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The Linenhall Square Arch. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
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Sean McAleenan sadly passed away in June. Sean will mostly be remembered as a valued committee member of the Meadow and Armagh Road Community Association, a role he held for many, many years.

But my greatest memory of Sean will be as a neighbour in Linenhall Square, more popularly known as the Barracks. Like many others, including former Newry and Mourne Chairperson Charlie Casey, Down double All-Ireland winner Tony Hadden, high class singer Patricia Grattan and of course myself, Sean would doubtlessly have been proud to call himself a Barrackovian.

People who lived in the Barracks were poor. Really poor. And in fact I actually had a disagreement with Charlie on Facebook, as to which of our families, the Caseys or the Bagnalls, was the poorest.

Anyway, I digress.

A lifelong recollection of the Barracks was a series of football matches played on the sparsely grassy, stony Square pitch. These matches were called The Martins versus The McAleenans.

Sean McAleenan had a twin brother Brian while next door, in the middle block of Linenhall Square, lived another set of twins, Robbie and James Martin.

And every so often the Martins would gather up a team to play the McAleenans.

But before that match could take place a trophy had to be procured.

This trophy was a wee imitation silver cup ‘borrowed’ from The Florentine, a chip shop in the middle of Hill Street in the town.

This cup was ‘acquired’ when everyone would stump up pennies or halfpennies for a sixpenny ice-cream. Five or six of the biggest donors would then crowd into Fallone’s and order the ice. Everyone would get a lick or two from it (complete with red flavouring that it was served in) and then amid great suspense one of the gang would shove the trophy up his coat and casually stroll to the door. Once outside an international sprinter wouldn’t have caught the ‘cup holder’ with the rest of the bunch following suit - after also sauntering to the door of the café.

Immediately the trophy arrived on the Square the teams were selected. Sean and Brian would have their older brother Gerry, plus the likes of Raymond McStay, Sean Carroll, Joey and Paddy Devlin, and the late Eddie Campbell (as keeper) while Robbie and James would certainly have their big brother Paddy plus maybe Eddie Madigan, myself, Eric Casey, John Casey or even, on a good day, stopper supreme, the late Oliver Casey.

Often too a few of the wee ones might get the chance to play and learn their craft. Foremost among these was Joey Larkin who was later to sign for Chelsea, Marty McCabe (RIP), who went on to turn out for Down, plus a youthful Charlie Casey.

At the time the Barracks had a real live star living there, a man who won two All-Ireland medals at Croke Park but I can’t remember Tony Hadden ever playing in those Martins v McAleenans games.

Incidentally the Bagnall family lived in 67 Linenhall Square and next door lived the Loys, who were quite a nationalist family. They were nicknamed the Crow Loys.

We once chalked soccer goalposts on the gable wall outside their house but a few hours later we went out to discover they had elongated the uprights to thus form gaelic goalposts. Thereafter we called that wee pitch and goalposts Crow Park!

But back to the Martins v the McAleenans. Before the action got underway a row would normally start over which team would get the best footballer in our age group: the deadly left-footed Jimmy Burns who has sadly departed this life.

Meanwhile sometimes for these big games a match ball would magically appear. This rarity was a leather ‘tube and cover’ liberally layered with tallow, a grease-like substance used for lubricating train wheels, which was ‘procured’ (just like the cup) after a Gestapo type raid on the wagons at the Railway siding at the bottom of the Brickie Loanen (where the Whitegates Community Centre is now situated.)

Another couple of wee points about the tube and cover. Often a ball bearing was inserted into the tube to help keep the ball round. If a ball bearing wasn’t used the cheap tube and cover became more oval than spherical.

And it was considered an art form to be able to lace a ball properly. If done well a neatly placed leather throng or a yellow lace, kept the neck in place.

Though more often than not, this lacing was a quick-get-it-done-as long-as-we-can-get-the-match-going type of job with the neck sticking out and when a player headed the ball he usually collapsed with the blood running out of him after coming in contact with the projection.

The celebrations which followed the winning of the cup too were memorable with the captain or the winning goal-scorer chaired off the Square. And if the McAleenans won Sean and Brian would also be chaired off the pitch. While Robbie and James were treated likewise if their team won.

Sometimes though the game would end prematurely, as if things weren’t going well, either one of the Martins or one of the McAleenans would ‘lift’ the ball.

And as the owner made his way home the taunts would follow. ‘Stick the ball up your arse.’ Or ‘put your ball in a glass case and throw sugar at it.’

Still those games played in the Square were great craic.

And of course there was no fancy Manchester United, Liverpool or Celtic jerseys and shorts then, as the strip for those games were auld trousers with the knees and arses out of them and the ‘holiest’ jersey a youngster could find.

And as for £100 plus boots? The footwear then were shoes, often without a sole in them, and had, often as not, grimy toes sticking out the front.

Still we were way ahead of our time in one aspect.

We had adverts.

Well one anyway.

On the wall bordering the football pitch someone had painted the name Sons of Rest (Linenhall Square’s ‘famous’ pop group) in two foot letters!

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