Northern Ireland news

TV show uncovers IRA safe house in Newcastle upon Tyne

Ravensworth Terrace in Newcastle upon Tyne. Picture by Andrew Hayes-Watkins, BBC

AN UNASSUMING English end terrace's transformation from theatrical B&B to IRA safe house will be revealed in a new BBC2 documentary series tonight.

Historian David Olusoga's new series of 'A House Through Time' traces the fortunes of a house in Newcastle's West End from the 1820s to the present day, uncovering real-life drama ranging from burglary to bigamy.

The house was built in the 1820s for the middle classes and reflected the changing fortunes of time, with financial turmoil, epidemic disease, the First World War and the social unrest that followed.

Among a host of colourful characters including a vengeful lawyer, a scientist faced with financial ruin, and a doctor entangled in a workhouse scandal, is the 1920s landlady who marries a lodger more than a decade her junior.

Rose McQueeney, whose family were Irish immigrants from Co Leitrim, fell pregnant aged 38 to lodger Edward Kerrigan (23), giving birth to twins shortly after their hasty marriage.

A House Through Time - David Olusoga at Ravensworth Terrace, Newcastle upon Tyne. Picture by Andrew Hayes-Watkins, BBC

Kerrigan, a former soldier in the Irish Guards, worked his way from a labour in the local colliery to a fireman and he would use his access to explosives to aid the IRA's fight for independence in Ireland.

In the fascinating episode halfway through the series, Olusoga is able to piece together his part in the burning of a local aerodrome as lieutenant of the IRA's English `C' Company after uncovering his rash attempt to wrest a known republican from an arresting police officer in the Irish National Club around the corner from his house.

The memoir of that IRA man, Gilbert Barrington, provided details of his efforts for the paramilitary organisation and historians have concluded that the "comings and goings" of the boarding house run by his wife would have made it the ideal site for storing guns, ammunition and explosives.

More than 400 firearms, including three machine guns and a large quantity of explosives were smuggled to Ireland at the time.

Gilbert Barrington (right), with friend Richard Purcell, was a key IRA man in England

Kerrigan continued to work in his key job at the coal mines before he and Rose returned to Ireland with their surviving son after the establishment of the Free State, living first in Dublin before settling in Co Cork.

"In the last series, viewers got a glimpse of Liverpool's glorious history as well as the turbulent times of the 1970s and 1980s," Olusoga said.

"I wanted to do the same for Newcastle and present a fair and honest portrait of a city which has a global footprint and a global history.

"This series, as far as I'm concerned, is a love letter to the North East. I hope viewers are reminded of all we have been through in the past, what the generations before us achieved and all they went through to build a region we have today.

"I was brought up on Tyneside, so coming to the North East to film the second series was coming home."

A House Through Time will be broadcast on BBC Two tonight at 9pm

An aerodrome was burnt down by the IRA's English 'C' company

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