Newry Town Hall was built by the Newry Town Commissioners and officially opened by the Earl of Kilmorey in March 1894. In his speech he notes, “For want of room Newry was getting a bad name for entertainments, but now there are few, if any, town of the size and importance of Newry in Ireland that can boast of such as assembly room as this and can afford such facilities to artistes on tour as we can”.

Over twice the size of the assembly room on Bank Parade, tenders for furniture advertised in the local paper in December 1893 included 150 armchairs, 200 wooden chairs, 30 seats 8 feet long and 150 upholstered chairs. In his opening speech, Mr James McMahon, Chairman of the Town Commissioners said the new hall was worth waiting for and believed that there was not an equivalent in Ireland. He also hoped the people of Newry would long enjoy it.

It was used for a variety of events, from lectures, bazaars, meetings, dances and balls, concerts, plays and amateur boxing. The artistes referred to by the Earl of Kilmorey included travelling theatre companies, opera companies and concerts by artists such as the world-renowned baritone Andrew Black in 1903 and virtuoso violinist Tavidar Nachéz in 1906. For some performances, late trains were provided to take patrons to Warrenpoint, and a late tram ran to Bessbrook.

Around the time of the opening of the Town Hall, local amateur dramatic and music groups such as Newry Amateur Operatic Society, Newry Dramatic Club and Mr Gilholy’s Choral Society began to emerge.

The municipal business of the town was also moved to the building which contained the Town Clerk and Town Surveyor’s public and private offices, a Boardroom, strong room, stationery and book store and caretaker’s apartments. The fire station was also located in the upper corner above the Boardroom.

In 1913 the Town Hall was enlarged with the addition of a minor hall, two new dressing rooms, a new fire station and the enlargement of the caretaker’s apartments. Electric light and power were installed in 1929, the same year as the first Newry Musical Feis.

The 1930s and 1940s saw further growth in local performing arts. Newry Drama Festival came into existence in 1949, a result of the drama section of Newry Musical Feis becoming too large, leading to the formation of a separate committee and festival. P.J. McKay’s pantomimes began in 1933 and became an annual event. A number of societies emerged after the Second World War, such as Newry Musical and Orchestral Society and Newpoint Players.

Highly popular variety shows were held in the Town Hall, under the direction of Pat McKevitt and provided a platform for local artistes to share the stage with national stars such as James Johnson, a Belfast tenor who sang at Covent Garden. Irish comedians such as Jimmy O’Dea and Jack Cruise also entertained American troops in the Town Hall.

The 1950s saw the emergence of showbands such as local band The Hiltons who performed to packed crowds. Despite the increasing popularity of television in the 1960s and the negative impact of the Troubles on the local arts scene, the show still went on.

Performing arts in the area continue to flourish, with many of the festivals, local groups and societies still performing and competing. Nearly 130 years after he made his opening speech, Mr McMahon would be delighted to know that the citizens of Newry were still enjoying entertainment in the Town Hall.