans sold to Strains, Scottish people, who just visited there once or twice a year and left the running of the place to a man by the name of McArdle. That was from the 1920s, until 1942, when Sean King purchased the whole lot for 1,800.

Sean came from Upper Clarkhill, and served his time in GeordieBlackwood's Draper's Shop at the top of the Town, and commenced his own business about 1935, by putting a car on the road from which he sold drapery. He started with 12.00 worth of stock and a car of the same value. Sean was a hard worker and any man needing a suit for Sunday could have relied on him delivering one at any time the previous night: Distance was no obstacle. Sean's new venture, the Hotel, had been used, at the turn of the Century, as a base for Cowans' horse drawn coaches and jaunting cars and had a number of stables where people could put their horses,at a few pence per day. This yard later became a Motor Repair Garage, run by Mick Clarke, in the 1930/50 period but, when Sean King tookover, he stirred up a hornet's nest by starting a piggery big enough to require two men, Ned Rush and John Crossett, to look after it. During this time, Sam Hamilton, from Kilkeel, had a stallion at stud, usually on a Monday, in the yard, up until about 1956.

Sean King died in 1980, leaving the Hotel to his son, Gerry, who, with his wife, Carmel, changed the name from The Commercial to The Chestnut Inn, and built a function room at the rear, calling it The Stables. Previous to this, Gerry had a large mobile Drapery Shop on the Road, but had to give this line up to concentrate on the expanding hotel business.

Section No. 10 Main Street
Section No. 10 Main Street

 

The new look Hotel with its new name, 1980.
The new look Hotel with its new name, 1980.

 

Sean King

Sean King

One of the most prominent vets in Castlewellan in the 1900s, was old Joe Thompson in the Lower Square, beside the Hotel. The well stocked shelves were guarded by a six foot stuffed black bear, to the left, inside the door, and appeared to be watching every move in the shop. Joe was later helped by his three sons, Willie, Joe and Robert. Robert, the youngest, a likeable person and fond of a yarn, would often recall some of his exploits to a customer, while his old man made up some animal medicine. One of his favourites was the problem he had with a rat which continually stole his eggs. Every time Robert went out to the rear of the house, this rat ran behind a particular stone and, after all efforts to trap the rat failed, he devised a plan. He laid a jam-jar on its side with the open end facing the house and well behind the stone. When the rat ran to its popular hiding place, Robert fired a shot into the jar, the shot rebounded out of the jar again and killed the rat from behind' Having heard of brilliant deeds such as this, the customer left fully convinced that the bottle in his hand contained a liquid miracle.

The Thompsons moved to a house on the Rathfriland Road, in the 1950s, having sold the shop to Ian Crossett, who opened a Grocery, Fruit and Vegetable Store. In 1961, Ian sold this place to Sean King, his neighbour, and moved across the street. Sean converted the lot into a private house which it still is today.

Barney McAlinden had a second-hand clothes and footware shop in the corner of James McKenny's building, but lost all in the fire in 1921. He started again in a shop in the Lower Square near the Hotel and the Bank. This place had previously been a pharmacy, owned and run by a man called Savage, during the 1900s, and, a few years later, was occupied by George Shannon, the Chemist, before he moved up to McAleenan's. Barney did a good, barely noticeable trade till he died in the late fifties, leaving his wife, Moya. to carry on the business. It closed altogether on the death of Moya in the 1970s.

The Morgan Family, early 1900's

The Morgan Family, early 1900's

 

 

A flutter on the horses was Barney's hobby and, to increase his interest, he decided, along with two other fellows, to hire Barney Jennings with his Austin Seven car, to take them to the Galway Races. The first day was a disaster, with no money made and the whole evening spent hunting for digs. They ended up in a small attic above a shop and got little sleep that night. About two in the morning, the door of the room opened and a woman's voice said "Good night, and good luck". This was to her husband who lay down and commenced moaning about his poor head - he was obviously drunk. This narration went on for an hour, with everybody about to blow a fuse, until Barney Jennings could stick it no longer. He got up, went over and asked the man if his head hurt badly. "Terrible", was the reply. To this, Barney advised him to think very carefully as to what it Would be like to feel the same all over. That put an end to the disturbance for the rest of the night.

The following day found the boys at the Tuam Races, where they backed a real good winner, only to find that the bookie had flown with all the dough. That finished McAlinden with the horses. Barney's shop was bought by Jim Cunningham Jun. (Rosie), who converted it to a cafe, with complete kitchen, etc., but it never opened as such and has been a private house since.

Charlie McElhill's, beside the Northern Bank, was once a Barber's Shop, run by Brendan Magennis, from across the street, and, like all other barbers, was a community centre for all the Town folk. Many a country lad walked from that shop with a bowl-style hair cut but, after the Townies had had their laugh, was brought back for a proper dock.

Early Occupants of Barney McAlinden's Shop.

Early Occupants of Barney McAlinden's Shop.

 

Barney McAlinden's in the 1920's .

Barney McAlinden's in the 1920's, and the grocery next door owned by a lady U. King. In front of the Northern Bank and hidden by the nicker-buckered lad is the old Barrack's Pump.

When Magennis closed, in 1935, the place became an electric shop, opened by a local man, Paddy Fegan, who carried on a house wiring and appliance sales business and one of the few places to stock radios and gramaphones in those days. Johnny Little, the Shoemaker, was in this place for about a year before moving to the Newcastle Road. During the late 1930s, when Fegan was in occupation, a man from the Banbridge Road, had a taxi and had his stand at Fegan's door and operated from there. Prior to all this the place was a Grocery in the 1920's, owned and run by a widow woman, Mrs. U. King, from Gargary.

The Northern Bank.

The Northern Bank

 

Alphonsus Connolly.

Alphonsus Connolly

Charlie McElhill's father, Eddie, was a Policeman in the Town for over thirty years and was constantly on the trail of the, illicit taxi men, the Jennings, from the Hill. He stopped the 'Rook' Jennings one night and, after a severe chastisement, threatened the Rook with Court and a hefty fine. "You can't take feathers from a frog", said the Rook. "No", said McElhill, "but we can take the frog". The Rook Jennings was christened Hugh, and, being one of the town's most cold-rifed youths, crouched over every fire he could get near. Some said he looked like a perching Rook, so he had to carry that new name till the day he died.

The Northern Bank in the Lower Square, facing the R.C. Church was built around 1920, of native granite. The front displays the skills of local tradesmen with carved mouldings surrounding the doors and windows.

During the 1960's, the resident Manger was a South of Ireland man, Alphonsus Connolly, who often produced a 10,000 note from his pocket. This he had kept as a sourvenir of his days as a young cashier in Cork, in the 1920's, having been presented with the note by a man using it in a business transaction. However, it was found to be outdated and worthless. 'Phonsy' was very fond of a game of golf and, on his retirement in 1969, moved to Newcastle to be convenient to the golf course, where he is still playing a few rounds.

One of the first managers in the Northern Bank, was a Mr. Thompson who had an unfortunate accident in the building in the mid 1920's - the death of a young son by drowning in the bath, which shocked the community at the time.

The present Manager is Eugene McCloskey, a keen bowls player and a member of the local team, who play weekiy in the Market House.