Supreme Accolade For Newry’s Internet Entrepreneur

SUPREME accolade as Silver Surfer Entrepeneur of the Year 2005 has been awarded to popular and enterprising Newry man, John McCullagh, for his initiative and drive in launching the hugely-popular on-line magazine, Newry Journal.

From an inauspicious beginning, in 2003, the website has blossomed into a popular electronic magazines on the World Wide Web. It attracts upwards of 500 `unique visitors` per day, drawing readership from every continent, - North America is most popular, with some 66 per cent of customers.

Most amazing aspect is that this has been achieved through the efforts of a single individual, and without any advertising, except by word-of- mouth. A fan-base has been built up from the least likely Internet-user age-band, mostly senior citizens. The old adage of `nostalgia ain’t what it used to be` no longer applies!

What is the secret of this success? John responds: “It’s difficult to be prescriptive. We upload articles across the wide range of topics that we ourselves find interesting. We have a very lively Discussion Board on a variety of issues, which are initiated and pursued by our readers themselves.

“Also our Guestbook attracts diverse comments and queries from people, both at home and abroad. Indeed, tourists to the Newry region seek us out, having read our features on the area’s attractions. This summer alone, we have entertained visitors from America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Britain and Europe. Older people are invited to submit their memories of `the good old days.”

Explaining what the Newry Journal website offers, John McCullagh reported over 1,000 articles on such topics as reminiscence (most popular), local and national history; galleries of old and recent photographs; satellite images, local and national history; slide-shows, rare photos of Newry and the South Down area, as well as video footage of Civil Rights marches and other parades, etc.

“Folk-lore, old traditions and local parlance form a comprehensive database. Many students access our thoroughly-researched historical pieces, - such as the definitive history of the Newry Workhouse, - when completing their degree courses. Indeed, we regularly receive expressions of gratitude. We also offer reviews of books of local interest.

“But it is our tourist promotional material of which we are most proud. Our inspiration arises from a passionate conviction in the product; we are privileged to reside in the most beautiful region of Ireland, - if not the world! Its culture and heritage are unsurpassed. We simply have to offer a small sample in word and pictures.

“Since peace has returned, an increasing number of people are visiting South Armagh, the Mourne country and the Cooley Peninsula. Our various on-line panoramic views, with informative, conviction-driven articles, bear eloquent testimony to the good taste of such visitors. And they help to attract others who may never have visited this part of the world before.”

And John McCullagh reported: “ We publish readers’ own stories and poetry. If it reaches a minimum standard, it will be on-site within 24 hours. And inevitably it does! Our ambition is to take a back-seat ourselves, and allow others to extol our region’s virtues And we have a `Fun Corner’ for mild diversions; it includes a rather crabby Agony Aunt, whom we just about tolerate! We guarantee interaction between our readership and ourselves on the Editorial Board.”

As to the future, he stated: “It would be nice to increase our local readership, which we estimate to be a mere 10 per cent of the total. We are fantastically popular with emigrants, who find our site to be the ideal way to keep in touch. We have just completed a revamp of the Newry Journal, moving to a more efficient server.

“A host of new services is being offered, including facilities to aid recent immigrants integrate into our area and community. We are providing news articles and a comprehensive calendar of local current and upcoming events.”

John McCullagh also spoke of the necessity for sponsors, - “essential to our survival, as the project has grown vastly beyond the `hobby` stage. Those who would benefit would be the tourist trade, - hotels, guesthouses, tour operators, as well, as tourist promoters such as Newry and Mourne Council and the Tourist Board etc. Indeed, the website might go professional on the Tourist Guide front.

Among local emigrants, recalling `the good old days` in Newry on the website, was Olwen Dean, daughter of the late Mrs Mary Dean from River Street. Now Mrs McLeod, she lives in Essex. Describing how Bingo had become popular in the frontier town, she stated: “Weekly sessions were arranged by local parishes and clubs, as a lucrative way to enhance their funds. It was also a welcome social event, especially if you managed to shout `Check` and win a cash prize.

“Most Friday nights, I accompanied my mother to an out-of-town Bingo session. The free bus would pick us up at Dublin Bridge, and many more enthusiasts would board at Bridge Street. The mood was lively and the craic jovial, until we arrived at the destination. Soon it turned serious! The caller announced: `Eyes down`, and everyone focussed on the game in play.

“One night, just before Christmas, my mother was one of the winners of large turkeys. They were called on to the stage, and their prizes were brought in, - they were all alive and kicking! There was pandemonium in the hall, as the various winners climbed on stage to collar their prize. Amid much fluttering and squawking, squeals and guffaws, roars of encouragement from the crowd; appeals to `leave the poor, dumb birds alone,` swearing and laughter, the number of shackled birds began to diminish.

“The air was heavy with feathers and droppings, deposited by the frightened poultry. Those who hadn’t won a bird were nevertheless regally entertained. Eventually we managed to catch ours. A further dilemma! How would get it home? The bus-driver answered calmly: `No bother! Tie a piece of string around its neck, and take it on the bus with you. Sure, it can sit on the luggage area in front.`

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008