Wednesday 4 January 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 27



The best laid schemes of mice and “The Man in the Street” sometimes gang agley. Last week I took advantage of the Christmas holidays to write an article a week in advance, and did not intend that it should appear till this week, so that I might have a New Year's rest. I had only read and revised the first portion concluding with the references to Lord and Lady Pirrie; but by one of those misunderstandings that happen in the best regulated office, the printer sent it all out and down, so that the latter part appeared unread and unrevised by me, and was sent out with all its imperfections on its head. Though I would have changed nothing of the spirit, I would have changed in some cases the form and avoided some obvious inaccuracies that have appeared, for which I apologise.

Though, happily the Lord Mayor (Sir Crawford M'Cullagh) still belongs to the present, and not to the past, I could not conclude a review of the occupants of that high office without a notice of one who has served the city so well, and whom it is soon to part with with regret. When Mr. M'Mordie died in the very heyday of his work and usefulness in the spring of 1914, the present Lord Mayor was unanimously called to fulfil the duties of the office, which he did with such satisfaction to the citizens that they elected him on the following year, and then for the present, which practically means three years. It was no easy task to wear Mr. M'Mordie's mantle, but the present Lord Mayor wore it well, and when, on the occasion of his first visit to Belfast as Lord Lieutenant, Lord Wimborne conferred the honour of knighthood on him, which was pointedly emphasised as direct from the King, it was felt that the honour was as well deserved as it was highly appreciated by the citizens.

And it is due to Sir Crawford M'Cullagh to say that his task throughout has been pre-eminently arduous and difficult, demanding not only great labour, but great tact and judgment. And in no particular did his lordship fail. Into the work of raising recruits for the army and in raising funds for the victims of the war and their friends, and of the various orgnisations which grew out of these he threw himself with characteristic energy and singleness of purpose, and won not only the respect of the authorities, but of all the citizens without regard to class or creed for his unstinted efforts and unvarying success. He readily responded to every call of duty and to every call to undertake duty, and withal never showed a sign of weariness or of worry; always ready, always courteous, always wise and prudent. He has won a high place in the hearts and affections of the citizens, whose best wishes will follow him into his retirement. and whose memory of his services and sacrifice in a time of storm and stress will not soon be forgotten.

But if the Lord Mayor did his part well, what shall I say of the Lady Mayoress? Without any previous experience of public life she took up the duties of Lady Mayoress with a readiness and grace, and carried out all the duties as to the manner born. The war, philanthropic, and other organisations over which she presided, the activities she was called upon to exercise, the addresses she was called upon to make were many and often taxing; but Lady M'Cullagh never faltered and never failed, and not only secured a crown for herself, but added laurels to those of her husband by her energy and industry, by her urbanity, courtesy, and kindness, and by her womanly heartfulness and grace.

In recalling the memories of our Mayors and Lord Mayors it would not be unfitting to recall some of the members of the Corporate staff that assisted them and the Corporation in their labours. And first must come Sir Samuel Black. Of the Corporation during his tenure of office he may be said to have been a great part. As Town Clerk and Town Solicitor he was not only adviser, but, originator, always ready, always resourceful, always clear and decided, and sound alike in his opinion and judgment. He took a great interest in all the civic developments, and while he was always anxious, and, I will add, successful in observing and preserving the rights and interest of the Council, he had ever an eye upon the development of the city.

At Sir Samuel's death, Mr. Robt. Meyer, who had been well trained under him, became Town Clerk, and Mr. John M'Cormick, who had been well trained in Corporation matters as well as in law, became Town Solicitor. Of Mr. Meyer's services as Town Clerk, there is but one opinion both within and without the City Hall, and that is that he has risen to the full height of his duties and responsibilities in a manner that has earned not only the respect, but the confidence of all. He is capable, careful, courteous and resourceful, a man and not a machine, a ready reference as to all that has been done in the past and to all that is being done, or should be done, in the present or future; a perfect official and a perfect gentleman.

As to Mr. John M'Cormick, he has proved himself an admirable and popular law adviser, and with a knowledge of municipal law and of men, municipal and otherwise, that constitute him a shrewd, sound, prudent legal adviser. And he is as courteous as he is capable, and always ready to advise and assist, so that justice as well as law may dominate the relations of the Council and those with whom they are brought into association.

The City Chamberlain is an office that came into existence with the city and its Lord Mayor; and Mr. F. W. Moneypenny, M.V.O., who had been Borough Cashier for many years, was appointed. And he has discharged the duties with the greatest efficiency. With him rests the responsibility for the conduct of the principal city functions, with the reception of distinguished visitors, with the details of the various organisations, philanthropic and otherwise, that have their centre in the City Hall; and none but one to the manner born, as he is could discharge them all with the perfection of order and organisation, and with the courtesy and success that he does.

The City Engineer plays a great part In the life of any municipal body. In the first older of that office in my recollection, the late Mr. Montgomery, the Belfast Corporation possessed one of the best in the kingdom. Mr. Montgomery was not only a great engineer, but a great man, and a far-seeing man to boot. He was a man of culture as well as an engineer, and was held in respect not only for his professional abilities, but for strength and independence of character. He was responsible for many public improvements and for the planning of some which be did not live to see accomplished. Among these may be included Royal Avenue and other early improvements. On his death he was succeeded by his erstwhile assistant, Mr. J. C. Bretland, who carried out Some important drainage and other works. On his retirement Mr. H. E. Cutler, the present holder of the office, was appointed, and under his regime the city is going on from improvement to improvement both in public works and the sanitation of dwellings and the city, though the war has interfered with the progress of some. In connection with the engineering department the name of Mr. James Munce, Assistant Surveyor, who has bean a life-long official, deserves special mention. For many years Dr. Whitaker acted efficiently as Officer of Health, and he has been succeeded by the present occupant, Dr. Bailie, under whose care many improvements in sanitation have been effected. And then, as our Coroner, we have Dr. James Graham, who administers Coroner's 'quest law with characteristic carefulness and efficiency.

In a former article I took stock of the principal developments during the reign of the Mayors as recorded in the chronicles of the Town Clerk. I now propose to devote a few lines to the more recent developments in the history of the Lord Mayors. These included the erection of the new Fire Station and branch stations for the Fire Brigade, which, under the capable superintendence of Mr. Smith, render such effective service; the installation of electric light and the erection of the electric station, which has brought much public advantage to the city, and also brought much controversy in its train; the purchase of the Purdysburn estate for the new Asylum, and the erection of a fine suite of buildings, where, under Dr. Graham, a model establishment is most successfully conducted, the Purdysburn Fever Hospital, so effectively looked after by Dr. J. Gardiner Robb, the superintendent; the extension of the Public Baths, Lodging-houses, District Libraries, so that cleanliness and many other good and useful products for the improvement of the people in mind, body, and estate the purchase of the Ulster Hall, and its renovation and dedication to the musical and intellectual culture of the citizens, and others, in the words of the advertisement, too numerous to mention.

There were some developments and incidents, each of which would deserve a special paragraph to itself.

And first, we had the purchase, electrification, and extension of the tramways, at a cost of over one million sterling, with the creation of what many of us regarded as a model service for conveyance and cheapness, under the management of Mr. Nance, and in charge of a committee, which wrangled for years about the fares and service, about Mr. Nance, and with each other, until last year, when, under a new chairman, Mr. John M'Caughey, Mr. Nance retired on pension, and a new and excellent manager, Mr. Moffat, was appointed, since when the Tramway Committee have ceased from troubling each other, the City Council, and the public, and the ratepayers and travellers have had rest. I never sympathised with many of the attacks on Mr. Nance, though I admit he is a man of such individuality and strength of will that he must have been hard to keep in check. Yet he was a good organiser, who, however, committed the unpardonable sin of making one or two glaring mistakes. I cannot say if the new manager, Mr. Moffat, is capable of making mistakes — I have not heard of any yet — but from all I know of him and hear of him, he seems to have the knack of getting on with his men and his committee, and his work; and perhaps the best thing that could be said in his favour is that we hear little of him outside, and hardly know he exists.

Then we had the Municipal Technical Institute, of which Mr. Samuel Stevenson, one of our own most popular and capable architects, was the architect, and of which Mr. Forth, now, in addition, captain in the Ulster Division, is the administrative head. The building is perfect as an architectural feature, while the thousands of pupils trained within its walls give evidence of his faith receiving elementary education wants, but this was a very long felt want, and it has been supplied with results that have already borne fruit, and it is hoped may continue to bring forth greater fruits in the time to come. Of course, as it was an educational institution, it could not be developed without some Roman Catholic interference, and as the bishop of the diocese could not tolerate the idea of youths of his faith receiving elementary education either in the three r's or in carpentry and joinery in the same room with Protestants, and under the same teachers, a separate institution had to be provided for Roman Catholics, which has been carried on for some years at Hardinge Street, at an additional cost to the ratepayers and the State. It seems, however, to be doing good work in its own way.

Then we had our City Hall, from the design of a London architect, who earned a knighthood as well as the appreciation of the citizens for his work. It is now not only a thing of beauty, but will be a joy and a pride to the citizens for years to come. If it does not receive dignity from the City Council, it gives it — and it is more blessed to give than to receive. It is a delight to strangers and citizens alike, and with its graceful proportions, its marble columns and stairs, its stately halls, its spacious offices, its surrounding statues, and tasteful grounds, it represents and upholds the civic dignity, the civic character, and the civic enterprise. Neither it nor the Technical Institute has suffered in character and dignity by the fact that each was opened by Lord Aberdeen when he was Lord Lieutenant

What shall I say of the Royal Victoria Hospital? It and its work speak for themselves, and speak, and will long speak, of Lady Pirrie, who may he fairly described as its founderess. And what shall I say of the visit of the late King Edward the Seventh, the people's King in feeling and in fact, and of Queen Alexandra, whose visit to Belfast was primarily associated with the unveiling of the statue to the late Queen Victoria, with the opening of that institution? That was a great and memorable visit truly, and brought forth an exhibition of that loyalty to the Crown and person, of the King that has always been a distinguishing characteristic of the city and of the majority of the province of which it is the head and the chief commercial and industrial centre. It was the second time our city had the opportunity of welcoming their Majesties — the year was 1903 — for in 1910, on the 6th of May of that year his Majesty passed away amid the sorrows not of an Empire alone, but of the world. The last personal recollection the most of us have of him is his visit, and we shall long remember his dignified ease, his bright, benign, and genial presence, and the assurance that behind the majesty there was a man; that beneath the head that swayed an Empire there was a heart that beat in unison with his people both in patriotic pride and in sympathetic feelings and interests.

There are other features of the period on which I should like to dwell; but space forbids. I shall only recall two — the Larkin-cum-Nationalist effort to strangle local industry in 1907, and the quasi-Home Rule Health Commission in the same year, which latter was called into being to curse the City Council and the municipality, and ended in blessing it.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 5th January 1917.

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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