Newry.ie

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the foundation of The Salvation Army. Originally called the “Christian Mission”, it was established as a charitable organisation in 1865 by William Booth in the east end of London. 

The Salvation Army spread rapidly in Britain and arrived in Ireland in 1880. It came to Newry a decade later in 1890. Meetings were held in the old Town Hall where the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre is now located, the Army paying £1 a week for its use. In 1908 the organisation secured a permanent residence in the former Congregational Church (Ebenezer Chapel) on Trevor Hill, which was transformed into a Citadel. There was a schoolhouse at the rear, and this was converted into a dwelling house for the local officers. When the school was constructed in 1845 it was used as a Sabbath school, and a bottle containing the names of all the children who attended the school in that year was placed in the foundations.

Salvation Army Citadel, Trevor Hill, Newry. Formerly known as the Ebenezer Chapel, it was erected in 1816 as a meeting house for Congregationalists. There was originally a school at the rear of the building. The Salvation Army moved into the chapel in 1908. Photograph: William McAlpine
Salvation Army Citadel, Trevor Hill, Newry. Formerly known as the Ebenezer Chapel, it was erected in 1816 as a meeting house for Congregationalists. There was originally a school at the rear of the building. The Salvation Army moved into the chapel in 1908. Photograph: William McAlpine

In the same year that they acquired the Ebenezer Chapel (1908), the Salvation Army experienced the loss of a valued member, Mr John Mather, who had been a part of the organisation from the beginning. On the occasion of his emigration to New Zealand the local corps, accompanied by their band, assembled at Edward Street Station to say farewell, where they played a farewell hymn, ‘God be with you till we meet again.’

Poster advertising a visit to the Town Hall in Newry by Ballymacarrett No. 1 Salvation Army Band in 1923. At the event, new instruments were presented to the Newry Salvation Army Band.
Poster advertising a visit to the Town Hall in Newry by Ballymacarrett No. 1 Salvation Army Band in 1923. At the event, new instruments were presented to the Newry Salvation Army Band.

In 1865 when the organisation was founded women often played a secondary role by helping their husbands carry out charitable duties. This was to change in 1880 when the first female officer took command of a division; a widow, Mrs Caroline Reynolds began the Army’s work in the north of Ireland in 1880. This was quite an impressive feat considering this was the Victorian era. In later years Newry was no exception. In 1923 the organisation was headed by two female officers, Captain Carswell and Lieutenant Woods. 

In the 1960s two ladies were awarded one of the highest certificates in the Salvation Army, the Corps Cadet Certificate of Merit for outstanding study. These were given to Miss Jean Linden, of Derrybeg Drive and Miss Nanella Weir of Stream Street in Newry. Miss Linden went on to become a Lieutenant in the Salvation Army in Prestwick, Scotland. Miss Weir left Newry in 1962 to enter training for full time work in the Salvation Army, and has held Corps appointments in Dublin, London, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, and Lagos in Nigeria.

September 1986 was a memorable occasion for the Salvation Army with the first visit of a British Commissioner to the corps; Mr Francy Cachelin and his wife were welcomed to Newry and Mourne District with a presentation from the Council presented by the Chairman at the time, Mr Eugene Markey. Two years later in 1988 the Citadel was re-furbished at a cost of £41,689.45. The bulk of the funding was provided by National Headquarters. Extensive work was carried out to the building, with the removal of the old gallery, and the introduction of a portable platform. Money was raised locally through a ‘buy a brick’ campaign. 

The Salvation Army celebrated 100 years in Newry in 1990 and the festivities were conducted by Commissioner Ron Cox and his wife Hilda. Mr Cox was the Salvation Army’s Chief of Staff who at the time was second-in-command of the organisation worldwide. A Civic Reception was held in the Newry Arts Centre and was hosted by the Chairman of Newry and Mourne District Council, Mr Arthur Ruddy. Mr Ruddy praised the care the Army gave to the homeless, under-privileged children, the old and the infirm.  

On 10th January 2017 the organisation’s newly renovated premises, ‘The Way’ centre, in Margaret Street were officially opened by Major John Parrott, who stated ‘it was a new beginning for the Salvation Army locally.’

Music has always been an important feature of the Salvation Army; initially bands were set up in order to attract crowds to meetings. Throughout the years the music continued and in August 1923 Newry’s branch of the organisation held a musical festival at the local town hall, headed by Ballymacarrett Band, who had recently returned from important engagements at the Royal Albert Hall and Alexandra Palace in London. When the band arrived in Newry, it was met at Dublin Bridge Station, by St. Joseph’s Brass and Reed Band, and escorted through the town to the Army Citadel on Trevor Hill, each band playing alternately. Several thousand people accompanied the bands.  

P. Bate was a Volunteer on Newry and Mourne Museum’s Performing Arts Project in 2016-2017. An earlier version of this article appeared in the Newry Democrat in February 2017.

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Ken Abraham and P. Bate

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