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When us lot at Newry.ie published our "Newry 2020 - A Vision for our City's Future" post way back in November 2013 we could never have imagined the year we choose for our 'vision' was going to be one of the most difficult years Newry residents have ever experienced. Yes the arrival of the reality of Covid-19 in March changed many things but we won't dwell on that.

Back in 2013 we were filled with optimism for our city - We still are! The post was basically a 'shopping list' of 19 items for Newry. We could see endless possibilities and in truth perhaps we were a bit frustrated that many of these possibilities weren't reality!

The Albert Basin area is one of the most beautiful parts of Newry City and the new public park when built will attract visitors from far and near. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
The Albert Basin area is one of the most beautiful parts of Newry City and the new public park when built will attract visitors from far and near. Photograph: Columba O'Hare



So how did we get on with our list of 'to do's' Well thanks to separate approaches a few months later from Newry men Neil Bradley and Brian Cleland, who saw the benefit of actually doing something about what we suggested, rather than just writing about it, the community organisation Newry 2020 was formed and it quickly got to work on projects.

Over the years the group has attracted an incredibly talented bunch of people. We would love to mention names as they really do deserve it but for fear of leaving just one person out, we are best not, and anyway not one of the talented 'brains of the operation' is in it for recognition, rather they are driven by passion!

A Public Park for Newry

Wish No 15: "A Park, yes a Park. We need a park. Someone work out where to put it! Albert Basin might be a suggestion."

So said our list. And so it passed, Newry 2020's first and most important campaign was to get a public park in Newry for 2020. Sadly the wheels of progress have been incredibly slow and while the park isn't built yet the wheels are still very much in motion.

Convincing Newry, Mourne and Down Council to unanimously agree to build a 15 Acre park at the derelict Albert Basin site was an incredibly tedious and exasperating process but Newry 2020 got there in December 2017 and the future looked bright. Sadly things have moved at a snails pace since, but there are some grounds for optimism in 2021.

The project is now part of the Newry City Centre Regeneration project. A project board meeting is due to meet in January and it is then when we will see if Newry, Mourne and Down Council are genuinely serious about building the 'peoples' park or whether they want to  'kick the can' down the road to some future date. Proof that they are serious will see the provision of around £1.5M in the 2021 Rates and a full design team appointed forthwith. The clock is ticking and Councillors promised back in 2017 to have the park completed by the end of this council term, which falls in 2023 so there is no time to waste!

Smash the Shutter

Wish 6: "Begin a Smash the Shutter Campaign (not literally) with incentives from Council to encourage shops and premises to get rid of their pre ceasefire monstrosities or at least to leave their shop windows on view without shutters till Midnight as a starter. That alone would brighten up Hill Street amazingly. Don't be afraid, we have CCTV?"

Some inroads have been made towards the normalisation or our city streets but sadly shutters still rule!

Grounded, Finegan and Son, Rafferty & Co Solicitors, South Down Dental Clinic and Best Property Services (occasionally) are leading the way. Hopefully the new decade will see many more help to brighten our streets and give people a reason to stroll down them at night.

Festivals

Wish 11: "Oktoberfest and Pride in Newry should become week long festivals attracting people from far and wide."

The Festival of Windows in Marcus Square, Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
The Festival of Windows in Marcus Square, Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare



Pride in Newry in 2019 was an incredible festival, with a massive concert taking place at the Albert Basin. Oktoberfest returned with Seamus Rafferty in charge and the fun was palpable.

Early on Newry 2020 decided to create signature festivals for Newry. Iúr Cinn Fleadh was born in 2014, bringing world class trad, folk and other music to Newry for a weekend in September. With the help of Silvery Light Sailing the fleadh also helped re-invigourate Newry Canal with a series of musical sailings every year. Iúr Cinn Fleadh has went from strength to strength and although it didn't happen physically in 2020 along with many others, a Virtual fleadh is in the pipeline in the next few weeks.

The Festival of Windows was also produced by Newry 2020 and saw displays of art in shop windows the length of Hill Street in the city, with street art demonstrations from incredibly talented artists. Festival of Windows has so much potential and again gives another reason for people to visit Hill Street in Newry. An important addition to the arts provision in Newry.

There is so much potential for many more festival events in Newry, although it will be a few years before things settle down again, now is probably the time for people to plan them.


New Arts Facility

Wish 13: "The renewal of the Arts in Newry with a new arts facility we can all be proud of, possibly as the Newry Masterplan envisaged i.e. the Town Hall connected with an aerial walkway to the Arts Centre thus making the two one. We do know that our council need to invest many thousands into the Arts here. Armagh Market Place have at least one event on each night with plenty of notice on what's coming up. Why can't we have that in Newry?"

Thankfully as part of the Council's Newry City Centre Regeneration project, plans are advancing for a wonderful new arts facility that will really revitalise the arts in Newry.

Pubs with Character

Wish 12: "We need pubs with character. Ireland is visited by tourists as much for the crack as for anything else. In Newry we have the characters in abundance, we just need the locations to be more proactive in attracting people beyond their regulars. Immediately springing to mind would be a Bar with hundreds of beers of the world or every Irish Whiskey under the sun, even a bar that brews it's own and sells all known Irish Craft Beers - a unique selling point in other words. Bring back the old traditional pub with snugs and music filling the air."

Back in 2013 we could never have imagined that many of our local pubs would remain closed for most of a year but that is what has happened. In fact in Newry, at least two of these most likely will never open again. In the past few years several local pubs have really raised the standard in Newry. The Brass Monkey/ Ginger Janes with their wonderful outdoor/ indoor areas; Brilliant Beer Gardens there and in Magees, Nan Rices, The Bridge, The Bank, Working Mans Club, Railway Bar. The Bridge certainly brought a massive selection of craft beers to the table. All of this forward planning will most certainly stand them all in good stead when things begin to improve for the sector.

Magees Beer Garden, Merchant's Quay. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Magees Beer Garden, Merchant's Quay. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Newry 2020 has also been involved in clean ups and Plantings along with Newry BID. Funding from Newry, Mourne and Down Council was essential for many projects. The group also have a Smart Newry project deploying sensors around the city to help gain a better knowledge of the area. Check it out at SMARTNEWRY.COM

While this is a post biased towards the Newry 2020 group it should be noted that many other individuals and organisations are also selflessly working away at improving Newry City for both residents and visitors. One of the best additions to our city in recent years has been the walkway along Merchant's Quay and the Carlingford Lough Greenway section to Victoria Lock. Hopefully the coming decade will see Newry reach its full potential.

Many other things in our shopping list of 19 items are also beginning to materialise and give cause for optimism in a time when it certainly is in short supply. Check out the full list in our original post here WWW.NEWRY.IE

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