Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 11



Some friends who have expressed an interest in my reminiscences have asked me if I could give them a fuller explanation of the position and vote of the Assembly when at the cross roads of Establishment versus Disestablishment, with a reference to those who took part in the historic debate at the meeting of 1868. This is a large order in these days of "snippets," and with my snippetty and unconventional manner and methods. Up till fifty years ago, and for a year or so afterwards, the Irish Presbyterian Church enjoyed an endowment of about £30,000 a year from the State, which was called the Regium Donum. This provided an endowment of £75 Irish, £69 odd British annually for each minister. That was not a very large endowment, and did not, in the opinion of many Presbyterians of the time, represent either the duty of the State to the Irish Presbyterians, or the necessities of the Church or the ministry. A Sustentation Fund was necessary then as now, and it required a great deal of special energy and effort to enable it to provide with anything like decency or adequacy for the ministry of the Church.

No doubt the cost of living and the taste in living were not then anything like what they are to-day, and the ideas of giving on the part of the people were much more narrow and limited. To some of them the Regium Donum seemed to be a magnificent endowment, and in too many cases they did not appear to think it necessary to do as much as they ought to supplement it, and did not feel inclined to astonish the ministers or the Church by their liberality. Attempts were made from time to time to get the endowment increased, and these became stronger and more urgent at the very time Mr. Gladstone was threatening to put his axe to the root of the endowment tree.

A stimulus was given to that by indications on the part of the Irish Chief Secretary, Earl Mayo, that levelling up was to be the Conservative policy, and that the extension of endowments to all the Churches, with a possible increase to the Regium Donum, was to be the policy of the then Government. The Conservative party, with Lord Derby at its head, was then in power, and Mr. Disraeli was his Chancellor of the Exchequer. In '67, a letter in response to appeals made on behalf of the Church, was sent to the authorities of the Church, signed by one of the Treasury officials, to the effect that as the Estimates for that year had been made up nothing in the way of increase could be given that year, but the matter would be borne in mind in the following year. But by that time many things had happened. Lord Derby resigned in consequence of ill-health, and Mr. Disraeli achieved the summit of his ambition; and became Prime Minister. And not only that. Mr. Gladstone carried his memorable resolution decreeing that the Irish Establishment must cease to exist.

During the year the deputation representing the Church had interviews with the then Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Abercorn, the handsome Duke as he was called, the Duke whom Disraeli afterwards immortalised in "Lothair," and the Chief Secretary, the Earl of Mayo, both of whom promised support to an increase, and Colonel Taylor, the member for Dublin, who was Government Whip, pledged the Government to propose, an increase of the Regium Donum "if the leaders of the Opposition would be willing to support it." They also saw Mr. Disraeli after he became Premier. That astute statesman expressed the greatest esteem for the Irish Presbyterians, who, he said, were second to none for intelligence and character. He admitted the inadequacy of their endowment, and said nothing would give him greater pleasure than, to increase it "as soon as he felt in circumstances to do so." The same deputation saw Earl Russell, the Opposition leader, who told them that he thought Presbyterian ministers should be placed in a position equal to those of the Established Church. The deputation also saw several of the Ulster members, at that time all Conservatives, who promised to support them in the matter.

It was in these circumstances, and on the report of the committee which sent the deputations, that the question came up in the Assembly of 1868. It must also be remembered that the political atmosphere was electrical, for it was known that the then Parliament had had its day, and would cease to be, and that the whole question would be threshed out in a General Election in a few weeks. While the Assembly was not, and is not, supposed to touch politics, in this case politics touched the Assembly, and I suspect influenced most of the speaking and the voting. As the threatened issue in the country was Disestablishment or not, so it was in the General Assembly. It was men who were well known for Conservative leanings who proposed the resolutions, which ultimately carried, and which were interpreted as supporting the Conservative policy, which was for maintaining the Irish Church and the Regium Donum as well, to say nothing of Maynooth and the priests, while the leaders of the contra resolutions were, in the main, supporters of the Liberal party.

But I must make this clear. While I believe that none of the ministers recognised as Conservatives, supported what I may term the Liberal policy, a great number of Liberals supported the Conservative policy. And when I mention the names of Richard Smith and N. M. Brown and Mr. S. M. Greer, as three out of many — I might say dozens — I do not think I am far astray in my statement.

And, further, I am not astray in stating that, apart from the support of the principle of Establishment, which they did not desire to disavow, there was a feeling among many of these ministers that the leap into the future was rather risky for the Church, and that they did not feel disposed to inflict on their successors a deprivation which they and the Church could ill bear. It must be remembered that the standard of giving was not very high, not anything as high as at present. And these men had not had works to justify the faith to the extent that later generations have seen. And yet, let it not be forgotten that we are to have an adjourned meeting of Assembly in the course of a few weeks to endeavour to raise the present standard higher still. While the fears of many of these fathers of the Church were not justified, it is only fair to them to say that many of those of Liberal politics put what they regarded as the interests of the Church before the interests of party in voting in favour of the levelling-up policy. My own personal conversation with several of them would justify me in making this statement, and give this explanation of their votes on the occasion.

As would naturally be expected, the selection of Moderator for such an Assembly would be an indication of the trend of the Assembly. The candidates were the Rev. Chas. L. Morrell, of Dungannon, who had been nominated by twenty Presbyteries, and the Rev. J. R. M'Allister, of Armagh, nominated by four. Mr. Morrell was elected by a majority of. twenty-one votes — 133 voting for him and 112 for Mr. M'Allister. In so far as one dare venture to associate politics with the holders of such an office, I think I would be justified in describing Mr. Morrell as a Conservative. At any rate up till that time, and I think afterwards, Mr. Morrell had been one of the chief nominators of and speakers for Colonel Stuart Knox as member for Dungannon — the Colonel and Dungannon disappeared as direct political factors some years later. That Colonel Stuart Knox was a Conservative there could be no doubt. It was about this period, or a little later, an incident occurred that made the gallant Colonel a sensation for some days. He got up on one occasion, and astonished the House of Commons and Mr. Gladstone by reading a quotation as from a speech of Mr. Gladstone in regard to the Irish Church which was in eloquent opposition to the policy he was advocating.

The House was amazed, and Mr. Gladstone was noticed slipping out. He shortly afterwards returned with a volume of Hansard, and explained that what the hon. gentleman had been quoting was not a speech of Mr. Gladstone, but one of Mr. (afterwards Chief Justice) Whiteside, who was a politician of another calibre. It appeared that Mr. Gladstone's name stood at the head of the page, but Mr. Whiteside's speech began in the middle, and the Colonel had read as if it was all a part of Mr. Gladstone's speech. It was in connection with that incident the "Daily Telegraph," then in its palmy and young born days, wrote an article, of which I remember this sentence — "Colonel Stuart-Knox is neither a clever nor a thoughtful man, but he is as God made him, and it ill becomes us to sneer at want of intellect in one of His creatures."

Mr. Morrell was one of the most popular men of his day in or out of the Church; sturdy, vigorous, genial, and humorous, of large build and large heart. His very presence on the platform was a delight, and his humorous sallies and suggestions often did more to win support than did the serious arguments of many other men. I am unable to spy from recollection what the private politics of Mr. M'Allister were, but I presume they were not those of Mr. Morrell. He was a man of great earnestness and activity in the Church, and was convener of one of its most important funds — I believe it was the Sustentation Fund. He was a very active member of the Court, and worked both for his congregation and the Church.

The outgoing Moderator for the year was the Rev. Robert Montgomery (uncle of the Rev. Dr. Henry Montgomery), one of the earliest and most respected Indian missionaries of the Church. As he had spent all his mature life in India he took little save an official part in home controversies during his year of office, and in his retiring address he carefully avoided any reference to them. His successor contented himself in part with general references expressing his adherence to the, principle of Establishment, but there was nothing committal in that, as both sides seemed to be at one on that point. But some of his subsequent references showed, even though in a glass darkly, that he was on the side of Mr. Disraeli, as Mr. Disraeli had previously declared that he was on the side of the angels.

There was a little preliminary storm over the report of the committee, which was read by the Moderator, and some expressions of ridicule indulged in when Mr. Disraeli's promises were referred to, but the Rev. John Rogers, who seemed to take a leading, if not the leading, part in these negotiations, resented these, and said that it was due to Mr. Disraeli to say that Mr. Disraeli had never repudiated the document [the letter promising consideration of the increase of the Regium Donum in the next estimates], and his whole demeanour left the impression on the deputation that it was a promise. We did not know so much in those days as we do now as to the valuelessness of a scrap of paper; but the view of Mr. Rogers' opponents was that this letter was of no more value than the German scrap of paper is regarded to-day. Mr. Rogers, however, resented that, and repeatedly asserted that the pledge was genuine and definite. In the light of subsequent events, if not, indeed, in the light of many at the time, it was a safe promise, as the chance of redeeming it was slight, for at the time a wave of opinion had set in that was destined to overwhelm Mr. Disraeli and his party for a time.

It was the Rev. Professor Dill, of the Magee College, Derry, uncle of the Rev. Dr. S. M. Dill, Alloway, and father of Sir Samuel Dill, of. the Belfast University, and Mr. R. F. Dill, of the Foyle College, Derry, who led the forces of the Establishment, or, to be more strictly accurate, the forces that protested against the withdrawal of the Regium Donum, for many who did not love the Establishment or desire the continuance of its special privileges voted with the Professor. Professor Dill was one of the ablest theologians of his day, one of the most clear-headed ministers, and one of the most eloquent speakers in the Assembly, a man of fine culture and fine manner. The resolutions he presented were seven or eight in number — in those days the resolutions of the Assembly were as voluminous as the speeches, accepting the principle of State Establishment, justifying, the conditions and conclusions under which the Regium Donum had been received, asserting that it had been beneficial to the State and advantageous to the Church, and protesting against its threatened withdrawal. The union had been honourable to both Church and State, and the latter had no right to take it away. They should hold to it till it was wrenched from them, and to, relinquish it would be to throw the weight of their influence into the scale of Cardinal Cullen, He warned them to keep clear of all political complications.

Rev. Dr. Cooke, who was old and feeble, but still with the fire of battle in his eye, seconded the resolutions, as they represented principles which he had always maintained. Rev. Alex. Gray, afterwards Rev. Dr. Gray, College Square, supported the resolutions in a vigorous and argumentative, speech. If they cast the Protestant ministers without a day's notice on the voluntary givings of the people no tongue could describe the evils that would ensue. He would pluck up Prelacy by the roots if he could plant Presbyterianism in its stead, but he would never blot out any form of Protestantism to put Prelacy in its stead.

The issue was joined when the Rev. Dr. Kirkpatrick, of Rutland Square, a fine old veteran of the Church, who had long sustained the banner of Presbyterianism in the capital and in the Church, got up to propose the amendment. His amendment was fully as long and as forcibly expressed as the resolution. But while approving of the establishment of truth and protesting against the endowment of error, the amendment declared that the full and impartial Disendowment of all religious denominations in Ireland is to be preferred to a scheme of general endowment by which truth and error are treated indiscriminately. They had, he said, a right to have the Regium Donum, and to contend for it, but not a right to do that if it compromised them. In rejecting the Regium Donum they would have the sympathies of all the Free Evangelical Churches of the world, whose praise and sympathy they should court. The Rev. John Macnaughtan, who was then in the plenitude of his rhetorical powers, seconded the amendment, maintaining that the only alternative to religious equality, which they supported, was the Endowment of the Church of Rome. As long as wood grows and water runs, and the Pope remains in his place, the man of sin not destroyed, and riches in the British Exchequer, Rome will find some way to encroach; but he would take away that which is the ostensible ground of grievance they have in the Irish Established Church.

The debate continued for six or seven sederunts, and was kept up with great heat, and in the midst of great heat. I intended to give some note of the various speakers, but find space would not permit. I may say, however, that the Rev. John Rogers, Mr. S. M. Greer, who had contested Derry in the Liberal interest; Rev. Richard Smyth (afterwards Prof. Smyth, M.P.), Rev. Prof. Porter, Rev. Hugh Hanna, Rev. Henry Henderson, Mr. J. P. Corry, M.P., supported Dr. Dill's resolution; and Rev. L. E. Berkeley, Rev. A. Robinson, Broughshane; Rev. Professor Wallace, Rev. T. Y. Killen, Mr. John Eagleson (elder), Mr. (afterwards Sir) Thomas M'Clure, Dr. M'Cosh, Rev. J. B. Rentoul spoke in favour of the amendment.

Rev. John Macnaughtan closed the debate. The roll was then called, with the result that 180 voted for Dr. Kirkpatrick's amendment, and 210 against, and Dr. Dill's resolutions were afterwards carried by the same vote and the same majority — 30. The ministerial vote was 182 for Dr. Dill's resolution, and 134 for Dr. Kirkpatrick's amendment — clerical majority, 38. The vote of the elders was 46 for the amendment and 28 against — a majority for the amendment of 18. This reduced the majority of the entire Assembly to 30, as stated.

I have read over the reports of the speeches delivered on the occasion. They were on the whole able and brilliant speeches, some of them among the finest ever delivered in the Assembly. But time has worked such changes in me or in the perspective that the perusal of them now does riot fire the blood of rouse the feelings as they did when first delivered or first read. One reads them now as history, not as polemic, and wonders how people were stirred so much by them. The whole question of the relation of the Church to the State, and especially of the relation of the Presbyterian Church, were all discussed with great fulness, and with what was regarded as great freshness and force.

The whole question of the establishment of truth and the duty of the State to establish it, and along with it the wickedness of endowing error; while both sides were at one in regard to the establishment and endowment of truth, the line of cleavage was as to the endowment of error, which would be involved in the levelling up policy of Mr. Disraeli and the Conservatives of the time. It was contended on the part of the majority that it would be time enough to discuss the latter point when it was reached, but that in the meantime the Assembly should only concern themselves with the Regium Donum, that had only been threatened, and not wrested from them. But perhaps the most remarkable faults about the speeches were the prophecies of both sides which have not been fulfilled. The veil that then hung over the future has been removed. On the one hand it has been proved that the Disestablishment and Disendowment have not brought the ruin to the Church or to religion that its opponents anticipated, and that the liberality of the people, while it has not been by any means ideal, has not failed to the extent anticipated; but that on the contrary, both the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church are stronger in all that makes for life and spirit in the Church and in the country. On the other hand, the prophecies and hopes of the supporters of that policy, that the Disestablishment of the Church would end the Roman Catholic and Nationalist grievances, and prepare the way for a new era of peace and unity, have been completely falsified; and it has been established that after these and other grievances, old and new, real or fancied, have been removed, the hostility to the British, and to British rule is tenfold greater, if possible, than it was then, and a more real danger to the country and to the Empire.

There was a very noisy and excited scene after the division, some clamouring for a new amendment, and others content with things as they were. In the end, however, the majority had their will, and many of the resolutions were passed amid, hilarious delight on the one side and a sense of depression and disappointment on the other.

But the vote did not save the Irish Church or carry the Presbyterians into the Establishment camp. The Liberals won in Belfast, Armagh, Derry, and Carrickfergus, and for the first time broke the Ulster Conservative phalanx; and the election over the country followed, giving Mr. Gladstone the majority that enabled him to introduce and carry the Church Bill, the Ballot, and the Irish Land Bill of 1870, which for the first time legalised Ulster tenant right, and opened the way for further land reform, which, however, while it greatly benefited the Ulster and Irish farmers, has not completely satisfied the Irish Nationalist horse-leach, which is ever crying for more.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 1st September 1916.

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

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 10



For the time I am referring to the late 'sixties and early 'seventies, the division in the ranks of the Conservatives diverted attention from the divisions between Protestants and Catholics as a rule, though it cannot be said that the old party spirit had died out. Whatever may have been its condition before the 'sixties, it became very strong afterwards. The riots of 1865 raised it to fever heat, and it was not subdued for many years. And I cannot say that it is dead at the present day, though the differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants rest now largely on the new issues raised by Home Rule, which was not in the ascendant then. It was not till after the Disestablishment of the Church that Home Rule appeared on the horizon, a horizon that it darkened since, and continues to darken. It was the Irish Church and Irish land that formed the dividing line of parties in the 'sixties and early 'seventies. Repeal had died, killed in part by the Roman Catholics and the Young Irelanders, and Fenianism had taken its place. But Fenianism was a secret, and not an open, movement, and so far as it suggested, a serious danger had been nipped in the bud.

Home Rule, whatever we may say of its latest developments, was originated by Butt and other Protestants, chiefly professors connected with Trinity College, who started it, it was said, out of revenge on the Government for the passing of the Irish Church Act. I myself saw the original document, signed by fourteen or fifteen names, the majority of whom were Protestants. One, I remember, was Professor Haughton, and another Professor Galbraith, both of Trinity College; and the latter acted as secretary of what was called the Home Government Association. I knew him well, and met him often in the early 'seventies, and especially during the great election campaign of Mr. Parnell. I attended almost all the meetings in his favour, but I never once heard Mr. Parnell speak. The professor usually apologised for him by saying that he was addressing a meeting in another part of the county; but I do not think any other reporter heard him any more than myself.

I remember one meeting at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains at which Professor Galbraith made the usual announcement that Mr. Parnell was then addressing a meeting in a distant part of the county. On reaching the main road a lady and gentleman passed in a trap. I did not know either of the occupants, but I was told that they were Mr. and Miss Parnell. It was many years afterwards before I either saw or heard him. I could not say, therefore, how much he had changed in the meantime; but I can say he must have changed much in his readiness to be seen and heard in public, to judge from his subsequent history. Two reasons were given for this modesty in facing the electors. One was that he was not a good speaker or hesitated to face the public, and the other was that some of his

Two reasons were given for this modesty in facing the electors. One was that he was not a good speaker or hesitated to face the public, and the other was that some of his friends were afraid that he might use wild and whirling words, and do his candidature harm. I am inclined to think it was the former, for it is admitted that Mr. Parnell's first appearance in the House did not promise that the House had discovered an Irish orator. But he may have thought, as Mr. Disraeli said after his first speech, which was not much appreciated, that the time would come when they would hear him. At any rate, it did.

But here let me say that I do not believe for one moment that any, or at least many, of the men who founded the Home Government Association ever entertained the idea of Home Rule on the lines in which it developed. I question if they had more advanced ideas than what was expressed by the term local government or mild Devolution, and, if I remember aright, only few of those whose names were in the original list made themselves conspicuous in the movement after its later developments. We must also remember that Butt himself was cast aside and repudiated, as he did not seem to work for the advanced ideas of the movement as they developed under Mr. Parnell. I still think it was an unfortunate move on the part of the gentlemen, who originated the movement; but at the same time it is only fair to them to say that they were not of the new revolutionary and irreconcilable type of the later movement. But they had sown the seed, and the extremists reaped the harvest in one form and the Government in another.

But I am wandering from my muttons. At the time of which I am writing, and no less in the city of which I am "reminiscing," the members of the then Established Church were, in the main, Conservatives, while the Presbyterians were divided between the two parties, the majority of the ministers, as I previously said, having been Liberals, and the majority of the laity Conservatives. But a large number of the Presbyterian laity were Liberal, but there was more among the merchants and business men than among the working men, so many of whom were allied to the Orange Order. I may say, however, that during the great election I came in contact with several working men who were warm supporters of Mr. M'Clure, and they seemed to be a superior class of working men, too. The Roman Catholics, of course, supported the Liberals, as was natural, having regard to the questions that divided the two parties, and that the Disestablishment of the Church and the question of tenant-right were both questions in which they were specially interested. It was mainly to remove a grievance of which Roman Catholics complained that Mr. Gladstone took up the question of the Irish Church, though it must be admitted the Presbyterian Liberals were as eager and earnest on the subject as the Roman Catholics.

Indeed, it was this fact that led to the repeated taunts of the Conservatives that the Presbyterian Liberals were in alliance with the Roman Catholics. It was in connection with the taunt that the Rev. John Macnaughtan, one of the most eloquent and enthusiastic Liberals of the day — one so wedded to the voluntary principle that he never accepted the Regium Donum — made a memorable reply. After describing the common grievances of Presbyterians and Roman Catholics in relation to the Church, he said that if ever the time came when it would be a question of Romanism versus Protestantism in this country, his back would be found to the Cathedral wall. I can safely say, however, that many of those who were the staunchest supporters of Liberalism and strongest opponents of Establishment at that time became the staunchest Unionists of the Home Rule time, and were always in the van in defence of the Union and all that it represented. There is one thing further I may say in this connection, and that is that the majority of the Presbyterian Liberals at the time believed that with the removal of the Irish Church, which had been described as a badge of conquest, with substantial reform in land, we have ended the Irish trouble, and promoted union and prosperity and content. It is an unfortunate truth, however, that instead of providing that desirable result, these concessions only whetted the appetite for more, until the present hour, when it seems as if nothing would satisfy the Nationalists but the Parnellite s policy of breaking the last link between Ireland and the sister kingdom and eliminating everything that would represent England in government, policy, or faith. I think, however, it is due to the memory of the Liberals of those days to say that their hopes and aims were great, and that if their faith has not been justified by Nationalists' work since, they are not the only section of well-designing and well-intended people who have had their hopes blighted and their dreams of well-being and well-doing disappointed. I may say that there is no more in common, either in spirit or feeling, between the Liberals of the dawn of the last half century and those who are called Protestant Liberals in this day than there is between Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Ramsey MacDonald, who both call themselves Liberals, or between Mr. Joe Devlin and Mr. Tim Healy, who both call themselves Nationalists.

I have wandered far from what I wished to refer to when I sat down, to write. That was in relation to the party feeling of the time as represented by party expressions in the Police Court, which was a feature of the first and second decades of the last half century. The consignment of the Pope and King William to a fiery future in the 'sixties and 'seventies was very common. The expression of that feeling was frequently displayed in chalk in various parts of the city, and not a week passed, sometimes scarcely a day, without the police having some one up at the Court for this offence. "Party expressions" was not the language of the charge, but the use of language calculated to lead to a breach of the peace; but "Party Expressions" became the favourite phrase, and the usual headings in the newspapers. The magistrates at first inflicted small fines of ten or twenty shillings, but it seemed to have had no effect, and forty shillings was then standardised as the fine, and became well recognised, so that the friends of the prisoners usually went to Court armed with the fine and the usual costs.

No doubt it was generally when under the influence of drink that these offensive expressions were used. A story was current at the time that one prisoner who had been arrested for cursing the Pope, asked the policeman if the fine of forty shillings was the highest likely to be inflicted for the offence – that the number of curses would not add to the punishment — and so I presume he was satisfied with the answer, and thinking he would have value for his money, kept on repeating the curse all the way to the Police Office. For many years this class of offence was frequent. In the olden time few Police Court reports were complete without the headline, "Party Expressions." Nowadays, and for many years, past, it is very seldom one sees it or hears of it now. It is a welcome and satisfactory change whatever has brought it about. It probably arose from an improvement in education as well as in feeling, or from a lessening of drinking among the classes that might be expected to indulge in such expressions. I should hope that a better feeling had much to do with it, a lessening of individual antagonism arising out of religious differences. I honestly believe that spirit was growing, and would continue to grow, if politicians would keep in the background the questions that are calculated to promote and intensify these feelings. But the aggressive manner in which the Home Rule question, with religion at its root, has been forced on the attention of the people, is not calculated to soften asperities or soothe prejudices. The satisfactory thing, however, is that this question is now discussed on a larger plan and looked at from a broader point of view, in the mass rather than the individual. I am quite aware that the Nationalists, whose action has done the most to keep this feeling of hostility alive, claim that they are the people who want religious differences suppressed, and pre-eminently want the people to be all one. But the way in which they want them all to be one, the Protestants and Unionists to be one with them, is to be one not alongside the Nationalists, but under them. I give full credit to those Nationalists, not excluding Mr. Devlin, who were willing to consent to the six Ulster counties being excluded for at least a recognition of some rights for the Protestants of Belfast and Ulster; but it has been painfully brought home to us that that is not the intention of the majority, either of the Nationalist extremists or the hierarchy of Ireland, who have declared against it. At any rate, the change to which I have referred is a welcome and satisfactory one, so far at least as Belfast is concerned.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 25th August 1916.

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

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 9



I concluded last week with a reference to the "News-Letter" and "Whig," and the part they played in the election. The "News-Letter" supported, as I indicated, the old Conservative leaders and party, and the "Whig" took the new democratic leaders under its protection. The "News-Letter" was then under the editorship of Mr. Richard Lilburn, who was, like his paper, a great supporter and upholder of Orangeism, who might have been expected to keep that body well in hand, democratic as well as aristocratic. But both he and his paper were in a great difficulty owing to the breach in the party and the adherence of the paper to the more aristocratic section. At the same time the "Weekly News," issued from the same office, was doing vigorous work in the Orange and Protestant interest -- the paper was so described in the newspaper directories of the time. A principal feature of that journal was the weekly letter signed "Ulster Scot," which was written by the Rev. Henry Henderson, and it might have been supposed that his writing would have been strong enough to satisfy the Orange and Protestant working man. But all did not avail to placate the democrats or bring them into the fold. The "News-Letter," while it supported the old leaders, did all it could to ignore Mr. Johnston, and afterwards to belittle him or treat him as Redmondites of the present day treat all who do not support them, as factionists. When Mr. M'Clure and Mr. Johnston were both in the field, and before there was any community of action between them, it described them as a coalition.

The "Whig" had some time previously come under the control of Mr. Thomas MacKnight, whose "Life of Burke" had brought him into prominence as a political historian, and whose study of Burke influenced him to the latest day of his life. Mr. MacKnight was a Scotsman, educated in England, and was dominated by English ideas in many ways. He was only in his Ulster apprenticeship at the time, but he had grasped the situation well, and a large share of the journalistic credit for the victory for Mr. M'Clure wa© due to him and his journal.

He kept hammering away at the old leaders, or the old gang, with great vigour and point, and while he kept Mr. M'Clure under his arm, he kept patting Mr. Johnston on the back to an extent which had effect and counter-effect. While this gave Mr. Johnston valuable support and publicity to his meetings, it gave opportunity for the "News-Letter" to cast suspicion on Mr. Johnston's Conservatism, and to suggest that he was a Whig, which, at that time, was the strongest term of reproach that a Conservative could apply to an opponent.

"The Banner of Ulster" was in existence at the time, with Mr. W. H. Dodd, now Judge Dodd, exercising his 'prentice hand as an Editor. He had just been fresh from college, and had more knowledge of literary than of journalistic form, if I may be excused for making a difference. He rendered valuable assistance to Mr. M'Clure, and helped his cause well. But many a time and oft Mr. Dodd used to upset my equilibrium -- I was his sub -- by the unconventional form of his editorials. He did not follow the stereotyped style of leader, but struck out a style for himself, a bright style, as literary as the best, but more unconventional.

The only other journals at the time were the "Morning News" tri-weekly, which was unpolitical, and the "Ulster Observer," then under the editorial charge of one of the most brilliant journalists Ulster ever had, Mr. A. J. M'Kenna, who wrote brilliantly, but strongly, in favour of Mr. M'Clure and of Mr. Johnston, too, so far as he could use him as a whip by which to lash the old party.

All these political journals kept the pot of electoral excitement boiling in the two or three months during which the campaign was carried on. But that was not enough. We had more cartoons during that one election than we have had in all the elections since, and better ones than any I have seen. One of the earliest and best was one that represented the candidates passing the winning post in the order in which they appeared, Mr. Mulholland, if I remember aright, not reaching the post at all, which he did not. It hit the situation most accurately, and its artistic work was good.

But dealing with the literature of the election, must not forget that in the midst of the election a fly-sheet, under the name of the "Belfast Election Circular," about the size of the halfpenny papers subsequently produced, was issued in the interests of the two Conservative candidates, and especially in the interests of Mr. Mulholland, who was regarded as the weaker member of the team, as he ultimately proved to be. This was edited by a London barrister, and its writing was of a very brilliant character. It was printed for the party by Messrs. W. & G. Baird, and may have been the germ or the suggestion of the "Evening Telegraph," which that firm subsequently issued, and has brought to such success.

There was great correspondence every day in the Press, each newspaper, of course, only publishing letters in defence of its own side or attacking that of his opponents. One of the men who figured largely as an object of praise on one side and attack on the other was the Rev. John Rogers, then of Comber, afterwards Professor Rogers. The "Northern Whig" had singled him out for special attack, and he was not the man to let judgment go by default. The antagonism of the "Whig" and its friends arose from the fact that though an old and advanced Liberal he had on this occasion cast in his lot with the Conservatives on the Church question. One reason alleged at the time for this was that as Moderator of the General Assembly he had, with other members of the Court, met Mr. Disraeli on the eve of the General Election, and that that astute statesman had promised that if he won at the General Election he would raise the Regium Donum from £69 to £100. Whether or not such promise was made I cannot say, but I do know that levelling up was the avowed Conservative policy of the election, while levelling down was that of the Liberals.

At the time Miss Finlay, sister of the then proprietor of the "Whig," who was a very clever literary lady, was more than suspected of supplying some smart articles or letters to the "Whig." Mr. Rogers, in a letter in reply to the "Whig," referred to the "editors male and female after their kind." On another occasion he said or wrote that some time previously he had asked some of the children in his Sunday-school where all the bad boys who told lies went to, and that the ready answer he got was -- To the "Northern Whig."

As the period of the election approached, the excitement increased. Meetings were held almost every night, and very noisy many of them were. The largest and most successful meetings, both in number and in peace, were those of Mr. Johnston, whose friends not only maintained the enthusiasm of his own meetings, but disturbed the harmony of the meetings of Lanyon and Mulholland. Some of Mr. M'Clure's meetings were interrupted, but I do not think Mr. Johnston's friends had much to do with that, as the common antagonism of both these candidates to the official Conservative candidates produced a certain amount of harmony between them. I can recall one meeting of Mr. M'Clure's in the old Music Hall, where a band of interrupters produced a perfect pandemonium at the beginning, and the meeting threatened to end in a fiasco. I remember rushing up to Howard Street for the Rev. John Macnaughtan, who seemed to me (I was acting as secretary for the meeting) as the only man who could quell the disturbance. He was at home in his slippers reading. After some demur, Mr. Macnaughtan consented to go to the meeting. He had great difficulty in getting entrance on account of the crowd. He come on the platform like a little lion, and in five or ten minutes rendered the meeting, which up to then had been most riotous, as orderly as a prayer-meeting. He stepped to the front and said the meeting had been convened for Mr. M'Clure's supporters alone, and asked all who were in favour of the meeting proceeding to stand up. The vast majority stood up. He then asked all who did not want the meeting to continue to stand up. About forty or fifty in the gallery, some armed with staves, proclaimed their hostility. Mr. Macnaughtan said that that was no place for them, and the sooner they were out the better. They were all in a group in the gallery, and those around them at once gathered round, seized them, and had them all on the street in about five minutes. And very worn out and tattered they looked at the end. But they disturbed the meeting no more. It was one of the most remarkable instances of the superiority of mind to matter that I ever witnessed. The men, it is true, were not handled very gently, but they were handled effectually.

The speakers at Mr. Johnston's meetings were largely the members of the Working Men's Association. Messrs. Lanyon and Mulholland had the support of the leading Conservatives, and Mr. M'Clure of the Liberals, and especially the Liberal Presbyterians. It was on the latter's platform I first heard the late Right Hon. Thomas Sinclair, the late Mr. Robert MacGeagh, and Mr. Adam Duffin speak, and I did not dream that I would be so closely associated with them in after life. Of those who took part in those meetings there are only, so far as I remember, three now alive -- Mr. Adam Duffin, Mr. James Pyper, and the Rev. Dr. Magill, who as the Rev. George Magill came all the way from Cork to show his sympathy with Mr. M'Clure and the cause with which he was identified. Oh, I forgot, Sir A. M. Porter, ex-Master of the Rolls, was also one of the speakers, and he is still, I am happy to say, alive also.

There are two points of election law that have changed since. The one is the amount of money a candidate could expend on printing, advertising, agents, and other expenses, which is now limited, and as far as possible respected, though not always with success. In these times there was no check on expenditure. I could scarcely speculate on the number of thousands that election cost Mr. M'Clure and Messrs. Lanyon and Mulholland. These were the halcyon days of newspapers and printers, and as there was no limit as to the amount candidates could pay, there was very little limit to what newspapers and printers could charge. I remember one instance as to cost. In a number of the "Evangelical Witness" of the time, I observed an article on the subject of the Irish Church situation by a local divine, who dealt with the question from both sides. What he said on the Liberal side of the question was so good that I suggested to the conducting agent that it would be a desirable thing to circulate among the Presbyterians, and ten or fifteen thousand copies were printed on a broad sheet, and distributed among the electors. Between the printing and distribution I think that cost Mr. M'Clure something between £50 and £100 -- nearer the latter, if I remember. That was bad enough for the candidate monetarily, however it may have served politically. But as to the latter, judge of my surprise when I found the Conservative party issuing the other portion of the article as a counterblast, and I am sure that cost Messrs. Lanyon and Mulholland quite as much. But there were two paymasters instead of one in that case.

Mr. Johnston's candidature did not cost so much as the others, for neither he nor his followers had much money to spend of their own, but a petition that was lodged against the return of Mr. M'Clure revealed the fact that that gentleman's friends had subscribed many hundreds of pounds to keep Mr. Johnston in the field, as the phrase was. It helped to secure split votes as well. I may here say that at the petition trial those payments were not only proved, but admitted. Baron Fitzgerald, one of the best judges of his own or of any time, who tried the petition, did not unseat Mr. M'Clure, but hinted that if the petition had been against Mr. Johnston and not against Mr. M'Clure the decision might have been different. The other point in regard to which a material change has since been made was open nomination, which passed away by the Ballot Act of 1870. This was the last of such proceedings that took place in Belfast. Since nominations are made in writing, and not in speeches. The nomination took place in the old Howard Street Courthouse, which could only be called a courthouse by courtesy, so worn out and shabby it looked -- but it served very well, and made history as a police court, as well as a scene of election riot.

The courthouse was crowded on the occasion. Possession of it had been taken largely by the supporters of Mr. Johnston and many noisy and trouble-giving individuals, but Mr. John Rea bulked larger than them all as a disturber of harmony. Mr. Lanyon was sponsored by Mr. John Lytle and Mr. Philip Johnston; Mr. Thomas Sinclair and Dr. Murney sponsored Mr. M'Clure; Mr. C. W. Shaw and Mr. John Hind nominated Mr. Mulholland; and Mr. Wm. M'Cormick, father of the present Town Solicitor, and Mr. John Suffern nominated Mr. Johnston. The commotion, excitement, confusion and disorder, shouting and striking were so great that none of the speakers save Mr. Johnston could be said to have got a hearing. The speeches of the others were handed to the reporters. After the preliminaries, largely in dumb show, finished, up got Mr. Rea, nominally to propose some candidate, but really to ventilate his own views and increase the disorder, which he did to an extent I have never witnessed since, and made confusion worse confounded. Sticks and stones were freely used, and there were many bleeding heads on the occasion, Mr. Rea himself figuring on the list of those who bore scars, blood flowing from his head. The Mayor postponed the nomination till next day, when a similar display of dumb show and rowdyism, noise and tumult prevailed, and stone and stick throwing, yelling and shouting continued, in the midst of which the Mayor called for a show of hands, and declared the result in favour of Johnston and Lanyon, on which a poll was demanded for M'Clure and Mulholland.

The election took place a few days afterwards. It was all open voting, and the greatest excitement prevailed at the various polling places and all over the town. At a very early hour, however, the doom of the old Conservatives was sealed. As Belfast was a two-member constituency, each voter had two votes. In many cases the voters plumped for their favourite candidate. The majority of split votes went for Johnston and M'Clure. Those who were looking after the votes for these two candidates where they could, brought the voters up in couples, and each gave one vote for Johnston and one for M'Clure. The result of this, of course, was that at noon all hope for Mr. Mulholland was abandoned, and he retired. At the close of the poll, the result was declared as follows:-- Johnston, 7,267; M'Clure, 5,199; Lanyon, 4,249; Mulholland, 1,966. Messrs. Johnston and M'Clure were declared elected, and the remainder of the evening was given up to a demonstration on the part of the supporters of the successful candidates; and the supporters of the other candidates seem to have left the field, or the streets rather, in their possession. Mr Johnston and Mr. M'Clure were cheered and serenaded. There was a torchlight procession at night which caused great excitement and enthusiasm among the friends of the successful candidates, but there was no disorder. Thus ended the last Belfast election under the old system of voting, and the last open fight between the two wings of the Conservative party.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 18th August 1916.

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

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 8



The election of 1868 was a turning point in the history and legislation of this country. The Reform Bill of Mr. Disraeli, practicality household suffrage, had raised the working classes of the country to a position and influence that they had never occupied before. As an illustration of its effect, I may mention that the electorate of Belfast was increased from three or four thousand to thirteen or fourteen thousand -- be it remembered that the population then was not more than 158,000. The main Imperial issue of the election was the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, a question that had been forced to the front by such Irishmen as John Francis Maguire, Sir John Gray, Sir Colman O'Loughlin, and others, supported by a large section of the British Liberals, and notably Mr. John Bright. While Mr. Disraeli's Government was tottering to its fall, Mr. Gladstone introduced his famous resolution declaring the doom of the Irish Established Church, which was carried by a majority of 65. And from that time on, a matter of a few months, Mr. Disraeli kept struggling om till he dissolved at the end of the summer of 1868, when a battle of giants began, one of the most remarkable electoral battles in my memory.

Belfast was moved on that question almost as much as it has been moved since by Home Rule. Mr. Gladstone had described the Irish Church as a upas tree, and its destruction was the aim of himself and his party. In Belfast the majority was undoubtedly Conservative, and the feeling against Disestablishment was strong, deep, and intense. The members of the Established Church, with some exceptions, were all in favour of it. The majority of Presbyterian laity were also in favour of it. But in regard to the ministers of the Presbyterian Church, I am satisfied the majority of them were in favour of the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, though a vote in the Assembly in favour of the principle of Establishments was represented as a vote in favour of the Church. It is only necessary to say that while the Rev. Richard Smyth, afterwards Professor Smyth, voted in the majority in support of the principle of Establishments, he openly declared that it did not commit him to the support of the Irish Establishment. And he and others like him acted on that principle throughout the contest, and supported Liberal candidates.

But while parsons in speech, and pamphlet on both sides discussed the election as if that were the only question, it could not have been said to have been the deciding issue in Belfast. In point of fact, while rival platforms and the Press rang with declamations and diatribes as if this was the there was another issue which

But while parsons in speech and pamphlet on both sides discussed the election as if that were the only question, it could not have been said to have been the deciding issue in Belfast. In point of fact, while rival platforms and the Press rang with declamations and diatribes as if this was the only issue, there was another issue which came nearer to the hearts and homes of the masses of the Protestants even than the Irish Church. And that was whether or not, or if how far the newly enfranchised Protestant democracy would have a voice in the choice of Parliamentary candidates. I do not think I am displaying any old partisanship, or violating historical fact when I say that up to that time the artisan class had little to say, and that the old leaders were disinclined to listen to them on account of the circumstance and auspices under which the new demand was made.

To explain the local circumstance that led to this exciting controversy it will be necessary to recall that in 1867 Mr. Disraeli's Government -- I think with Lord Mayo as his Irish Secretary -- had made a bold attempt to mollify the Roman Catholic feelings of the country by proposing to grant a charter to the Queen's University in a form which might induce the hierarchy to abandon their hostility to and boycott of the godless colleges, as they described the colleges of Belfast, Cork, and Galway, and formed the old Queen's University, and by bringing in a Party Processions Act, suppressing party processions with emblems and bands. This latter struck a blow at the Twelfth of July demonstrations, which was greatly resented by the Orange party in Ulster. In deliberate violation of that Act a monster demonstration was held in Bangor on the 12th July, 1867, at which Mr. William Johnston, then a young man of some literary ability, and a very strong and hot Orangeman, took a leading part. He had already come to the front as an Orange advocate, but while Conservative in politics he did not spare the Conservative party for its action in regard to processions. Indeed, the Conservative leaders looked upon him with coldness ever after, suspecting and suggesting that there was too much Liberal blood in him, which, so far as the land question was concerned, afterwards proved to be true.

For his action at Bangor he was arrested and arraigned, and at a subsequent Assizes at Downpatrick was tried and convicted, and sentenced to two months in jail, or, rather, to one month in jail with the alternative of another month in default of bail, which Mr. Johnston refused to give. Mr. Johnston submitted to his imprisonment like a man and a gentleman, differing in that respect from many before and since, who, on the other side of the political fence, were subjected to jail discipline. It is worthy of note that the police officer who gave the principal evidence against Mr. Johnston was the Sub-Inspector Montgomery who was afterwards executed for the murder of his friend Glass, the bank clerk, in Newtownstewart some years after.

While Mr. Johnston had been somewhat of an Orange hero before this event, he now became a martyr hero. Two months in jail had sent him up higher than all his previous efforts, which were many. He had owned and edited the "Downshire Protestant," a paper published in Downpatrick, and specially devoted to the Orange cause. He had made speeches at Orange demonstrations by the dozen, and at any number of July demonstrations. But his martyrdom did more for him than all. There was some talk of his getting into Parliament for somewhere, but even while he was in the jail his friends got their eye on Belfast; and the Orange and Protestant Working Men's Association seem to have been formed for the purpose of making his election, or, at least, selection, sure. The men who founded and developed it were chiefly working men, who were good talkers and good manipulators. They had two prime leaders, however, who were not -- Mr. John Clark and Mr. Charles H. Ward. The former worked a good deal behind the scenes, but he was a real power, financial and otherwise, behind the movement.

Mr. Johnston received a great demonstration in the Ulster Hall some time after his release from prison, and from that time onward his appearance as a candidate was assured. The old Conservative party did not relish the prospect, and Mr. Johnston and the Protestant Working Men's Association got little countenance from the "News-Letter," while the "Northern Whig" patted him and the working-men on the back, and lauded their independence to the sky.

Belfast had been long represented by Conservatives, but as the Presbyterians represented a large section in the community and in the ranks of the party, it had been the custom to select a member of the Irish Church and a Presbyterian as members, Belfast having enjoyed at the time two members. For some years Sir Hugh (afterwards Lord) Cairns and Mr. S. Gibson Getty represented the Presbyterians. But on the promotion of Sir Hugh Cairns to the Bench and a peerage, Mr. Lanyon took his place. This at the General Election left Mr. Getty as the second member, but on the ground of the state of his health he declined to come forward, thus leaving an opening for a new candidate. For some time Mr. John Lyttle, an ex-Mayor of Belfast, and one of the most prominent Presbyterians, as well as one of the most prominent political leaders, was up to to fill the gap. The name of Mr. ----- Lewis, a London solicitor, who afterwards figured prominently in Ulster politics and Parliament, was also spoken of. But at last Mr. John Mulholland was chosen.

And this must be said. No man from his high position as an industrial magnate, his high personal character, his knowledge of economic questions could have been better entitled to a seat. And so in time he entered the lists with Mr. Lanyon, and for weeks "Lanyon and Mulholland" was the cry of the old Conservative leaders and of the Conservatives so far as they adhered to the old party. There was, however, one chink in his armour. He was not a Presbyterian, but a member of the Irish Church. This was bad enough, in the eyes of many Presbyterians, but what made it worse he was stated to have been originally a Presbyterian and had gone over to Prelacy, which was then, and still is, a poor claim to the political favour of Presbyterians.

The appearance of Mr. (afterwards Sir) Thos. M'Clure in the field as the nominee of the Liberals and Presbyterians of Belfast, and of Mr. Wm. Johnston as the nominee of the Orange and Protestant working men, raised an issue which was fought out for weeks with a vigour, and, I will add, bitterness, almost without parallel. But if possible the bitterness was greater between the followers of Mr. Johnston and those of the official Conservatives than between the latter and the followers of Mr. M'Clure, though I do not mean to suggest that there was any love lost between them. But as is usually the case when the ranks of one party become divided, the feelings of hostility of one to the other are most envenomed -- we have it at present in the split in the Nationalist ranks. The "News-Letter," then under the proprietorship of Mr. Jas. Alex. Henderson, and the editorship of Mr. W. H. Kisbey, afterwards County Court Judge, took little notice of Mr. Johnston or his meetings; and Mr. Johnston's followers retorted by taking notice of the "News-Letter" reporters, and keeping or putting them out of their meetings. This they did very pronouncedly on at least two occasions in the Ulster Hall.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 11th August 1916.

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

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 7



The first half decade of the half century that closes this year was a period of storm and stress and difficulty all over Ireland, just as it is to-day. Irish questions then, as now, occupied the chief attention of the country, just, as they do, with this difference, that there was no war in which England was involved to absorb or overweigh it. Fenianism had then raised its head, and disturbed and perturbed the country with the same aims and object as the Sinn Feiners of to-day. But as there was some form of government at the time, Fenianism did not carry on its machinations so openly as the Sinn Feiners do, and its attempt at a rising was farcical compared with that of the Sinn Feiners. There was little loss of life and little loss of property; indeed, the practical sufferers were the Fenians themselves, except in the case of some shootings of landlords or agents over the country, which, however, was not an exceptional circumstance. Belfast then, as now, felt an interest in all that affected the character and welfare of the country, and was greatly concerned over this Fenian movement, which, though it produced no developments in the North, had many sympathisers in it.

There were many arrests of Fenians in the city during this period; but, while they produced excitement at the time, they did not suggest any serious developments locally. I well remember the case of two brothers named Harbison who were arrested during that time. The cases were sent for trial to the Assizes, following the magisterial committal; but the wily Fenians engaged Mr. John Rea to defend them. He made such an attack and created such a scene that the cases were adjourned till the following Assizes. On that occasion the Attorney-General, Mr. Chatterton, afterwards Vice-Chancellor, came down to conduct the prosecution; and Mr. Rea, then in the prime of his powers as an advocate, and an obstructive, again appeared for the defence. After the arraignment of the prisoners, Mr. Rea got up and delivered such a harangue denunciatory of the Government and its chief, law officer as I have never heard surpassed at once for its marvellous combination of law, irrelevance, and vituperation.

He spoke for a couple of hours with such vehemence and fury that at the last he was frothing at the mouth. All attempts to stop him were futile. It would have been an easy to stop an avalanche in full flow. The Attorney-General was raging and writhing, but neither he nor the Judge – whose' name I forget – could stop the furious orator. When he came to an end, I think only from exhaustion, the Attorney-General did what I never heard done before or since. He threatened the newspapers with dire punishment if they reported Mr. Rea's allegations, charges, and epithets; and these were all in abundance. He refused to go on with the cases, and they I were adjourned. And the Courts knew them and the prisoners no more. I think the prosecution was abandoned, and the prisoners got off scot free, which they, no doubt, owed to their choice of an advocate.

I may say that during this period and for many years afterwards this same John Rea was one of the most prominent personages in the community, whether as lawyer or politician, so far as he could be seriously associated with either. While he was a sound criminal lawyer – said to have been amongst the best of his time -- he was far from a sound politician, and he frequently took advantage of his position as a lawyer to wander into attacks on ever man or party that came in his way; and his hand was against every man and every party. He described himself once as an Orange-Cromwellian-Republican, and in his actions and speech he represented every variety that these would suggest. He was physically strong and intellectually quick. In fact, he may be said to have been gifted with a genius that was allied to madness, and great intellectual powers marred by eccentricity. He made long speeches in court, in one case speaking for over a week, and wore out the patience, if not the life, of the Judge (Baron Hayes). He was dragged out of courts time after time, and once out of the Committee-room of the House of Commons. When, he offered resistance it required three or four police to remove him, so strong and resourceful he was. In his earlier years this proceeding was the result of pure eccentricity, but in later years it was often of deliberation. At frequent intervals he committed contempt of Court, and generally got a sentence of fourteen days, to which he submitted like a philosopher. He told me himself more than once that when he felt himself getting overstrung he deliberately committed contempt of court, and got the usual fourteen days, the rest of which, he said, made him all right again. He kept himself strong and healthy on hot and afterwards cold baths, and beefsteak, of both of which he was particularly fond.

His readiness of repartee was wonderful. On one occasion, when the father of the present Mr. W. H. Lyons, Mr. W. T. B. Lyons, a retired barrister, who often occupied the Magisterial Bench, told him in the course of a harangue that what he was saying went in at one ear and out at the other, Rea replied, "I can well understand that, your worship; there is nothing between to stop it." On another occasion, when Mr. A. J. M'Kenna, a brilliant journalist, and he met in the old Howard Street Police Court, in which one was plaintiff and the other defendant – it arose out of a planned technical assault to give them the opportunity of meeting and slogging each other – Rea used the word honour in the course of his remarks. "You should not use the word honour," said M'Kenna. "You don't even know how to spell the word." "Oh, yes, I do," was the ready retort; "according to the modern practice I leave 'u' (you) out."

I met him on hundreds of occasions in public and private. He was the greatest master of vituperative and in many cases irrelevant rhetoric that I have ever heard. His words flowed like a torrent, and interruptions, instead of embarrassing only assisted him. If his abilities had not been tainted by eccentricity and his life tinctured and soured by venomous personal feelings, he would have been one of the greatest men of the century, instead of a lamentable failure. The last conversation I had with him was on the occasion of the late Lord Russell of Killowen speaking in Belfast in the early eighties explaining Mr. Gladstones Land Bill. It was not an oration, but a mere legal exposition. Rea asked me what I thought of him, and I told him that it was only a legal exposition and not an oration he had delivered, so that I could not judge of his oratory. "Just think of it," he said, "I drove that man out of the Belfast Police Court, and there he is, making £16,000 a year, and look at me." It was an outburst of sanity mingled with sadness; a realisation of the failure of his life. The statement, however, was literally true; for Lord Russell commenced his career as a solicitor in the Belfast Police Courts, and was carrying all before him when Rea appeared and outstripped, outtalked, and ousted him. Russell was mild and gentle; Rea was forceful, vehement, and reckless. I never spoke to him again. Within a few months he took his own life.

The years on which I am dwelling were exciting years locally; but the excitement did not arise from local and public issues. Then, as now, Belfast attended to its business, and had no burning questions of its own to trouble it. But publicly the interest was ever burning, and Belfast felt the force of the flames. The state of Ireland, the Irish Church, and the Ulster land question, sometimes separately and sometimes combined, kept the people at fever heat. The affairs of Parliament affected the citizens then, as now; and what this statesman said or that statesman did was the chief topic from day to day. And it was mainly questions arising out of these that led to any controversies we had.

The prevailing politics of the town was Conservative, tinctured with Orange. This reminds me of a story current at the time. A burly North of England man obtained some appointment under the Corporation. While undergoing a preliminary test he was asked what his politics were. "What are the prevailing politics here?" he cautiously asked – I believe he came from Yorkshire. He was told. "I am delighted to hear that be so, for I am a Conservative; and I would feel among my own people, if I came here." He came, and for years was what in the United States would be called "boss" of the local politics, municipal and Parliamentary – at least so far as municipalisation was concerned. The Liberals of the day had a very poor show in the town, though in their ranks were included some of the most prominent merchants of the time – Sinclair, Charters, Duffin, Dunville, M'Clure, Finlay, M'Cance, Barbour, Musgrave, Riddell, Coey, Kennedy, Allen, Crawford, Ritchie, and many others; and of some of these families there were more than one representative. When Sir Hugh Cairns, who had represented Belfast for many years in conjunction with Mr. S. G. Getty, was appointed Lord Chancellor, an attempt was made by the Liberals to run Lord John Hay, but he met with rather a rough reception, and was left in a minority at the poll by Mr. Charles Lanyon, afterwards Sir Charles Lanyon.

With the change in the franchise introduced by Mr. Disraeli in 1867 came a great change not in the tone, but in the class of Conservatism. The working man Conservative came into being, or at least into potency. A Protestant Working-men's Association was the outcome of that new development, which attacked the very citadel itself. I well remember the commotion that was created in the ranks of the old Conservative school at that time when Isaac Hall, Wm. M'Cormick, Chas. H. Ward, Robert Maxwell, and others became sponsors of the new association. Mr. Tom Henry, of Pottinger's Entry, was at once printer and poet for the new party. The leaders were denounced as Radicals and recalcitrants in all the moods and tenses by the old leaders and their organ.

This reached its height in 1868 on the eve of the General Election that followed on the defeat of the Conservative Government when Mr. Gladstone, by a majority of 65, had carried a resolution in favour of the Disestablishment of the Irish Church.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 4th August 1916.

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