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The word Barrackovian will not be found in the Oxford dictionary. But people who lived in the old Linenhall Square will doubtless know the meaning of the word. For the uninitiated, it refers to the residents of the Square, formerly an old soldiers’ barracks.

Patricia Grattan
Patricia Grattan

It was a poor area in the town of Newry but amazingly it bred more than its share of talented men and women. Linenhall Square was knocked down in 1963 with Mourneview Park built in its place.

Recently Michael Cavanan posted a piece on Facebook, asking if anyone knew a man called Joseph Conway Guinan, who wrote a book called ‘A Poet of Newry’s Past.’

I remembered the man well as I lived in the Square and am proud to call myself a Barrackovian. I recall Joseph as being an absolute gentleman who lived beside the Fire Station in Linenhall Square and was a man who ran shows in the Newry Town Hall called Little Lyrics of Loveliness.

I also recall some of the boys from the Barracks going to the shows just to ridicule him. But Joseph had an answer for them. When the booing and catcalls eased the poet addressed them, saying: ‘You may well scoff, but I have YOUR money in MY pocket.’ That shut up the hecklers.

Joseph was a Barrackovian and just one of many famous Linenhall Square residents.

Charlie Casey

Charlie Casey is probably the best known Barrackovian as he was twice the Chairperson of the Newry and Mourne Council (in 2012 and 2019) but there were quite a few others.

Patricia Grattan

Indeed did Newry ever produce a better singer than Patricia Grattan?

In many people’s opinion she was simply the best. The wee songstress, currently living in America, was popularly known as Tishy, though in her Showband career she was often billed as Patricia O’Kelly.

She had a magical voice. From country and pop to her great love Jazz, she could sing them all. And how her audiences loved her. She idolised Shirley Bassey but Patricia could sing the Welsh singer’s songs as good as the lady herself.

While with the Hilton Showband she shared the lead vocals with Ricky McVeigh and Peadar Cowan, both tremendous singers in their own right, but in fact it was worth the admission money alone to see Patricia and Peadar sing Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High. Listening to the duo belt out that tune was experiencing rock music at its raunchy best.

One time The Hilton played the Flamingo in Ballymena, supporting the great Tom Jones who went on record as saying that both Patricia and Peadar were fabulous artistes.

And while with the Hilton, Patricia recorded an excellent song, probably the best ever recording by a Newry singer, called Carlingford Bay, written by Frances Hall, who also hailed from our wee town.

Lottie McKeown

Another famous Barracks’ lady in the entertainment business was Lottie McKeown (RIP).

In Linenhall Square, the good lady began her lifelong devotion to making music, laughter and helping others. She organised the Canal Street team in the Top Talent competition, a competition in which almost every district in the town entered and where Lottie’s team consistently won.

But the huge highlight in her life came on November 5, 1990 when she met the late Princess Diana at a Golden Awards ceremony in London’s Hilton Hotel

As Diana was leaving the ceremony, she walked straight down the hall, making just one stop, and that was at Lottie’s table, there shaking hands with the Newry lady, before asking how she keeping, and having a little chat with her.

Lottie laughed and sang her way into the hearts of tens of thousands and made loads of money for charity along the way. And in summing up the good lady it was said: ‘Lottie’s cheerful outlook on life ought to be bottled and sold as blueprint for happiness.’

The Sons of Rest

Meanwhile I must admit to having a vested interest in another ‘famous’ Barracks’ musical story … as I was the bass player in one of Newry’s first ever pop groups - The Sons of Rest.

We were based in Linenhall Square with Gerry ‘Wigger’ McEvoy as singer, Willie Reilly on drums, Kevin ‘Blue’ McCamley as rhythm guitarist, with John Casey (older brother of Charlie), on lead guitar. Sadly, Wigger, Blue and Willie have each passed on.

We were founded in 1962, playing Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry songs - with John Casey always saying we were the first Rhythm & Blues group from the Newry area.

We played mostly in ‘The Cavern Club’ which was in fact the old St Colman’s hall, and was more commonly known as the ‘Bucket’ or the ‘Colehole.’

The wee dances or Hops, as they were then called, were run by Carlin’s Record’s boss Mickey Carlin who paid us £2.50 per group, per night.

The first time the Sons played on stage was at the St Colman’s Parochial Hall as part of Lottie McKeown’s Top Talent team. And joining us there was 12-year-old Patricia Grattan who sang ‘Then I kissed him,’ in the process bringing the place down.

Our first paid gig was in the Blue Anchor bar near Dundalk. Joe ‘McDokes’ McDonald was our manager and he hired a small car, not much bigger than a mini. However, somehow we managed to get all five members of the group into it … along with the band gear, Joe McDonald, the driver and a couple of ‘fans’.

Feet, arms and legs were hanging out of the windows as a cheering crowd waved good luck to the Sons as they left the ‘Barracks’.

The gig was a success but the car wasn’t and after getting two punctures the Sons had to walk home halfway from Dundalk, carrying their gear.

I also remember getting a booking in Dublin where nobody turned up and we were paid 50 pence between the five of us.

Tony Hadden

However, it was sport where the Barracks really excelled and there were many stars, including Tony Hadden, Billy Fitzpatrick, Joe Larkin and Marty McCabe.

Charlie Casey. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Charlie Casey. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Tony Hadden took centre stage for Down as they became the first team from the six counties to win the All-Ireland. At Croke Park on Sunday September 25, 1960 the blond bomber from the Barracks fired over the first point for the red and black-shirted Mourne men as they defeated Kerry to bring the Sam Maguire Cup across the border for the first time.

And the next year Tony and Down proved that winning that first All-Ireland wasn’t a fluke as they won a second Sam when they defeated Offaly.

And although Linenhall Square was a soccer-based community, the residents celebrated spectacularly as one-of-their-own played a big role in creating GAA history.

Marty McCabe

Marty McCabe, who sadly passed away a few short months ago, was another who wore the red and black of Down with great pride. The highspot of his GAA career was saving a penalty kick from the legendary Dublin full forward Jimmy Keaveney.

Though in fact the big goal-keeper, a great character, mostly played soccer and won three Mid-Ulster Shield medals.

Joey Larkin

Joey Larkin, a relative of Marty McCabe’s, was a youthful soccer star and at only 13-year-of-age and playing for Oliver Casey’s Colman’s team, actually was the leading goal-scorer in the Carnbane Open League.

But Joey’s claim to fame was that he signed for Chelsea, the crack English League team.

Incidentally Joey’s son Adrian scored the winning goal for Newry Town in their only excursion into Europe. In 1999 the Town defeated Hrvatatski Dragovojac 2-1 in the Intertoto Cup at the Showgrounds.

While the other Town goal in that match was scored by Robbie Casey, son of old Barrack warhorse Eric Casey.

Billy Fitzpatrick

Meanwhile the late Billy Fitzpatrick, known to everyone as Mousey Fitz, and formerly a star with the famous Linenhall Square team Mountainview, is the only person from the Newry area to ever sign for the mighty Liverpool.

Those are just a sample of the Barrackovians who made a name for themselves, though undoubtedly there are many, many more.

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