Wednesday 7 December 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 23



I am still in the hand of the law and the Resident Magistartes; but I have secured release, and I promise to release my readers after this week. But I have been so closely associated with so many of our R.M.s that their memories interest me, and that is the reason I dwell so much on them. On the death of Mr. J. C. O'Donnell, the Hon. Thomas O. Plunkett was appointed in his place. Mr. Plunkett was a member of the Roman Catholic branch of the Plunkett family; and he was in every respect worthy of the name and the country. He was not only honourable by title, but by character and disposition, every inch, and he had many inches, an Irish gentleman. He was for some years a colleague of Mr. Lloyd, and was as attentive to his duties and as careful of the dignity of his Court, and had as strong a sense of justice as his colleague; but he was not so inflexible or as severe in his sentences as he. At the same time, during the regime of these two magistrates there was no hesitation or delay in the conduct of the Courts. Mr. Plunkett was of a genial disposition, courteous and kindly, and was very popular with the entire community. Mr. Clifford Lloyd was succeeded by Mr. Thos. Hamilton, tall, erect, and vigorous, an excellent magistrate. He had been connected with the Revenue Service before his appointment as a magistrate. He was married to a daughter of the late Mr. Robt. Atkinson, D.L., of Beaumont, who had realised a fortune as a representative of the firms of Guinness and Bass. To him succeeded Mr. R. J. Eaton, who was known in certain quarters as "Mitchelstown." This arose from the fact that he had been Resident Magistrate in Cork and, in charge of the police at the great riot at Mitchelstown, where the police did their duty with great vigour and effectiveness. It was in connection with these proceedings that Mr. Gladstone used the phrase, "Remember Mitchelstown," which became a favourite Nationalist cry for many years. Mr. Eaton was a very efficient magistrate, and a very gentlemanly man.

At the time of the riots of 1886 the two Resident Magistrates were the Hon. Colonel Forbes (Protestant) and Mr. Felix J. M'Carthy. I knew both men well, but I had more respect for the Roman Catholic than the Protestant. There was a gentleness and courtesy about Mr. M'Carthy that was rather missing in his colleague, whose manner and methods, despite his honourable prefix, did not commend him to the community. During the riots there was naturally great excitement and great feeling; and it required great delicacy and great firmness on the part of the magistrates to do justice and avoid even a pretext for the allegation of partisanship. In the case of Mr. M'Carthy I never heard any complaint of partiality; but I remember many in the case of Colonel Forbes. But it was not of partiality towards the Protestants, but towards the Roman Catholics. It may have been that, in the desire to avoid suspicion of partiality towards Protestants he was more severe and stringent with those of them that came under his official notice at the time; but I cannot, of course, say. But it was notorious that in several cases Mr. Harper, who was the principal solicitor acting for the Protestants, had to go to the Queen's Bench to get bail for his clients, while Mr. M'Erlean in many cases got bail for his clients without that roundabout and expensive process.

There was one case that led to a great deal of feeling both as regards the magistrate and the police. A Protestant living in a street in close proximity to Roman Catholic quarters had his house attacked, his windows smashed, and much of his property injured. This man fired a number of shots at the raiding crowd. A police constable living in the neighbourhood saw the attack on the house, and saw the man firing; but he took no action in regard to the crowd, but arrested the man who fired. The man was returned fro trial, and, of course, without bail by Colonel Forbes. The case came on before Mr. Justice Lawson at the Ulster Winter Assizes in Omagh. Having regard to the character of the charge and to the righteous severity shown by Judge Lawson in other cases, the prisoner and his friends feared the worst, When the Judge heard the evidence as to the attack and its character he put an end to the case, and said the persons who should have been in the dock were the raiders and not the victim, who had done nothing wrong but defend himself and his property.

As a result of Colonel Forbes's action in this and other cases a strong feeling of indignation was raised in the town, and a movement was set on foot to have the colonel removed. It was an open secret at the time that Colonel Forbes used all his influence to have Mr. M'Carthy removed at the same time. The Protestant Press and public raised a protest against this; and I remember myself writing an article in "The Ulster Echo" protesting against the attempt to remove Mr. M'Carthy. He as well as I knew the strings that were being pulled, and he afterwards expressed his appreciation of what the Protestants in the Press or otherwise had done to vindicate him from what, under the circumstances, would have been unwelcome, as well as an affront in involving him in the Colonel's condemnation.

I remember some years afterwards in an hotel in a Northern watering-place meeting a couple of Roman Catholic priests. To the three of us one evening entered an English gentleman and two young men, with whom he was making a tour of the country. The young men were Roman Catholics, and the English gentleman was a Protestant. In the course of the conversation the English gentleman mentioned that he and other Protestants went occasionally to hear Bishop Vaughan, of Salford, who was afterwards Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. One of the priests, turning to me, said we would not do that in Belfast. I gave a reply which, however, is not germane to my present purpose. I added that this Roman Catholic clergyman and those of his cloth and creed were going up and down the country talking about the intolerance of Belfast, while, in fact, so much did they exhibit the opposite that if the stones and bricks that had been provided with Protestant money were removed from some of the churches and convents some of them would be in danger of toppling to the ground. Warming to my subject, I described, without giving names, the incident I have referred to above. One of the young men spoke out and said he could confirm all that I had said, as he believed I was referring to Mr. M'Carthy, and that he knew him well (Mr. M'Carthy had then retired), and that he had often spoken, and always warmly, about the kind treatment he had received from the Protestants of Belfast.

Mr. Garrett Nagle succeeded Mr. M'Carthy as our Roman Catholic R.M., and he is still doing his duty, and doing it well, here. Mr. Nagle is one of the most devout Roman Catholics I know, but he dispenses justice with an even, a fair, and gentle hand. He is very mild, very courteous, very considerate, and mingles mercy with justice, and justice without rigour. He does not rush; he takes time to think.

The Protestant Resident Magistrates of a later date were Mr. F. G. Hodder and Sir A. Newton Brady. Mr. Hodder was one of our best magistrates and one of the most popular. He was a sound lawyer, and a most excellent gentleman as magistrate or as friend Sir A. Newton Brady's position was acknowledged when, during his term of office, he received the honour of knighthood – an honour that does not often fall to one occupying such a position, and for services connected therewith. And then there is Mr. John Gray, who is now with us. He is the Resident Magistrate in the city whom I have not met personally, and, therefore, can only speak of him from what I hear, which is that he is a good and painstaking magistrate, does his duty well, impartially, and faithfully. He seldom, if ever, takes part in public functions or mingles with the social life of the community. I did see and hear him once in connection with the inspection of the garden plots near the Waterworks, in which he seemed to take a sympathetic interest, but that is all. From all I learn  his heart seems to de divided between the police courts and his home, and as soon as he is done with his work at the courts he makes his way home.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 8th December 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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