Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 9



I concluded last week with a reference to the "News-Letter" and "Whig," and the part they played in the election. The "News-Letter" supported, as I indicated, the old Conservative leaders and party, and the "Whig" took the new democratic leaders under its protection. The "News-Letter" was then under the editorship of Mr. Richard Lilburn, who was, like his paper, a great supporter and upholder of Orangeism, who might have been expected to keep that body well in hand, democratic as well as aristocratic. But both he and his paper were in a great difficulty owing to the breach in the party and the adherence of the paper to the more aristocratic section. At the same time the "Weekly News," issued from the same office, was doing vigorous work in the Orange and Protestant interest -- the paper was so described in the newspaper directories of the time. A principal feature of that journal was the weekly letter signed "Ulster Scot," which was written by the Rev. Henry Henderson, and it might have been supposed that his writing would have been strong enough to satisfy the Orange and Protestant working man. But all did not avail to placate the democrats or bring them into the fold. The "News-Letter," while it supported the old leaders, did all it could to ignore Mr. Johnston, and afterwards to belittle him or treat him as Redmondites of the present day treat all who do not support them, as factionists. When Mr. M'Clure and Mr. Johnston were both in the field, and before there was any community of action between them, it described them as a coalition.

The "Whig" had some time previously come under the control of Mr. Thomas MacKnight, whose "Life of Burke" had brought him into prominence as a political historian, and whose study of Burke influenced him to the latest day of his life. Mr. MacKnight was a Scotsman, educated in England, and was dominated by English ideas in many ways. He was only in his Ulster apprenticeship at the time, but he had grasped the situation well, and a large share of the journalistic credit for the victory for Mr. M'Clure wa© due to him and his journal.

He kept hammering away at the old leaders, or the old gang, with great vigour and point, and while he kept Mr. M'Clure under his arm, he kept patting Mr. Johnston on the back to an extent which had effect and counter-effect. While this gave Mr. Johnston valuable support and publicity to his meetings, it gave opportunity for the "News-Letter" to cast suspicion on Mr. Johnston's Conservatism, and to suggest that he was a Whig, which, at that time, was the strongest term of reproach that a Conservative could apply to an opponent.

"The Banner of Ulster" was in existence at the time, with Mr. W. H. Dodd, now Judge Dodd, exercising his 'prentice hand as an Editor. He had just been fresh from college, and had more knowledge of literary than of journalistic form, if I may be excused for making a difference. He rendered valuable assistance to Mr. M'Clure, and helped his cause well. But many a time and oft Mr. Dodd used to upset my equilibrium -- I was his sub -- by the unconventional form of his editorials. He did not follow the stereotyped style of leader, but struck out a style for himself, a bright style, as literary as the best, but more unconventional.

The only other journals at the time were the "Morning News" tri-weekly, which was unpolitical, and the "Ulster Observer," then under the editorial charge of one of the most brilliant journalists Ulster ever had, Mr. A. J. M'Kenna, who wrote brilliantly, but strongly, in favour of Mr. M'Clure and of Mr. Johnston, too, so far as he could use him as a whip by which to lash the old party.

All these political journals kept the pot of electoral excitement boiling in the two or three months during which the campaign was carried on. But that was not enough. We had more cartoons during that one election than we have had in all the elections since, and better ones than any I have seen. One of the earliest and best was one that represented the candidates passing the winning post in the order in which they appeared, Mr. Mulholland, if I remember aright, not reaching the post at all, which he did not. It hit the situation most accurately, and its artistic work was good.

But dealing with the literature of the election, must not forget that in the midst of the election a fly-sheet, under the name of the "Belfast Election Circular," about the size of the halfpenny papers subsequently produced, was issued in the interests of the two Conservative candidates, and especially in the interests of Mr. Mulholland, who was regarded as the weaker member of the team, as he ultimately proved to be. This was edited by a London barrister, and its writing was of a very brilliant character. It was printed for the party by Messrs. W. & G. Baird, and may have been the germ or the suggestion of the "Evening Telegraph," which that firm subsequently issued, and has brought to such success.

There was great correspondence every day in the Press, each newspaper, of course, only publishing letters in defence of its own side or attacking that of his opponents. One of the men who figured largely as an object of praise on one side and attack on the other was the Rev. John Rogers, then of Comber, afterwards Professor Rogers. The "Northern Whig" had singled him out for special attack, and he was not the man to let judgment go by default. The antagonism of the "Whig" and its friends arose from the fact that though an old and advanced Liberal he had on this occasion cast in his lot with the Conservatives on the Church question. One reason alleged at the time for this was that as Moderator of the General Assembly he had, with other members of the Court, met Mr. Disraeli on the eve of the General Election, and that that astute statesman had promised that if he won at the General Election he would raise the Regium Donum from £69 to £100. Whether or not such promise was made I cannot say, but I do know that levelling up was the avowed Conservative policy of the election, while levelling down was that of the Liberals.

At the time Miss Finlay, sister of the then proprietor of the "Whig," who was a very clever literary lady, was more than suspected of supplying some smart articles or letters to the "Whig." Mr. Rogers, in a letter in reply to the "Whig," referred to the "editors male and female after their kind." On another occasion he said or wrote that some time previously he had asked some of the children in his Sunday-school where all the bad boys who told lies went to, and that the ready answer he got was -- To the "Northern Whig."

As the period of the election approached, the excitement increased. Meetings were held almost every night, and very noisy many of them were. The largest and most successful meetings, both in number and in peace, were those of Mr. Johnston, whose friends not only maintained the enthusiasm of his own meetings, but disturbed the harmony of the meetings of Lanyon and Mulholland. Some of Mr. M'Clure's meetings were interrupted, but I do not think Mr. Johnston's friends had much to do with that, as the common antagonism of both these candidates to the official Conservative candidates produced a certain amount of harmony between them. I can recall one meeting of Mr. M'Clure's in the old Music Hall, where a band of interrupters produced a perfect pandemonium at the beginning, and the meeting threatened to end in a fiasco. I remember rushing up to Howard Street for the Rev. John Macnaughtan, who seemed to me (I was acting as secretary for the meeting) as the only man who could quell the disturbance. He was at home in his slippers reading. After some demur, Mr. Macnaughtan consented to go to the meeting. He had great difficulty in getting entrance on account of the crowd. He come on the platform like a little lion, and in five or ten minutes rendered the meeting, which up to then had been most riotous, as orderly as a prayer-meeting. He stepped to the front and said the meeting had been convened for Mr. M'Clure's supporters alone, and asked all who were in favour of the meeting proceeding to stand up. The vast majority stood up. He then asked all who did not want the meeting to continue to stand up. About forty or fifty in the gallery, some armed with staves, proclaimed their hostility. Mr. Macnaughtan said that that was no place for them, and the sooner they were out the better. They were all in a group in the gallery, and those around them at once gathered round, seized them, and had them all on the street in about five minutes. And very worn out and tattered they looked at the end. But they disturbed the meeting no more. It was one of the most remarkable instances of the superiority of mind to matter that I ever witnessed. The men, it is true, were not handled very gently, but they were handled effectually.

The speakers at Mr. Johnston's meetings were largely the members of the Working Men's Association. Messrs. Lanyon and Mulholland had the support of the leading Conservatives, and Mr. M'Clure of the Liberals, and especially the Liberal Presbyterians. It was on the latter's platform I first heard the late Right Hon. Thomas Sinclair, the late Mr. Robert MacGeagh, and Mr. Adam Duffin speak, and I did not dream that I would be so closely associated with them in after life. Of those who took part in those meetings there are only, so far as I remember, three now alive -- Mr. Adam Duffin, Mr. James Pyper, and the Rev. Dr. Magill, who as the Rev. George Magill came all the way from Cork to show his sympathy with Mr. M'Clure and the cause with which he was identified. Oh, I forgot, Sir A. M. Porter, ex-Master of the Rolls, was also one of the speakers, and he is still, I am happy to say, alive also.

There are two points of election law that have changed since. The one is the amount of money a candidate could expend on printing, advertising, agents, and other expenses, which is now limited, and as far as possible respected, though not always with success. In these times there was no check on expenditure. I could scarcely speculate on the number of thousands that election cost Mr. M'Clure and Messrs. Lanyon and Mulholland. These were the halcyon days of newspapers and printers, and as there was no limit as to the amount candidates could pay, there was very little limit to what newspapers and printers could charge. I remember one instance as to cost. In a number of the "Evangelical Witness" of the time, I observed an article on the subject of the Irish Church situation by a local divine, who dealt with the question from both sides. What he said on the Liberal side of the question was so good that I suggested to the conducting agent that it would be a desirable thing to circulate among the Presbyterians, and ten or fifteen thousand copies were printed on a broad sheet, and distributed among the electors. Between the printing and distribution I think that cost Mr. M'Clure something between £50 and £100 -- nearer the latter, if I remember. That was bad enough for the candidate monetarily, however it may have served politically. But as to the latter, judge of my surprise when I found the Conservative party issuing the other portion of the article as a counterblast, and I am sure that cost Messrs. Lanyon and Mulholland quite as much. But there were two paymasters instead of one in that case.

Mr. Johnston's candidature did not cost so much as the others, for neither he nor his followers had much money to spend of their own, but a petition that was lodged against the return of Mr. M'Clure revealed the fact that that gentleman's friends had subscribed many hundreds of pounds to keep Mr. Johnston in the field, as the phrase was. It helped to secure split votes as well. I may here say that at the petition trial those payments were not only proved, but admitted. Baron Fitzgerald, one of the best judges of his own or of any time, who tried the petition, did not unseat Mr. M'Clure, but hinted that if the petition had been against Mr. Johnston and not against Mr. M'Clure the decision might have been different. The other point in regard to which a material change has since been made was open nomination, which passed away by the Ballot Act of 1870. This was the last of such proceedings that took place in Belfast. Since nominations are made in writing, and not in speeches. The nomination took place in the old Howard Street Courthouse, which could only be called a courthouse by courtesy, so worn out and shabby it looked -- but it served very well, and made history as a police court, as well as a scene of election riot.

The courthouse was crowded on the occasion. Possession of it had been taken largely by the supporters of Mr. Johnston and many noisy and trouble-giving individuals, but Mr. John Rea bulked larger than them all as a disturber of harmony. Mr. Lanyon was sponsored by Mr. John Lytle and Mr. Philip Johnston; Mr. Thomas Sinclair and Dr. Murney sponsored Mr. M'Clure; Mr. C. W. Shaw and Mr. John Hind nominated Mr. Mulholland; and Mr. Wm. M'Cormick, father of the present Town Solicitor, and Mr. John Suffern nominated Mr. Johnston. The commotion, excitement, confusion and disorder, shouting and striking were so great that none of the speakers save Mr. Johnston could be said to have got a hearing. The speeches of the others were handed to the reporters. After the preliminaries, largely in dumb show, finished, up got Mr. Rea, nominally to propose some candidate, but really to ventilate his own views and increase the disorder, which he did to an extent I have never witnessed since, and made confusion worse confounded. Sticks and stones were freely used, and there were many bleeding heads on the occasion, Mr. Rea himself figuring on the list of those who bore scars, blood flowing from his head. The Mayor postponed the nomination till next day, when a similar display of dumb show and rowdyism, noise and tumult prevailed, and stone and stick throwing, yelling and shouting continued, in the midst of which the Mayor called for a show of hands, and declared the result in favour of Johnston and Lanyon, on which a poll was demanded for M'Clure and Mulholland.

The election took place a few days afterwards. It was all open voting, and the greatest excitement prevailed at the various polling places and all over the town. At a very early hour, however, the doom of the old Conservatives was sealed. As Belfast was a two-member constituency, each voter had two votes. In many cases the voters plumped for their favourite candidate. The majority of split votes went for Johnston and M'Clure. Those who were looking after the votes for these two candidates where they could, brought the voters up in couples, and each gave one vote for Johnston and one for M'Clure. The result of this, of course, was that at noon all hope for Mr. Mulholland was abandoned, and he retired. At the close of the poll, the result was declared as follows:-- Johnston, 7,267; M'Clure, 5,199; Lanyon, 4,249; Mulholland, 1,966. Messrs. Johnston and M'Clure were declared elected, and the remainder of the evening was given up to a demonstration on the part of the supporters of the successful candidates; and the supporters of the other candidates seem to have left the field, or the streets rather, in their possession. Mr Johnston and Mr. M'Clure were cheered and serenaded. There was a torchlight procession at night which caused great excitement and enthusiasm among the friends of the successful candidates, but there was no disorder. Thus ended the last Belfast election under the old system of voting, and the last open fight between the two wings of the Conservative party.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 18th August 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 8



The election of 1868 was a turning point in the history and legislation of this country. The Reform Bill of Mr. Disraeli, practicality household suffrage, had raised the working classes of the country to a position and influence that they had never occupied before. As an illustration of its effect, I may mention that the electorate of Belfast was increased from three or four thousand to thirteen or fourteen thousand -- be it remembered that the population then was not more than 158,000. The main Imperial issue of the election was the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, a question that had been forced to the front by such Irishmen as John Francis Maguire, Sir John Gray, Sir Colman O'Loughlin, and others, supported by a large section of the British Liberals, and notably Mr. John Bright. While Mr. Disraeli's Government was tottering to its fall, Mr. Gladstone introduced his famous resolution declaring the doom of the Irish Established Church, which was carried by a majority of 65. And from that time on, a matter of a few months, Mr. Disraeli kept struggling om till he dissolved at the end of the summer of 1868, when a battle of giants began, one of the most remarkable electoral battles in my memory.

Belfast was moved on that question almost as much as it has been moved since by Home Rule. Mr. Gladstone had described the Irish Church as a upas tree, and its destruction was the aim of himself and his party. In Belfast the majority was undoubtedly Conservative, and the feeling against Disestablishment was strong, deep, and intense. The members of the Established Church, with some exceptions, were all in favour of it. The majority of Presbyterian laity were also in favour of it. But in regard to the ministers of the Presbyterian Church, I am satisfied the majority of them were in favour of the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, though a vote in the Assembly in favour of the principle of Establishments was represented as a vote in favour of the Church. It is only necessary to say that while the Rev. Richard Smyth, afterwards Professor Smyth, voted in the majority in support of the principle of Establishments, he openly declared that it did not commit him to the support of the Irish Establishment. And he and others like him acted on that principle throughout the contest, and supported Liberal candidates.

But while parsons in speech, and pamphlet on both sides discussed the election as if that were the only question, it could not have been said to have been the deciding issue in Belfast. In point of fact, while rival platforms and the Press rang with declamations and diatribes as if this was the there was another issue which

But while parsons in speech and pamphlet on both sides discussed the election as if that were the only question, it could not have been said to have been the deciding issue in Belfast. In point of fact, while rival platforms and the Press rang with declamations and diatribes as if this was the only issue, there was another issue which came nearer to the hearts and homes of the masses of the Protestants even than the Irish Church. And that was whether or not, or if how far the newly enfranchised Protestant democracy would have a voice in the choice of Parliamentary candidates. I do not think I am displaying any old partisanship, or violating historical fact when I say that up to that time the artisan class had little to say, and that the old leaders were disinclined to listen to them on account of the circumstance and auspices under which the new demand was made.

To explain the local circumstance that led to this exciting controversy it will be necessary to recall that in 1867 Mr. Disraeli's Government -- I think with Lord Mayo as his Irish Secretary -- had made a bold attempt to mollify the Roman Catholic feelings of the country by proposing to grant a charter to the Queen's University in a form which might induce the hierarchy to abandon their hostility to and boycott of the godless colleges, as they described the colleges of Belfast, Cork, and Galway, and formed the old Queen's University, and by bringing in a Party Processions Act, suppressing party processions with emblems and bands. This latter struck a blow at the Twelfth of July demonstrations, which was greatly resented by the Orange party in Ulster. In deliberate violation of that Act a monster demonstration was held in Bangor on the 12th July, 1867, at which Mr. William Johnston, then a young man of some literary ability, and a very strong and hot Orangeman, took a leading part. He had already come to the front as an Orange advocate, but while Conservative in politics he did not spare the Conservative party for its action in regard to processions. Indeed, the Conservative leaders looked upon him with coldness ever after, suspecting and suggesting that there was too much Liberal blood in him, which, so far as the land question was concerned, afterwards proved to be true.

For his action at Bangor he was arrested and arraigned, and at a subsequent Assizes at Downpatrick was tried and convicted, and sentenced to two months in jail, or, rather, to one month in jail with the alternative of another month in default of bail, which Mr. Johnston refused to give. Mr. Johnston submitted to his imprisonment like a man and a gentleman, differing in that respect from many before and since, who, on the other side of the political fence, were subjected to jail discipline. It is worthy of note that the police officer who gave the principal evidence against Mr. Johnston was the Sub-Inspector Montgomery who was afterwards executed for the murder of his friend Glass, the bank clerk, in Newtownstewart some years after.

While Mr. Johnston had been somewhat of an Orange hero before this event, he now became a martyr hero. Two months in jail had sent him up higher than all his previous efforts, which were many. He had owned and edited the "Downshire Protestant," a paper published in Downpatrick, and specially devoted to the Orange cause. He had made speeches at Orange demonstrations by the dozen, and at any number of July demonstrations. But his martyrdom did more for him than all. There was some talk of his getting into Parliament for somewhere, but even while he was in the jail his friends got their eye on Belfast; and the Orange and Protestant Working Men's Association seem to have been formed for the purpose of making his election, or, at least, selection, sure. The men who founded and developed it were chiefly working men, who were good talkers and good manipulators. They had two prime leaders, however, who were not -- Mr. John Clark and Mr. Charles H. Ward. The former worked a good deal behind the scenes, but he was a real power, financial and otherwise, behind the movement.

Mr. Johnston received a great demonstration in the Ulster Hall some time after his release from prison, and from that time onward his appearance as a candidate was assured. The old Conservative party did not relish the prospect, and Mr. Johnston and the Protestant Working Men's Association got little countenance from the "News-Letter," while the "Northern Whig" patted him and the working-men on the back, and lauded their independence to the sky.

Belfast had been long represented by Conservatives, but as the Presbyterians represented a large section in the community and in the ranks of the party, it had been the custom to select a member of the Irish Church and a Presbyterian as members, Belfast having enjoyed at the time two members. For some years Sir Hugh (afterwards Lord) Cairns and Mr. S. Gibson Getty represented the Presbyterians. But on the promotion of Sir Hugh Cairns to the Bench and a peerage, Mr. Lanyon took his place. This at the General Election left Mr. Getty as the second member, but on the ground of the state of his health he declined to come forward, thus leaving an opening for a new candidate. For some time Mr. John Lyttle, an ex-Mayor of Belfast, and one of the most prominent Presbyterians, as well as one of the most prominent political leaders, was up to to fill the gap. The name of Mr. ----- Lewis, a London solicitor, who afterwards figured prominently in Ulster politics and Parliament, was also spoken of. But at last Mr. John Mulholland was chosen.

And this must be said. No man from his high position as an industrial magnate, his high personal character, his knowledge of economic questions could have been better entitled to a seat. And so in time he entered the lists with Mr. Lanyon, and for weeks "Lanyon and Mulholland" was the cry of the old Conservative leaders and of the Conservatives so far as they adhered to the old party. There was, however, one chink in his armour. He was not a Presbyterian, but a member of the Irish Church. This was bad enough, in the eyes of many Presbyterians, but what made it worse he was stated to have been originally a Presbyterian and had gone over to Prelacy, which was then, and still is, a poor claim to the political favour of Presbyterians.

The appearance of Mr. (afterwards Sir) Thos. M'Clure in the field as the nominee of the Liberals and Presbyterians of Belfast, and of Mr. Wm. Johnston as the nominee of the Orange and Protestant working men, raised an issue which was fought out for weeks with a vigour, and, I will add, bitterness, almost without parallel. But if possible the bitterness was greater between the followers of Mr. Johnston and those of the official Conservatives than between the latter and the followers of Mr. M'Clure, though I do not mean to suggest that there was any love lost between them. But as is usually the case when the ranks of one party become divided, the feelings of hostility of one to the other are most envenomed -- we have it at present in the split in the Nationalist ranks. The "News-Letter," then under the proprietorship of Mr. Jas. Alex. Henderson, and the editorship of Mr. W. H. Kisbey, afterwards County Court Judge, took little notice of Mr. Johnston or his meetings; and Mr. Johnston's followers retorted by taking notice of the "News-Letter" reporters, and keeping or putting them out of their meetings. This they did very pronouncedly on at least two occasions in the Ulster Hall.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 11th August 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 7



The first half decade of the half century that closes this year was a period of storm and stress and difficulty all over Ireland, just as it is to-day. Irish questions then, as now, occupied the chief attention of the country, just, as they do, with this difference, that there was no war in which England was involved to absorb or overweigh it. Fenianism had then raised its head, and disturbed and perturbed the country with the same aims and object as the Sinn Feiners of to-day. But as there was some form of government at the time, Fenianism did not carry on its machinations so openly as the Sinn Feiners do, and its attempt at a rising was farcical compared with that of the Sinn Feiners. There was little loss of life and little loss of property; indeed, the practical sufferers were the Fenians themselves, except in the case of some shootings of landlords or agents over the country, which, however, was not an exceptional circumstance. Belfast then, as now, felt an interest in all that affected the character and welfare of the country, and was greatly concerned over this Fenian movement, which, though it produced no developments in the North, had many sympathisers in it.

There were many arrests of Fenians in the city during this period; but, while they produced excitement at the time, they did not suggest any serious developments locally. I well remember the case of two brothers named Harbison who were arrested during that time. The cases were sent for trial to the Assizes, following the magisterial committal; but the wily Fenians engaged Mr. John Rea to defend them. He made such an attack and created such a scene that the cases were adjourned till the following Assizes. On that occasion the Attorney-General, Mr. Chatterton, afterwards Vice-Chancellor, came down to conduct the prosecution; and Mr. Rea, then in the prime of his powers as an advocate, and an obstructive, again appeared for the defence. After the arraignment of the prisoners, Mr. Rea got up and delivered such a harangue denunciatory of the Government and its chief, law officer as I have never heard surpassed at once for its marvellous combination of law, irrelevance, and vituperation.

He spoke for a couple of hours with such vehemence and fury that at the last he was frothing at the mouth. All attempts to stop him were futile. It would have been an easy to stop an avalanche in full flow. The Attorney-General was raging and writhing, but neither he nor the Judge – whose' name I forget – could stop the furious orator. When he came to an end, I think only from exhaustion, the Attorney-General did what I never heard done before or since. He threatened the newspapers with dire punishment if they reported Mr. Rea's allegations, charges, and epithets; and these were all in abundance. He refused to go on with the cases, and they I were adjourned. And the Courts knew them and the prisoners no more. I think the prosecution was abandoned, and the prisoners got off scot free, which they, no doubt, owed to their choice of an advocate.

I may say that during this period and for many years afterwards this same John Rea was one of the most prominent personages in the community, whether as lawyer or politician, so far as he could be seriously associated with either. While he was a sound criminal lawyer – said to have been amongst the best of his time -- he was far from a sound politician, and he frequently took advantage of his position as a lawyer to wander into attacks on ever man or party that came in his way; and his hand was against every man and every party. He described himself once as an Orange-Cromwellian-Republican, and in his actions and speech he represented every variety that these would suggest. He was physically strong and intellectually quick. In fact, he may be said to have been gifted with a genius that was allied to madness, and great intellectual powers marred by eccentricity. He made long speeches in court, in one case speaking for over a week, and wore out the patience, if not the life, of the Judge (Baron Hayes). He was dragged out of courts time after time, and once out of the Committee-room of the House of Commons. When, he offered resistance it required three or four police to remove him, so strong and resourceful he was. In his earlier years this proceeding was the result of pure eccentricity, but in later years it was often of deliberation. At frequent intervals he committed contempt of Court, and generally got a sentence of fourteen days, to which he submitted like a philosopher. He told me himself more than once that when he felt himself getting overstrung he deliberately committed contempt of court, and got the usual fourteen days, the rest of which, he said, made him all right again. He kept himself strong and healthy on hot and afterwards cold baths, and beefsteak, of both of which he was particularly fond.

His readiness of repartee was wonderful. On one occasion, when the father of the present Mr. W. H. Lyons, Mr. W. T. B. Lyons, a retired barrister, who often occupied the Magisterial Bench, told him in the course of a harangue that what he was saying went in at one ear and out at the other, Rea replied, "I can well understand that, your worship; there is nothing between to stop it." On another occasion, when Mr. A. J. M'Kenna, a brilliant journalist, and he met in the old Howard Street Police Court, in which one was plaintiff and the other defendant – it arose out of a planned technical assault to give them the opportunity of meeting and slogging each other – Rea used the word honour in the course of his remarks. "You should not use the word honour," said M'Kenna. "You don't even know how to spell the word." "Oh, yes, I do," was the ready retort; "according to the modern practice I leave 'u' (you) out."

I met him on hundreds of occasions in public and private. He was the greatest master of vituperative and in many cases irrelevant rhetoric that I have ever heard. His words flowed like a torrent, and interruptions, instead of embarrassing only assisted him. If his abilities had not been tainted by eccentricity and his life tinctured and soured by venomous personal feelings, he would have been one of the greatest men of the century, instead of a lamentable failure. The last conversation I had with him was on the occasion of the late Lord Russell of Killowen speaking in Belfast in the early eighties explaining Mr. Gladstones Land Bill. It was not an oration, but a mere legal exposition. Rea asked me what I thought of him, and I told him that it was only a legal exposition and not an oration he had delivered, so that I could not judge of his oratory. "Just think of it," he said, "I drove that man out of the Belfast Police Court, and there he is, making £16,000 a year, and look at me." It was an outburst of sanity mingled with sadness; a realisation of the failure of his life. The statement, however, was literally true; for Lord Russell commenced his career as a solicitor in the Belfast Police Courts, and was carrying all before him when Rea appeared and outstripped, outtalked, and ousted him. Russell was mild and gentle; Rea was forceful, vehement, and reckless. I never spoke to him again. Within a few months he took his own life.

The years on which I am dwelling were exciting years locally; but the excitement did not arise from local and public issues. Then, as now, Belfast attended to its business, and had no burning questions of its own to trouble it. But publicly the interest was ever burning, and Belfast felt the force of the flames. The state of Ireland, the Irish Church, and the Ulster land question, sometimes separately and sometimes combined, kept the people at fever heat. The affairs of Parliament affected the citizens then, as now; and what this statesman said or that statesman did was the chief topic from day to day. And it was mainly questions arising out of these that led to any controversies we had.

The prevailing politics of the town was Conservative, tinctured with Orange. This reminds me of a story current at the time. A burly North of England man obtained some appointment under the Corporation. While undergoing a preliminary test he was asked what his politics were. "What are the prevailing politics here?" he cautiously asked – I believe he came from Yorkshire. He was told. "I am delighted to hear that be so, for I am a Conservative; and I would feel among my own people, if I came here." He came, and for years was what in the United States would be called "boss" of the local politics, municipal and Parliamentary – at least so far as municipalisation was concerned. The Liberals of the day had a very poor show in the town, though in their ranks were included some of the most prominent merchants of the time – Sinclair, Charters, Duffin, Dunville, M'Clure, Finlay, M'Cance, Barbour, Musgrave, Riddell, Coey, Kennedy, Allen, Crawford, Ritchie, and many others; and of some of these families there were more than one representative. When Sir Hugh Cairns, who had represented Belfast for many years in conjunction with Mr. S. G. Getty, was appointed Lord Chancellor, an attempt was made by the Liberals to run Lord John Hay, but he met with rather a rough reception, and was left in a minority at the poll by Mr. Charles Lanyon, afterwards Sir Charles Lanyon.

With the change in the franchise introduced by Mr. Disraeli in 1867 came a great change not in the tone, but in the class of Conservatism. The working man Conservative came into being, or at least into potency. A Protestant Working-men's Association was the outcome of that new development, which attacked the very citadel itself. I well remember the commotion that was created in the ranks of the old Conservative school at that time when Isaac Hall, Wm. M'Cormick, Chas. H. Ward, Robert Maxwell, and others became sponsors of the new association. Mr. Tom Henry, of Pottinger's Entry, was at once printer and poet for the new party. The leaders were denounced as Radicals and recalcitrants in all the moods and tenses by the old leaders and their organ.

This reached its height in 1868 on the eve of the General Election that followed on the defeat of the Conservative Government when Mr. Gladstone, by a majority of 65, had carried a resolution in favour of the Disestablishment of the Irish Church.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 4th August 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 6



While there are many men and many matters of the last half century that I would like to remember and recall, the meetings of the General Assembly must ever be foremost in my memory and my interest, historical and personal. The Psalmist, expressing the feelings of the captivity, said that if he did not remember Jerusalem, let his tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth. With all my pleasant memories of the General Assembly, whose meetings, with two or three exceptions, have taken place in Belfast, and, naturally, come within the scope of my local recollections, I might join with the Psalmist in his sentiments regarding his unfaithfulness to Zion.

And yet I cannot say of it that my first memories of it, so far as Belfast is concerned, are very fresh or were very inspiriting. The first Assembly I attended in Belfast was the special Assembly held, I think, in Rosemary Street Church, Belfast, in the spring of 1866. It had been summoned to consider the question of the Supplemental Charter to the Queen's University, the earliest attempt made to bring denominationalism into that institution. It did not alter the fact that the proposal came from a Conservative Government, and it did not alter the relations of the University, as it came to grief. I was then a very apprentice hand at reporting, and I was too boyish and bashful to take my place at the reporters' table, and contented myself with burying myself in one of the capacious pews of that capacious Church. But as to the proceedings, I might as well have been projected into a meeting conducted in Gaelic or Greek. I did not know much of the subject or much of the speakers, and I could no more have summarised the arguments, which I was expected to do, than I could now penetrate into the recesses of Mr. Asquith's mind.

I have no memory of a single speaker or of a single word uttered. I dare say the words, Fathers and brethren, which have since become so familiar to me, were used, but I could not pledge ray memory to the fact. The only face and form that I can remember is that of my friend then, and my friend till his death, the late Mr. Wm. Gilliland. I can see him now in my mind's eye as he took his place at the reporters' table on that day, young, natty, well dressed, laying down his top hat and taking off his gloves and settling down to his note-taking work as if to the manner born. How I envied his coolness and daring, and wondered if the time would ever come when I could imitate him, not in his neatness, but in his coolness and confidence in such an august Assembly, and in the ease with which he recorded the, to me, inexplicable utterances.

How I envied his coolness and daring, and wondered if the time would ever come when I could imitate him, not in his neatness, but in his coolness and confidence in such an august Assembly, and in the ease with which he recorded the, to me, inexplicable utterances. In my after life I may have been able to imitate him in his coolness and in his understanding of the wisdom of ministerial utterances and in the mysteries of Assembly debates, but in no other respect. He lived to be for many years assistant Editor of the "Daily Telegraph" in London, from which he retired about a couple or three years ago. But he died only a few months after honourable retirement, leaving two sons, who have done their bit for the country, one being a prisoner in Bulgaria, and the other in active service in connection with the Navy, and two daughters, who are doing splendid educational work in London.

I was not present at the regular meeting in June – to say the truth, I had had enough of it for the time. But as I want to begin with fifty years ago I have looked over the Minutes to see in what way, if any, the Assembly of that time differed from the one fifty years after. The first thing that struck me was the change of personnel. I do not think there was one minister at that Assembly that was present in that of 1866, though I find that several of them, including the Moderator, figure in the list of students at that day. There was another difference. The Assembly of 1866 was held in May Street Church, and that of 1916 was held in the Assembly Hall. But I find an Assembly Hall Committee in existence and the subject of an Assembly Hall was discussed. I doubt, however, if any of those who were interested in that project ever contemplated such a magnificent Hall as the present -- it took nearly forty years to mature and complete the scheme. I am sure if some of these old worthies could return from the shades and visit the splendid hall they would be lost in the wondrous mazes of the building, and be thankful that the seed they had then sown had grown into such a splendid tree, under whose branches their descendants could rest and labour in dignity and safety.

There is one thing, however, that remains unchanged in form and character, and that is the "Minutes of Assembly," which are prepared in the same form and with the same scrupulous care – for the Clerk of that day, like the Clerk of the present, was a very careful and painstaking man – with the same coloured cover, and, I may add, printed in what may be described as the same establishment, for "The Witness" is the lineal Presbyterian descendant of the old "Banner of Ulster," which printed the Minutes fifty year's ago.

There was one point of difference which suggests a great change since 1866. The Assembly of that year stretched out a full fortnight, only concluding on the Saturday of the second week, while the Assembly for the year concluded on the Saturday of the first week. This means either more business and less discussion, or the absence of subjects that lead to long discussions. I am inclined to think, however, that while both may have had a part in the work, the business methods of the Assembly are better than those of fifty years ago, and the taste for long speeches less both on the part of speakers and hearers.

I find, however, that in the old days, even with the Regium Donum, the subject of ministerial support and sustentation was as prominent and as urgent as it is to-day, and that special attention had to be called to both then as now. The Rev. T. Y. Killen had charge of the subject in that Assembly, as he had it for many years after the Regium Donum was abolished. I also find that ministers as well as members required rousing then as now, and that laymen then as now were moving in the matter. At this very meeting a deputation of elders was present from a layman's meeting, consisting of Messrs. D. D. Leitch, John Lytle, and Robert Workman, urging greater exertions on the part of ministers in urging the question, and greater liberality on the part of the people in responding to it. So that even in the days of the Regium Donum the ministerial support was not extravagant, just as in the present day it is falling short of what it should be.

At this Assembly one of the resolutions passed was that no endowed congregation with more than 150 families, and no congregation that had an assistant and more than 500 families should receive aid from the State. The education question was a more burning question then than now, in part probably because the demands of the Church of Rome have been better satisfied or the education system improved. I find that it was at this period, after Archbishop (afterwards Cardinal) Cullen had got established, that the Church of Rome began its attempts to make inroads into both the university and elementary education of the country. It was then that the contest over the principle of united secular and separate religious education in connection with the elementary system began and continued for so many years; indeed, even to this day. The Church of Rome has got a firmer grip on National education than it had fifty years ago, and I am not satisfied that it has meant any improvement either in primary education or in the relationships between Protestants and Roman Catholics during the more impressive education age. And, in one respect at least, that education has, with the Roman Catholic section, been more calculated to lead up to such a rebellion as we had a few weeks ago than to lead to a contented or united Ireland, so far as its relation to the United Kingdom is concerned. I do not profess to be an expert on education, elementary or otherwise, but I will venture the opinion, comparing my own knowledge of fifty years ago with what I have heard from some old National school teachers of my own generation and others, that in soundness, thoroughness, and solidity the secular side of education is not as good as it was half a century ago, however much it may have done to satisfy the Church of Rome by promoting the spirit of denominationalism and division among the children, and its results in after life.

Apropos of education, there is a matter in connection with theological education in which there is a marked contrast between 1866 and 1916. I observe in the Minutes of former years that there were over eighty theological students attending the various classes at the Assembly's College, while there are not a fourth of that number now. No doubt, many things have happened since to account for the change, and, among others, the valuable openings that the interval has opened up in secular compared with theological life. This has been the case in the Civil Service, and in professional and commercial life, and, of course, the war will account for the falling off at the present time.

Still I must say that half a century ago the number of students not only was large, but the material was good. In the list of students of that time I find the names of William Park, Matthew Leitch, William M'Mordie, Samuel Prenter, J. B. Armour, W. H. Dodd, and J. B. Dougherty. All these and some others are still among us, though two of them did not follow up their early theological interests, with results most satisfactory to themselves. He who was W. H. Dodd is now the Hon. Judge Dodd, of the Irish Bench, and the J. B. Dougherty is now Sir James B. Dougherty, ex-Under-Secretary for Ireland, and member of Parliament for the City of Derry, where at one time he acted as a Magee Professor.

One of the few controversies on the subject of theology that have taken place in the Assembly took place in the year 1866. It arose out of some statements on the subject of "Assurance of Faith" in a sermon or pamphlet by the Rev. Robert Crawford, then of Loughbrickland, and afterwards of the Sinclair Seamen's Church. The Rev. W. Dobbin, of Annaghlone, took exception to the orthodoxy of some of the views expressed, and brought the matter before the Assembly, in which he was supported by the Rev. Isaac Nelson. The Assembly decided that while Mr. Crawford had in some matters expressed himself loosely, his teaching was not at variance with the standards of the Church. The dispute created great interest at the time, but the controversy, like all who were concerned in it, has now passed away. But at the time it created great interest both, in the Assembly and outside of it.

The Moderator of that year was the Rev. Dr. Wilson, of Limerick. He was a leader of the Church for many years afterwards. I remember him well; stately and dignified, able and earnest, sagacious and prudent, he was in more senses than one a strong pillar of the Church for many years. Mr. D. M. Wilson, K.C., one of the leaders of the North-East Bar, is son of the Moderator of 1866. The Acting Clerk for the year was the Junior Clerk, Rev. Robert Park, Ballymoney, the Senior Clerk (the Rev. T. Mayne Reid), not being able to be present. I never remember seeing Mr. Reid in the flesh, but Mr. Park I knew for many years.

I append a few statistical comparisons as I find them in the Minutes of the two years under review, which may prove interesting to my readers:–

Stipend Payers
Paid Ministers by Congregations
Sabbath Collections
Mission Collections
Raised in Sabbath Schools

To be continued...

From The Witness, 28th July 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 5



I have hitherto dealt with the religious life, and changes of the last fifty years so far as they were represented, by the character and the occupants of the leading pulpits. I propose this week to touch on changes, personal and statistical, in. the public and commercial life of the city. But before I part for the present from the religious aspect I may quote the religion's statistics as they appear in the census returns preceding each period. According to the census of 1861, the denominational statistics were as follows:-- Presbyterians, 42,229; Protestant Episcopalians (or Established Church, as they were described at that period), 29,839; Roman Catholics, 41,237; and Methodists, 4,929. In the last census the returns were:-- Presbyterians were 139,575, 33.7 of the entire population; the Protestant Episcopalians, 118,173, 30.5 of the population; the Roman Catholics, 93,243 24.1 of the population; and Methodists, 23,782, 6.2 of the population.

In 1866 the Parliamentary representatives of Belfast were Sir H. M'C. Cairns, afterwards Lord Cairns, and Mr. S. Gibson Getty, both, of course, Conservatives. The municipal Corporation was on the same political basis, and was a very exclusive body at the time. It was not only Conservative, but largely Presbyterian too, though its Mayor for 1866 was Mr. Mullan, a Methodist. And the Methodists had a good deal of say in its affairs, for Mr. Robert Lindsay, who was for many years a leader of the Corporation, was a Methodist. There was one Roman Catholic in the body at that time, Mr. John Hamill, a most genial and kindly gentleman of property, who, however, was looked upon with askance by many of his own co-religionists, because he was connected with the Corporation or supposed to have some sympathies with its members and policy.

On looking over and thinking over the Corporation of my earlier years in Belfast, I could not help being struck by the fact that a larger proportion of them represented big industrial enterprises in the city to a greater extent than the present members of the Corporation do. It may be that in those days the pressure of business was not so great as at present, and that these gentlemen could afford more time for municipal affairs than their compeers of the present day. It may be that in these democratic days electors now do not look with the same favour on the industrial or commercial capitalists as they did in those old days. Or it may be that tastes as well as customs and manners have changed, and that these men do not care to join in the hurly-burly of municipal life. But the fact remains. The names of Ewart, Matier, Carlisle, Lindsay, Coey, Taylor, Lytle, M'Causland, Duffin, Homer, Herdman, Lanyon, Oulton, Kinahan, Gaffikin, and Brown all suggest associations with large and important industrial and commercial undertakings. Two prominent members of the time, Mr. John Suffern and Mr. Sam Black, were solicitors, and the latter crowned his Corporate career by becoming Town Clerk and Solicitor, and as Sir Samuel Black.

Among those whom I knew personally, and who have representatives still among us, were Mr. Wm. Bell, Mr. John Lytle, Mr. Sam. M'Causland, Mr. Chas. Duffin, Wm. Mullan, Mr. Robert Lindsay, Mr. George Horner, Mr. Sam Browne, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Jas. Haslett, Mr. Alex. Crawford, Mr. R. Boag, Mr. Henry Matier, and Mr. Thos. Gaffikin. Mr. Jas. Guthrie fifty years ago was Town Clerk; Mr. Samuel Bruce, Town Solicitor; Dr. R. F. Dill, Borough Coroner; Mr. J. J. Montgomery, Town Surveyor; and Mr. Geo. Reilly, Superintendent of the Fire Brigade. Since those days the Corporation has now a palatial home, which it had not fifty years ago; and it controls an area nearly double the size, but it consists of sixty instead of forty members. There are more professional men in the Council now than in the olden time, and relatively fewer men connected with large undertakings, and they are a more mixed body, for they include eight Roman Catholics, whereas the old Corporation only contained one, and there is no likelihood that any of them will be suspected, as Mr. Hamill was, of coquetting with the other sections of the body when the interests of faith or class are concerned. Still, it would ill become me to say a disrespectful word of the present Corporation, for the majority work hard, and if they wrangle now and then I must conclude that it is all intended for the good of the city. And least of all could I, if I would, say a disrespectful word of its Lord Mayor, Sir Crawford M'Cullagh, who has won golden opinions from all sorts of men both in and out of the Council for the ability, energy, and impartiality with which he has presided over the civic affairs, and especially for the noble and patriotic part he has played since the war added to his anxieties and responsibilities. With Mr. Meyer as Town Clerk, Mr. John M'Cormick as City Solicitor, Mr. Moneypenny as City Chamberlain, and Mr. Geale as City Accountant, the work of the Council goes on with great smoothness, and with as little grumbling, or cause of grumbling, as could be expected in the work of a public body.

Then there was the Harbour Board, that then, as now, prided itself on its occupying a higher election than the Council, in part possibly because its franchise is higher and its duties of a more purely business character. In 1886 Sir James Hamilton, a man of most refined culture, was chairman, and the Board consisted of fourteen members, the cream of the commercial life of the city. Their names will be a guarantee of their position. They were -- Robert Patterson, James Girdwood, Robert Corry, John Lytle, Jas. Macaulay, Sir E. Coey, James Carlisle, Charles Duffin, Wm. Mullan, Wm. Valentine, Robert Boyd, S. M'Causland, and Lord Pirrie. Mr. Wm. Thompson was the then secretary, and the names of O'Connell Shaw, H. J. Hill, and David Moore figure in the list of clerks, and are all at present alive and well, enjoying well-earned pensions. Mr. W. Redfern Kelly, C.E. and J.P., was in the service of the Commissioners at that time on its engineering side, and he, too, has had a long and honourable day in the service of the Commissioners, and is in the enjoyment of a well-earned pension.

The Water Board was not so aristocratic or select, but it contained the names of two men who made history – Joseph G. Biggar and John Rea.

While I am looking up old names of a century ago, I notice, and must refer to the professors of the colleges of those days of great men. Of the old Queen's College Rev. Dr. P. Shouldan Henry was President, the staff included men of special eminence – MacDoual, Andrews, Nesbitt, Purser, Everett, Wyville Thompson, and James Thompson. In the Assembly's College the Rev. Dr. Cooke was President of Faculty, and the professors were Killen (afterwards President), Porter (afterwards President of Queen's College), Murphy, Wallace, Glasgow – few, but select. Of the Methodist College, which had just been started, Mr. Wm. Arthur was Principal, Dr. Robinson Scott was Vice-Principal, and Dr. Crooks headmaster.

Of newspapers in 1866, we had the "News-Letter" and "Whig," daily, with weekly editions; the "Banner of Ulster," "Morning News," and "Ulster Observer,", tri-weekly; with the "Weekly Press," the "Ulster General Advertiser,' and the "Mercantile Journal." We have now more pacers, and larger papers and more news; but in many ways the papers of that time did the work, and did it well. We have no "Mercantile Journal" and "Ulster Advertiser" now but we have a "Linen Trade Circular" that serves a good trade purpose. In addition, we have the "Irish News" and a weekly issue, the "Evening Telegraph" and a weekly issue, "The Witness," the "Christian Advocate," the "Ulster Guardian," and the "Irish Churchman," and two trade papers in the grocery interest, the "Irish Grocer" and the "Irish Grocery World." No doubt the papers have much greater circulation now than they had then, and are larger sheets; but there was a compactness and terseness about the news and comments in the olden days that were quite satisfying. It is true that to-day we have columns each day of what takes place in London or New York, from Parliament to the Divorce Court, from New York to San Francisco; or even from the Antipodes, instead of a few lines. But I sometimes think we would do just as well with the few lines. Yet with all we get we are like Oliver Twist, asking for more. I must in justice to our daily papers, both morning and evening, say that I do not think there is a city in the kingdom, having regard to its location and population, that is better served in the matter of newspapers than Belfast is. I have often been surprised on returning from visits to London, and looking back over files of the local papers, to find how complete and up to the last hour was the information provided to Belfast readers. They were kept as much abreast of the news and the times as the people in London.

As an indication of the growth of Belfast, I may mention that in 1866, according to the returns, Belfast contained 25,493 houses, with a population of 143,299; while, according to the latest return now, the number of houses is 83,700 (a large number of houses were pulled down in West Belfast last year), and the population returned at 339,000 odd. But I may say that the returns of the year made it as high as 403,000 odd, and the present difference is accounted for by the number of our brave young citizens estimated to be at the front. In 1866 the return of vessels arriving at the port was 7,422, with a tonnage of 1,372,326, with a surplus revenue of £15,498. The coal imports of that date were 600,732 tons; the imports of deal 6,155 (hundreds), and of timber 23,760 loads. According to the last report, the total vessels cleared was 9,037 – it must be remembered, however, that steam has taken the place of sailing ships, and represents larger cargoes – and the registered tonnage 3,288,605. The coal imports represented 1,320,778 tons, and the exports 14,756 tons; deals, 58,035 loads, and timber, 14,345 loads, with wrought timber 1,101 loads – with 3,200 loads of timber and 4£6 loads of wrought timber exported. The surplus revenue of the port was £32,088 2s 4d.

In the matter of linen in 1866 the number of mills and factories in town was forty-four, and the total now is fifty-two. In the former year the number of spindles was 462,484, and in this year it is 588,582. The number of looms in 1866 was about 6,000, and this year it is 17,164. In 1866 the price of flax averaged 11s 6d per stone, and now it is 22s. It should be remembered, however, that there was an inflation of price on account of the boom in trade after the American war, and that there is now an inflation on account of the present war.

And last we come to our local banks, that have ben such important factors in the prosperity of the community and in the prosperity of their shareholders. We find that the note issue of the local banks in 1866 was £1,633,000, while in the present year it is, according to the last returns, £5,181,283.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 21st July 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Sons of Ulster

No dream of glory lured them forth
    From the fair land they loved so well;
No martial ardour fired their hearts
    And held them by its subtle spell.
Theirs were the arts of peace, content
To labour for earth's betterment.

But when the hour of danger struck
    They heard their, country's call, and laid
Aside the tasks of every day –
    The scholar's gown, the gear of trade.
Heedless of self, they took their stand
For God, for right, for Motherland.

True sons of an Imperial race,
    Proud of their glorious heritage,
Strong with the strength that freedom gives
    To those who honour's conflicts wage,
They feared no foe save treacherous ease
When duty beckoned o'er the seas.

Dauntless they faced the risks of war,
    And quelled not when the order came
To charge across the fatal field
    Through the grim battle's furnace flame.
Heroes they fought and heroes fell,
Unconquered and unconquerable!

Oh, Ulster homes where sorrow dwells,
    A guest that will not be denied,
Admit another inmate, too,
    For on the threshold standeth pride.
Mourn, but be proud, and at grief's shrine
Let laurels with your cypress twine.

Sentinel hills by Belfast town,
    Watch for the dawn of victory's day,
And for the ships that homeward bring
    Conquerors returning from the fray!
Ulster shall greet with glad acclaim
Sons who have won her deathless fame.

And what of those who come no more?
    Under the kindly soil of France
Sleep their bodies by battle worn,
    But they have made the great advance,
Crossing death's frontier, out of strife
Into the realm of endless life.


Poem: The Witness, 21st July 1916.
Image:  Group of the Royal Irish Rifles, 36th Ulster Division, before parading for the trenches. Near Bertincourt, 20 November 1917. © IWM (Q 3175).

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 4



If the Presbyterian Church in Belfast has grown in the last half century, so have the other Evangelical Churches, and the Roman Catholics as well. In 1866 the Protestant Episcopal, or, as it was known in those days, the Established Church, had fifteen churches, including a military chapel in the barracks, of which the Rev. Richard Oulton was tho chaplain. These were St. Anne s (parish), St. George's, Christ, St. Matthew's, St. Mark's, Mariner's, Magdalene Asylum, Trinity, St. Paul's, St. John's, St. Lukes, St. Mary's, and Ballymacarrett (parish). Of the ministers of that day those that bulk largest in my remembrance were the Rev. George Millar, Vicar of Belfast, as he was called; the Rev. William M'Ilwaine, St. George's; Rev. Robert Hannay, Christ; Rev. E. J. Hatrick, Magdalene; Rev. Chas. Beauclerck and Rev. E. N. Hoare, St. Anne's; Rev. I. H. Deacon, Trinity; and Rev. T. W. Roe, Ballymacarrett.

There was one name, however, on all lips at the time, and that was the Rev. Dr. Drew, who had been minister of Christ Church from 1833 till 1860, when he was appointed Dean of Mourne. Dr. Drew was a great Protestant and Orange hero of the time, and his name was historically and poetically connected with Sandy Row for a generation.

Afterwards known as the Rev. Dr. M'Ilwaine, the minister of St. George's occupied a unique position, in the Church and the city, as antiquarian and scholar, writer and preacher, and left behind him a reputation that is still cherished as a memory in his church. The Rev. Chas. Seaver, afterwards Archdeacon of Connor, was in his time one of the most active and energetic preachers in the Church, who took a great part in the political life of Ulster, especially as it affected the question of Disestablishment. He left a fine reputation and a large family, that is still well represented in the Church and in other departments of useful life work. Mr. Hannay, afterwards Rev. Dr. Hannay, was the father of the brilliant son, who, as "Geo. A. Birmingham," has made himself and his country famous in connection with an important department of Irish literature.

Among those who occupied minor positions about that period or a year or two later was the Rev. Geo. A. Chadwick, who was a curate of St. Anne's, with whom during his later years in the city I came much in contact. He came to Belfast with some Dublin journalistic experiences, and was popular as a preacher and a writer. In due course he became Bishop of Derry, from which position he retired some months ago, being succeeded by the Rev. Dr. Peacocke, of whom I had some pleasant associations while I resided in Bangor, where he was then rector.

I find on looking over the list that no fewer than twenty-four churches have been added in that period, and worked with great energy and success. In Bishop D'Arcy and Dean Grierson the Episcopal Church has at its head two men of marked ability, and to both of whom the Church and the Union and the cause of the war and recruiting for the war and interest in it owe much. Among the others I must make special mention of the Rev. Dr. Murphy, of St. George's, whose activities are many, and whose abilities and enthusiasm are great, and the Rev. Dr. Stephenson, of the Magdelene Church, who on the platform as in the pulpit has served faithfully the Church and the various causes, local and Imperial, with which it is identified.

The Methodist body had fourteen churches or congregational agencies about fifty years ago, of which eight were Wesleyan, four Primitive Wesleyan, one New Connexion, and one Methodist. Donegall Square, Eliza Street, University Road, Falls Road, Frederick Street, Old Lodge Road, Agnes Street, and Ballymacarrett were the Wesleyan. Donegall Place, Hope Street, Ballymacarrett, Crumlin Road, and Melbourne Street the Primitive; and York Street, known as Salem, and which is now the headquarters of the North Belfast Mission, of which the Rev. Wm. Maguire is the zealous and energetic head. There were several ministers of note connected with the body in that time of whom I remember — the Rev. Wm. Arthur, the first head of the Methodist College; the Rev. J. W. M'Kay, who succeeded Sir Arthur in that position; Dr. Appleby, Wesley Guard, J. J. Landers, John Olliver, Geo. Alley, and W. H. Quarry.

To the congregations or organisations of the body in that time eighteen have been added, the most notable of which are the Carlisle Memorial Church, with its fine schools, once an architectural ornament and a centre of religious activity, and of which the Rev. R. Lee Cole has been the minister for some years. I regret to learn that Mr. Cole is now leaving Belfast for another sphere of duty, as he is an able and popular preacher and lecturer, a fine gentleman, and a minister whose special discourses on the war and its moral have been both interesting and informative. The Grosvenor Hall organisation is an important feature of the Methodist life of the city, of which the Rev. R. M. Ker is the director, a man of great energy and enthusiasm, who has exercised great influence in connection with, the many activities of the hall.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church, in the early time under review, had two congregations, over one of which the Rev. J. A. Chancellor, afterwards D.D., was the minister; a man of ability and power in his day and generation. The body now has five congregations in the city. The Congregational body, or Independents as they were then termed, had in 1866 only two congregations, and the Baptists one. The former have now eight churches and the Baptists seven. The only notable man I remember in connection with either of these bodies was the Rev. John White, minister of Donegall Street Independent Church, who was a man of great individuality and power, and an effective force in the evangelistic life of the city.

The Unitarians had three churches in 1866, and have five now. The prominent minister of the body was the Rev. John Scott Porter, who was a man of high scholarship and culture, who represented what was best in the Arianism of his time. The Roman Catholics had five places of worship in 1866, and now they have eighteen. I have no memory of any of the clergy of that Church at that time save the Bishop, Rev. Dr. Dorrian, who was regarded as representing the advance towards Ultramontanism that had set in under Cardinal Cullen, in that respect differing much from his predecessor, the Rev. Dr. Denvir, who represented the pre-Cullen class of bishops and church.

By the way, I have overlooked the United Presbyterian Church, of which the Rev. Dr. Bryce was minister. He was a brilliant member of a brilliant family, and has since earned the highest distinction in educational and public life. Dr. Bryce served the congregation in addition to discharging the duties of principal of the Belfast Academy, then conducted in Academy Street. And it is not too much to say that whatever impression Dr. Bryce may have made in the pulpit, he left a lasting impression on the educational life of the city. Many men who afterwards gained distinction received their education from him, one of the greatest of them being Lord Cairns, who crowned a brilliant legal and political career in England as Lord Chancellor.

Though in the 'sixties Belfast may have fallen somewhat from the high literary position it occupied in the previous century and in the early period of the last, it had the Belfast Athenaeum, the Linen Hall Library, and a People's Reading-room in Donegall Street and the libraries of the Queen's and Assembly's Colleges to represent its literary interest; the Natural History and Philosophical Society and the Naturalists' Field Club, to represent its scientific side; the Anacreontic and Classical Harmonists, to represent its musical; while it had the Royal Academical Institution, the Methodist College, and the Belfast Academy, with St. Malachy's Diocesan Seminary, to provide for its Intermediate education. The Queen's University and the General Assembly's College then, as now, represented the higher education. There was then a Young Men's Christian Association, which met in an upper room over what is now Messrs. Anderson & M'Auley's large emporium, but it was then a mere babe compared with the full-orbed and fully-equipped organisation in Wellington Place that now bears its name. Mr. W. S. Mollan, who is still amongst us, was the secretary of that association at the time I first remember. In looking over the list of committee in an old directory of that date, I find the name of Robert Anderson, in whom I can find little difficulty in recognising the present Sir Robert Anderson, who remains in his old age a pillar of the institution with which he was identified in his youth.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 14th July 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.