Among the collections in Newry and Mourne Museum is a photograph which records a significant event in Newry on 8th February 1927. It shows members of Newry Urban District Council with Viscount Craigavon, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, on his visit to the town. They are standing in front of the Town Hall after a reception and lunch for their visitor.

In January 1926 the election for Newry Urban Council had surprising results, reflecting the relevance for many of the social and economic issues over constitutional matters. The outcome was the return of not only six Nationalist and six Unionist Councillors but also six Labour Councillors, led by W.F. Cunningham, Chairman of the local Trades and Labour Council.

This resulted, after much debate, in the election of Unionist William Robinson as Chairman, the first Unionist Chairman for over twenty years. He was managing director of the Newry firm of Foster & Co. Ltd. The Nationalist Terence Ruddy was elected Vice-Chairman. Appointments to standing committees resulted in three members of each party in each committee.  


On 24th January 1927, James Craig, recently elevated to the peerage as Viscount Craigavon, announced plans for a ten-day tour of local authorities to assure them that their interests would not be neglected by the government. He would be accompanied by Sir Dawson Bates, Minister of Home Affairs. 

On the morning of 8th February, after visiting Kilkeel and Warrenpoint, the two men travelled to the Town Hall in Newry. They met Chairman William Robinson and members of the Urban Council in private conference.   At 2.00 pm the visitors and a large representative company of Newry organisations were entertained to luncheon.

After lunch, according to the Newry Reporter, Robinson ‘submitted the usual loyal toast, which was followed by the singing of ‘God save the King’’. He then made a speech and thanked the government for their ‘liberal grants’.

Craigavon replied to express gratitude for their welcome.  He urged people to work for prosperity for Northern Ireland. He added: ‘Might he also say that they in Ulster of all creeds and classes were sufficiently broadminded to say that they also hoped for prosperity for the whole of Ireland (applause)’.

Subsequently, politics in Newry continued along conciliatory lines. Shortly before the January 1929 Urban Council elections, it was announced that William Robinson would stand down and leave Newry. He had been appointed managing director of the Bank Buildings department store in Belfast. 

At his last Council meeting tribute was paid to the ‘able, dignified and impartial manner’ in which he had discharged the duties of the Chair. 

The 1929 election saw again the return of six Councillors from each party. The new Chairman was Nationalist Hugh J. McConville.  The Unionist James Boland was elected Vice-Chairman.

At the 1932 election, the return of the parties was the same, with no contest. Again, a Nationalist chairman and Unionist Vice-Chairman were elected.  In 1938 Labour Councillor W.F. Cunningham was elected Chairman.

This 1927 photograph allows us to recall a special, largely forgotten, moment in the history of Newry and Northern Ireland. It deserves to be appreciated.