Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 2



Having regard to my "Witness" associations, it is not unnatural that I should give an early thought to the religious side of Belfast, and especially to the Presbyterian side of half a century ago as compared with the present. Then, as now, the Presbyterians were the leading religious body in Belfast in numbers and influence. Their activities at the time were many, and their labours as abundant relatively as now. The population has more than doubled since that time, and so have the churches and ministers, but I question if the wants of the masses of Presbyterians are better supplied in proportion to the demands. Fifty years ago we had talk of the lapsed masses just as wie have to-day, but while the agencies are much more numerous I am afraid the tale of lapsed and lapsing is as doleful as it was half a century ago. Indeed, I am afraid the tendencies and temptations of these times are greater than they were, and the indisposition to church-going, if possible, more general and baneful.

On looking over the Minutes for 1866, I find there were about thirty congregations and ministers in connection with the Belfast Presbytery at that time. Now there are sixty-three, but I do not think the proportion of increase is as great as the increase of the population. This may not be the time or place to raise that question, but it is one that should be kept before the members of the Church even more than it is.

The Belfast Presbyterian pulpit was well manned fifty years ago by men many of whom left their mark not only on their own congregations, but on the Church and country at large. The Rev. Dr. Cooke at that time was nearing the close of his brilliant career, but his very name was a tower of strength, and even in his decline, he was great. I heard him more than once in his historic pulpit in May Street, a church that was built for him, and his presence and look suggested greatness as well as goodness. His glance may not have been as keen, his voice as full, or his frame as powerful as at the time "he shattered to atoms the fabric of falsehood" the no less great Dr. Montgomery, his Arian antagonist, had created "with the talisman of truth," but one could not look at him, or listen to his clear and resonant tones, without at once realising the truth of all that had been told regarding him or done by him.

Then there was Dr. Morgan, of Fisherwick, saintly, gentle, good, and kind, a man who was consumed by the love of God and the love of his people, and gave himself up not only on the Sabbath, but on the weekday, to the service of his people and the Church. The relations between Dr. Morgan and his people were peculiar and special. It was not a case so much of pastor and people as of friend and friend, a sort of elder brother relationship, of which sincere and deep affection was the bond. Dr. Morgan did all his ministering so gently and sweetly that love went hand in hand with duty and grace with both.

Then there was the Rev. John Macnaughtan, Scotchman of Scotchmen, Presbyterian of Presbyterians, preacher of preachers, orator of orators. He was a man of small stature, but well-knit body and mind. He was a lamb in his normal state, but a lion when roused, and when roused his oratory was forceful and inspiring. On great public questions he was as firm as a rock, and in the defence of truth and principle his arguments and his oratory flowed like a torrent. A Liberal of Liberals, a great opponent of the Established Church, he was once attacked for his co-action with Roman Catholics in this matter. I can remember to this day the ringing cheers with which, replying to the taunt he justified his action, he wound up with the declaration that if at any time the action of the Church of Rome should threaten or endanger Protestantism he would be found with his back at the Cathedral wall.

Then, there was Wm. Johnston, not then doctor, full of youth and fire, restless in mind and body, his tongue and his heart alike rushing him into every activity that made for the good of his Church or his fellows. The youth in his case was father to the man, and the man was the faithful preacher, the endless organiser, the friend of all good work and good men, the founder of the Orphan Society, the Society for Widows and Orphans, and I do not know how many more beside. Of him, perhaps, more than of any minister of his time, it might be said that the good he did lived after him in the practical and material, as well as in the moral, religious, and conventional acceptance of the term.

But what shall I say of the others? Space would fail me to tell of T. Y. Killen, my beloved friend and pastor and valuable assistant and adviser till his death, a solid man in every sense of the word, a man of faith and of works, a man of heart as well as head, a lover of his Church as of his God; of Hugh Hanna, the man of wondrous energy, of fearless spirit, of undaunted courage, the man who feared not the face of man, and who, out of small beginnings in Berry Street, raised that magnificent pile at Carlisle Circus, a monument at once of his zeal and energy, his enthusiasm and loyalty to Church, and which overlooks that which was raised to him for his loyalty to the King and the cause of the King in Ulster; of Rev. Thomas Hamilton, now President of the Queen's University, minister of York Street, earnest, kindly, and able, who was my friend and colleague in "The Witness" for many years, to whom, indeed, I may say "The Witness" owes its origin, and who has earned many laurels since in educational and public life; of R. J. Lynd, who, gravitating from Whiteabbey to May Street, sustained the burden of that great pulpit for many years, and whose graceful compositions, reproduced with such polished elocution, rendered him a power in the pulpit and on the platform; of the Rev. James Martin, of Eglinton Street, a most faithful and earnest pastor and preacher, who laboured incessantly and successfully in connection with an interesting congregation, the pulpit of which is now filled by the Rev. Mr. Morton; of the Rev. Dr. Gray, of College Square, cultivated preacher, philosophic thinker, logical reasoner, loving his congregation and by it beloved, devoted upholder of Church and King, a man of many gifts and many graces; of the Rev. John Moran, a man of great culture and refinement, a poet in feeling and a Christian in spirit, who, by his great energy and high tone and character, built up the congregation of Belmont, of which Rev. Dr. MacDermott is now the able and popular minister; of the Rev. Geo. Shaw, of Alfred Street, the good, earnest, zealous, and faithful preacher of the Gospel, and the promoter of so much good work in his own congregation and in the Church.

Then there was the Rev. Henry Osborne, of Holywood, the cultured preacher, the graceful poet, the polished writer, with whom it was my privilege to be so long and so pleasantly associated. With the exception of President Hamilton, to whom I have referred above, Mr. Osborne is the only one of the ministers of the Presbytery at that period now alive. When I saw him recently he was as clear in mind as ever, and as interested in Church and public affairs, and looking wonderfully well for a man of four score years and five. The Rev. Henry Henderson I could not forget, as many a time and oft I listened to and reported his speeches in various assemblies of Orangemen, to whom he was devoted, and by whom he was idolised. He was a man of rare fluency and readiness of speech, who could say what was in him with fearless force. He was perhaps the most pronounced politician in the Presbytery at the time, but his politics were not those of the majority of his brethren, but he was liked by them all for his genial kindliness and good humour, and for the consistency with which he clung to the political faith that was in him. I should not forget the Rev. Robert Montgomery, of Great Victoria Street, whose work in the cause of his congregation and of education was unceasing and fruitful, and who left so many brave sons to the service of his country and Church, and a widow no less brave than any of them; the Rev. Dr. Knox, of Linenhall Street, the energetic and earnest worker in the Church, and the warm supporter of many of its best schemes; the Rev. John Moore, of Elmwood, the earnest preacher of a pure Gospel, and the man of sample faith and deep sincerity, the man of great originality, punctured with humour, the man who concerned himself more with the salvation of souls than with the clashings of controversy and the Rev. John Mecredy, the great advocate of temperance when the cause was not as popular as it is now, who built up and! sustained a fine congregation, that under the Rev. Samuel Thompson continues to prosper; of the Rev. Joseph Mackenzie, of Malone, who was a man of quiet earnestness and high Christian character; and last, but not least, the Rev. Adam Montgomery, of Ballycairn, who was for half a century Clerk of the Presbytery; an eloquent and scholarly, preacher, a man of unaffected simplicity of character, with a ready wit, much humour, and the kindest of hearts.

There are others I should like to dwell on, but space forbids. John Greenlees, the gentle and pacific; R. J. Arnold, eloquent and dignified; John Meneely, prudent, practical, and sagacious; Joseph Barkley, an earnest and practical preacher and worker; and James Young, who sustained a fine congregation in the Falls district; John Given, D.D., stately and dignified, yet simple and kindly, scholar and gentleman, who crowned his career as one of the first professors of the old Magee College.

There are two of special note at the time who differed from their brethren as much as they differed from each other; Isaac Nelson, forceful in expression, fertile in vituperation, a vigorous preacher and erratic thinker, whose prayers were sermons, and whose sermons were shafts of cynicism, satire, and railing; "Tommy" Toye, a child of nature and of grace, earnest, unconventional, more of an evangelist than a preacher, with eccentric characteristics relieved by an Irish brogue and Irish wit.

When I set out I had only intended to refer to half-a-dozen of these men, but as my mind was revolving the past I seemed to see a grand procession of old familiar friends and faces, which recalled traits of look, speech, and manner, that made it impossible for me to pass them over. This must be my excuse for recalling so many, names and in brief their characteristics as they appeared to me and, I am sure, to others.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 30th June 1916.

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

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916)



Fifty years seem an eternity to youth, but only a brief breathing time to age. I have spent the last fifty years of my life (save two) in Belfast, and at times it seems but yesterday since I first set foot on its hospitable streets, and found kindness and friendship from its people. Many of the events and persons of those days are fresher in my memory than those of yester-year, and when I awake from a reverie I almost feel like a Rip Van Winkle among strange scenes and strange people. I remember with what awe and admiration I made my first visit to the town, and contrasted its life, splendour, and activity with that of my dear Derry, where my boyhood had been spent. In those early days we youths of Derry regarded Belfast with respect and reverence, and imagined its streets as paved with gold and its inhabitants going about dressed in purple and fine linen. But when I visited it I did not find any gold in the streets, and discovered that my silver was swallowed up as the Scotchman found his sixpences swallowed up in London.

I propose now, by the favour of my readers, to repay back part of the kindness Belfast has bestowed on me by recalling such of the leading incidents, characteristics, and personages as I can remember, and give the men of the present generation some idea of the life, times, and characteristics of their fathers.

Perhaps nothing could better illustrate the changes of fifty years than Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" and his "Locksley Hall Sixty Years Afterwards." When the poet wrote the first poem the poet was young, ardent, fiery, and his poetry breathed in every line the spirit of youth; when he wrote the second fifty years had passed, and the poet had mellowed and his fire was subdued. The characteristics of the poet were manifested in the characteristics of his hero.

Fifty years ago the first poem was still a favourite reading of all elocutionists, and a gathering of an elocutionary, character was never regarded as complete without it. I remember one elocutionist who was known as "Locksley Hall" from the frequency with which he recited it. The poet and his hero had the fire of youth, and it kept burning. When the sequel was published the old men of the time did not take the poem as their own as the young men of half a century before did, and I do not remember hearing it even once read in public. Whether the fire had died out of the poet or out of the public I cannot say, but the second poem never acquired the popularity of the first.

This came into my mind as I was cogitating about the changes the last fifty years had wrought. To accept the illustration literally would mean that 1866 was full of the fire and ardour of youth, and 1916 was getting cold and mellow, without fire and without spirit. But I am afraid if I made such a suggestion I would have all the youth and all the spirit of the age against me; and, I would admit, with justification. The Belfast of to-day is not a city worn out by age, but one that every year is renewing its strength like the eagle, running without being weary, walking without being faint. It is quite true that when I first set eyes on Belfast and settled down in it I did not think there could be a finer town in the world – it had not risen to the dignity of a city in those days. And I suppose I would not have thought a greater possible if I had never seen other cities.

But that is the worst even of moderate travel. It may improve one's sense of proportion, but it is calculated to lower his self-esteem. I remember about fifty years ago, when the late Mr. W. D. Henderson, one of my earliest and best friends in Belfast, was advising me to see Paris and live – it was at the time of the Exhibition of 1878, the first after the great and desolating war – he said if a man never goes out of Belfast he will think John Macnaughtan's church a great cathedral. I doubt, even without travelling, I would have regarded that church as a great cathedral, but whatever my visit may have done in extending my knowledge of cathedrals, it never modified my opinion as to the excellence of Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church as a centre of vigorous life and power, or my high appreciation of the occupants of the pulpit or of the pew, past and present.

While I am prepared to make the concession to the present that in life and activity, hustle and bustle, go and dash, energy and prosperity, the Belfast of to-day far transcends that of fifty years ago, yet when I look back upon it all I must say that in all that makes for comfort and happiness, and relative prosperity, the Belfast of fifty years ago, for its time and opportunities, was as much deserving of praise and honour as the Belfast of to-day. It had many disadvantages, and when I think of the many things it lacked that it now has, I sometimes wonder how it was able to exist at all. I remember once hearing of a sermon preached by a well-known divine of the last half century on the importance of the study of the Scriptures. He told his hearers that Timothy and Paul had studied the Scriptures, and went over the long line of New and Old Testament saints who, he said, had all studied the Scriptures. At last he reached Abraham, and he told his hearers the limited Scripture he had to be content with – he had only the first eleven chapters of Genesis.

Now when I think of what Belfast had not then that it has now, I imagine that it would have been as ill supplied with the necessaries of life and enjoyment as, according to this divine, Abraham was with the Scriptures. Yet with all his disability Abraham seems to have done very well, and became the father of the faithful. With all its disabilities Belfast of fifty years ago did well, and laid strong and deep the foundations on which the city of the present has been built. We had no trams or motor cars in those old days. Those of us who could not afford a carriage or a ride on a hackney car had to walk to or from our business, a mile or two, be the same more or less. And yet we never grumbled or growled. We felt that feet were made for walking and time for slaves. Now we regard a walk of a mile or two as a Sabbath day's journey, and would regard it almost as a breach of the Sabbath to indulge in it. We must have our tram or our motor to take us to our own street, and grumble when the tram does not take us to our own door. Not only were we willing to tramp home for our meals, but we took time to consume our victuals in a leisurely and rational way, which all medical authorities tell us is the way to health. We were never on the strain or rush as we are now when we gobble up our chop in mid-day, grudging the time that it occupies. We were content to wait in those days, and our patient waiting did not seem to bring much loss, if we consider that at any rate comparative prosperity and content that existed.

We had no telephones or cheap telegrams in those days. Our merchants had to wait on their customers in a double sense, and the customers to wait on the merchants. Then an hour or a day was a mere speck in time; now an hour is an eternity. We were content to possess our souls in patience for forty-eight hours to await a reply to our business communications from London; but now we are in a fidget if we do not get a reply within an hour. In the old days the Commercial Newsroom was the centre of business exchange and activity, and on many a day I have seen the large building filled with merchants and customers, and humming with conversation, and many buyers and sellers crowded out into the street. Now what was the busy newsroom is no more, and its spacious hall is used as an auction mart, in which the periodical cry of "Going, going, gone" of the auctioneer tells the tale in a double sense of the departure of ancient glories.

We had no Royal Avenue in those days, but we had got a Victoria Street brand new, which it was expected would attract the trade from the centre of the city. But it did not, even though one of our leading banks took up its quarters in the new thoroughfare. We had not a City Hall. We had not even a Town Hall, though what was in the interval made into one has now become the old Town Hall, and the centre of a new form of activity that was not dreamed of in those days. We had a building that was called a Town Hall, no doubt in irony, as Mark Twain says St. Paul spoke of the street called Straight in Damascus. No doubt our small band of Corporators met in a building in Victoria Square which had neither dignity nor accommodation, though the officials of the body at the time thought it was much too good for them as many think the City Hall is now for the men who occupy it. That building has now been converted to a better purpose – namely, Messrs. Cantrell & Cochrane's mineral water manufacture. There is just this connection between the two, that the utilisation of gas is a feature of the new as it was of the old possessors.

We had no Lord Mayor; no High Sheriff. We had a Town Clerk, it is true, the late Mr. Joseph Guthrie, who was as particular as the present Town Clerk, Mr. Meyer, is popular, but he managed to drive two horses going in opposite direction as well as any of his successors. We had no Technical Schools, no Free Libraries, no Police Courts or Barracks worthy the name, no electric works to generate strife, and no abattoir to generate sound and safe meat; no Public Baths to promote cleanliness, and no public parks to promote health – and taxes; no palatial hospitals for old or young, no Picture Houses, no golf, no football, no Flag Days, no Rotary Clubs, no Home Rule, and no dirt destroyer.

We could not boast of the greatest shipbuilding yards in the world, the greatest ropeworks in the world, the greatest tobacco factory in the world, the greatest distilleries in the world; but we had, as we still have, and long may it remain, the greatest spinning mill in the world. At that time Harland & Wolff's works were in their infancy, and Workman & Clark's hardly in embryo. I well remember when much of what is now a hive of industry in the Queen's Island was simply a mass of grass and wild wood, and when the affairs of the firm that has removed everything green from the spot were conducted in what was simply a wooden Hut, a shed, instead of now in one of the most palatial set of offices in the kingdom.

We had not as many palatial public-houses as we have now. In those days, though, perhaps we did our share of drinking, but we or the trade were modest at the time, and did not flaunt it. The public-houses of the time were largely in entries or side streets. We had not the attraction of glaring glass and the inevitable barmaids, which seem to draw our young men, and some of our old ones, too, as by an invisible cord. I do not suggest that there was not a good deal of drinking in those old days; but think there was less among the young than in the present. And yet while that is true, the public sentiment is more temperance, I will add more teetotal than it was in those days; and I must say the war and the limitations it has imposed on the trade has led to a more healthful tone. But while I am sure the people are not perishing for lack of liquor, the liquor sellers are not perishing for lack of customers.

Now, when they think of what we lacked fifty years ago, that we have come to regard as necessities now, the young of to-day nay be inclined to wonder how or why their fathers lived. The majority of us today would regard life as hardly worth living if they were deprived of any one of their pleasures or luxuries of which their fathers knew nothing, and for which they would have cared little even if they had them. And yet, on the whole, they lived well and comfortably. If they did not live to work, they worked in those old days to live. It may be that because they had not so many opportunities to spend, they did more to save, and many of the fortunes and businesses that the present generation enjoy were built up under conditions in which the absence of rush did not lead to rust, leisurely movements did not lead to lackadaisical indifference, and the absence of means, if not taste, for spending money prevented waste. So that for myself in beginning my contemplations and recollections of the past, while I am happy to be alive in the present, I look back to the good old times of the past with thankfulness that I lived in them, and with grateful remembrance of the time and the men of the time.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 23rd June 1916.

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

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Merchant Seamen

I've read about soldiers and sailors,
    Of infantry, airmen and tanks,
Of battleships, corvettes, and cruisers,
    Of Anzacs, and Froggies, and Yanks:
But there's one other man to remember
    Who was present at many a fray;
He wears neither medals or ribbons
    And derides any show or display.

I'm talking of A.B.'s and firemen,
    Of stewards and greasers and cooks
Who manned the big steamers in convoy
    (You won't read about them in books).
No uniform gay were they dressed in,
    Nor marched with their colours unfurled:
They steamed out across the wide oceans
    And travelled all over the world.

Their history goes back through the ages –
    A record of which to be proud –
And the bones of their forefathers moulder
    With naught but the deep for a shroud.
For armies have swept on to victory
    O'er the bodies of those who have died;
'Tis thus that the nations do battle
    For country, and freedom, and pride.

In thousands they sailed from the homeland,
    From Liverpool, Hull, and the Clyde;
To London, and Bristol, and Cardiff
    They came back again on the tide.
An old 'four-point-seven' their safeguard –
    What nice easy pray for the Huns
Who trailed them with bombers and U-boats
    And sank them with 'tin fish' and guns.

The epic of gallant 'Otaki',
    That grim forlorn hope 'Jervis Bay',
Who fought to the last and were beaten –
    But they joined the illustrious array
Whose skeletons lie 'neath the waters,
    Whose deeds are remembered today,
And their glory will shine undiminished
    Long after our flesh turns to clay.

They landed the Anzacs at Suvla
    And stranded the old 'River Clyde',
Off Dunkirk they gathered the remnants
    (And still they were not satisfied),
They battled their way through to Malta
    And rescued the troops from Malay;
They brought back the Eighth Army munitions
    And took all their prisoners away.

And others 'signed on' in the tankers
    And loaded crude oil and octane –
The lifeblood of warships and engines,
    Of mechanised transport and plane.
But these were the U-boat's chief victims;
    What death they were called on to face
As men were engulfed by infernos
    In ships that were 'sunk without trace.'

They were classed a non-combatant service –
    Civilians who fought without guns –
And many's the time they'd have welcomed
    A chance of a crack at the Huns.
But somehow in spite of this drawback
    The steamers still sailed and arrived,
And they fed fifty millions of people –
    And right to the end we survived.

And now that the turmoil is ended,
    Our enemies vanquished and fled,
We'll pray that the living will foster
    The spirit of those who are dead.
When the next generation takes over,
    This country we now hold in lease
Will be theirs – may they cherish its freedom
    And walk down the pathways of peace.

When the Master of Masters holds judgment
    And the Devil's dark angels have flown,
When the dark of the heavenly council
    Decrees that the names shall be shown,
They will stand out in glittering letters
    Inscribed with the blood they have shed:
Names of ships – and the seamen who manned them:
    Then the ocean can give up its dead.

by Edward Carpenter

This poem is taken from Voices from the Sea : Poems by Merchant Seamen, edited by Ronald Hope and published in 1977 by Harrap (London) in association with the Marine Society.