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Born in Scotland in 1814, James McGeorge had settled in Newry by the age of 24 when he is recorded as owning the “Newry Mart”, a haberdashery shop in North Street. In a short time he apparently redeveloped two dilapidated houses and transformed them into a very successful business.

19th-century plaster bust of James McGeorge which is on display in Newry and Mourne Museum. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A 19th-century plaster bust of James McGeorge which is on display in Newry and Mourne Museum. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

McGeorge’s commercial enterprises provided him with a platform to establish himself as a leading citizen in Newry and the surrounding area. He became a Police Commissioner for Newry and later, a Town Commissioner, a position which he held until his death in 1870. McGeorge was also involved in the Newry and Warrenpoint Gas Companies, and in the establishment of the Newry and Warrenpoint Railway and the Newry and Enniskillen Railway. His other main business venture in the area was a scutch mill at his farm at Carnmeen, near Newry.

Newry Intermediate School which opened in the 1890s. The introduction of intermediate education in Ireland and subsequently, Newry, was one of the legacies of James McGeorge. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Newry Intermediate School which opened in the 1890s. The introduction of intermediate education in Ireland and subsequently, Newry, was one of the legacies of James McGeorge. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

James McGeorge also took part in parliamentary politics at a local level. As a young man in Scotland he had been a Liberal and had supported Catholic Emancipation. He continued and developed this same political thinking in Newry and was a staunch supporter of William Kirk who was elected as the Liberal MP for Newry in 1852. McGeorge had played a leading role in Kirk’s campaign, making a number of memorable speeches, including several at the Savings Bank in Newry, in support of the future MP.

Away from business and politics, James McGeorge was a keen philanthropist and most of his charitable work related to education and the promotion of literacy. He established the Young Men’s Improvement Society in Newry for young working men and became President of this organisation which had over a hundred members. Linked to this venture was the development of a library in the town which was largely set up with McGeorge’s own money. James McGeorge was also interested in the establishment of intermediate education in Ireland and was part of a deputation from the north of Ireland which went to Dublin in December 1859 to petition the Lord Lieutenant for the introduction of such a system. The Intermediate Education (Ireland) Bill was passed after James McGeorge’s death in 1878. An intermediate school eventually opened in Newry in the 1890s.

The 19th - century seal of the Newry Town Commissioners featuring the mitred abbot flanked by the yew trees traditionally associated with St. Patrick.  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The 19th - century seal of the Newry Town Commissioners featuring the mitred abbot flanked by the yew trees traditionally associated with St. Patrick. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Towards the end of his life, James McGeorge retired to his farm at Carnmeen and was appointed a Justice of the Peace for counties Armagh and Down. He died on 12th April 1870 at the age of 56. The pall-bearers at his funeral to St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland graveyard in Newry included William Kirk, Denis Brady, Hill Irvine and F.W. McBlain. Many other prominent people from the world of local politics, business and education attended his funeral reflecting McGeorge’s highly significant contribution to the development of the town in the middle years of the 19th century.

Newry and Mourne Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 am – 4.30 pm. Please call 0330 137 4422 for further information.

by Ken Abraham

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