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.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 3



Last week I took note of the ministers of Belfast as I remember them fifty years ago and for some years afterwards. I referred to the increase of ministers and congregations in the meantime, but I did not refer to the changes or transformations of churches in the interval. I need not say that if a Belfast Presbyterian returned from the States and visited his old church he would not recognise it so far as its internal arrangements are concerned. Perhaps the only congregation that has maintained its old architectural characteristics is Rosemary Street, which is as it was of yore, only brightened and fashioned to meet the ravages of time. May Street, with its new organ, new pews, and new windows would be unrecognisable by a May Street man of fifty years ago.

But the visitor of the States would look in vain for Alfred Street, Linenhall Street, Fisherwick Place, Donegall Street, or Great George's Street. He would find the Alfred Street building a set of offices; the old Linenhall Street a seat of the linen industry; Fisherwick Place occupied by the Assembly Hall; old Donegall Street by shops and offices, and Great George's Street by a foundry. What was Alfred Street Congregation in the days of the Rev. Geo. Shaw is now known as Fitzroy Avenue, and has made a new history under that name by the pulpit ministrations of the Rev. W. Colquhoun and its liberality, especially to missions. The Fisherwick Place of old now occupies a commanding position in more senses than one on the Malone Road. In the Rev. Chas. Davey it has a minister who sustains the traditions of an able and earnest pulpit, and in all that makes for Presbyterianism, for loyalty, and liberality to Church. Fisherwick is no unworthy successor of Fisherwick Place.

If the shade wanted to find some reminiscence of old Donegall Street he would have to wander up to Cliftonville, where he would find the Rev. A. F. Moody, an able preacher and pastor, and learn that the Rev. Dr. Magill, immediate successor of the Rev. Isaac Nelson, is still alive, and senior minister of the congregation. It might be that he would find the pulpit ministrations of 1916 somewhat different from those of 1866; but he would find a much larger congregation and a more living and evangelistic spirit prevailing. The shade from Great George's Street might find it difficult to recognise his old congregation in the Macrory Memorial Church in Duncairn Gardens, and might find the Rev. Mr. Northey less humorous and eccentric than Mr. Toye; but he would find a congregation with life and spirit and earnestness, of which the greatest lover of Great George's Street or the Church would have no reason to be ashamed.

In this connection it may not be out of place to recall an incident in which two of the ministers of the earlier period of this record are concerned -- though it occurred about three or four years after 1866. I was present at a visitation in Donegall Street Church when the Rev. Isaac Nelson was its minister. I can well remember that Mr. Nelson's replies to the questions were more cynical and sarcastic than conventional. After the prescribed questions in the Code had been answered a la Nelson, the Rev. Geo. Shaw asked Mr. Nelson if he had a lease for the church. He said he had, but it would expire in a few years. "Have you made arrangements for a renewal?" asked Mr. Shaw. "No," replied Mr. Nelson. "What do you intend to do?" was Mr. Shaw's next query. "Oh," replied Mr. Nelson, "we mean to sell our church to a linen company, and build another in the suburbs." (At that time the old Alfred Street building was in possession of a linen company, and Fitzroy Avenue had been built in the then suburbs. Since that time the site of Donegall Street has passed into commercial hands as well.) But let me say this in justice to Mr. Nelson, that the Nelson Memorial Church, on the Shankill Road, is a proof that whatever may have been his characteristics as a cynic, he did not forget on his death the church of his fathers.

In my last I referred, as far as space and necessity would admit, to the churches and ministers of fifty years ago. Since that a formidable list of congregations and ministers has bean added to the Belfast Presbytery, and as part of my object is to deal not only with the past, but the present, I feel bound to give a list of the additions that have been made since. I follow no order of date or circumstances, but take them at random from the list. We have Malone, which is a new church, though not a new congregation, but a continuation of that of which the late Rev. Joseph Mackenzie was minister. The Rev. A. J. Wilson, now D.D., was the successor of Mr. Mackenzie, and is now senior minister, with Rev. Jas. Haire as his able assistant; Mountpottinger, whose first minister was my old journalistic friend, the Rev. David Hunter, followed by Rev. Mr. M'Caughan, and with the Rev. Robert Duff as their eloquent successor; Fortwilliam, with the Rev. James Maconaghie, D.D., as its first, and now senior minister, and the Rev. A. Lyle Harrison, son of my old friend of Castlebellingham as assistant and successor; the Cooke Centenary, with the Rev. Dr. John Macmillan, eloquent as preacher and speaker and brilliant and enthusiastic as temperance advocate; St. Enoch's, with its tradition of Dr. Hanna and the Rev. Charles Davey, and now represented by the Rev. John Pollock, a man of power in the pulpit and on the platform; Agnes Street, with the Rev. Samuel M'Comb as its first pastor, and now ministered to by the Rev. W. J. Baird, who in so much interested in Evangelical and religious work of the Church and the city; Windsor Church, in which, the late Rev. Mr. Ferris ministered so successfully for many years, and in which the Rev. Dr. John Irwin sustains a high reputation both for himself and his congregation by the brilliancy of his pulpit ministrations and the liberality and loyalty of his people.

Then there is the congregation connected with the Shankill Road Mission, of which the Rev. Dr. Henry Montgomery is the head; a man as unique as his work, a man of immense faith and of limitless works; Dundela, to which Professor Heron gave some years of cultured preaching, and where the Rev. James Hunter now sustains the high character for Evangelical work, carried on with vigour, earnestness, and success; Westbourne, where the Rev. W. Witherow combines great activity with Evangelical earnestness, and is doing a great work for the religious and educational life of the district; Newington, of which the late Rev. John Waddell was the first minister, devoted, earnest, Evangelical, and in which the Rev. T. M. Johnstone sustains a high reputation as the living and active minister of a living and active church; Broadway, where the Rev. J. W. Gibson has proved a pillar of sound Presbyterianism, and sound Unionist principles, in the very heart of the Falls Road district; the Megain Memorial, where the Rev. James M'Connell ministers with great energy, devotion, and success; and the M'Quiston Memorial Church, where the Rev. D. D. Boyle has taken up and worthily wears the mantle that fell from the shoulders of my old friend, the Rev. T. R. Ballantine, who has given to South Africa what proved so valuable in Mountpottinger.

But I find I am once more carried away by my feelings and my pen, and I must have some regard for space, and content myself with mentioning the Crumlin Road, with the Rev. D. K. Mitchell as its veteran standard-bearer; Donegall Pass, with the Rev. Jas. Dewar, thoughtful and cultured; Donegall Road, with the Rev. J. M. M'Ilrath, original, forceful, faithful; Castleton, where the Rev. James Knowles, a friend of my earlier years, and an earnest and practical preacher, has been succeeded by the Rev. A. P. Black; Whitehouse, with the Rev. Robert Barron, D.D., as its earnest and faithful minister; Woodvale, where the Rev. John Milliken carries on a faithful ministry; Bethany (Agnes Street), a fine new church, of which the Rev. Samuel Simms is the earnest minister; Fountainville, where my old friend, the Rev. Hans Woods, ministered for many years, and where the Rev. A. Gallagher is an able and popular minister; Cregagh, with the Rev. D. Stewart, at once preacher and historian; Oldpark, with the Rev. Wm. M'Coach, an old Derryman, as its popular minister; Bloomfield, with the Rev. Campbell M. Young, a forceful and earnest preacher; the Nelson Memorial, with the Rev. W. G. Smyth as excellent minister and active worker; and Ravenhill, Ulsterville, Strand (Sydenham), and Ormiston, of which the Revs. Messrs. Ross, Rodgers, Byers, and Tolland are the respective ministers, of all of whom report speaks well.

I should mention that several of these new churches were the outcome of the work of the church extension scheme set on foot over a quarter of a century ago, and which did much for the extension of Presbyterianism in the city.

Let me add here by way of appendix what I had written as a prefix, and overlooked last week.

If a kindly fate brought me to Belfast, a kindlier fate associated, or rather re-associated, me with Presbyterianism, whose interests in my humble way I have done my best to serve. From the "Derry Standard," with its staunch Presbyterianism, and from Dr. James M'Knight, as Editor, whose memory and worth deserved more recognition than it received, both from his qualities as a scholar and journalist and his services to Ulster Tenant Right and Ulster Presbyterianism, to the "Banner of Ulster," was but a step. And my youthful interest was not lessened by the fact that in the palmier days of that journal Dr. M'Knight had been its Editor in days when Editors were content to write for the newspapers, and not to run the universe. It was here I first met the late and great Dr. M'Cosh, then professor in the Queen's College. The fact was recalled to my mind at the time of writing by reading a tribute paid to his great work in Princeton in an American magazine by the head of another American university. Dr. M'Cosh took a great interest in the "Banner," and was frequently in the office, advising, pushing, inspiring.

He was a man of fine and strong bodily presence, and his speech was far from contemptible. There was an earnestness, an intensity of thought, a persuasiveness, a pervasiveness about his personality that left its mark upon the college and its students at a time when it had a smaller band of professors and students than it has now, but when brilliancy was the stamp of almost every one of the former and of many of the latter, as their after careers proved. It was there, too, I first made the acquaintance of one of the latter, Mr. Huston Dodd, now known to the Bench and to all the country as the Hon. Judge Dodd.

I will not say that "The Witness" arose out of the ashes of the "Banner;" but it arose out of a magazine printed and published in the office, and styled "The Evangelical Witness." This was edited by the Rev. John Hall, then of Rutland Square, Dublin, but afterwards known to all the world as Dr. John Hall, of Fifth Avenue Church, New York. Dr. Hall, like Dr. M'Cosh, was built on a large mould, and, like him, was an impressive and persuasive personality; but he gave to the pulpit and practical religion what Dr. M'Cosh gave to the Queen's College and philosophy. While both were friendly and kind to me, I must admit that I was able to read with interest, and, I hope, profit, Dr. Hall's writings, but I am ashamed to confess that I was never able to read Dr. M'Cosh's with either. He soared to heights of philosophy I could not reach, and to depths that I could not plumb.

I may here say, while I am in reminiscent and historical mood, that "The Witness" owes its origin to the present President of the Queen's College, the Rev. Dr. Hamilton, who presided with great faithfulness and fairness over its fortunes till he was called to a larger sphere of usefulness and to greater dignity than either the pulpit or the Press could offer. He has been a kind friend of "The Witness" and of myself since, and no one rejoices more than I do at the able manner in which he has sustained the new dignity that has been his.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 7th July 1916.

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