Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1917) part 41



If the riots of ’86 were a revelation of savagery and brutality on the part of the people and, I will add, of many of the police, the Riots Commission that inquired into them was a revelation of partiality and whitewashing of one section of the population on the part of the majority of the Commission. If the riots had, as I fear they had, both a religious and a political basis, the Commission had a religious and political bias. The riots had broken out while Mr. Gladstone was in office and Mr. Morley was Chief Secretary for Ireland, and were chiefly the outcome of their policy. But they continued at intervals during the general election that followed his defeat, and after Lord Salisbury had come into office, with Sir Michael Hicks Beach as his Irish Secretary, and the Government had trouble in the South as well as in Belfast. In fact, moonlighting and murder were the order of the night and day. But Mr. Sexton was then member for West Belfast, and he kept hammering away at Belfast as if it were the one black spot in Ireland, and his clamouring resulted in the appointment of a Commission, the Government of that day, as, indeed, all Governments since, finding it safer to placate the Nationalists and silence their clamourings by yielding to them. The Commission at first consisted of Mr. Justice Day, an Irish Roman Catholic Judge, and Mr. Richard Adams, an Irish Roman Catholic barrister. Nationalist, and ex-leader-writer for the “Freeman’s Journal” at a time when it represented something of party and power in the country, and a couple of cyphers. I use the word cyphers not in any disrespect to themselves, but in regard to their comparative helplessness in a legal inquiry of which these legal gentlemen figured. They were General Bulwer and Mr. F. Le Poer Trench, Q.C. After a time Mr. M‘Hardy, Chief Constable of Lancashire, who had police experience in that county, and a character for capacity and impartiality, was added to the Commission. From the composition of the Commission, or rather from the character of its head and its right hand, the Protestants had little hope of justice or fair play from it, but they gave a sigh of relief when they heard that one strong and independent man had been appointed upon it. And I may just say that the one strong, independent mail refused to sign the report of the other Commissioners and issued an independent one of his own. But of that anon. The secretary of the Commission was a Roman Catholic barrister from the Munster Circuit.

The Commission commenced its sittings on 4th October. Its members had attended some time before, but as rioting was still going on it was thought advisable to postpone the inquiry till the restoration of peace. There was a large Bar. Mr. James H. Campbell, the present Lord Chief Justice, then without silk, and Dr. Hans M'Mordie appeared for the Loyalist Defence Association; Mr. James Orr, Q.C., the present Co. Court Judge of Down, for the Town Council; Mr. T. L. O’Shaughnessy and Mr. J. B. M’Hugh for the Nationalists; Mr. Isaac Weir, Q.C., afterwards County Court Judge, for the Orange Institution; Mr. J. J. Shaw for an independent  local ratepayer (advised by Mr. J. C. White). I should mention that the Nationalists, though Mr. Sexton, member for West Belfast, who was much in evidence at this time, made a feint of pretesting against Mr. Justice Day as the head of the Commission. And of this I am sure, that if the Nationalists had any doubts about the Judge;s partiality towards and consideration for the Nationalists, or, at any rate, the Roman Catholics, they were removed before the days of the Commission were far spent. All that was known of Mr. Justice Day was that he was a strong Judge and a strong Roman Catholic; and if the object of a strong Judge was to get his own way, and the duty of a Roman Catholic to do the best fior his Church, Mr. Justice Day was a very strong Judge indeed. The other legal Commissioner wa Mr. Richard Adams, whom I knew intimatley in my Dublin days, and who was one of the best humorists that Ireland produced. He had been a leader writer for the “Freeman,” and was brilliant at that; but his love of humour and jest was even greater than his love of law or learning, though he had high claims to both. I am sure his presence on this Commission was one of the greatest jokes of his life, and no man enjoyed the humour of it better than he. Though I doubt if he held any strong convictions on politics or anything else, he knew better than most men how to play the game of politics, and he played it well. I often smiled at the twinkle of his eye as he relieved himself of some grave comment of humorous joke during the proceedings/ If Mr. Justice Day was a devotee, Mr. Adams was anything but that; and I am sure he must often have smiled at his superior’s religious gravity. But he knew well how to play up him, and he did. The other members of Commission were Protestants; but they were not Protestants after the assertive and aggressive manner of the chief, and did not use Protestant spectacles as often as he used Roman Catholic spectacles.

When the Commission opened, he laid down the rule that the Commission, would recognise no parties or individuals before them. When the various counsel put in a claim to be heard, including Mr. O’Shaughnessy, who said he represented the Roman Catholic bishop, which he, perhaps thought would have a mollifying effect, the President gave them very short shrift; and at the end of a short argument they all retired save Mr. Weir, who represented the police. This action of the President created dissatisfaction on all sides, and strong representations were made to the Chief Secretary, with the result that in a few days the counsel were allowed to appear, but were received anything but graciously by the President, at any rate so far as they represented the Protestants.

The inquiry last nearly three weeks, and over one hundred witnesses were examined, including police officers and men, military officers, magistrates — stipendiary and local, the Mayor (Sir E. J. Harland), and the Town Clerk (Mr. Samuel Black), and all sorts of men; and some who were victims of attack, and some who were responsible for attacks — but, of course, in the execution of their duty. It transpired during the inquiry that three or four hundred policemen and a large number of soldiers and civilians were injured and several deaths, and that the value of property destroyed was about £290,000. It transpired certainly that there was a limitless destroying of property; that stoning and looting, rioting and shooting were general, and in all cases reckless by the people, and in many cases reckless by the police. It transpired that there was a great want of leadership among the authorities, and that the Resident Magistrates blamed the local magistrates, and the local magistrates blamed the Resident Magistrates. But it is only fair to say that so far as the R.M.'s were concerned, most of the criticism was directed against Colonel Forbes, the Protestant magistrate, and not Mr. M'Carthy, the Resident Magistrate. Though Colonel Forbes was offensive in his evidence with regard both to magistrates and Protestant clergymen, he was specially so in regard to the Rev. Hugh Hanna; but in justice to the clergyman I must say he gave as good as he got. Not a little of the evidence was directed against Dr. Hanna and Dr. Kane, and some of the police witnesses even went so far as to make insinuations against the Rev. Dr. Johnston, who had interfered in the interest of peace. To anyone who remembers Dr. Johnston the baselessness of such an insinuation is obvious; but I only mention it to show the trend of some of the official evidence at the time. There were three Protestant, or, as they were termed, Orange leaders who came in for much criticism. These were the Rev. Dr. Hanna, the Rev. Dr. Kane, and Mr. Cobain, M.P. As regards the last named, I will only say that I thought very little either of his character or judgment at the time, and much less since, and I had no sympathy at the time with much that he said and did. With regard to Dr. Hanna and Dr. Kane, they belonged to the militant school of ecclesiastics — Sir Andrew Reid, the Inspector-General, or some one at the time, represented Dr. Hanna as a combination of Julius Caesar and the Apostle Paul — and it is quite possible they may not on all points have exhibited Christian meekness or a disposition to turn the other cheek on account of the treatment they had seen meted out to Protestants by many of the police. As I indicated previously, I did not adopt the cry of “Morley’s murderers” as applicable to the police, or adopt the suggestion that they had been sent from the South on Mr Morley’s order to shoot down the Protestants of Belfast. I had no doubt personally at the time that such a statement was both improbable and untrue, and did not need the official denial of Sir Andrew Reid, the Inspector-General, who, however, made it at the inquiry to confirm my belief. But, as a matter of fact, and no doubt of necessity, a good many Southern police were sent into Belfast. And when they came, they did not hesitate to shoot. In his evidence at the Commission the Rev. Dr. Johnston swore that he had seen half a dozen of them, who had been doing considerable sniping before, keep on firing along a street and at houses after everyone had fled from the street.

My own idea of their action, founded on my Southern experience of the opinion that in my time there prevailed in the South about the Orangemen of the North and among the classes from which police would have been selected. The popular idea then was that the Orangemen of the North were huge giants, who went up and down stoning or bludgeoning every Roman Catholic that came into their path. And when these sons of the South got to Belfast, and the chance of giving the Orangemen something in return, they did not hesitate to make the beet of the opportunity. And much of it may have been due to panic as well as the lack of co-ordination that existed among the authorities, for at times, from all I heard before and from all I heard at the inquiry, it was difficult to know with whom the authority rested. While I believe there was a little of both considerations I have mentioned as influencing individuals or squads, I did not, and could not, believe that their action was as bad as it was represented at the time, and that if there was panic on the part of some police, there was also panic on the part of some of the people. I have had intimate association with the police North and South for nearly half a century, and whether from the North or South I am bound to confess that they have, in the main, done their duty to Crown and country with great courage and impartiality, and under great stress and difficulty and danger. And while, perhaps, I could not agree with all the official white-washing they received from the Commission, I am confident that in the general they may not have acted as outrageously as the Protestants at the time thought. But I would be a traitor to truth if I did not say that many of them acted rudely and roughly, and even outrageously. The feeling against them, as was proved at the inquiry, was very strong; and I have no doubt that that feeling did much to prolong the riots and add to the bitterness on the part of the populace as well as the police. There was one striking incident of this. At one time the feeling on the Shankill Road was almost uncontrollable, and it was against the police and not against the military, or, to be more strictly accurate, against the Southern police; and the Rev. Dr. Johnston made an earnest authorities to withdraw the police from the road altogether. This was done for several days, and the military were left in charge and I must admit that, though the riots did not end, the fury of them lessened far the time.

The Commissioners’ report was published in January of ’87 — the Commission sat in October, ’86. It created a good deal of stir and a good deal of interest and a good deal of ridicule. When the great Dr. Johnson was replying in the House of Commons he said he took care that the Whig dogs would not have the best of it. The Commission, in their report, took care that the Protestant dogs would not have the best of it. At any rate that is the impression I retain of it. The Nationalists and their priests were largely represented as innocent and pacific lambs, and the Protestants, lay and clerical, as something, quite different. One of the pointed references is that while twenty-eight Roman Catholic public-houses were wrecked, only two Protestant public-houses were wrecked, by way of suggesting the moderation of the Roman Catholic rioters as compared with the Protestants. But as a matter of fact, I question if there were twenty-eight public-houses in the entire area or even in the entire area owned by Protestants, so that the small number of such houses wrecked did not suggest a sparing of Protestant by Roman Catholic and a systematic attack of Roman Catholics by Protestants. And I suspect love of loot and liquor had much to do with the destruction of these houses. The Commissioners made many suggestions as to the police and the magistrates; but I cannot say how many of them were carried out. So far as the constabulary are concerned, they are still under a Commissioner, but there has been no conflict worthy the name between them and the public since. There was a time when many of us thought the police might have done more than they did at the early stage of the labour troubles; but at that time politics came in, and the the police had to act under orders. Neither is there any change in the magistracy. We have still two Resident Magistrates, and any number of borough magistrates; in fact, they seem almost to be without limit. It was alleged by Colonel Forbes during the Commission that the magistrates attended cases of party, and acted in the interest of the party, with a special shot at the Protestant magistrates. I do not know how far that has changed since. But I have heard again and again that whether magistrates attend now in the interests of party they sometimes attend in the interests of publicans, so that it is almost as difficult for the police to get convictions against a publican as it would be to get the National Anthem sung at a Nationalist meeting. However, for my part I am done with ’86 and its riots, and hope done with rioting for ever so far as Belfast is concerned. Its one object now is to get on with the war and work for the war, and its object in the past has been to get on with industry and unity in the only sense in which both are possible. I only recall these memories as a matter of history, and in one respect a painful history, but one suggestiveness of a partisanship which, under certain auspices, has never changed.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 20th April 1917.

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

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1917) part 40



My mind and my inquiries are still associated with 1886. I have now to refer to one of the darkest of these, and I do so with considerable diffidence and pain. But I feel that it would be like a performance of “Hamlet” with the Prince’s part out if I did not allude to the riots of that year. It is not to revive unpleasant associations, but to complete historic memories that I do so. The events left painful impressions on all who had regard for the good name and character of the city, and made very discreditable reading both in fact and comments in the Press of the day. “Rioting in Belfast” was a regular headline in the English Press for weeks, with varying and exciting sub-headings, which filled us with shame. The reason this feature remains strongly with me is that not for my sins, but for my health, I spent some weeks in England at the time, and had to hide my head for shame morning after morning as the other guests at the same health establishment discussed and bitterly commented on the news. There was some rioting in June, but this had come to an end before I left; and it was with amazement I heard and read of the renewed outbreaks. I read of wreckings and shootings, of murders and lootings. I read in one set of papers about Shankill Road rowdies and ruffians; and in another of the Falls Road rowdies and ruffians; and according to the paper I read it was one or other of these that caused all the trouble. And I well remember on the morning of my return, that a deputation of the local authorities waited on me appealing to me not to follow some journals and some citizens in the cry of “Morley’s murderers,” but to endeavour to calm the wild spirit that was abroad.

I may say, however, that neither the able deputy who represented me in my absence or myself ever adopted the phrase “Morley’s murderers” — it was the term applied by many Protestants to the Southern police, who had been brought into the city in large numbers, Mr. Morley being then Chief Secretary — though neither he nor I could regard with equanimity all we heard and read about the excesses, at any rate alleged, regarding the constabulary.

These riots formed the subject of inquiry I before a Royal Commission, which dealt with more or less — in some cases I could not at that time help thinking less — impartiality the whole business. But to begin at the beginning, I find the following account of the beginning of the riots in “Irving’s Annals of the Time,” under date June 4, 1886: — “A fatal riot occurs in Belfast between about 2,000 shipwrights and a body of navvies, the latter of whom are employed at the Alexandra Dock. The occurrence was brought about by a dispute two days since, in the course of which one of the navvies was wounded with a spade, the result being that his assailants, who were shipwrights, were dismissed from their employment. Their dismissal of their fellow-workmen exasperated the shipwrights, and at dinner hour yesterday they marched in a body to the dock, and fell upon the navvies with bludgeons and iron bars, wounding several of them severely, and chasing a number of them into the water, one young man being drowned.” As this is an outside, and, I presume, impartial record, I reproduce it, merely saying that in a few days all was quiet at the docks and in the Queen’s Island. I may here remark that Sir Edward Harland, who was Mayor at the time, in his evidence at the Commission said he had threatened to close the yard if there was any more disturbance or interference with workers; and that, in his opinion, ended the trouble at the dock. But the area of trouble extended to other areas, and following the funeral of the Roman Catholic boy who was drowned in the Alexandra Dock attack. There were attacks and counter-attacks — we are now familiar with this phrase in more extended warfare — spreading through all the streets between the Falls and the Shankill Roads. These roads and the intervening streets were the scenes of wrecking and looting and shooting and bludgeoning that for the time kept a great part of the city in a state of terror. This continued for several days, and, I might say, nights; and then came a lull, broken only by trials of prisoners arrested by the police, inquests on persons who had been killed, and in one case at any rate a charge of wilful murder against some member of the Royal Irish Constabulary unknown.

Then came the Twelfth of July, and one of the largest Orange processions for many years. It was stated at the time that 40,000 or 50,000 took part in the march through the city. The Rev. R. R. Kane, Grand Master of the Orangemen, headed the procession. He was a man of note in his day, of great physical stature and great physical energy, and by no means a man who would turn his cheek to the smiter. Personally he was most amiable; but when the fire of strong feeling lit up his eye and his pride as an Orangeman and a Protestant was roused there was no idea of halting or half measures with him. However, the day passed over in peace, and it was noticeable that in his speech the Grand Master showered eulogies on Lord Hartington and Mr. Bright, which was probably the first time he had said a good or kind word about Liberals in his life. The day following, however, a change came over the spirit of the local dream. An Orange drumming party leaving Grosvenor Street to take part in the opening of an Orange Hall was stoned by the Roman Catholics, and the Protestants, as the reports of the “Echo” said at the time, retorted in kind. Then we had some days more, during which, among others, a private soldier was shot. And again a lull. But in August, after the break-up of a Sunday-School party in connection with St. Enoch’s Church, (the Rev. Dr. Hanna), there was some house-wrecking and then stones and fury for several days. Here is the way in which the reporter of the “Echo,” who was something of a humorist, commences his notes of one day’s proceedings:— “In town to-day heaps of stones in various parts of the well-known districts classified as disturbed testify to the valour and right of the men who engage in stone-throwing as a pleasant recreation. We have surfeit of this class of amusement, however, and so have the police, and the sooner an end is put to this disgraceful sport the better. Two companies of the ‘Black Watch’ — a Highland regiment that has made for itself a reputation and a name — arrived in Belfast this afternoon. They were heartily received as they passed through the streets,” But the rioting went on without intermission till the end of the month, when the feeling calmed down, and triais of rioters, with a Royal Commission, were the only things that occupied the newspapers of the day.

I will not trouble my readers or myself to detail the amount of damage done to property and to life and limb during the weeks that the riots continued. Bad as the loss in all these respects, the feeling created in regard to the Royal Irish Constabulary was, if possible, worse. Mr. John Morley was Chief Secretary at the time, and he was credited with having made a statement previous to this that the Royal Irish Constabulary would soon put down Belfast opposition to Home Rule. At the outbreak of the riots a force of police, chiefly from the South and West, were imported into Belfast; and it was alleged by the Protestants of the class affected that they did not spare their truncheons or their firearms against the Protestants. I cannot offer an opinion on that point; but I will say that on my return to Belfast allegations of their barbarity met me at every step, and from the class of men far removed from association with Orangemen or the Shankill Road so far as that represented the fighting element in the body. Mr. Morley denied the charge that he had sent down Southern policemen to shoot Belfast Protestants, which was the crude way in which it was popularly expressed. But certainly the presence of these police did not smooth matters down at the time, and especially on the Shankill Road. In fact, for several days the police were kept off the Shankill Road, the military doing all the work, and to judge from their looks and words did not relish doing what they termed police duty. I may say that the Rev. Dr. Hanna and the Rev. Dr. Kane did not spare the police, and attributed the continuation of the riots to their presence and action and the feeling they provoked. Of course, both gentlemen were called firebrands by the authorities, and not the least by Colonel Forbes, the Resident Magistrate, whom Dr. Hanna afterwards refused to meet even officially on account of some things that he had said. I have no desire to discuss these matters at this time of the day; but I may say this, that I suspect there were clergymen on the other side who did as much as they did to fan the popular flame, if it needed fanning. But they did not do it so openly. Their case then, as now, is that all the Roman Catholics are harmless, innocent lambs, who are always the victims, and act in self-defence and in the way of reprisals. They were like the Germans. They laid in a fine stock of stones to prepare for eventualities, and then pleaded that it was the Protestants who provoked them. We were told that it was the Protestants who provoked the riots originally, and on account of Home Rule. But no account was taken of the provocation of the navvies at the docks by telling the Protestants that when they had Home Rule there would be no work for the Protestants. It is true the Protestants should not have minded that. But then Protestants cannot conceal their feelings and reserve their wrath so that they may appear to be provoked and net provokers, as their opponents can do. Take an example. The year before the war, on the eve of the Twelfth of July, I was myself asked a Roman Catholic in a shop where I was making a purchase if I was going to the demonstration on the “Twelfth.” I said I was not sure. I was told that I should go, as it was likely it would be the last chance I would have. I need not say this did not irritate or aggravate me. I merely smiled. But if such a suggestion, with its natural inference, were made to the men, say, on the Queen's Island, I am not sure that it would have made them less determined that it would not be the last.

I hope to refer to the Commission of Inquiry into the riots and its composition and report next week.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 13th April 1917.

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

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Britain's Foes

Our homes in these Western Islands, the land of the brave and the free,
Are encompassed by mountains and rivers, and valleys delightful to see.
We rise to our toil in the morning, and work while the children play;
In safety we lie down and slumber when night brings the close of the day.

We love the dear land of our childhood, where our forefathers suffered and bled,
We cherish the freedom they purchased, and honour the glorified dead.
See the sweet-smelling hedgerows in blossom, the forest when summer is nigh;
The fields of the ripening harvest, or the leaves as in autumn they die.

Visit the lakes of England, the valleys and mountains of Wales,
The moors and the lochs of Scotland, or Ireland’s glens and dales;
Hear the wildbirds in the the morning as with joy they break forth into song,
Then you’ll know why we love our dear homeland, why we love it so deep and so strong.

To protect and defend our possessions our gallant forefathers have fought,
And freedom from foreign invasion our fleets on the Ocean have brought.
We have prospered beyond expectation, like bee-hives bur cities are filled;
We opened our doors to all nations, tho’ many industries were killed.

Did they all love and value this freedom, and in midst of us loyally live?
No! the Germans were plotting against us, they had nothing but hatred to give.
Their spies were all over these islands, in our army, our workshops, and fleets;
In positions of trust and of power, ay, and some of them played on our streets.

They envied Old England her glory, and her Colonies over the seas,
“Britannia, the pride of the ocean,” they hoped to bring down on her knees.
Yet a foe more aggressive and cruel is stalking through Britain to-day,
Whom we must endeavour to shackle, and deprive of his powerful sway.

This, foe, ever lusting for conquest, who desires to make you his slave,
Is the fiend from the darkest of regions, sending noble men down to the grave.
Rise up in your might and defeat him, by sacrifice you will succeed;
King George set a noble example, and expects you to follow his lead.

This enemy enters your dwelling as a friend, though a foe in disguise,
And many a home that was happy he destroyed with his treacherous lies.
To eject him for ever from Britain unite in your strength one and all,
And fight in a fight to a finish, against this foe, King Alcohol.

William Maxwell, Londonderry. 20th March, 1917.

Poem: The Witness, 30th March 1917.
Image: Bar scene by Norman Cornish

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Templepatrick Graveyard, Donaghadee, Co. Down

Last year I made a little visit to Templepatrick graveyard which is on the seaward side of the road from Donaghadee to Millisle. Although referred to as Templepatrick it is actually situated in the adjoining townland of Miller Hill.

Map showing Miller Hill townland from c19th on Ordnance Survey Ireland.

There appears to be no known history of the site and all traces of a church there have disappeared although a map of the area in Taylor & Skinners Maps of Ireland, 1777, shows church ruins there. There was reputedly a well on the seaward side of the graveyard known as St. Patrick's well and a tradition that St. Patrick once landed here. There is also a small watch-house in the centre of the graveyard.

From Taylor & Skinners Maps of Ireland, 1777
The graveyard is very overgrown and the graves are tightly packed but most of the headstones are of local slate and are still fairly legible.

Most of the inscriptions prior to 1800 were transcribed and published in the Journal for the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland, starting in Vol. VIII, page. 518. I have transcribed these and they can be found on my website here. There are 190 inscriptions recorded, the oldest date of death recorded is 1678.

A number of photographs I took can be found on my Facebook page.

Later surveys have been done and one can be found online here.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1816-1917) part 39



“The earth moves, nevertheless,” Galileo reported to have said after he had compulsorily declared to the Vatican authorities that it did not. The world has moved fast and far since 1886, and in some respects, too, has the most perturbing portion of it, which is Ireland. In some respects the change has been for the better and in some for the worse. We had rumours of war then in various parts of the world, but we have actual war now, the most horrible the earth has seen. We had political crimes in Ireland and threatening of more crimes, and we have the same to-day. We had talk about the importance of settling the Irish question on Home Rule lines, and we have the same to-day. We were told that if the Government did not concede Home Rule the United States might be called in to redress the injustice, until some one at the time asked whether Great Britain or the United States should have the deciding voice in the government of Ireland. We knew at that time that Mr. Parnell had his hand on the safety valve of Irish crime, and could open and shut it at his will. We cannot say whose hand is on the safety valve to-day, but we know from Mr. Dillon that if the Government do not settle the question now there will be such an opening of the valve as will astonish, if it does not overwhelm, the kingdom and the Empire. We were told in 1886 that, unless Home Rule was granted, and the machinations and obstruction of the Nationalist members removed, it would be impossible to carry on the Government, and we are told to-day that unless something of the same kind is done it will be impossible to carry on the Government or the war.

The common feature of both times and the question is that the merits of the question itself, the justice, fairness, or wisdom of the demand, played, and is playing, a very
small part. Mr. Gladstone favoured Home Rule because the Irish Nationalists who had come into the House in extended and in excessive numbers would not let him carry on the Government, and hot because it was either right or just to grant the demand. No doubt, he tried to argue himself, or to use arguments to convince others, just as a barrister makes up a case and presents it with such forensic ability as to impress a jury with the fact that he believes and feels all he says. We have had the same line since. Mr. Asquith went one better than Gladstone as a lawyer and a pleader, and submitted even more to the Nationalist shackles. And now the present Government has taken up the burden in the hope that something may turn up that will enable them to sacrifice British authority in Ireland with the least sacrifice to Ulster Unionists. I make that concession to them, though very many that I know would not go even so far. But all I will say is that if the satisfaction of the Nationalist demand, which is the pretext for the new departure, involves the surrender of Ulster Unionists to their avowed  enemies, their cry will be now as it was in 1886, No Surrender — not No Surrender as an old battle cry of the past, but as a newer battle cry with, if possible, greater determination than in the past.

I have just spent another morning in glancing over the files of “The Echo” of the first half of 1886, so far as the news related to the Home Rule question, and I have been surprised to find that all the local arguments that prevailed then against the measure are just the arguments that prevail to-day, that the classes and masses that opposed the measure then are, with a few exceptions, those who oppose it to-day. The only difference seems to be that the experience of the interval has strengthened every argument, intensified every dread, and made more clear the utter impossibility as well as the absolute danger of granting Home Rule on the lines on which few Nationalists demand it.

The majority of the General Assembly opposed it then, as the General Assembly opposes it still. A special meeting of the General Assembly was held in March of that year, and an entire day was spent in a full and friendly discussion of the question, which resulted in the passing of a series of resolutions in public Assembly in the evening. The only protestant was the Rev. Matthew Macaulay, of Castleblayney, a fine good-natured and good-humoured clergyman of the school who had so much of the Irish Adam in him as to be “agin” the Government in the State, and because of that “agin” it in the General Assembly too. The resolutions were moved in open Assembly by the Rev. Dr. C. L. Morell, of Dungannon, a fine gentleman, minister, and humorist, with a good deal of a Tory crust, and Mr. Thos. Sinclair, who then, as in his later years, supported the principle of orthodox and constitutional Liberalism in Church and state. No better men at the time could have been selected to represent the Church or to represent it with a higher sense of duty and dignity. The resolutions were long and exhaustive, filling nearly a column of the newspapers of the day. They declared the loyalty of the Church to Crown and Constitution, deplored the lawless state of the country, admitted the unsatisfactory state of the land question, and appealed for a just measure of settlement; deprecated as “disastrous to the best interests of the country a separate Parliament, an elective Council, or any Legislation that would interfere with the unity and supremacy of the Imperial parliament,” and declared the hopelessness and impossibility of securing any guarantees for the rights of the minority in civil, religious, or educational matters. The resolutions met with general acceptance of Presbyterians in Ireland; but I must admit that the policy advocated did not meet with such strong support from the ministers of the U.P. and Free Church, who at the time were given over to the Gladstonian idol, or even to American Presbyterians. One telegram from the States that caught my eye stated that the Rev. Dr. John. Hall was the only Presbyterian of note who had expressed himself in full agreement with the Assembly declarations. Many changes have taken place in all these Churches since, and the changes in the men have been in retrocession from the principles and policy of the majority of that day so far as this question in concerned. I do not doubt, however, there are still many who adhere to Mr. Asquith, as their predecessors adhered to Mr. Gladstone on the question.

I think I have previously referred to local meetings of protest which took place both before and after the Bill, including the Belfast merchants, the town as a whole in public meeting in the Ulster Hall, and the Liberals of the town in the same building. The latter meeting took place after the Bill was introduced. With regard to the town meeting, it was called cm public requisition by Liberals and Conservatives in almost equal proportion, and among the signatories to the requisition I observe the name of W. J. Pirrie. On looking over the list of speakers at the town meeting and the Liberal meeting I find that the only two speakers at the former meeting were Sir William Q. Ewart and Mr. Adam Duffin, and at the Liberal meeting Mr. David Lindsay. At the Liberal meeting, Mr. (afterwards Right Hon.) Thomas Sinclair told Mr. Gladstone “That Ulster would not consent to yield up its British citizenship, to be expelled from the Imperial Parliament, or be degraded to a junior partnership in a subordinate colony.” Mr. Robert MacGeagh said “Loosing landlords in a Dublin Parliament was suggestive of games in a Roman amphitheatre.” “Perhaps,” he said, “the amphitheatre is too colossal an image. A rat pit would be a less classical, but it is a more honest and perhaps appropriate illustration. I ask you to protest against being handed over to the machinations of such a burlesque Parliament [and he had made it burlesque indeed], such a travesty of a Legislature, such a mockery of representatives, ana to hold fast to the time-honoured principles of Ulster Liberals — the maintenance of the Legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland. The Rev. R. J. Lynd (afterwards D.D.) said — “We solemnly aver that there are no legitimate means which the ingenuity of man can devise, short of what is sinful in the sight of God, we will not employ in order to defeat the Bill and render it inoperative.” In these days, when women are so much to the front on this question, I must mention that Miss Isabella Tod in those days was one of the most effective platform opponents of Mr. Gladstone’s policy,

I think in the light of the present situation these incidents are worth recalling as illustrating not only the unbroken continuity of Ulster Protestants and Unionists against Home Rule, but the unbroken continuity of Irish Nationalist hostility to Great Britain and the Empire as exhibited by their action to-day. It was on the 8th April, ’86, that Mr. Gladstone introduced his first Home Rule Bill, and on the 16th he introduced his Irish Land Purchase Bill, and the local excitement continued, and on the 7th June the Home Rule Bill was defeated. I need not recall the enthusiasm with which Belfast received the news of the defeat of the Bill by thirty votes, and the gratitude they felt to Lord Hartington, Mr. Chamberlain, Sir Henry James, and other stalwarts of the party who had voted against the Bill. In the vote, those known as Liberals numbered 250, and the Parnellites 83. Against Home Rule, 240 Conservatives and 93 Liberals voted. Six hundred and fifty-six members voted — the largest on record — and 313 voted for the second reading, and 343 against. It should be remembered that the original Bill provided for the exclusion of the Irish members from Parliament, but Mr. Gladstone kept juggling with that and other questions in the hope of warding off hostility, but ignobly failed. There were one or two matters I noticed in my glance through the file that will be interesting in the light of recent developments. I notice that my own comment in “The Echo” was — “The only people for whom Mr. Gladstone never seems to have any consideration is the loyal minority in Ireland.” The “Manchester Guardian,” which is now the most servile advocate of the worst kind of Home Rule and defender of the worst form of Nationalist disloyalty and rebellion, said — “This is not a scheme of Home Rule such as we have been accustomed to understand it. It is a scheme of legislation for the repeal of the Legislative Union.” The “Daily Chronicle,” referring to a defence of the measure by Mr. John Morley, then Irish Secretary, said — “Is the general wish of Mr. Morley to be gratified by a great betrayal of Ulstermen to a bondage almost worse than death, and in coercion immeasurably more horrible than that which the Chief Secretary considered so dreadful when applied to Nationalists?” Both papers have since fallen from the high estate represented by such other statements. The “Daily News,” of course, gushed over the Bill, as it gushes still over everything that makes for the depression of Ulster and the disruption of the Empire, and, I sometimes even fear for the failure of the war since Mr. Asquith, the only possible and entirely irreplaceable Prime Minister, ceased to direct affairs.

I may just add that Ulster and its threatened coercion was the main feature of the Press comments, so far as the Bill was concerned. “The Sacrifice of Ulster,” “The Coercion of Ulster,” and similar lines appear in column after column of extracts as illustrative of the character of the criticism, the importance and the position Ulster held in the decision on the question, and, except in the “Daily News” and one or two others of the baser sort of Radical papers, and in the Nationalist papers, was there anything but condemnation of the sacrifice of Ulster and the impossibility of coercing it. And it is so to this day, save that the “Manchester Guardian” and the “Daily Chronicle” have gone over to stew in Nationalist juice.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 30th March 1917.

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

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Dying Soldier's Thoughts

Out on the battlefield, thickly strewn with dead!
Ere the twilight fades to night, a soldier sinks to rest;
Hush! he speaks, tho’ low and strained, a comrade hears his words
And knows that ere the shadows close, his thoughts have home-ward flown.

Thoughts so sweet of all at home, all I leave behind!
Mother, sweetheart, sister, friends, gather round me now.
War, its ghastly sights and sounds seem far away in the past;
Peace, perfect peace, reigns in my heart, with loved ones all around.

On memories wings I mount and soar ’mid old familiar scenes!
Around the dear old homestead, beloved and lovely spot;
Mother, mother, for touch of your hand on my burning blood-stained brow,
Lay it there as you used to do when your boy complained of pain.

Again I wander, with fishing rod, ’long the path to the river bank!
Where many a beautiful shining trout, I landed with skill and pride;
How oft’ my sweetheart joined me there, and we strolled along the bank,
When the twilight came and the fishes ceased to rise to my brightest bait.

Agnes! my own, my dearest, for your sake I fain would live!
But it cannot be, my call has come, my life-blood ebbs away;
Years we have loved, since youthful friends, we roved the hills together,
How memory brings on the cold night's breeze the sound of your whispered, yes,

Again I feel in that last good-bye, your tears upon my face!
Oh! for a last farewell, my own, farewell for eternity;
Yet that’s not so, for we meet again, when the shadows flee away,
And you join me in God’s own home-land, farewell till then, farewell.

Annie Breakey. 
Drumskelt House, Ballybay.

Poem: The Witness, 16th March 1917.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1917) part 38



Last week I referred to the visit of Lord Randolph Churchill, which his opponents said was of an incendiary character; but the only fire it produced was a fire of enthusiasm against Home Rule which has continued for thirty years, and which the efforts of his recreant son were unable to extinguish. I now wish to recall the incident that led to the parting of the ways of the old Liberal party in Belfast and Ulster, the one section, the largest, remaining on the side of sound Liberal Constitutionalism, and the other branching off into the path that led to disruption and disintegration and the breaking up of laws, and if followed to the end would lead to red ruin. The meeting, or rather convention, took place on the 19th March, nearly a month before Mr. Gladstone introduced his Home Rule Bill. It was composed of delegates from the principal Liberal and Tenant Right Associations. We had no definite information as to Mr. Gladstone’s intentions, but most of us had a feeling that they were not good. All that was known at the time, founded in part on the pilot balloon that we now know was really sent out from Hawarden by Mr. Gladstone’s son, and the gossip that was flying about thick as Vallambrosian leaves, and the refusal of Lord Hartington to join Mr. Gladstone’s Cabinet. It was supposed that it was to be a conference of Liberal delegates, and there were tickets of admission. But in those days there was no difficulty or scruple in providing counterfeit imitations; and before the meeting had far advanced — it was held in what was then called St. George’s Hall, in High Street, now devoted to other purposes than public meetings. I recognised a very considerable number of publicans and other Nationalists whose politics were as non-Unionist as their faces. The fact was well known and freely commented on at the time. Nationalists were as resourceful and tricky then as they are to-day, and found it as easy to provide substitutes for true Liberals at meetings as they did to find substitutes for dead men at pollings. I mention this as a preliminary to explain what followed.

The chair was occupied by Mr. Finlay M‘Cance, a member of a family that had long held a foremost position in the commercial and industrial activities of the town, and has still a useful and creditable representative in Mr. John Stoupe F. M‘Cance, the chairman of the Antrim County Council. The first resolution was proposed by Mr. Daniel Taylor, afterwards member for Coleraine, and one of the staunchest of Liberal Unionists and Presbyterians in the province. It was on the lines of all previous resolutions of the party, favouring remedial legislation for the country, and protesting against exceptional coercive legislation, claiming a uniformity in the administration of the law in all parts of the United Kingdom. The main point of his speech was that the land question was the one root of trouble, and if that was settled all would, or at least should, be peace and harmony and respect for law. Mr. John Shaw Brown, who followed him, also traced the trouble to the land, and suggested a Bill for the abolition of landlords as a remedy.

Next followed Mr. Thomas A. Dickson (afterwards the Right Hon.) with the second resolution, which recommended a settlement of the land question by the abolition of dual ownership by purchase from the landlords on such terms as would secure substantial reductions of rent to the tenants. Mr. Dickson made a very full and clear exposition of the question, and I must admit carried his audience with him. His resolution was seconded by Mr. Thomas Swann, of the Maze, who was the original “Practical Farmer” of “The Witness,” and contributed many articles, in which literary grace was as conspicuous as his knowledge of farming. I may here state a fact not without its interest and moral. Mr. Swann lived till the Government of Lord Salisbury extended the compulsory principle to the breaking of leases. He happened to call in to see me immediately after this Act had been passed — I may say Mr. Swann was a gentleman of what I might term a rather pessimistic tempermanent. “Well,” said I to him, “I hope you are quite satisfied now.” “I am not quite sure,” he replied. “I have some leases that I hold at a low rent, and I would not like to have them broken lest I might fare worse.” “Oh,” I said, “you would only want the leases of your high-rented lands broken and maintain the leases of your low-rented lands.” I suggested that this meant a species of legislation that it would be impossible to carry out. He admitted the fact; but all the same did not leave in as happy a mood as I thought he should. It only illustrates the difficulty of providing legislation for a whole country when even one man wanted the legislation to be of a character that would suit him in two separate identities.

Mr. Sam. C. M‘Elroy, of Ballymoney, a grand old tenant-righter, and a very old friend of my own, who, I fear, for a time, if not for all his time, ploughed with the Nationalist heifer, suggested that the word “compulsory” should be placed before the words extinction of dual ownership; and this was agreed to, thus early establishing, so far as the Ulster Liberals were concerned, the principle of compulsion. It was about this period the “Nationalisation of Land” doctrines of Henry George began to spread, and had caught on in some quarters. Mr. Robert Carlisle, a well-known local politician of the time; proposed an amendment practically on these lines, suggesting as a mild beginning that the landlords should pay 20 per cent. of their valuation to the State — he did not think the community should buy out the landlords; but evidently thought the State should make them pay the taxes. Mr. Alex. Bowman, who was then a prominent local agitator of advanced and Labour views, seconded Mr. Carlisle’s amendment, which, however, was defeated.

Let me here say that these two resolutions represented in the main the ideas and aspirations of the Liberals of the time under whose auspices the convention had been called. In their opinion the land question was the root of all trouble, and its settlement was the one thing needful to satisfy Ireland and secure peace and contentment. Mr. Gladstone’s threatened descent into the Parnellite Avernus added another question, which had never been practically raised before — namely, the question of the legislative Union. The necessity of a special pronouncement on that question had never occurred to them before. But in the light of the floating gossip and fears it became necessary now. And Mr. Thos. Sinclair, who long ere this had given proof of statesmanlike qualities as well as powers of eloquent representation of sound Liberal views. Accordingly, the third resolution dealing with the subject of local government was entrusted to him. The resolution began by expressing confidence in Mr. Gladstone’s statesmanship and patriotism, and urging him not to complicate his remedial land legislation with the vexed question of Home Rule. It admitted that the results of the election suggested a desire for more extended powers of local government for Ireland; but declared “Our determined opposition to the establishment of a separate Irish Parliament, as certain to result in disastrous collision between sections of the people holding conflicting views on social, economic, and religious questions, and likely to create such a feeling of insecurity as would jeopardise all industrial and commercial pursuits; and we are satisfied that the maintenance of the Union with Great Britain is the best safeguard for the peace and prosperity of all classes in Ireland.” It further suggested the abolition of the Vice-royalty, and the appointment of an Irish Secretary, with a thorough reform of the departments of Irish government, and the establishment of an extended system of representative local government. Mr. Sinclair had not gone far in his speech till it became apparent that rowdy Nationalism, or a Radicalism as bad, had found representation and voice. He was protesting against an Irish Parliament, “five-sixths of whose members would be elected by the National League, whose ideas of justice were so discredited,” when there was an outburst. At the last statement there was applause, but many hisses from a corner in which the evidently Nationalist sympathisers had congregated. The chairman called for order, and Mr. Sinclair repeated “whose ideas of justice are discredited.” Applause again mingled with hisses and cries of “Shame” and “Withdraw” followed. After some uproar, Mr. Sinclair resumed. He was saying, he said, that a Parliament elected by the National League were so discredited that before they got power they would have to put the landlords beyond their vengeance. A Dublin Parliament, he said, would not be a Constitutional Government at all. It could not be a representative Government when every candidate was forced to sign away his private judgment. [Mr. Parnell had at that time introduced the system of the pledge to vote with the party, or “skedaddle,” which, I believe, is still in force.] Home Rule could never be a policy of Ulster Liberals, he emphasised. This was one of the many fine speeches Mr. Sinclair contributed to the cause of Liberalism and the Union.

I may here pause to say that the National League whose discredited character, Mr. Sinclair so emphasised was the body that was formed after the suppression of the Land League, and carried on the old work under a new name. It was the League in the dark years that followed, during which it was said that Mr. Parnell, its head, kept his hand on the safety valve of crime, that controlled both crime and agitation. It was of its parent that Mr. Gladstone said that “with fatal and painful precision the steps of crime dogged the steps of the Land League.” The League was formed in 1882, and continued to represent the party organisation all through the ’eighties, and was responsible for quite as much crime as its predecessor that had been suppressed. Its agency, the Irish-Americans, contributed the dollars for bread — and lead.

The Rev. Archibald Robinson, of Brough-shane (afterwards D.D. and professor), seconded the motion. Mr. Robinson was not only a great Churchman, but a great land man, and was one of the strongest supporters and one of the best and most popular platform advocates of old tenant-right and all that it represented. But, like all the best, or at least the majority of the best, tenant-righters, he objected to Home Rule. He denounced it and its supporters in no measured terms. He declared that there was not a Liberal candidate at the elections who did not condemn Home Rule, and added that Mr. T. A. Dickson had condemned it in stronger and more eloquent terms than he (Mr. R.) could do. There were cries of “No, no,” at this; but I must say the statement was true as fair at least as the strength went. Mr. Dickson then came forward with his amendment, expressing the hope that in the proposals he was about to submit dealing with the self-government of Ireland, they would urge upon him to make full provision to safeguard the rights of minorities, to maintain the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, and draw closer the bonds of political union between the people of Great Britain and Ireland. Mr. Dickson dwelt on the cost of Irish Parliamentary Bills and on the question of Mr. Gladstone’s Land Purchase Bill, and expressed his trust in Mr. Gladstone, who, he said, was not going to close his splendid career by weakening the integrity of the Empire. He expressed his disapproval of coercion, and said he was in favour of the Union with the largest scheme of local self-government through which the land question could be finally settled. Still harping on the land question, which was the subject more in his words than that of Home Rule, Mr. T. A. Shillington seconded the amendment, which was opposed by Miss Tod and Mr. W. J. Hurst, of Drumaness; and supported by Mr. A. Bowman and the Rev. J. C. Street — reckless Radicals and rampant extremists both.

It was well on in the afternoon when a vote was called for, and the amendment declared lost and the resolution carried. There was no count of heads or hands; but I must admit that the minority was more considerable than I could possible have imagined. But that can be explained by what I said earlier about the presence of Nationalists. They showed their number and the type of them by the character of their interruptions. There were no interruptions to Mr. Dickson or Mr. Shillington; but there were many to the speakers on the other side.

From that time onward the Liberal majority formed themselves into an association under the name of the Liberal Unionist Association, and the other section disappeared from public notice for many years till an association was called into being to give at least the appearance of a local habitation and name to the Ulster Liberalism that adhered to Mr. Gladstone. This organisation kept in touch with the British Radicals, and was kept in remembrance by them. It put up Home Rule candidates, but kept Home Rule in the background of their public appearances whatever they may have done in private. The only one connected with them who had the honesty in the earlier hours to proclaim himself a Home Ruler was Mr. T. A. Shillington; and I have always respected him since above all the others for his honesty. I well remember when an Editor of the journal established to represent them, in a fit, I suppose, of honest fervour, openly advocated Home Rule in its columns. He was afterwards dismissed on the ground that it was not politic — I am not sure that that was the exact word that was used in the letter or memorandum in which his dismissal was conveyed — at that juncture to make such an open avowal of Home Rule. It had evidently been the intention of the leaders to cloak their Home Rule under their guise of Unionism or of Protestant Liberalism. If their Editor rendered no other public service he rendered one on this occasion by exposing the hollowness under which this so-called Liberal association was endeavouring to serve the Nationalists and Home Rule. It was only a step in motion from the Berry Street Nationalist Club and the home of this association. But there was hardly a step between them in mind so far as the effort and desire to establish Nationalist rule in Ireland was concerned.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 23rd March 1917.

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

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1917) part 37



I referred to the General Election of 1885 in my last, but I do not think I mentioned that the result was the return of 334 Liberals, Conservatives 250, Nationalists 86. This meant that Mr. Gladstone had not obtained a majority over both, which was what he had asked for. But it left the Government of Lord Salisbury, which had been in power, in a hopeless minority. Lord Salisbury met the House of Commons, but was defeated on an amendment to the Address brought in by Mr. Jesse Collings, Mr. Bright’s colleague in Birmingham — the celebrated three acres and a cow amendment. I happened to be in the Home of Commons on that occasion, and it was a most exciting one. At that time my faith in Mr. Gladstone was strong, and I well remember the indignation with which I listened to Mr. Goschen, himself an old Liberal, who had then evidently completely broken with Mr. Gladstone, and criticised him very critically. The Government were defeated by 329 to 250. I retain no other memory of the occasion, save one of the intense excitement prevailing, and of my own satisfaction that the Grand Old Man had triumphed.

Lord Salisbury resigned, and the Queen called on Mr. Gladstone to form a Ministry, which he did, with such unfortunate results. Sir Wm. Harcourt was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Rosebery Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Campbell-Bannerman Secretary for War, and Mr. John Morley Secretary for Ireland. Mr. Chamberlain was President of the Local Government Board, and Sir Farrar Herschell Lord Chancellor. Sir Robert Finlay, the present Lord Chancellor, had been Mr. Gladstone’s Attorney-General before the Lord Chancellorship was regarded as his right, But as he had suspicion of Mr. Gladstone’s Irish policy he sacrificed the brilliant prospect, and refused to join the Government, as did also Sir Henry James, who had been Solicitor General. Sir Robert Finlay has become Lord Chancellor after many years, but he accepted it with the proviso that he would not ask a pension. Of such were the fine old Liberals of the fine old school. Lord Hartington did not join the Government.

It was in the month of April that Mr. Gladstone introduced his ill-starred Home Rule Bill. So that the local excitements to which I have been referring were based not on the fact, but on the fear of Mr. Gladstone descending into the Avernus of Home Rule. I have referred to the meetings of public men and merchants that were held to protest against them. From some of these organisations, in conjunction with Unionist organisations all over the country, deputations were sent to London to interview lord Salisbury and leading Ministers, as his resignation had not taken place at the time. The deputation from the Chamber of Commerce included the then President of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Robert Megaw, Sir Thomas M‘Clure, O. B. Graham, the Mayor (Sir E. J. Harland), Thomas Sinclair, Theodore Richardson, J. P. Corry, R. L. Patterson, John S. Brown, D. B. Gille, L. M. Ewart. The deputation received a sympathetic reception in spirit, but non-committal in form, from the Conservative members. Sir Thomas M‘Clure made a personal appeal to Mr. Gladstone, to receive the deputation; but the wily, as well as grand, old man refused on the ground that it might appear to be putting him in competition with Lord Salisbury, in whom the Government of the country was vested at the time. There were other deputations to London, and the local excitement on the question was intense. This was stimulated by the visit of Lord Randolph Churchill in the month of February, which created quite a furore in the city. Despite his supposed trucklings with Mr. Parnell, the local Conservatives pinned their faith in him; but the Liberals were sceptical. They knew at the time that Lord Randolph was more than suspected of sympathy or association with Lord Carnarvon, the Lord Lieutenant of the Conservative Government, who had been, to say the least of it, paying court to Mr. Parnell. It had become known that the latter had met Lord Carnarvon secretly in an empty house. Lord Carnarvon afterwards asserted that he had made his action in this respect known to Lord Salisbury; but he, even if admitting knowledge, disclaimed sympathy.

At this time — the time of his visit — there was no doubt as to where Lord Randolph was, or at least professed to be. In looking over Mr. Winston Churchill’s Life of his father, he admits that at this time his father was regarded with suspicion, and that the facts as known more or less justified it. But at the Christmas of 1885, after the election, he apparently made up his mind to uphold the Union. In a letter to the late Lord Justice Fitzgibbon he wrote that if Home Rule was to be brought forward, the Orange card would be the one to play. And he played it in Belfast with a vengeance. The receptions he met with in Larne and in Belfast were almost unparalleled for their magnitude and enthusiasm. I witnessed both, and the impression that remains on my mind was that Lord Randolph had broken all records as a popular hero. It is stated in Mr. Winston Churchill’s book that seventy thousand people, or, perhaps, to be more in line with the spirit of the statement, seventy thousand Orangemen were present, for one cosmopolitan gentleman who saw it said he did not think there were as many Orangemen in the world. Certainly they were in great force that day, and in the evening when the meeting was held in the Ulster Hall. All the seats were reserved, and the vast mass wedged together, gave lord Randolph a reception that he should never forget, and certainly seems to have made a strong impression on him. I retain no impression of the meeting save the fiery character of the oration and the fervour of the audience. Lord Randolph told us that Mr. Gladstone contemplated the repeal of the Union; that the Conservatives Were determined to oppose it, and that he had come over to see to what extent they would be supported. He counselled resistance to the proposals, hoping that the struggle would be kept within constitutional lines; but if not they should be prepared. And he made special reference to the Orangemen and their principles and policy. He finished up a great and exciting speech with these lines:—
“The contest deepens; on, ye brave
Who rush to glory or the grave:.
Wave, Ulster! all thy banners wave,
And charge with all your chivalry.”

If the speech roused enthusiasm in the city, it created excitement all over the country, and indignation in the breasts of the Parnellites, with whom for some time he had been a kind of pet or supposed puppet. They accused him of exciting to civil war, and Mr. Sexton made an effort to get a vote of censure passed on him; but Lord Salisbury would not give him the opportunity. Lord Salisbury, it appears, wrote him a letter complimenting him on the fact that he had made a speech which, without offending Roman Catholics, had roused the Protestants. It was during the exciting controversy that followed that speech that Lord Randolph wrote a letter, which was published, to a Liberal Unionist, in which he used the phrase, “Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right.” That phrase became a watchword in Ulster and all over the country for years. And I must say it was with these words and the speech of which they may be regarded as the complement in my mind that I felt specially indignant that his son should have thought for a moment of coming to the hall in which the speech was made to tell Ulster that it should not fight and that it would be right to hand in their guns and hand over their liberties to the Nationalists. And my indignation and that of others was increased when that same son afterwards ordered the British fleet to Lamlash to destroy the city and the sons of the city that still held to the gospel which his father had preached.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 16th March 1917.

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

Monday, 13 March 2017

In Battle

O’er the tempest of the sword.
Falls the footsteps of the Lord.

On the battlefield He stands,
Gifts of life are in His hands.

Yes, and is His Table spread.
Ere the feet of life have fled.

He Himself has set the feast;
He is Host, and He is Priest.

To the lips that death-pains twist,
Lifts He His own Eucharist.

Even as they take and eat,
Nearer, nearer sound His feet.

Lo! the dream-feast set in lore,
Is the real feast above.

Grace I. Gibson.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life – The Dark Days of 1886



We now come to a dark year in the history of Belfast and of the kingdom. We had dark periods in Irish history before, many of them; but the darkness of this year was dismal, and the shadows that it brought have not departed even yet. It was in that year Mr. Gladstone turned his back on his early creed, which was at once Liberal and Unionist; shed not only his own Unionism, but shed the best Liberals of his time and party; and embarked on the stormy sea of Home Rule, in which he floundered for so many years, and in which, politically, he foundered. He brought Home Rule, with all its war, into the stage not so much of practical as of pragmatical politics; and there it remains to this day; as dividing and disintegrating as it was in his time, as unsatisfying from every point of view as it was in his time, as dangerous, and in some of its developments as diabolical, as it was in his time, and I will add in any final or satisfactory sense as far from settlement as it was in those days. In fact, it was confidently anticipated by the Nationalists that once Mr. Gladstone and the Liberal party took it up the early establishment of Home Rule was assured. We were told that the Liberal party had never taken up anything that did not succeed, and that this would succeed. And so confident were the Nationalists that it would come that in many parts of the country they had met and balloted for the lands of the Protestant farmers and landlords in the various districts which they expected were to be theirs to seize and hold after the Bill became law. I have been told that something of the same kind is going on now in the South and West on a smaller scale; but as the Government are now the landlord of the majority of the large properties at all events, they will probably have to be content with farms rather than estates, though, of course, there will be much grass land to transfer, on which so many Irish Leaguers are casting hungry eyes.

The darkness of ’86 was specially felt in Belfast, where there were, as there are, many industries and much money, which the Nationalists wanted to get into their hands, if not as individuals, at any rate as a Government to tax and trample as it pleased. There was the feeling and the fear that the mere possibility that Home Rule was to come would injure the credit and interests of the commercial community. Certainly while the shadow rested, which was till Home Rule was defeated, the value of the shares in all stocks in which the Belfast community were interested had fallen heavily. And then the shadow was deepened because of the intense loyal and Imperial spirit that pervaded Belfast and Ulster, and the feeling that the effect of Home Rule would not only mean the separation of the two countries and the deprivation of the Protestant and Unionist minority of the protection of the Imperial Parliament, but it would mean the disintegration of the kingdom and Empire that had so long stood strong and united four-square to all the winds that blow. It is now thirty years since that date, and there was not a feeling or a fear entertained then that is not entertained now, and with even greater intensity, having regard to the intermediate observation and experience which, make the dangers even more real and possible.

For the first two or three months of 1886 we were all in a state of anxiety and ferment. Mr. Parnell and his party had, by the redistribution of seats, received such a large following that he practically held the balance of power in the House of Commons. No doubt some of the Conservative leaders were coquetting with the Parnellite Delilah, and she had got some of them into her toils. Lord Carnarvon, the Lord Lieutenant, and Lord Randolph Churchill at least were suspected of having been won over by her or having won her over; and it is a fact that in the election at the close of 1885 the Conservatives all over the country got the support of the Parnellites. On the other hand, the Conservatives were repudiating this; and to do Lord Salisbury, who was the head of the party, justice, I do not think he ever pandered as his subordinates did; but it must be admitted that he secured much of his following by the aid of Parnellite votes in England and Scotland! The Liberals more than suspected this game on the part of the Conservatives; but while admitting the temptation the situation offered to Mr. Grindstone to surrender, the majority of them refused to believe that a man whom they regarded as the personification of honour and patriotism would sacrifice the unity and the interests of the kingdom for the purpose of obtaining power. Even when the “pilot balloon” was sent out – as we learned later, by Mr. Herbert Gladstone, though that gentleman denied it at the time—suggesting that Mr. Gladstone was considering the adoption of Home Rule, they refused to believe it.. In order to refresh' my memory,

I looked up the files of the “Whig” and the “Echo” for this period, and found that not only both journals, but the party generally refused to believe it, regarded the statement as a weak invention of the enemy, and imagined Mr. Gladstone indignantly asking, “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?” But the excitement and the agitation continued. The Rev. Dr. Kane and the Rev. Dr. Hanna were then at the height of their power and influence, in the Orange body, and meetings and letters of protest were general. The leaders of the Conservative party wanted the leaders of the liberals to join in some of these political demonstrations; but they declined, not from any lack of sympathy with the object; but as they felt that an independent expression of opinion as Liberals would be more valuable. And time gave proof of that, for I have every reason to know that the Liberal Unionist Committee formed after the Gladstonian surrender was an important factor in influencing the opinion of the British public and Government, and in suggesting the satisfactory legislation which the Unionist Government subsequently adopted. There were, however, two or three great meetings outside of party politics which had a most important effect on public opinion. One of these was a meeting of Belfast business men held early in the year, at which both Liberals and Conservatives attended; and the second was a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, composed, of course, of men of all parties, at which speeches were made and resolutions passed strongly condemnatory of Home Rule and all that it was intended by Nationalists to secure and accomplish.

I had some further matter on this topic prepared, but I am holding it over till next week in consequence of the space occupied by and the special interest in the proceedings of the House of Commons on Wednesday. In the light of these, however, I may say that the period with which I am dealing has special interest, justifying, as they do, the wisdom and prudence of the resistance offered, and showing that time, instead of weakening the case against Home Rule, has I strengthened it, so that it has become irresistible.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 9th March 1917.

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

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1917) part 35



In some respects the years and events with which I have been, and am, dealing belong to ancient history; and to some ancient history is lost in old observance. But, correctly considered, there is nothing of history that has not a connection with the present and some influence upon it.

There are some, it is true, who are so absorbed in the past that they cannot bring their mind upon the present at all, and there are others who think only of and in the present, and take no thought of the past either for example or warning. There are some who are always thinking and bragging about their ancestors, and some who do not know, or at least seldom admit, that they had grandfathers, and are even ashamed of their fathers. I remember an incident that occurred in this connection in the local Turkish bath. The bath one night was crowded, and between the semi-darkness and the disguise the requisite dress for the bath produced, it was difficult to recognise anyone. To this crowd entered a local gentleman somewhat more elevated in drink than in character. The gentleman knew me, and recognising me in my disguise, he kept shouting out my name and talking to me and at me to an extent that was embarrassing to a modest person like myself. After some time he began to dilate on the virtues of some of his grandfathers and other ancestors who had gained distinction and won trophies in some Irish rebellion or other. I had borne his babble without retort for some time; but at this stage I remarked that some of us had greater reason to be proud of our ancestors than our ancestors would have to be proud of us, and the shot went home and reduced my friend to silence.

Now, the events with which I am dealing go back exactly thirty years; and as these years are supposed to constitute a generation I think I may fairly describe the people of that time as the ancestors of those of the present. There may be a few survivors of the time like myself who move among the present generation as visitors from an ancient ------- who can recall the time; but to the majority they belong, I fear, to an ancient period, with which the present generation take as little interest as Irish Nationalists do in the present war. Now, one of my objects in recalling some of the events of that period is to tell the present generation what their fathers did in regard to Home Rule in the hope that the story may lead them to prove as worthy of their ancestors as these ancestors have proved to be worthy of them.

The last quarter of 1885 and the first half of 1886 witnessed the rise and fall of the first Home Rule Bill — and it has not recovered from that fall yet. Mr. Winston Churchill, in his life of his father, says that the two places that killed that Bill were Birmingham and Belfast. The reference to Birmingham, of course, covers the great work of Mr. Chamberlain, and the second the decided, definite, and determined manifestation of resistance from the men of Belfast.

During the visit of the Marquis of Hartington, afterwards Duke of Devonshire, to Belfast in November, 1885, to open the Ulster Reform Club, and to be the chief guest at a banquet, his lordship said in relation to the rumours that were in the air about Home Rule, “If Ireland were a unanimous country, then it was possible that some guarantee — some settlement between England and Ireland, some settlement between nation and nation, might be possible; but Ireland, unfortunately, is not a unanimous country, and the difference which separates Ireland is not a slight or trifling difference.” Is history not repeating itself to-day? Is not that statement as true today in itself and in the inferences it suggests as when it was uttered? His lordship went on — “The Imperial Government cannot give to Irish representative bodies the entire control over the property, and perhaps over the existence, of those classes who, to some extent, have incurred the dislike of their fellow-countrymen.” Is the truth of this not being proved more and more at the present time? And then, “The Protestants of Ulster could not hope to receive fair play if they placed their hopes in a representative Assembly constituted in the city of Dublin.” Is this not said or written every day by the Protestants of Ulster? The late Mr. Robert MacGeagh, in a speech about this period, expressing similar sentiments and feelings as Lord Hartington, asked were the hostile character and dangerous disposition of the Nationalists not engraven on their memories by the pen of United Ireland and the dagger of the Phoenix Park assassins. Are the same fears and feelings not freshly impressed on our memories by the blood of the slaughtered soldiers and citizens of Dublin for the crime of supporting the British Government and by the movements and threats of the sedition mongers that stalk our land at the present hour?

As I have indicated more than once, at the time of Lord Hartington’s visit there was no real division in the local Liberal party. There were some who were more advanced on the question of tenant-right than others, and also more in advance as to the form of local government; but if there were any that were in favour of the granting of an Irish Parliament with an Irish-Executive, I did not know them or meet them. Indeed, the advanced Liberals of the time were only advanced in regard to legislation, and not in regard to politics, as the Nationalists of the time understood advancement. There were some that might have gone as far as the principle of the Irish Councils Bill, which, when brought in, Mr. Redmond accepted, but ultimately on the mandate of the Irish hierarchy rejected. Mr. Thomas A. Dickson was one of the most advanced of these; and I do not think such a scheme as was afterwards proposed entered into his head. He was a very able, active, and energetic politician, and enjoyed the personal friendship of Mr. Gladstone. Mr. Gladstone handed him his own copy of his great Land Bill, with his own notes, after his speech introducing it. And so far as his feelings toward Mr. Gladstone were concerned, they were more than respect; they, were almost reverence. And without suggesting anything in regard to his subsequent opinion and actions, I will say that I believe that his indisposition, to break with Mr. Gladstone was a stronger factor in regard to his acquiescence in the Home Rule Bill than were his views on Irish government. Mr. Dickson occupied, I should say, the most prominent position of any Ulster Liberal member in the counsels of the party, and he was asked to write a pamphlet on the Ulster-Irish question as one of a popular series of pamphlets on economic and political questions from the Liberal point of view. As he was a brother-in-law of the late Mr. Robert MacGeagh, with whom I was in daily touch for many years, I had ample opportunities of meeting Mr. Dickson and knowing much of his mind on the subject. I read all the proof sheets of the pamphlet, and it was a very able pamphlet; but I observed that a couple of pages or so that were in his original proofs did not appear in the pamphlet. It would be unfair to suggest that these were Unionist in tone; but, to say the least of it, they were not of a character that suggested a Dublin Parliament as the one solution of the Irish question. Mr. MacGeagh and I noticed the omission, and concluded that these pages and the views they expressed did not commend themselves to the censors of the pamphlet, the Editor of the series. And I knew that Mr. MacGeagh, who was one of the most shrewd of men and politicians I ever knew, drew very ominous conclusions as to the party trend from this fact, and from that time forward had more than doubts of Mr. Gladstone’s loyalty to the Legislative Union. And when the pilot balloon, was sent out by the London “Standard” that Mr. Gladstone was in a coming-on disposition towards Parnell and Home Rule, he felt it was a true indication of coming events. And it was the beginning of the end of his devotion to Mr. Gladstone, which was as strong, though not founded on such personal association, as the devotion of Mr. Dickson.

Mr. Dickson took a prominent part in the Hartington banquet and its arrangements; and amongst those who occupied principal seats at it were Mr. Campbell-Bannerman, who had been Chief Secretary to the dissolution of Parliament; Mr. Walker, Q.C.; Mr. Mitchell Henry, M.P.; Mr. Maurice Brook, M.P.; The MacDermott, Q.C.; Mr. W. H. Dodd, Q.C. I remember these in the light of the subsequent developments, or, at least, four of them. There was nothing in the history of any of them to suggest their subsequent developments on the question of Home Rule, or that Mr. Campbell-Bannerman as the leader of a great party would pile up accusations almost amounting to murder against British troops in the South African war. We know that Mr. Walker became Mr. Gladstone’s Home Rule Lord Chancellor; and all that I can say of him is that it was a case of the pervert becoming the most intolerant assailant of his old faith, for I do not believe that Mr. Walker was even a Liberal when he contested County Derry as a Liberal. At any I rate, he was far from Liberal on the land question. I spent an evening with him at dinner in a common friend’s house near Derry, and drove into the city with him at night; and I can only say that there were few Tories of the time that had not quite as advanced Liberal views on the land question as he had. The subsequent developments of The MacDermott and Mr. Dodd, now one of his Majesty’s honoured judges, we know; and all I can say of the latter is that all his friends, while rejoicing with him in the judicial position to which he has attained, could not, during the period in which he was a politician at any rate, fail to think of him with regret and sorrow as a friend who had lapsed from his early political faith.

As to Mr. Mitchell Henry and Mr. Maurice Brooks, both of whom I knew well, the only thing I can say of them is that they were among those who got into Parliament as nominal Home Rulers; and I believe they remained nominal Home Rulers, and no more, till their deaths. I was at one time a party to an incident which revealed the game that was going on in the country at the time. Mr. Henry, who represented Galway, was taking part in a political meeting in the county, at which the bishop of the Diocese. Bishop Duggan, whom I will describe as a fine old Irish gentleman as well as ecclesiastic, was playing a leading role — by deputy. I had been sent to Loughrea to report a speech of Mr. Mitchell Henry for the “Freeman” at a Home Rule meeting of the kind common at the time. Mr. Henry, seeing that I was a Protestant, took me aside and explained to me that the bishop wanted to commit him to denominational education; but he wanted to avoid that, and said that he intended to use throughout the phrase religious education, and if he at any time slipped into the word denominational I was to stick to religious.

The bishop subsequently took me aside and explained to me that Mr. Henry was trying to keep the meeting to Home Rule. Home Rule, he said, was all very well in its way, but denominational education was what he wanted; and he added, “I am going to put up a priest to make a speech on denominational education, and whatever you give of Henry be sure to give that, as I am determined that no meeting will go out of my diocese about Home Rule unless denominational education is mixed up with it.” I satisfied both, which was not an easy thing to do, having regard to my instructions as to space — I got none in any other matter. We are told the Church does not change. I am sure Bishop Duggan did not change. About twenty years afterwards I remembered the conversations I have given without giving the names to an eminent London journalist who had just arrived in Belfast from a tour in the West. My friend looked directly at me, and said, “Did you ever meet Bishop Duggan?” I told him I had, and that it was with him the clerical part of the conversation took place. “I just thought that,” he said, “for I saw him a few days ago, and he spoke of the subject to me in similar terms.”

So much as to what I may term the minority of the principal guests on this memorable occasion. Among the others we had at the principal table, in addition to Lord Hartington and two or three other lords, were Lord Waveney, the chairman; Sir Thos. M‘Clure, Mr. E. P. Cowan (afterwards Sir Knight), Rev. Dr. Kinnear, M.P.; Mr. W. Findlater, M.P.; Mr. W. P. Sinclair, Mr. James Musgrave (afterwards baronet), Mr. Daniel Taylor, Coleraine; Mr. John S. Brown, Mr. Arthur Sharman Crawford, Mr. R. G. Dunville, Mr. W. Kenny, Q.C. (afterwards Judge Kenny).

The banquet was a great success; and if there were any present who had doubt about Mr. Gladstone’s future action in regard to the Union none had any doubts as to the strong, blunt, honest heir of the Cavendishes, who was loyal to the last, and to whom, with Mr. Chamberlain, with Birmingham and Belfast (pace Mr. Winston Churchill), the first defeat of Home Rule was largely owing.

The dissolution had taken place, and the new elections may be said to have been proceeding at the time of Lord Hartington's visit. The election took place in December, and we had a lively time of it, indeed. It was the first election after the Redistribution Bill dividing up the counties and boroughs, and under which the officials entrusted with the work divided up and down in the most wondrous and tortuous ways in order to enable the Nationalists to win West Belfast. They made a great effort, bringing down their great pet and orator, Mr. Tom Sexton, to do the fighting for them. And bravely he fought and well, and slanged and slogged the Protestants and Unionists for all he was worth; and in eloquence of vituperation and misrepresentation his services were worth much. But Mr. James Haslett, who had already made his mark in the Council and political life of the city, and who was to go further afterwards, beat him by the narrow majority of 37. But he did not hold the seat long, as Mr. Sexton beat him in the following year. In North Belfast Mr. Alex. Bowman, who is still with us, opposed Sir Wm. Ewart as a Labour enthusiast, with a kind of Home Rule tinge, which, I suspect, he lost afterwards; but he only secured 1,330 votes as against 3,915 for the Unionist candidate. In the South Mr. Wm. Johnston get in on a wave of enthusiasm largely engineered by his having been cashiered from the office of Inspector of Fisheries on account of a political speech he made. It was somewhat ironical that it was a Conservative Government that had appointed him and a Conservative Government that dismissed him; but I must I say that it was thought at the time Mr. Johnston had earned dismissal, if he had not courted it. I well remember the late Mr. Robert L. Hamilton telling me that Mr. Johnston, in a letter to him while he was a Fishery Commissioner, had said that he thought God had inspired him to risk his position in order to save the country from Home Rule. Mr. Hamilton said that he had advised him to consider carefully the source of his inspiration, as it might have come from another quarter. Mr. John Workman contested the division as a Liberal, and Dr. Seeds, as representing the old Protestant Working Men’s Association, which must have been in extremis at the time, as neither he nor Mr. Workman polled one thousand votes.

The contest in the East was not, perhaps, as exciting as the West so far as Imperial politics were concerned; but it was more exciting so far as local politics were concerned. Mr. E. S. De Cobain had retired from his duties as Borough Cashier and his self-asserted position of dictator of his masters, came forward as the Orange and Conservative working-man candidate, for which his florid eloquence and inflated pretentiousness seem to have fitted him — till he was found out — for he gained the seat. Mr. J. P. Corry was put up by the Conservatives to oppose him; and he ran him very close within a little over one hundred votes. Apart from the developments as to his character, it was long a puzzle to many of us how this man was able for so long to carry captive the Orangemen, especially of the working classes, for to those who knew him he appeared little more than an over-scented popinjay and glib and pretentious charlatan. But he beat the old party leaders hollow. Mr. R. W. Murray contested the seat as a Liberal, and thus gave great annoyance to the Conservatives of the time; but his position in the life of the city and in the Liberal party justified the attempt. He polled, however, only a few less than nine hundred votes, which was small as against the combined vote of nearly six thousand votes of the other two.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 2nd March 1917.

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

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1917) part 34



With the reader’s permission, I will return to more directly local subjects, though I cannot promise that I will leave Home Rule out, though I should like much not only to leave it out, but to rule it out. But the period I have in my mind, and with which I was dealing when I went off on a tangent about Parnell and his crimes, was the period in which Home Rule began to appear on the horizon, which it has darkened ever since. So far as Belfast was concerned, it was only in 1885 that we began seriously to dread the appearance of the monster. Those of us that were Liberals held out to the last against the possibility of Mr. Gladstone surrendering to the Parnellite Delilah. But in 1885 rumours got abroad that Lord Carnarvon, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland — the Conservative Government was called into existence on the defeat of the Liberals in the summer of that year — and Lord Randolph Churchill were making advances to Mr. Parnell; and it has been established since, that Subterranean conversations and interviews had taken place. It was admitted that in the true conspirator form and spirit Lord Carnarvon met Mr. Parnell in an empty house in London, and it was an open secret, and it has long since ceased to be a secret of any kind, that Lord Randolph Churchill was having some secret meetings in Dublin during some visits to the late Lord Justice Fitzgibbon.

No doubt the Conservatives had been courting Mr. Parnell’s support, and no doubt they received it at the election that took place in 1886. The Conservatives, to a large extent, joined with the Parnellites in opposing the Crimes Act, and Mr. Winston Churchill records in his father’s life that Lord Randolph told Lord Justice Fitzgibbon in his own house, “I told Parnell when he was seated on that sofa (pointing to it) that if the Tories took office, and I was a member of the Government, I would not consent to renew the Crimes Act.” “In that case,” Parnell said, “you will have the Irish vote.” Though we did not know as much of those subterranean negotiations in Belfast as we know now, we knew enough to make us suspicious. And the situation in Belfast was this — the Conservatives were twitting the Liberals on Mr. Gladstone going to grant Home Rule, and the Liberals were retorting with these tales about Lord Carnarvon and Lord Randolph Churchill. Sir Stafford Northcote visited Belfast in 1883, and did not say much to illumine the darkness of the time, his one recorded statement of satisfaction after his visit being that he was thankful he had no theory to defend. In connection with this visit an amusing incident (though based on what might have been serious circumstances) occurred. Sir Stafford was coming to Belfast on Mr. W. H. Smith’s steam yacht Pandora; but a storm arose in the Channel, and the poor Pandora, after being beaten about, had to put in at Kingstown, and Sir Stafford did not arrive in Belfast till considerably after the time appointed. I admit that we Liberals made much capital out of the mysterious non-appearance of the hero of the hour; and a humorous wag that we had at that time on “The Echo” made very merry over it.

But he did arrive the next day, and a demonstration and a banquet took place in honour of his visit. I have no recollection of anything he said. But I remember one incident in connection with the banquet. I happened to drop into an establishment, where afternoon “tea” was being dispensed, and found half-a-dozen gentlemen present, including three members of the Banquet Committee. “Here is a man who will settle this question for us.” said one. “What is the vexed question?” I asked. “Well,” said my friend, “I hear it said that the champagne at the banquet the other night was not good. Now, you were there. What is your opinion?” “Well, in the first place,” said I, “I was a guest; and even if I disapproved of the wine, it would not be polite to say so; and, in the second place, I would not know good champagne from bad, and, therefore, am unable to express any opinion.” “Well,” said my friend again, “I do not know how it could be bad, for ‘Billy’ and. ‘Charley’ and myself sampled two dozen and a half bottles before we gave the order.” I said if that was the case I should not be surprised if it had been bad, as at that stage of sampling I did not think they would be good judges.

But bad having begun with Sir Stafford, the weather, and the Pandora, worse remains behind. The Pandora came round to Belfast to take the hero of the hour away; and it had not got far on its journey till storms again arose, and the Pandora had to put back for safety to Donaghadee, with its Jonah on board. I do not remember whether the Pandora ventured again afloat with him or not; but I know as a historic fact that he got back to England some time or other.

But the whirligig of time brings its revenges. In the summer of 1885 the Marquis of Hartington was announced to come to Bedfast to open the Ulster Reform Club, and a great banquet was arranged in his honour in the Ulster Hall. All went merry as a marriage bell till the morning of the banquet, and the Liberals were all cock-a-whoop, as they had arranged a fine banquet and a fine gathering and a great display. About ten or eleven o’clock, however, a telegram reached Sir Ed. Cowan, who was to be his lordship’s host, announcing that the Marquis had taken suddenly ill in Dublin, and would be unable to fulfil his engagement. Hurried meetings were held, and the wires set in motion to see if some other Minister could take his place; but none was available; and as the Tories of the time said, a performance of “Hamlet” went on with the Royal Dane’s part left out. And no doubt their Press and the party made merry over the incident, and poked fun at the Liberals, as they had done in the case of Sir Stafford Northcote. It was a jolly banquet, however, and while the guests may have missed a very solid oration, they missed nothing else, either solid or liquid.

At the same time, the party had to endure a disappointment, as well as much chaff. Though it was officially stated that the Marquess had been really ill, that he had met with a slight accident a day or two before, and that his medical men would not allow him to make the journey, there were not a few Liberals who felt with all the Conservatives, that diplomacy rather than the doctor had made the stay imperative. I have never been able to satisfy myself on that point, for matters in Ireland at the time were in a critical state; and I was one of those who believed, or, perhaps, I should say, feared, that information that he had not wot of communicated to him in Dublin had made it difficult for him to make an important pronouncement at the time.

At any rate he did come in the following November, and in the midst of a General Election, for in the meantime Lord Salisbury, who had taken up the reins of office on Mr. Gladstone’s defeat over a very miserable matter connected with the Budget, but could not command a satisfactory majority, appealed to the country, and a General Election was rushed through in a couple of weeks. The club was opened in due form. It was a rather Irish opening, inasmuch as the club had been going on in full working order for nearly a couple of years. The club, according to one of its original rules, was formed for “bona-fide Liberals in politics and loyal to the principles of Constitutional government land to the maintenance of the Union with Great Britain.” The assemblage in the club on the occasion was brilliant, and Lord Hartington and the other guests of honour on the occasion were as enthusiastic and delighted over the magnificence of the building and the adornment of the local habitation and name the Liberal party had secured in the capital of Ulster. Lord Hartington made an interesting speech on occasion, which was largely one of congratulation and appreciation of the work done and suggested in Ulster. Before I refer further to Lord Hartington’s visit, I should like to mention one or two private incidents of the time that it can ao no harm to mention now. The late Mr. John Shaw Brown, in addition to having been one of the originators and one of the largest subscribers to the funds for starting the building, supplied free, and of the finest description, all the napery required for the club. I think I am right in saying that the late Mr. Samuel Johnston, of Highfield, Belfast, was the gentleman who first conceived the idea of the club. Some time after the club was formed — I cannot recollect whether it was after or before it was formally opened — Mr. Brown was entertained to dinner by the members. Laudations were poured upon Mr. Brown’s head during Hie evening for the part he had taken in the formation of the Club. All who knew Mr. Brown will remember his happy, handsome, and smiling face beaming good humour, good nature, and geniality all round, and will also remember that he was the most natural and unaffected of men.

When it came to his time to acknowledge these compliments and laudations, he said, inter alia, “You have been all giving me credit for starting this club. I did not start the club. There’s the fellow (pointing to Mr. Johnston, who, with his characteristic modesty, was sitting at a private table) that started the club. He called at my office one day after the General Election, and said, ‘Don’t you think it would be a good thing to start a Liberal Club in Belfast;’ and I said, ‘It would be a very good thing; but how will we do it?’ He said, ‘I’ll subscribe a thousand pounds.’ That was a staggerer; but I said I would not let any Englishman come over here and outdo a Belfast man, and I said, ‘I’ll give a thousand pounds too.’ That’s all I did. Sam Johnston is the man who deserves all the credit.” I may say, however, that all the subscriptions given were put into shares in the Building Fund, which continues to give a return to the original holders — the club pays a rent to the Building Committee that represents the original contributors. There is one other incident in connection with the early days of the club. The late Sir John Preston was being shown over it; and after he had gone over the various rooms and was looking round the fine billiard room, with its splendid light and outlook, he said, “This is a very fine club; it will do very well for us after a while.” The late Mr. Robert MacGeagh, who was in the group, and he was never behind with a retort, at once said, “Oh, yes, your party is very fond of second-hand goods” — a reference to the old Musical Hall, which had been converted into a Conservative club, which was a palpable hit. But then Mr. MacGeagh never failed in that respect. I remember on one occasion when a certain gentleman, who at the time deserted the early principles of the club, almost trampled on him in passing along one of the rooms of the club. Mr. MacGeagh’s sight was not of the best, and he had not recognised his old friend. “You don’t seem to recognise your old friends,” said the gentleman. Turning quickly towards him, and shading his eyes with his hand, as was his wont in certain lights, Mr. MacGeagh shook his friend’s hand warmly, and smilingly said, “Oh, you know, when a man changes his coat it is sometimes difficult to recognise him.”

To be continued...

From The Witness, 23rd February 1917.

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