Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 30



The other evening at a quiet social meeting, where conversation rather than cards was the staple, a lady, at a moment of lull, asked a reverend friend, who is a most excellent raconteur, if he would tell a good story. The rev. gentleman, seldom at a loss when anecdotes are flowing, was for the moment found wanting. He candidly declared that hd could not think of anything till the anecdotal hall was set a-rolling; and when it afterwards did, no one rolled, it more merrily or happily than he.

I am at the moment of taking up my pencil — I have long ceased to be able to use a pen, unless to sign my name, and that I do very inartistically — in the condition of my friend. It is not that my memory has failed me, but because in the jumble of memories I do not know what to bring out of the bag. I have not exhausted the individualities or incidents worth recalling, but I cannot for the moment make up my mind where to begin, or what line of memory to follow, and I am trying to trifle in the hope that something may come.

It is true I might fall back upon books or upon newspaper files, but I am afraid. If I did I would only be writing history and not memories, and the writing of history is not my forte. I did once or twice turn up newspaper files to verify some incidents, and the result of this was to me dulness, whatever it may have been to the reader. As I read one thing after another crowded upon my eye and my memory, and I got lost in hopeless mazes. I remember reading or hearing that Macaulay once said he had read five volumes to provide one with one sentence. Now, in my case one small volume, or one small newspaper, even an “Ulster Echo” file, would suggest to me material not for one sentence, but for a score of sentences, till I would get lost, and so, I fear, would my readers. But, then, and I make the admission with becoming modesty, I am not a great reader or a great writer like Macaulay. He read and condensed the results of his reading into unforgettable sentences. I cannot condense, as, I fear, my readers know too well. Macaulay’s sentences are like the fine cream that pure milk produces after a period of settling. My sentences are like what the same milk would produce if diluted with water — they are very thin and not very nourishing. Macaulay, though he was a great master of words, would never use five hundred words where fifty would serve his purpose. I am afraid I am something like De Morgan, artist and novelist, recently deceased, of whom a critic wrote that he would never use fifty words when he could find five hundred.

It is this weakness that makes me dread looking up books or files. If I did I fear my words would be endless, and the results a weariness to the reader as well as to myself. I have not yet got a clue, and so I will fall back on my old friend Macaulay. It has been said of him, and, I think, with truth, that he wrote his history to glorify the Whigs. This method of writing history, or even of writing newspaper leaders, is not uncommon. The writers prepossessions and sympathies may tincture all he writes, and while he may be thinking he is impartial he is only partisan. If Macaulay wrote history to glorify the Whigs, Froude wrote it to glorify the Tories. And I think even the great Br. Johnson was not immune from this weakness of political writers, for he tells us that while he was merely reporting the speeches in the House of Commons he “took care not to let the Whig dogs have the best of it.”

Now, I have an impression that I am the most detached and impartial of writers or recorders, and that I am a perfect Gallio in regard to much of our mundane politics; and yet I dare say there are people who would accuse me of partisanship and even of prejudices, and would say that in the old days I showed more sympathy with and appreciation of the Liberals than the Conservatives, and that in modern days I express more appreciation of the Unionists than the Radicals, and that I have a prejudiced mind in regard to Irish Nationalists and that most strange of all birds, the Protestant Home Rulers. This is only another illustration of how the fairest and most impartial men may be misunderstood and their writings misconstrued.

I wonder have I recovered my wandering thoughts yet. Let me see. I think the last subject to which I referred was the election of 1880, both in Belfast and Ulster. Now, I know I headed these memories as of Belfast, and Belfast alone. But Belfast no more than man can live alone, however much it may want to do so. There is nothing Belfast has been hankering after more during the last half-century than to be let alone. It would have been content to have been allowed to go on in its own industrial and energetic way, with no man outside to trouble it or make it afraid. Yet it has had little but troubles and threatenings for the last half-century, and I am not sure that it is free from them yet, and chiefly from the outside. Now one statesman or faddist and now another comes along, sometimes from Westminster, sometimes from Dublin Castle, sometimes from the slums, sometimes from Berry Street or the little garret in Rosemary Street, to trouble or perturb it under the guise of reforming it. This has largely arisen from the fact that it is in Ireland, that it is prosperous more than any other part of Ireland, and that it seeks to find salvation in concentrated industry rather than in disintegrating agitation. It may not have the best local or Imperial government in the world, but it is quite satisfied with its government, and with the living and thriving it does under it. But every Radical quack in the country thinks he knows better, professes to believe that it is really living under British tyranny, and that if it would only be content to shake that off and submit to the tyranny of an Irish Parliament, as foreshadowed by the Land League, the United Irish League, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Dublin Corporation, its happiness and prosperity would be complete.

Now, this is where my difficulty lies in dealing with my memories of Belfast. On the one hand, they are concerned with the quiet flow of industrial energy and development, the noiseless river-like flow of its industry, and the increasing flood of its loyalty. On the other hand, they are concerned with legislation and agitation, with controversy and contention, with crimes and outrages, with threatenings and slaughter not so much within or directly affecting Belfast’s own borders, but as part of the penalty it has to pay for being proud and satisfied to remain in what the late King of Sweden described as “the British part of Ireland, or rather that part of it which is in sympathy with Britain.”

It is true we have had riots in Belfast; indeed, we have got rather a reputation in that respect. I remember once looking over a dictionary of dates to find out something about Belfast. I looked up Belfast in the index, and all I found was, “Belfast: Bee Riots.” And I saw. We had riots in ’64, we had riots in ’72, we had riots in 86, and we have had, more or less, large adventures of the same kind at other times. Some, no doubt, were disgracefully bad, and some only very mild; but it became that the newspapers outside Belfast described every street disturbance as a riot. I remember on one occasion witnessing a small stone-throwing shindy in York Street on the occasion of the return of some Island excursionists from Larne or Portrush — it was not a Sunday-school excursion such as might be expected to give special offence to nationalists. I had witnessed it without a scar, or without much excitement, and left for London that night. The damage done was infinitesimal. In the English papers the next morning I found a huge headline about “Rioting in Belfast,” and after I had entered my name, with Belfast as my last place of residence, the people in the hotel gathered round me like bees, making most anxious inquiries, as if I had been one who had escaped from a besieged or beleaguered city. I laughed, and go did they when they learned on what a small foundation a great newspaper headline had been built up.

Yet nearly all these riots arose out of questions and issues that Belfast did not want to have thrust upon it. They arose out of the importation into Belfast of the spirit of disloyalty and rebellion, the spirit of repeal and separatism, the spirit of rebellion that was developing from the cabbage garden in Limerick to the Easter Day rebellion in Dublin — which, I admit, was more serious than the cabbage-garden episode. It was the return of the Belfast repealers from the inauguration of the O’Connell Statue in Dublin that brought about the ’64 riots. I cannot recall the particular incident that brought about the ’72 riots. It was Mr. Gladstone’s first Home Rule Bill and the premature jubilations of the Nationalists on the anticipated subjugation of Belfast that led to the ’86 riots. It was ever and always because of these questions, with which Belfast wanted to have no concern, that we had riots or any other troubles of the kind, and why Belfast had its peace more disturbed than Leeds or Manchester or Birmingham, which cities it was trying to emulate in their peaceful path of industrial development and progress.

Heaven forbid that I should excuse those Protestants who threw stones at Nationalists or imitated the Nationalists in their rowdyism. But it is given to few men, save an occasional United States President, to be too proud to fight. It might have been better to have let the Nationalists at all times have the field to themselves, better let the Nationalists overrun them, as President Wilson appears to think it would have been better for the Belgians to have let the Germans overrun Belgium. It might have been better for them to have let the Nationalists always have the honour of victory, and run away on all occasions of insult or assault, individual or urban. This would have pleased pacific souls like President Wilson, and saved the city from the danger and the reputation of riot and bloodshed. But, unfortunately, the Protestants of Belfast were not high-minded, high-souled, aloof philosophers, like the President, and preferred flinging stones and bricks rather than Notes at the disturbers of their peace. It might have pleased men of the calibre of the President if at every step and stage the Protestants, instead of resisting, had declined the challenge thrown down from the days of Repeal to the present time; to have thrown down their arms and put up their hands and surrendered in turn to O’Connell, to Parnell, to Redmond and Devlin. But they did not do so.

It has been the refusal to do that, the unreasonable resistance, as these Radical-Nationalist pacifists would have it, to the tender rule of Rome, via an Irish leader and an Irish Parliament, that has been the cause of all these local troubles and conflicts, discords and divisions, all the riotings in and the rhetorical raidings of the city. All Belfast asked was peace with loyalty, and because of that they have had nothing but war, and a fight against disloyalty foe generations. And it is going on still even amidst this world-war, so far at least as the disloyalists are concerned. The loyalists now are preserving a wondrous calm despite all the trickeries and threatenings directed against them. They have carried this calm so far that their very quietness is being used to their detriment, and it is held that because they are not fighting they have lost all zeal for fight. This is the greatest mistake of all. But, then, mistakes and misunderstandings of Belfast have become second nature to simpering Radicals or sinister Separatists. While little of the events of the year succeeding the 1880 elections directly arose in or were directly concerned with Belfast, Belfast was compelled to think of them and note them continually, as the local objective of the dark days of the ’eighties and of all the murders from Phoenix Park to Maamtrasna was the subjugation of Belfast and Ulster, as involved in the subjugation of the British Parliament and the British people, leaving as much of the British Crown as would serve as a cover for the tyrannies that an Irish Parliament would inflict on the Protestants of Ireland.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 26th January 1917.

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

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

By the North Sea

Death and Sorrow and Sleep:
    Here where the slow waves creep,
This is the chant I hear,
    The chant of the measureless deep.

What was Sorrow to me
    Then, when the young life free
Thirsted for joys of earth,
    Far from the desolate sea?

What was Sleep but a rest,
    Giving to youth the best
Dreams from the ivory gate,
    Visions of God manifest?

What was death but a tale
    Told to faces grown pale,
Worn or wasted with years
    A meaningless thing to the hale?

Death and Sorrow and Sleep:
    Now their sad message I keep,
Tossed on the wet wind's breath,
    The chant of the measureless deep.

 W. L. Courtney.

From Poems of the Great War by John William Cunliffe (1916)
Image: Old ships of the 10th Cruiser squadron on blockade patrol off the Shetland Islands 1914 by Mal Wright

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 29



By some lapse of eye and memory, I overlooked in my list of Lord Mayors, which concluded the week before last, the names of three who, for many reasons, I should not have forgotten — Sir James Henderson, in 1898; Lord Shaftesbury, in 1907; and Sir Robert Anderson, in 1908-9. Sir James Henderson (he received the knighthood during his year of office) was a most energetic and popular Mayor. He had always been an active member of the Council, and he did not spare himself during his term of office. He was most hospitable, and in his hospitalities he was greatly assisted by his wife. Lady Henderson, who, happily, survives him. In common with many colleagues I have occasion to remember Sir James Henderson’s kindness, and many opportunities of observing his energetic labours in the Council and out of it to sustain, as he did worthily, the position of the high office.

Lord Shaftesbury’s occupancy of the Lord Mayoralty brought into connection with the municipal life of the city a nobleman who had great interest in it, and one of a rank not previously associated with the office. At the same time his lordship was cordially welcomed, and, as far as his engagements would admit, he devoted himself most assiduously to the duties of the office, and brought to them not only the dignity of his position, but the graciousness of a courteous personality.

Of Sir Robert Anderson, who held office for two years, no man, and least of all myself, could speak too highly. As a successful businessman, he had gained a high reputation even before he entered the City Council, and his prosperity and popularity have grown with his growth ever since. He entered the Council with the intention to work, and he has worked all along with a continuity, energy, and singleness of purpose which have won him general respect. The tramways were for years not alone his hobby, but his serious thought, and as chairman of the committee he was always to the front where work was to be done. During his Lord Mayoralty he continued chairman of the committee, and it was a committee that involved great time, labour, and thought; and while there may have been differences of opinion as to policy.

During his Lord Mayoralty he continued chairman of the committee, and it was a committee that involved great time, labour, and thought; and while there may have been differences of opinion as to policy, there was none as to Sir Robert’s anxiety to serve the public and the trust. No man could have been more regular or attentive to the duties as Lord Mayor than he; and I will add no man could have done more as an ex-Lord Mayor, for he has ever been at the side of his successors, and always ready to take the chair in the absence of the occupant.

His term of office was memorable for his hospitality, which consisted more of receptions than dinners, and gave the ladies of the city special opportunities for sharing in the official hospitalities of the Lord Mayoralty. Sir Robert was, and is, a staunch teetotaler, and in consonance with his principles refused to have wines at his table. Consistency in this, as in all his action in life, in Church and in State, in business and in private life, is a characteristic of Sir Robert. He is an ardent and earnest member of the Presbyterian Church, and deeply interested in all its work and in its welfare. But Sir Robert has not confined all his energies to Belfast, but displayed them in other quarters. He is a native of County Monaghan, and he has done great work in assisting and developing industry in the county of his nativity. Sir Robert received the honour of knighthood when he officiated as Sheriff, and received a baronetcy on the occasion of the visit of the King and Queen to Ireland some years ago. And he worthily bears his honours and his years.

But any reference to Sir Robert Anderson’s activities as Lord Mayor would be incomplete without a reference to Lady Anderson, a daughter of the manse, whose graceful kindness, courtesy, and thoughtfulness in connection with the departments of her husband’s duties that fell to her share were unceasing, and left behind them the most pleasant and gracious memories.

To return to my muttons, so far as the local election was concerned, it left Presbyterians with one representative and the Episcopalians with another, which was in consonance with a written or unwritten law. But if the Liberalism, the sound, true, and constitutional Liberalism of the time, failed to secure a seat in Parliament, it was more successful in other parts of Ulster, where the Belfast Conservative votes did not play such a part as they did in Down and Antrim. In the County Londonderry, Mr. Law and Sir Thos. M'Clure; in Monaghan, Messrs. Givan and Findlater were returned; in Tyrone, Mr. E. Litton (afterwards Judge) was returned; in Donegal, the Rev. Dr. Kinnear and Sir Thomas Lea were returned; in Armagh, Mr. J. N. Richardson was returned. In Dungannon, Mr. T. A. Dickson won by two votes; but was afterwards unseated on petition. But in the City of Londonderry, Mr. Lewis won, and Mr. Adam Hogg was defeated. In Coleraine, Mr. Daniel Taylor was defeated, and in Downpatrick, Mr. Frazer was defeated.

It would not be historically or politically accurate to suggest that the Liberals who succeeded at this election won exclusively on party lines as these were understood in England. The question of tenant-right then bulked large in Ulster politics,, and many farmers who on other phases might not have voted Liberal, threw in their lot with the Liberals. But it was not Liberalism alone that won the elections for the Liberals in Ulster. It was Presbyterianism, which bulked large and more successfully at this election than it had done before, and the majority at any rate of the majority at any rate of the leaders of Presbyterianism, clerical and lay, were Liberals. There were about a dozen candidates for Ulster seats, and while some of them went down a majority remained. Mr. Corry and Mr. C. E. Lewis were Presbyterians as well as Conservatives, and that, no doubt, was a strong factor in their poll.

As a result of the contests, the following Presbyterians were returned — Messrs. Corry, Lewis, Givan, Findlater, Dickson, Sir Thos. M‘Clure, and Rev. Dr. Kinnear. Messrs. Chas. Wilson and Samuel Black were the Liberal candidates for Antrim, and both Presbyterians, but they were defeated by Messrs. Chaine and Macnaughton. In Down Lord Arthur Hill and Lord Castlereagh defeated Mr. Jas. Sharman Crawford, but so close was the contest that he was only twenty behind Lord Castlereagh. And thereby hangs a tale, which I will refer to later. I recall these incidents as historical facts, and not to revive controversies that are dead and buried. But these controversies and differences, denominational and political, were factors of the day that could not be ignored. And the fact was the very small number of Presbyterian ministers who appeared on the platform in support of the Conservative candidates. So far as this district is concerned, I can only recall the names of three — the Rev. Dr. Gray, the Rev. Hugh Hanna, and the Rev. W. G. M'Cullough. The Rev. John Macnaughtan, Rev. Archibald Robinson, Broughshane; the Rev. Robert Workman, the Rev. Jonathan Simpson, and many others appeared on the platform of the Liberal Presbyterians, And among the Presbyterian laymen the late Hon. Thos. Sinclair and Mr. W. D. Henderson took a prominent part. On glancing over the names in an old file among the ministers that I noticed taking part, the only one now living is the Rev. Robert Workman.

It was during this election that Mr. E. S. Finnigan, the Conservative election agent, brought off his great coup, or, rather, great-trick, in the matter of the secrecy of the ballot. It was a daring election venture, which ended in an election petition against Lord Castlereagh (afterwards Lord Londonderry), in whose interests it was issued. Mr. Finnigan’s shrewd and far-seeing idea was that if he could create an impression that the ballot was not secret the farmers, at any rate in the districts over which the Londonderry estate extended, would be afraid to vote against the young scion of the noble house. It was well arranged and well engineered. The late Mr. Jas. Jenkins, rent agent, was a friend and neighbour of Mr. Finnigan, but a strong Liberal. Mr. Finnigan asked him to attend in his room in Lombard Street at a certain time to show him that the secrecy of the ballot could be revealed, and suggested that he should invite me to see the exposition. In my simplicity I went, only to find Mr. Lilburn, the Editor of the “News-Letter,” among others there, which suggested to me at once that, whether the ballot was secret or not, this investigation was not to be secret. Mr. Finnigan went through his manipulation, which only brought out what we all knew, that, as the ballot paper contained the number of the voter on the registry, an individual vote could be discovered on a scrutiny; but it did not make clear that it could be discovered otherwise. On the contrary, it made clear to my mind the very opposite. After Mr. Finnigan had manipulated his papers with the skill of a conjurer, he asked each individual present if he had made good his claim that the secret of the ballot could be disclosed. He asked me, among others, and I said that he had on the same principle that if he could enter Robb’s or Anderson & M'Auley’s, get over the counter, seize a parcel of cloth, get past all the assistants in the shop and all the police they could call to their aid, he could succeed in stealing the cloth. The vote of no individual could be discovered at the counting, as was suggested, unless everyone in the booth, from the Sheriff’s representatives, the agents of both parties, and all the clerks at the counting, were in a conspiracy, and I questioned if even then it could be discovered. That was not expressing satisfaction with his success.

Fancy, then, my surprise on reading in the “News-Letter” the next morning that everyone present had admitted that Mr. Finnigan had made out his case, and this was done in a half column description. Copies of the paper containing that article were sent to all the electors, and, for my part, I have no doubt that it influenced the electors. But on a petition Baron Fitzgerald thought not, and so refused to unseat Lord Londonderry.

I was present in Downpatrick at the trial of the petition; and a wonderful trial it was. According to Mr. Finnigan’s friends, it was all the result of a mere accident that the matter got into the “News-Letter;” the fact that the Rev. S. D. Burnside happened to be in the rooms at the time (though he was seldom, out of them) and the incidental communication of the fact to him that the article appeared. We have had no revelation of the secrecy of the ballot since, and as Mr. Finnigan represented the matter, in my opinion it would be impossible to have any. But the incident and the article beyond a doubt did its work, and raised Mr. Finnigan’s prowess as an electioneering agent to the highest pitch, at which it remained till his death.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 19th January 1917.

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

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 28



I hope my readers will pardon me if I make an excursion into local politics, as revealed in the election of 1880. I admit we have no politicos now; but we had them in excelsis in the past. We had Liberals and Tories forty years ago, as we had for many decades before that; but though the names have not disappeared, the distinctive divisions have passed away. Liberalism, in its good old sound Imperial sense, went with Mr. Gladstone's conversion, or rather perversion, to Home Rule, and Tory disappeared when the necessities of Empire and the Kingdom rendered a fusion of the forces of Imperial patriotism absolutely necessary. Liberalism has become Radicalism, with a political war chest largely filled with German gold and with a heterogeneous collection of Socialists, Labourists, pacifists, and Irish Nationalists. Toryism has become Unionism, with its ranks swelled by Liberals who put Empire before party and patriotism before politics.

We have now a Government in power which, while nominally partially composed of Radicals, is really Unionist in its determined effort and enthusiasm to carry on the War with a single eye to the interests of the country instead of as on the Radical lines. With one eye, and that the one most in evidence, on party. It is true that the present Prime Minister was a Radical of Radicals and a pacifist of pacifists, a Little Englander, if you will, in his old and unregenerate days; but when his eyes were opened to the treachery to the Empire that the carrying out of his old principles involved, he had the patriotism to cast off the old man and put on the new; and in forming his Government he had the courage to shed such of his old colleagues as he knew or feared would prefer “wait-and-see” to “push-and-go,” and who would pander to the agents of a German peace rather than pursue a righteous and rigorous campaign against German Junkerism. The Radicals themselves practically admit this, and Mr. M'Kenna, the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, banned the Premier and his Government as outside the ranks of the Liberal party, and declared that the Liberal party, with Mr. Asquith at its head, were in opposition to the Government. It is true Mr. Asquith tried by some characteristic
words to remove the impression that his lieutenant had produced. But what was said was said. And said, I verily believe, with truth so far as the party, and especially, the interests of the party war chests, are concerned.

In 1889, however, we had just Liberal and Tory. In the ranks of the former, or at least as their supporters, were the Roman Catholics, who at that time were only asking for equality, for which the Liberals were working, and not clamouring for ascendency as they are doing now. In the ranks of the Tories were the Protestant working men of Belfast, the remnant of the Jonstonites of 1868, who objected to being only hewers of wood and drawers of water for the old Tory clique, and they called the leaders of that party, and who might be described as democratic Tories. When the General Election of 1880 took place, Mr. Disraeli was Prime Minister, memory of “Peace with honour” still fresh upon him. Mr. Gladstone had, like Achilles in his tents, retired from the leadership of the Liberal Party; but he emerged during the Russo-Turkish war, and roused the country by his savage indignation at the Bulgarian atrocities, for the disclosures of which to the country the “Daily News” and its brilliant Irish-American correspondent, Mr. M'Gahan, were chiefly responsible. Mr. Disraeli had described as “coffee-house babble” the stories in which Mr. M'Gahon had founded his articles; and Mr. Gladstone started his [--eat] crusade, which roused this country to its centre, and the Disraeli-despised crusader became the hero of the nation and the head of the new Government after the election. But I am anticipating.

It is doubtful if the great issues of the nation at the time had much effect on the elections in Belfast, where local feelings and differences dominated — Home Rule or Parnellism had not really appeared upon the horizon to any marked extent at the time. Mr. J. P. Corry and Mr. Wm. Ewart — the honour of baronetage came to both later — had been the sitting members, and offered themselves for re-election, basing their claim in their personal services to the constituency and the Disraelian, or rather Beaconsfield Government, for Mr. Disraeli had then entered the kingdom of the Lords and the service of the Premier and his Government of the country. For a time it seemed as if these gentlemen were to have the field to themselves; but after ten days a new candidate appeared. Mr. Charles Ward and the Protestant Working Men's Association still remembered 68, determined to challenge the seat, and selected as their candidate Mr. Robert Seeds, a member of the North-East bar, and a member of a family prominently identified with the legal profession as solicitors — Messrs. H. and W. Seeds. Dr. Seeds championed the democracy, and championed it well.

In the “Ulster Echo” at the time we championed the cause of Dr. Seeds as representing the most Liberal element of the three, though Dr. Seeds did not, and dare not, use the unblessed word Liberal. The “Evening Telegraph” at the time rather [---lied] in its support of the representative of the fierce democracy; and we wrote up Dr. Seeds in “The Echo,” with the result that we could scarcely print at the time efficient paper to meet the demands of the Shankill Road. Our newsboys, who had ever been very welcome in that district, were cheered and besieged as they rushed up with our words in praise of Dr. Seeds. I had, and have, a strong impression that if no other candidate had appeared in the field, Dr. Seeds would have secured one of the seats, if popular acclaim counts for anything.

But in the second week of the contest a Liberal appeared on the scene, and changed the entire aspect, both for ourselves and the election; and while we supported Dr. Seeds as a means of defeating the old Tory leaders, when a Liberal light in the person of Mr. John Shaw Brown appeared the entire situation changed. We supported Mr. Brown with greater enthusiasm than we had supported Dr. Seeds, and while still regarding the latter as representing the least evil, so far as the Conservative party were concerned, concentrated our energies on Mr. Brown. And we ceased to be the favourite of the Shankill Road that we had been for the previous days — crowns were changed to kicks in that region till the heat of the contest was over.

While Messrs. Corry and Ewart dealt in generalities, Mr. Brown dealt in particularities. Tenant-right, free sale, fair rents and permanent possession, peasant proprietary, the assimilation of the franchise with that of England, compensation for injuries to workmen, the consideration of local public Bills in Belfast instead of Westminster were among the objects he favoured. I doubt if any of these, save perhaps the last two, had much local interest or influence for them. I must truly say we were all for party. But at any rate his address suggested a programme and a principle wider than his opponents. I may say, however, that though Mr. Brown fought a good fight and kept the sound Liberal faith, he did not win. Messrs. Corry and Ewart were returned in the order mentioned. Dr. Seeds came third, and Mr. Brown fourth. Taking the vote in thousands, Mr. Corry was eight, Mr. Ewart seven, Dr. Seeds six, and Mr. Brown five, which was not at all a bad vote having regard to the political complexion of the constituency at the time.

There were some interesting developments in the election. It was claimed on the side of the old Conservative party that this was an alliance between the supporters of Dr. Seeds and Mr. Brown, while on the democratic side there was an allegation that there was an alliance between the other two candidates. This meant that as each voter had two votes, the voters for the one set would give one vote for each of the candidates. But this could not have been the case, as Mr. Corry was about a thousand above Mr. Ewart, and Dr. Seeds was about a thousand above Mr. Brown. In that case there must have been considerable plumping or cross-voting — that is, an old Conservative supporter voting for one or other of the two remaining candidates or giving one vote to one of the two and another vote to one or other of the successful candidates. What did likely happen was that some of the Presbyterian Liberals voted for Mr. Brown and gave their second vote to Mr. Corry, and that some of Mr. Corry's Presbyterian voters, which, however, was less likely, gave their votes for Mr. Brown. In the same way it is likely that some of the Episcopalian democrats voted for Mr. Ewart and that some of the latter's friends voted for Dr. Seeds. No doubt the Roman Catholic vote must have largely gone to Mr. Brown, though at the time the Rev. Mr. Cahill, who was the fiery leader, with journalistic proclivities and opportunities, of at any-rate a section of that party, was a Conservative. I have no recollection of the result of his influence in Belfast, but I remember that he supported Lord Castlereagh (afterwards Lord Londonderry) for County Down. Mr. Parnell had then set out on the warpath; but his incursion into the North was later.

There was a good deal of cross-firing between the “Whig” and “News-Letter” and their respective followers at the time; and the rivalries of these newspapers found developments among the supporters, as the “News-Letter” was groaned at Dr. Seeds' meetings and the “Whig” groaned at the meetings of Messrs. M'Clure and Corry. There were one or two anomalous incidents during this election. The Rev. John Rogers, of Comber, afterwards professor, who had supported Mr. Corry at the previous election, and who had supported the Conservative candidates in 1888 (I admit on the promise of Mr. Disraeli, which turned out to be of no value in fact, whatever may be the intention, that he would, if returned, raise the Regium Donum to £100 a year for each Presbyterian minister), entered the lists against Mr. Corry, and discharged two or three epistolary bullets at his head. He alleged that Mr. Corry had neglected Presbyterian interests, and that he had supported the Bill for abolishing the old Queen's University and establishing the Royal University, whose ill-starred life continued for a couple of decades. It was under this Bill, or simultaneously with it, that the Faculties of the Assembly's and Magee Colleges were enabled to confer degrees. As might be expected, Mr. Rogers' attacks were severe, for Mr. Rogers spared no one when his caustic tongue or pen was brought into action. Professor Watts, who was Moderator at the time, and who, though an ardent Liberal, was also an ardent Presbyterian, defended Mr. Corry so far at least as his attention to Parliamentary calls in Presbyterian interests were concerned, on behalf of the Church, and because of the measure for conferring D.D.'s, for which Mr. Corry got credit, came to the defence of that gentleman; and so, I think, did one or two other Presbyterian ministers. And this may have secured votes from Presbyterians who were not Conservative.

There was another element that was suggested by Mr. Corry as having had an influence on Mr. Rogers' action. A vacancy had occurred in the Presidency of the Queen's College some time before, and the Rev. Dr. Porter, who had been a professor in the Assembly's College, had received the appointment. It was an open secret at the time that, at any rate the friends of Mr. Rogers thought he should have received the Presidency on account of the electoral support he had given the party in 1868 and since, and many, therefore, were not surprised when Mr. Corry, with, whom the nomination rested, stated, in reply to these attacks, that if he had given a favourable reply to Mr. Rogers' request for the Presidency, he would not have appeared as his electoral enemy. Mr. Rogers, in reply, denied that he had ever made the request for the position seriously, though he said he had in a passing way on the lobby in Westminster, said to him in a light vein, “Will you give me the Presidency of the Queen's College?” Those of us who were about at the time formed our opinion on the controversy according to our political leanings or according to our knowledge of the men and of human nature. There was another phase of this Presidential vacancy. It was freely reported at the time that the appointment had been given, or was about to be given, to another than Dr. Porter or Mr. Rogers, and that Mr. Corry had blocked it, and secured the high, office for Dr. Porter. This much, however, must be said of Dr. Porter, that he towered head and shoulders above his competitors, as Saul was above the other Israelites. He also excelled all his brethren in dignity, or at any rate in a sense of dignity, and presided over the college till his death.

There was another anomalous incident. Mr. Wm. Johnston was returned in 1868 by the democratic section of the Conservatives, with the assistance of “split” votes from Mr. M'Clure, which “splits” were reciprocated. It was the same association — the Protestant Working Men's Association, and largely the same men — “Charley” Ward, Wm. M'Cormick, Wm. M'Dade, and others, who put forward Dr. Seeds in 1880, and with the same grounds and grievances against the old leaders. Mr. Johnston, however, on this occasion did not identify himself with his old friends, and for a time did not identify himself with any section till after the contest was in progress for some time, when, at a meeting of Messrs. Corry and Ewart's supporters, Mr. Johnston got up and said he was there uninvited, but he hoped not unwelcome; and then he made a speech in support of the two candidates and the Conservative party. I will say this for Mr. Johnston, that while he called himself a Conservative, he boasted more of his Orangeism; and I presume it was the Orangeism in him that led him to give many Liberal votes, especially on the Ballot and the Land Bill. It is quite possible this may have helped to secure the return of the two candidates. I do not think, however, I am straining the sequence of events if I say that an Inspectorship of Fisheries followed. But if that tempted him for a time, it did not tempt him for all time, as I shall have occasion to relate hereafter.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 12th January 1917.

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

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 27



The best laid schemes of mice and “The Man in the Street” sometimes gang agley. Last week I took advantage of the Christmas holidays to write an article a week in advance, and did not intend that it should appear till this week, so that I might have a New Year's rest. I had only read and revised the first portion concluding with the references to Lord and Lady Pirrie; but by one of those misunderstandings that happen in the best regulated office, the printer sent it all out and down, so that the latter part appeared unread and unrevised by me, and was sent out with all its imperfections on its head. Though I would have changed nothing of the spirit, I would have changed in some cases the form and avoided some obvious inaccuracies that have appeared, for which I apologise.

Though, happily the Lord Mayor (Sir Crawford M'Cullagh) still belongs to the present, and not to the past, I could not conclude a review of the occupants of that high office without a notice of one who has served the city so well, and whom it is soon to part with with regret. When Mr. M'Mordie died in the very heyday of his work and usefulness in the spring of 1914, the present Lord Mayor was unanimously called to fulfil the duties of the office, which he did with such satisfaction to the citizens that they elected him on the following year, and then for the present, which practically means three years. It was no easy task to wear Mr. M'Mordie's mantle, but the present Lord Mayor wore it well, and when, on the occasion of his first visit to Belfast as Lord Lieutenant, Lord Wimborne conferred the honour of knighthood on him, which was pointedly emphasised as direct from the King, it was felt that the honour was as well deserved as it was highly appreciated by the citizens.

And it is due to Sir Crawford M'Cullagh to say that his task throughout has been pre-eminently arduous and difficult, demanding not only great labour, but great tact and judgment. And in no particular did his lordship fail. Into the work of raising recruits for the army and in raising funds for the victims of the war and their friends, and of the various orgnisations which grew out of these he threw himself with characteristic energy and singleness of purpose, and won not only the respect of the authorities, but of all the citizens without regard to class or creed for his unstinted efforts and unvarying success. He readily responded to every call of duty and to every call to undertake duty, and withal never showed a sign of weariness or of worry; always ready, always courteous, always wise and prudent. He has won a high place in the hearts and affections of the citizens, whose best wishes will follow him into his retirement. and whose memory of his services and sacrifice in a time of storm and stress will not soon be forgotten.

But if the Lord Mayor did his part well, what shall I say of the Lady Mayoress? Without any previous experience of public life she took up the duties of Lady Mayoress with a readiness and grace, and carried out all the duties as to the manner born. The war, philanthropic, and other organisations over which she presided, the activities she was called upon to exercise, the addresses she was called upon to make were many and often taxing; but Lady M'Cullagh never faltered and never failed, and not only secured a crown for herself, but added laurels to those of her husband by her energy and industry, by her urbanity, courtesy, and kindness, and by her womanly heartfulness and grace.

In recalling the memories of our Mayors and Lord Mayors it would not be unfitting to recall some of the members of the Corporate staff that assisted them and the Corporation in their labours. And first must come Sir Samuel Black. Of the Corporation during his tenure of office he may be said to have been a great part. As Town Clerk and Town Solicitor he was not only adviser, but, originator, always ready, always resourceful, always clear and decided, and sound alike in his opinion and judgment. He took a great interest in all the civic developments, and while he was always anxious, and, I will add, successful in observing and preserving the rights and interest of the Council, he had ever an eye upon the development of the city.

At Sir Samuel's death, Mr. Robt. Meyer, who had been well trained under him, became Town Clerk, and Mr. John M'Cormick, who had been well trained in Corporation matters as well as in law, became Town Solicitor. Of Mr. Meyer's services as Town Clerk, there is but one opinion both within and without the City Hall, and that is that he has risen to the full height of his duties and responsibilities in a manner that has earned not only the respect, but the confidence of all. He is capable, careful, courteous and resourceful, a man and not a machine, a ready reference as to all that has been done in the past and to all that is being done, or should be done, in the present or future; a perfect official and a perfect gentleman.

As to Mr. John M'Cormick, he has proved himself an admirable and popular law adviser, and with a knowledge of municipal law and of men, municipal and otherwise, that constitute him a shrewd, sound, prudent legal adviser. And he is as courteous as he is capable, and always ready to advise and assist, so that justice as well as law may dominate the relations of the Council and those with whom they are brought into association.

The City Chamberlain is an office that came into existence with the city and its Lord Mayor; and Mr. F. W. Moneypenny, M.V.O., who had been Borough Cashier for many years, was appointed. And he has discharged the duties with the greatest efficiency. With him rests the responsibility for the conduct of the principal city functions, with the reception of distinguished visitors, with the details of the various organisations, philanthropic and otherwise, that have their centre in the City Hall; and none but one to the manner born, as he is could discharge them all with the perfection of order and organisation, and with the courtesy and success that he does.

The City Engineer plays a great part In the life of any municipal body. In the first older of that office in my recollection, the late Mr. Montgomery, the Belfast Corporation possessed one of the best in the kingdom. Mr. Montgomery was not only a great engineer, but a great man, and a far-seeing man to boot. He was a man of culture as well as an engineer, and was held in respect not only for his professional abilities, but for strength and independence of character. He was responsible for many public improvements and for the planning of some which be did not live to see accomplished. Among these may be included Royal Avenue and other early improvements. On his death he was succeeded by his erstwhile assistant, Mr. J. C. Bretland, who carried out Some important drainage and other works. On his retirement Mr. H. E. Cutler, the present holder of the office, was appointed, and under his regime the city is going on from improvement to improvement both in public works and the sanitation of dwellings and the city, though the war has interfered with the progress of some. In connection with the engineering department the name of Mr. James Munce, Assistant Surveyor, who has bean a life-long official, deserves special mention. For many years Dr. Whitaker acted efficiently as Officer of Health, and he has been succeeded by the present occupant, Dr. Bailie, under whose care many improvements in sanitation have been effected. And then, as our Coroner, we have Dr. James Graham, who administers Coroner's 'quest law with characteristic carefulness and efficiency.

In a former article I took stock of the principal developments during the reign of the Mayors as recorded in the chronicles of the Town Clerk. I now propose to devote a few lines to the more recent developments in the history of the Lord Mayors. These included the erection of the new Fire Station and branch stations for the Fire Brigade, which, under the capable superintendence of Mr. Smith, render such effective service; the installation of electric light and the erection of the electric station, which has brought much public advantage to the city, and also brought much controversy in its train; the purchase of the Purdysburn estate for the new Asylum, and the erection of a fine suite of buildings, where, under Dr. Graham, a model establishment is most successfully conducted, the Purdysburn Fever Hospital, so effectively looked after by Dr. J. Gardiner Robb, the superintendent; the extension of the Public Baths, Lodging-houses, District Libraries, so that cleanliness and many other good and useful products for the improvement of the people in mind, body, and estate the purchase of the Ulster Hall, and its renovation and dedication to the musical and intellectual culture of the citizens, and others, in the words of the advertisement, too numerous to mention.

There were some developments and incidents, each of which would deserve a special paragraph to itself.

And first, we had the purchase, electrification, and extension of the tramways, at a cost of over one million sterling, with the creation of what many of us regarded as a model service for conveyance and cheapness, under the management of Mr. Nance, and in charge of a committee, which wrangled for years about the fares and service, about Mr. Nance, and with each other, until last year, when, under a new chairman, Mr. John M'Caughey, Mr. Nance retired on pension, and a new and excellent manager, Mr. Moffat, was appointed, since when the Tramway Committee have ceased from troubling each other, the City Council, and the public, and the ratepayers and travellers have had rest. I never sympathised with many of the attacks on Mr. Nance, though I admit he is a man of such individuality and strength of will that he must have been hard to keep in check. Yet he was a good organiser, who, however, committed the unpardonable sin of making one or two glaring mistakes. I cannot say if the new manager, Mr. Moffat, is capable of making mistakes — I have not heard of any yet — but from all I know of him and hear of him, he seems to have the knack of getting on with his men and his committee, and his work; and perhaps the best thing that could be said in his favour is that we hear little of him outside, and hardly know he exists.

Then we had the Municipal Technical Institute, of which Mr. Samuel Stevenson, one of our own most popular and capable architects, was the architect, and of which Mr. Forth, now, in addition, captain in the Ulster Division, is the administrative head. The building is perfect as an architectural feature, while the thousands of pupils trained within its walls give evidence of his faith receiving elementary education wants, but this was a very long felt want, and it has been supplied with results that have already borne fruit, and it is hoped may continue to bring forth greater fruits in the time to come. Of course, as it was an educational institution, it could not be developed without some Roman Catholic interference, and as the bishop of the diocese could not tolerate the idea of youths of his faith receiving elementary education either in the three r's or in carpentry and joinery in the same room with Protestants, and under the same teachers, a separate institution had to be provided for Roman Catholics, which has been carried on for some years at Hardinge Street, at an additional cost to the ratepayers and the State. It seems, however, to be doing good work in its own way.

Then we had our City Hall, from the design of a London architect, who earned a knighthood as well as the appreciation of the citizens for his work. It is now not only a thing of beauty, but will be a joy and a pride to the citizens for years to come. If it does not receive dignity from the City Council, it gives it — and it is more blessed to give than to receive. It is a delight to strangers and citizens alike, and with its graceful proportions, its marble columns and stairs, its stately halls, its spacious offices, its surrounding statues, and tasteful grounds, it represents and upholds the civic dignity, the civic character, and the civic enterprise. Neither it nor the Technical Institute has suffered in character and dignity by the fact that each was opened by Lord Aberdeen when he was Lord Lieutenant

What shall I say of the Royal Victoria Hospital? It and its work speak for themselves, and speak, and will long speak, of Lady Pirrie, who may he fairly described as its founderess. And what shall I say of the visit of the late King Edward the Seventh, the people's King in feeling and in fact, and of Queen Alexandra, whose visit to Belfast was primarily associated with the unveiling of the statue to the late Queen Victoria, with the opening of that institution? That was a great and memorable visit truly, and brought forth an exhibition of that loyalty to the Crown and person, of the King that has always been a distinguishing characteristic of the city and of the majority of the province of which it is the head and the chief commercial and industrial centre. It was the second time our city had the opportunity of welcoming their Majesties — the year was 1903 — for in 1910, on the 6th of May of that year his Majesty passed away amid the sorrows not of an Empire alone, but of the world. The last personal recollection the most of us have of him is his visit, and we shall long remember his dignified ease, his bright, benign, and genial presence, and the assurance that behind the majesty there was a man; that beneath the head that swayed an Empire there was a heart that beat in unison with his people both in patriotic pride and in sympathetic feelings and interests.

There are other features of the period on which I should like to dwell; but space forbids. I shall only recall two — the Larkin-cum-Nationalist effort to strangle local industry in 1907, and the quasi-Home Rule Health Commission in the same year, which latter was called into being to curse the City Council and the municipality, and ended in blessing it.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 5th January 1917.

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