Wednesday 23 November 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 21



Memories of the Royal Irish Constabulary haunt me still as the bright smile of the Bohemian girl haunted the hero of the musical romance that bears her name. I have known so many of them in my time, so many that have got on well in the force and so many that have done well out of it, and I meet members of the force so often in my walks abroad, that now that my mind has been turned to thoughts of its members, I could almost, like the brook, go on for ever. I have seen many of the rank and file attain promotion to head constables, and several head constables rising, to be sub-inspectors. I have known several who were in the force in my time who obtained good positions in civil life and in business, and few, very few, of them are living still.

Among the head constables of my time, those of whom I retain the most vivid recollections are Head Constables Lamb and Foley, who were in joint charge of the police books in the court in my time. Lamb was a fine, burly, good-natured officer. Seeing that he was a policeman, it might be too much, to say that he was as mild and gentle as his name; but he certainly was kindly and considerate, though at times blunt and bluff. Then there was Head Constable Foley, an officer and gentleman in look and manner, in courtesy and dignity. I was not surprised when he was afterwards selected to be chief of the police force in St. John’s, Newfoundland, a position which he filled with signal ability and success. He was a brother of Signor Foli, well known as one of the leading opera singers of the day, who had to give himself an Italian appellation — at that time one had to be, or pose as an Italian or German to be able to get fair chances in the musical profession. That was very much the case in later times, too, though there have been exceptions; but they only proved the rule. In later days British and Irish have had a better chance. Through my association with the head constable I met the "Signor" often during his visits to Belfast. He, too, was a fine Irish gentleman. I came across recently a photograph of a number of local Pressmen, including myself, who joined m a presentation to Head Constable Foley on leaving the town for his Nova Scotian appointment. I alone am left of the group to tell the tale and recall the memory.

Many of the sub-inspectors of my time — sub-inspector, and not district inspector, was the official title in the days of which I am writing — received promotions to Resident Magistrates and county inspectorships. The names of these that occur to me as I write are Gardiner, Townsend, Bull, and Morrell — though the latter is of a more recent date, and Gelston, who is quite modern, and is now, I believe, in charge of County Kerry, where all but the spirit of man is sublime. Mr. Clayton is another whose name just occurs to me.

Dealing with the local heads of the police force, in my memory the first I recall is Mr. James Luttrel Bailley, or Captain Bailley as he was often called. He was a fine sturdy specimen of a good thorough-going officer — breezy and blunt, but efficient. He had a strong voice and a decided military style, and said what he had to say in a short and rapid manner, and went on — coming and departing like a whirlwind. His successor was, I think, Mr. Cullen, who afterwards obtained a high position in the headquarters in Dublin. He was of a more solid and stolid type than Mr. Bailley, had less of a military air and presence, but was a good officer withal. I remember meeting him on one occasion coming out of the Town Hall, and he had a fiery and furious look about him, which was far from usual,  for he was by no means an excitable man. “Hello, what has put you in a bad temper?” I asked. “The Mayor,” he said — we had not Lord Mayors in those days; and I may say the Mayor of the time was he who was later known as Sir Edward J. Harland. I asked him to explain. But I should first explain that the occasion was the second morning before the visit of the late King Edward and Queen Alexandra, who as Prince and Princess of Wales visited Belfast in the early ’eighties; and the subject out of which the irritating incident had arisen was the form in which the traffic of the main streets should be conducted on the evening of the visit, when there was to be a general illumination of the buildings and streets of the town. Mr. Cullen told me that on the previous day he had left with the Mayor a programme of the arrangements that were to be made for the procession and the public traffic during the evening. After thinking the matter over, and consulting with the various officers, he had, he said, come to the conclusion that a change would be desirable, and he had called upon the Mayor to submit the particulars and get his approval, which he expected as a matter of course. “Didn’t we arrange all that yesterday?” asked the Mayor when Mr. Cullen put the new programme before him. “Yes,” was the reply, “but on further consideration, I have changed my mind, and I think this would be a better plan.” “I’ll have nothing to do with a man that is always changing his mind. I never change my mind,” said the Mayor. “I change my mind when I see occasion,” retorted Mr. Cullen. “I’m not a mule.” And with that Parthian shot he left him, and emerged in the towering rage in the heat of which I found him. I am unable to say which plan was adopted. But I think a good plan must have been adopted for having regard to the huge traffic and crowding of the streets, there was as little confusion as could be expected on that brilliant and memorable night. And I can remember that the illuminations were magnificent and the spectacle brilliant and suggestive as a display of Belfast loyalty and for Belfast appreciation of Royalty, which then and now was great, and I hope ever shall be.

When Mr. Cullen was called up higher as one of the chiefs of the force in Dublin, his place was taken by Mr. Carr, of whom I have little remembrance save that he was a most genially disposed gentleman. To him succeeded Mr. Singleton, whom I first remember as a popular sub-inspector at Carrickfergus, one of the most genial and off-handed of men — a good officer and a fine gentleman. He was most popular both with the police and the public, and when in due course he was promoted to the Deputy-Inspector-Generalship in Dublin, everyone rejoiced at his promotion. I met and knew him intimately while he was in Belfast, and met him occasionally while he was in office in Dublin, and also after his retirement, and he was always the same genial, courteous, and affable gentleman. To Mr. Singleton, if I remember aright, succeeded Mr. Cameron, a very capable officer and fine gentleman, who, I think, retired from the service; and thus ended a brief and pleasant connection with the force and the city.

And then there was Mr. Moriarty, who died only a few months ago, having enjoyed his retirement for many years. Mr. Moriarty was a most wonderful man, who lived and worked as if by the clock. The regularity and system of his movements was, indeed, remarkable. I remember while living in Bangor meeting him almost daily at the corner of Rosemary Street on his way to his morning shave, I believe, before entering upon duty. If my train arrived at its usual time and I moved at my usual pace I met him just turning into Rosemary Street; and if I did not meet him I felt that my train or myself had not been punctual, for I always felt sure that my old friend would be at the same place at the same exact minute. He would be sure to keep time if the railway or the traveller did not. He was sharp and somewhat brusque in his style, but he was a good officer. Next came Mr. Leathern, who retired after a life of faithful service, and who knew happily lives in our midst, retaining the respect of all who knew him. Mr. Leathem was not only an excellent City Commissioner, careful in matters of discipline and duty, but free from that rigid officialism which disregards everything else. He was most courteous and kindly in the discharge of all his duties, and was popular with the police and the public, the aftermath, of which he still enjoys in his retirement, which, all his friends hope he will enjoy, for many and happy years.

Mr. Hill was in office during the memorable and disturbing Larkin strike, which lasted for weeks, and brought so much loss and disgrace, to the city. I have reason to remember that, for my duties, my experience, and my feelings at the time made me a close and continuous commentator on the movement and on its leader, Mr. Larkin. A friend connected with the cross-Channel steamboat and railway interests that were much affected at the time, afterwards told me that I had filled over eighty columns in my criticism and comments on the movement and its leader. I learned at the time, after some trouble and investigation, the real groundwork of the movement; and I did my best to expose and explain it, which brought on my poor head the special abuse and attention of the leader himself.

I remember at a comparatively early stage of the strike and the straffing being at the fringe of a crowd at the Custom House one Sunday afternoon — a crowd extending almost from the steps of the Custom House to the sheds. In the course of Larkin’s speech he said — “I hear ‘The Man in the Street’ is within my hearing, and I want to tell him” — and he went on to tell me and the audience as well many things that were far from respectful or appreciative. Some in my neighbourhood seemed to recognise me, and I candidly confess I quickly folded my tents and silently stole away. I did not care to be left to the tender mercies of Larkin’s lambs, even on the Sabbath day. I received many threats and warnings at the time, but I felt safe with the protection of the police, and I was justified, though on one occasion an individual carried his far from peaceful intention to and from the office in Royal Avenue for one entire afternoon and evening — it was one of the evenings of the days in which negotiations for settlement were conducted at the Grand Central Hotel.

There were criticisms of the police at the time, though for my part I could not blame them, much, for the late Government was in power and the Labour party was in its zenith as dictator. And between its leaders and the leaders of the Irish Nationalists the Government seemed afraid to show much vigour, and it would have been dangerous as well as difficult for the police to show too much. They did at last, however, and the result of that and a conference brought to an end the practical dictatorship which, to the disgrace of the authorities, and the serious danger and injury to the city, lasted for over two months. During this period, however, Mr. Hill, the City Commissioner, was laid aside as the result of an accident, and he could not be held responsible for any laxity of the police if there wan any — and if there was, I would not blame the police so much as the Executive, that gave them little backing up, and seemed then, as always, to pander to the troubles of the country rather than to protect either its trade or its loyal interests.

Mr. Hill retired during or at the end of this business, and the present Commissioner, Mr. Smith, took his place. And certainly no men could have filled the position better or more satisfactorily. He is at once courteous and capable, obliging and firm, calm and confident, ready in emergency, and well prepared for all difficulties. He has had some difficult and delicate matters to handle in his time, and his has handled them well, and enjoys the respect and confidence of all classes in the community. He is not only a gentleman who knows his duty and does it, but he is always ready and willing to assist those who call on him even extra officially, as I have found from personal experience. He has now had a long tenure of office, and I am sure the community would be glad to have him for many yearns more, and hope they will have — unless he is “called up higher,” as so many of his predecessors were, and as he would, in the opinion of all who know and honour him, well deserve. I may add that the Commissioner has a fine staff of District-Inspectors, of which Mr. Dunlop, Mr. Redmond, and Mr. Ross are, I think, the seniors — at anyrate they are those I know best.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 24th November 1916.

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

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