Downpatrick Shops' History Explored In New Book

A NEW book which takes a look back in time at the colourful history of Downpatrick’s shops and streets over the past 120 years has been launched by Down County Museum. The new book entitled, ‘Down Town: 120 years of Downpatrick’s shops in photographs’ and a new 30 minute DVD called ‘It’s the Talk of the Town’ are available free of charge from the Museum.

Councillor Eamonn O’Neill, Chairman of Down District Council welcomed the publication and said, “The aim of this book is to bring together people, photographs and memories to show how important our shops and streets have been in the development of the town, and how they remain so today. Shops and businesses are the lifeblood of any town and we need to support them and cherish their heritage.

“This book is special because it is the product of generations of local people recording their town and shops in photographs, in a way that you would not find anywhere else.”

The book and film are part of a Peace III community history initiative organised by Down County Museum and the Somme Heritage Centre. As part of the Downpatrick Shops Project, the Museum has for the past year gathered photographs, stories and memories with the help of the Downpatrick Business Forum and the Downpatrick Lions Club, who have provided all kinds of support and contacts to make the project a success.

[caption id="attachment_21806" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="DOWN TOWN: A collection of photograph's going back 120 years of Downpatrick's shops and traders. Pictured are Linda McKenna, Down County Museum Education Officer, Councillor and optician/chemist, John Doris, Patrick Cassidy Chairman of Downpatrick Business Forum, Danielle Smyth, Museum Peace III Co-ordinator, DCM, Fergus Kelly, former hardware shop retailer, Lesley Simpson, Museum Keeper of Collections, Colm McKee, President of Downpatrick Lions Club, and Mike King, Museum Curator."][/caption] Both the Chairman of the Forum, Patrick Cassidy, and President of the Lions, Colin McKee were delighted with the finished publication, and agreed with Councillor O’Neill that in addition to the exciting new improvements which are currently underway in the town, such initiatives would be vital to keep people shopping locally and attract new business to the town.

The Museum was overwhelmed with the response from people willing to share their stories and photographs of local shops down through the years, resulting in a very rich collection of images being made available for publication. In particular, Fergus Kelly spent many hours sharing his unparalleled knowledge of local shops and townspeople with Museum staff, for which all involved were very grateful.

Many contributors raided their attics for photos that have filled important gaps in the story, leading to glass lantern slides from the early 1900s, black and white prints from the 1960’s and colour slides from the 1980’s all finding their way to the Museum for inclusion in the book. The Museum is keen to highlight that this is by no means the end of the story, and many more photos have emerged as a result of the book’s publication.

Down Town: 120 years of Downpatrick’s shops in photographs takes the form of a walking tour of Downpatrick beginning at Down County Museum and covering both sides of Church Street, Scotch Street, Irish Street, Market Street and St Patrick’s Avenue in turn, and ending at Denvir’s Hotel, the oldest surviving business in the town. Along the way, with the book in hand, it is possible to see many changes, including buildings that have long since gone, and also many continuities such as family businesses that have survived for generations and are still going strong.

The book is available now, free of charge from Down County Museum, which is open 10am-5pm Monday to Friday, and 1pm-5pm Saturday and Sunday.

The project was supported and funded by PEACE III Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and delivered by the North Down, Ards and Down Council’s Cluster.