Wednesday, 22 March 2017

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

By “THE MAN IN THE STREET.”

XXXVIII


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

By “THE MAN IN THE STREET.”

XXXVII


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

By “THE MAN IN THE STREET.”

XXXVI


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

By “THE MAN IN THE STREET.”

XXXV


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.