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On 6th February 1865 the Towns’ Improvement (Ireland) Act was adopted.  The Board of Police Commissioners was dissolved, and eighteen Town Commissioners were appointed in their place.  Newry was divided into three Wards, North, South and West, and the first chairman of the Town Commissioners was John Moore.

John Collins was Manager of Newry Gasworks from 1952 until 1974 and was the last qualified chemist to hold the post. Courtesy of The Collins Family
John Collins was Manager of Newry Gasworks from 1952 until 1974 and was the last qualified chemist to hold the post. Courtesy of The Collins Family

The town of Newry saw significant development during the mid-19th century. The ship canal was extended and the Albert Basin opened, there were six markets in the town based at Butter Crane, King Street (Francis St), Mary Street, Needham Street and Market Street and the town became an important junction for several railway lines, linking Newry with Belfast, Dublin, Warrenpoint and Armagh

No. 6 gasometer at Newry Gasworks. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
No. 6 gasometer at Newry Gasworks. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

and other parts of Ireland.  In 1885, an electric tramway was also opened to carry linen from Bessbrook Mill, on the outskirts of Newry, established by the Richardson family in the later 1840s. 

However, tensions between the Newry Gas Consumers Company Limited and the Police Commissioners had worsened over time regarding various issues.  In 1876 a vote was taken by the Town Commissioners to introduce a Bill that would lead to the transfer of the Gasworks to their ownership.  The Commissioners took possession of the Gasworks on 1st January 1879 and, in the following years, they carried out substantial development of the site of the Gasworks in addition to reducing the price of gas and significantly improving the street lighting in the town.

This success, however, wavered in the years that followed, due to the First World War and the introduction of Electric Light.  Late in 1923 permission was sought by W & S Magowan to erect two electric cables across the Mall from their printing works to the Town Hall.  In July 1929, an electricity scheme was introduced to the main streets in the town but this did not have any adverse effect on the Gasworks.

P.J. Murray, who set up an electrical contracting business in the 1930s, was contracted by Newry Urban District Council to install electric street lights in Newry in 1952. He is pictured here erecting one of the new fluorescent lights in Monaghan Street. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
P.J. Murray, who set up an electrical contracting business in the 1930s, was contracted by Newry Urban District Council to install electric street lights in Newry in 1952. He is pictured here erecting one of the new fluorescent lights in Monaghan Street. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

The Second World War led to increased gas prices and Newry Urban District Council decided that electric fluorescent light was to be used for all street lighting. In 1952 Newry became the first town in Ireland to be fully lit with this type of lighting.  In 1967, it was agreed to convert the Gasworks to butane and propane and end production of gas using coal. Finances looked good, but the price of supplies and production had considerably increased forcing a continued increase to the price of gas for consumers.

The entrance and shop at Newry Gasworks pictured shortly before closure in 1986.
The entrance and shop at Newry Gasworks pictured shortly before closure in 1986.

Things looked very bleak indeed until the discovery of Natural Gas near Kinsale in 1971. It was announced in 1983 that ‘Kinsale Gas’ would be brought to Northern Ireland.  Staff were jubilant that job security was imminent but in the following year it was announced that these plans would not go ahead.  There would be no Government support grant to continue to operate the Gasworks and it was agreed to phase out the Gasworks.

It is alleged that the cost of bringing Natural Gas to Northern Ireland would have been almost equivalent to compensations to employees and consumers and the Gasworks ceased production on 31st March 1986 after 165 years in existence. 

The Museum is currently offering free tours on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11.00 am. These must be booked in advance by calling our Education Officer at 0330 137 4422. 

Newry and Mourne Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 am – 4.30 pm. Please call 0330 137 4422 or email museum@nmandd.org for further information.

by Dympna Tumilty

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