Rostrevor Renowned For Beauty, Fame And Glory

ROSTREVOR has many claims to fame, such as President Mary McAleese; “Ireland’s greatest living person,” Dr Ken Whitaker; as well as the founder of the Dunnes Stores empire, the late Bernard Dunne.

Incidentally, Dr Whitaker was not just the economic guru, who helped transform the Irish Republic from a Third World to the Celtic Tiger. He also initiated North/South contacts, especially the historic meeting at Stormont between Taoiseach Sean Lemass and Northern Ireland Prime Minister, Terence O’Neill.

This distinguished native of Rostrevor also played a pivotal role in the negotiations, which led to the Republic of Ireland’s accession to the European Community. And he was later appointed Governor of the Central Bank.

Other famous figures include General Ross of Bladensburg, whose Obelisk dominates the approach to the village. A brilliant military career climaxed with the conquest of Washington, during the American War of Independence. But he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Baltimore. Meanwhile, Lord Charles Russell of Killowen was the first Catholic Lord Chief Justice of England.

Culture has also played an important role in the Rostrevor area, including the famous Fiddlers Green Festival, where the Sands family have played an important role. Siobhan O Dubhain is an acclaimed author and musician; while Alice Kelly is a noted poet. Also, the Hanna brothers, Jack and Frank (RIP), have been prominent in stage productions, including the Rostrevor Drama Society.

The media are also well represented here, such as Billy Graham, political correspondent of the `Irish News` and his freelance wife, Barbara; Michael Keogh (junior), formerly of the `Irish Times,` now a barrister; freelancers John Kane and Lynda Giles, as well as Tom Brennan, chief executive of the `Newry Democrat`.

People in the locality, involved in industry or commerce, include Dr Edward Haughey of Norbrook Laboratories, who resides at Ballyedmond Castle; betting magnate Martin Boyle, whose home is at “Pebble Beach;” and the late W. V. Hogg, long-time President of Newry Chamber of Commerce, who lived nearby at “Arnos Vale.” Building contractor, the late Willie John Farrell, and garage proprietor Jim Campbell played an active role in the local community.

Indeed, Rostrevor was once a thriving centre of industry, with bleaching and scutch mills, salt-works, brewery and pottery. The Forestbrook factory at the top of the Fairy Glen, was originally a linen works, later a paper mill and a spade factory. In 1876, over 70 people, were employed there, dyeing and finishing. And tourists flocked here, especially to view the Fairy Glen and picnic at the Cloughmore Stone.

But it was the GAA, which really brought most fame and glory to the parish of Kilbroney, especially in the golden era of the 60’s. Chairman of Down County Board, the legendary George Tinnelly, played a crucial role in engineering that achievement, along with Maurice Hayes and T.P. Murphy. So it was fitting that he had the honour of carrying the Sam Maguire Cup over the border for the first time, along with team-captain Kevin Mussen.

Another outstanding official of St Bronagh’s GFC, who wore the same hat, was newsagent and councillor Tony Williamson, who played for the county side at various grades. As secretary of the club, he had a key role in the provision of Fr Pettit GAA Park.

One of the stars of Down’s 1960 squad was lion-hearted Leo Murphy, a teacher at Killowen primary school, who became principal at Rostrevor. When “Sam” came back to the Mournes in 1968, two local players, Mickey Cole and Hilary McGrath, were among the heroes. And Hilary’s brother, Peter McGrath, joined the “Hall of Fame” by masterminding two All-Ireland triumphs in the past decade. He and John Murphy recently received well-deserved recognition.

1962 witnessed the return to the stage at St Bronagh’s Hall of the Rostrevor Drama Society. That talented company had earned renown in the 40’s and 50’s for the countless presentations of Irish drama and comedy plays, under producer Jack Hanna. Requests had come for the society to perform at various halls in South Down and further afield.

The cast consisted of P.J. Kielty, Val Morgan, Donal Tinnelly, Joe Cowan, Harry Clements, Tony Williamson, Gerry Fearon, Donal and Jim Rice, John Curran, Vincent and Kevin Morgan, Nuala Hanna and Rose Morgan.

Another organisation, which played an important role in the community, was the Fr Matthew branch of the Irish National Foresters. Founded in 1900, it is still going strong, with Dan Doyle as Chief Ranger and Harry Morgan as secretary. Both have also been elected to the All-Ireland Executive Council.

What a record of service has been given over the past century, especially by long-serving officials like Johnney Morgan, Jack Daly, taxi-driver Willie Sloan and Dan Doyle; also long-time secretary Sean Farrell and treasurers Syl Kielty and Eddie Cole. George and Charlie Tinnelly and Barney Cole have worn the green sash with distinction, while John Mulholland is one of the oldest members.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008