The Falcons came back from 10-6 down at half-time to win with 14 men after the sending-off of lock Adriaan Fondse in the 60th minute.
With Wasps losing to Exeter, the gap at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership between the Falcons and Wasps is now down to six points, but Newcastle now face two tough matches in succession with a trip to Leicester and home clash with Harlequins.
Fondse was sent off for throwing a punch at Delon Armitage, who was subjected to a storm of booing from the crowd who thought he made the most of the incident.
The England full-back was lucky to escape punishment for an apparent forearm smash on Falcons centre James Fitzpatrick late in the game and he may yet be cited for that.
Falcons prop Jon Golding and London Irish number eight Richard Thorpe were also yellow-carded for fighting in the dying minutes of a game which became increasingly ill-tempered.
It was an error-strewn match with both sides struggling to handle a bitingly cold strong wind, although Jimmy Gopperth managed to give another kicking masterclass with three penalties, a conversion and a drop goal - his one miss was when he hit the post from 45 metres.
Gopperth kicked a fourth-minute penalty after Irish made three unforced errors, handing the Falcons good field position, and then straying offside.
Irish were back on level terms through a 12th minute Tom Homer penalty when Newcastle infringed at a ruck and the Falcons conceded a soft try when they lost their own line-out in the Irish 22 and Armitage's kick was deflected.
Newcastle were unable to control the loose ball and Irish swept away for Sailosi Tagicakibau to score and Homer converted before Gopperth's 37th-minute drop goal after a series of controlled drives made the half-time score 10-6.
Six minutes into the second half Gopperth landed a 45-metre penalty after the Falcons scrum had Irish on the back foot and when Homer missed a straightforward penalty, there was a palpable lift in Newcastle.
Then Shortland intercepted Armitage's pass when Irish were three-on-one on the Newcastle 10 metre line and he raced in for the try converted by Gopperth, who then hit the post with a long-range penalty.
However, he had another chance with 14-man Newcastle well on top with four minutes left and he made no mistake from the same distance to make it 19-10 and raise the Falcons hopes of avoiding the drop.
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