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County Down.

Newcastle in 1837
Newcastle in 1910

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The ancient name of Newcastle was Ballaghbeg, Bealachbeg— ' the little road or highway'—which is still the name of the townland wherein it is situated. It is said to derive its present name from the castle erected by Felix Magenis, in 1588; but this is not reconcilable with history, for we find mention made of it by the name Newcastle (Fearsat an chaislein nui—'the ford or pass of the New Castle,') in the Annals of the Four Masters, at the year 1433—a century and a, half before the erection of the Castle by Felix Magenis ; but the probability is that the Castle existed here before that time, and in all likelihood on the site of the latter, which guarded the pass.

The Castle here spoken of was, some few years ago, in excellent preservation, and rented by the Board of Customs for the accom- modation of officers of the revenue. It was situated, as Harris observes, close to the sea, but it has been pulled down and on its site the hotel has been erected."—Account of Newcastle bv J. A. Pilson. " Prior to 1641 the Town and Castle belonged to Sir Con Magenis, but after the rebellion of that year the property was confiscated and granted to Robert Hawkins, great grandfather to Robert Hawkins who assumed the surname of Magill. The date 1588 was inscribed on a stone placed over the front entrance of the Castle, built by Felix Magenis."—Rev. G. Hill's edition of the Montgomery manuscripts. Newcastle passed from the Magills to the Mathews, and subsequently to the Annesley

Text above taken from Archive of Down and Connor

Newcastle's latest big event taking place on the 7th August 2011, is a fly pass by the The RAF Red arrows this is to commemorate the first flight by an engine powered aircraft made on the beach at Newcastle by Harry Ferguson a native of County Down who was to become world famous for his tractors. (More here)

The Red Arrows have been condemned by the local Sinn Fein councilor as murderers, things are different now of course but pots and kettles come to mind. Most people have had enough of politicians of all denominations seizing every opportunity to purvey their propaganda trawled from history. Daniel O'Connell arguably Irelands greatest patriot once said "Human blood is no cement for the Temple of Liberty"

Newcastle made famous by Percy French's song The Mountains of Mourne, a fountain on the central promenade commemorating him. The town stands benath Slieve Donard (formely Sliabh-Slanga 'mountain of Slange')
the highest mountain in the Mournes rising to 2796 ft (852 Meter's), the mountain takes it's present name from Domangort a monk who founded a church and monestry in Maghera his death is recorded in 506.

A hive of activity in the summer month's when the population is swelled by thousands of holiday makers. All the usual attractions associated with seaside holiday town's are to be found, there are excellent shopping facilities although the attitude of some of the shop staff may not encourage you to return, regrettably Newcastle has long had this reputation.

Near the swimming pool is a large anchor from the worlds first iron steamship, Brunel's Great Britain which went ashore at Tyrella in 1846 after the captain who's charts did not show the newly erected lighthouse at St Johns point mistook it for a light on the Scottish coast. The ship remained ashore of most of the winter, finally being towed of by a naval ship. It was repaired and saw many years of service as a transatlantic passenger ship and as a troop carrier in the Crimea War, The Great Britain was converted into a three masted clipper carrying Welsh to San Francisco, on her third trip running into bad weather off the Falkland Islands she made for port Stanley, she was to remain there seeing service as a coal hulk, in 1937 she was beached and abandoned. She lay there for over thirty years before being put on a barge and towed back to Bristol. Where it was restored in the dry dock in which it had been built, it remains there and is open to the public.

The only tangible reminder of the Great Britain in Newcastle today is an anchor from the ship found by the late Haydon Chambers a fisherman from Annalong, Haydon (Who I knew personally and could only be described as a gentleman.) Brought it ashore and presented it to the council, the anchor is on display on the sea front.

Newcastle was anciently called Ballagbeg, the word ballagh is generally accepted to mean mountain pass and beg is small. The town is referred to as Newcastle in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1433, Felix Magenis is recorded as building a castle in 1588, but he may have just renovated an earlier one. It isn't known exactly where the castle stood, it may have been located near the present day library, it's purpose would have been to guard the ford of The Shimna River, The Maginnis clan also occupied Dundrum Castle at various times in Irish history, they lost their lands during the plantation of Ulster.

Newcastle received an economic boost in the 1892 when a railway line from Downpatrick reached the town, a branch line to Castlewellan was built in 1906, this branch carried on through Ballyward and Katesbridge to Banbridge. The railway closed on 5th May 1955, all that remains of an era only remembered by the older residents of the town is the former railway station, which now houses a shopping center.

Another legacy the railway company left was a large red brick hotel they built close to the station. The hotel aptly named the Slieve Donard, it is now owned by Hasting Hotels a company spearheaded by Billy Hastings a man local to County Down. Recently his company spent a considerable sum of money installing a state of the art fitness suite. The hotel seem set to continue its valuable contribution to the community.

See also railways in County Down.

About two miles to the south on the Kilkeel road can be seen the Bloody Bridge, so named because a group of prisoners taken in the 1641 rebellion were massacred here. The bridge is at the start of the Brandy Pad a former smuggling track leading across the mountains to Hilltown, smuggling was once very prevalent on the Mourne coast.

A row of houses bears testament to a disaster which occurred off the County Down coast on Friday 13th January 1843, ten yawls set out from Newcastle and six from Annalong on what promised to be a fine day. The fishermen headed for an area known to today's fishermen as the North Hard, an area of rocky ground about seven miles offshore. A sudden storm arose enveloping the fleet in a snowstorm and mountainous seas, despite the conditions other boats set out from both ports, twelve men from Annalong in the rescue boats perished, in all seventy-three men lost their lives that fateful day, leaving 37 widows and 157 orphans.

After the disaster a row of houses were built above Newcastle harbour, they came to be known as Widows Row. A folk song was written to commemorate the sad occasion.

The year 1910 saw the first flight by an engine powered aircraft in Ireland, the plane was designed and built by Harry George Ferguson, Ferguson flew his plane along the beach for a distance of about three miles, to claim the £100 prize offered by the town. Harry Ferguson went on to become world famous for his tractors which revolutionized agricultural practices not only in Ireland but across the world.

A replica of Harry Ferguson's plane is on display in The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra, County Down, the replica was built by the late Leslie Hanna, who ran a boat building business on the Castlewellan Road. Leslie was a great craftsman, many of the craft he built are still in use today, testament not only to his skill but to the quality of the material he used.

A little to the north of Newcastle stands the village of Maghera, this little hamlet has a wealth of history attached to it.