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.

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