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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 March, 2004, 12:07 GMT
Move to restore city's 'lost castle'
Artist's impression of restored castle
The restored Bagenal castle and warehouse may look like this
Work is getting under way to restore a "lost castle" in Northern Ireland.

Excited archaeologists in Newry have been given a grant to bring Bagenal Castle back to its former glory.

The 12th Century building was hidden under a former bakery in the County Down city.

The former Cistercian Abbey was converted into a castle in the 16th Century during the Plantation.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has given a 1.5m grant towards the 2.3m project, which will also see the refurbishment of an adjoining 19th Century warehouse - set to become the new home of the city's museum.

Project manager, architect Kevin Baird, said: "This is a wonderful story of finding something which the people of Newry thought they had lost hundreds of years ago," he said.

Nicholas Bagenal was sent to Ireland in 1547
He was appointed Marshall of the King's Army in Ireland
The Cistercian daughter house of Mellifont was founded on the site of the castle in 1157
The land was confiscated by the Crown and Nicholas Bagenal became the new tenant in 1548
The stair tower was removed, using gunpowder, in the late 1700s
The castle was not indicated on any OS map suggesting it was largely forgotten by the 1830s
Until 1996 it was buried under McCann's Bakery
Preliminary archaeological investigations in 2000 revealed a vaulted cellar
Newry council plans to relocate the city's museum to the site on Abbey Way
"The museum curator and the state archaeologist were invited in by the McCann Bakery owners when they were closing down in 1996 to look at some stone carvings on their walls.

"They came into this labyrinth of an industrial site - lean-to, upon lean-to, upon lean-to, which had built up over the years.

"Right in the heart were these stone carvings. They looked at the walls they were fixed to and they started to get excited about the walls rather than the carvings.

"They discovered they were very thick and then they went to old drawings in the Public Records Office in London and they found these walls matched the drawings of Bagenal Castle from 1568."

'Beyond the Pale'

He said Newry and Mourne Council took on the project as soon as the discovery was made and then approached the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It is a very important part of Irish history and for Newry to have it back is wonderful
Sir Richard Needham

"There is a very fine 19th Century warehouse attached to it and the museum is going to move into that and then they are going to strip back some of the layers of history so that people can see the castle - or really fortified tower house - in its true glory."

The castle was the ancestral home of former Northern Ireland Office minister Sir Richard Needham.

"The McCanns were actually tenants of the Needhams and one of the stipulations of the tenancy was that every October they had to bring a cake to Mourne Park to give to the Needhams and then get a rebate on their rent," said Sir Richard.

"The original Bagenal was a terrible rogue - he killed some fellow in a brawl in Staffordshire in 1539, fled to Ireland and joined up with Con O'Neill.

"He then became Marshall of the King's Army in Ireland.

"He was responsible for 'beyond the Pale' - that was one of his phrases. But his great-grandson ran out of male heirs and that's how [Bagenal Castle] came to the Needhams."

The 12th Century building was hidden under a former bakery
The 12th Century building was hidden under a former bakery

Sir Richard said the Bagenal history was the start of the plantations in Ireland in the Elizabethan era.

"It is a very important part of Irish history and for Newry to have it back is wonderful."

Director of district development Gerard McGivern said it would be one of the council's biggest projects.

"This will help establish the city as a premier tourist destination in Northern Ireland. It will complement Newry's recent commercial success," he said.

BBC NI's Wendy Austin
speaks to architect Kevin Baird and Sir Richard Needham

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