Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1917) part 34



With the reader’s permission, I will return to more directly local subjects, though I cannot promise that I will leave Home Rule out, though I should like much not only to leave it out, but to rule it out. But the period I have in my mind, and with which I was dealing when I went off on a tangent about Parnell and his crimes, was the period in which Home Rule began to appear on the horizon, which it has darkened ever since. So far as Belfast was concerned, it was only in 1885 that we began seriously to dread the appearance of the monster. Those of us that were Liberals held out to the last against the possibility of Mr. Gladstone surrendering to the Parnellite Delilah. But in 1885 rumours got abroad that Lord Carnarvon, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland — the Conservative Government was called into existence on the defeat of the Liberals in the summer of that year — and Lord Randolph Churchill were making advances to Mr. Parnell; and it has been established since, that Subterranean conversations and interviews had taken place. It was admitted that in the true conspirator form and spirit Lord Carnarvon met Mr. Parnell in an empty house in London, and it was an open secret, and it has long since ceased to be a secret of any kind, that Lord Randolph Churchill was having some secret meetings in Dublin during some visits to the late Lord Justice Fitzgibbon.

No doubt the Conservatives had been courting Mr. Parnell’s support, and no doubt they received it at the election that took place in 1886. The Conservatives, to a large extent, joined with the Parnellites in opposing the Crimes Act, and Mr. Winston Churchill records in his father’s life that Lord Randolph told Lord Justice Fitzgibbon in his own house, “I told Parnell when he was seated on that sofa (pointing to it) that if the Tories took office, and I was a member of the Government, I would not consent to renew the Crimes Act.” “In that case,” Parnell said, “you will have the Irish vote.” Though we did not know as much of those subterranean negotiations in Belfast as we know now, we knew enough to make us suspicious. And the situation in Belfast was this — the Conservatives were twitting the Liberals on Mr. Gladstone going to grant Home Rule, and the Liberals were retorting with these tales about Lord Carnarvon and Lord Randolph Churchill. Sir Stafford Northcote visited Belfast in 1883, and did not say much to illumine the darkness of the time, his one recorded statement of satisfaction after his visit being that he was thankful he had no theory to defend. In connection with this visit an amusing incident (though based on what might have been serious circumstances) occurred. Sir Stafford was coming to Belfast on Mr. W. H. Smith’s steam yacht Pandora; but a storm arose in the Channel, and the poor Pandora, after being beaten about, had to put in at Kingstown, and Sir Stafford did not arrive in Belfast till considerably after the time appointed. I admit that we Liberals made much capital out of the mysterious non-appearance of the hero of the hour; and a humorous wag that we had at that time on “The Echo” made very merry over it.

But he did arrive the next day, and a demonstration and a banquet took place in honour of his visit. I have no recollection of anything he said. But I remember one incident in connection with the banquet. I happened to drop into an establishment, where afternoon “tea” was being dispensed, and found half-a-dozen gentlemen present, including three members of the Banquet Committee. “Here is a man who will settle this question for us.” said one. “What is the vexed question?” I asked. “Well,” said my friend, “I hear it said that the champagne at the banquet the other night was not good. Now, you were there. What is your opinion?” “Well, in the first place,” said I, “I was a guest; and even if I disapproved of the wine, it would not be polite to say so; and, in the second place, I would not know good champagne from bad, and, therefore, am unable to express any opinion.” “Well,” said my friend again, “I do not know how it could be bad, for ‘Billy’ and. ‘Charley’ and myself sampled two dozen and a half bottles before we gave the order.” I said if that was the case I should not be surprised if it had been bad, as at that stage of sampling I did not think they would be good judges.

But bad having begun with Sir Stafford, the weather, and the Pandora, worse remains behind. The Pandora came round to Belfast to take the hero of the hour away; and it had not got far on its journey till storms again arose, and the Pandora had to put back for safety to Donaghadee, with its Jonah on board. I do not remember whether the Pandora ventured again afloat with him or not; but I know as a historic fact that he got back to England some time or other.

But the whirligig of time brings its revenges. In the summer of 1885 the Marquis of Hartington was announced to come to Bedfast to open the Ulster Reform Club, and a great banquet was arranged in his honour in the Ulster Hall. All went merry as a marriage bell till the morning of the banquet, and the Liberals were all cock-a-whoop, as they had arranged a fine banquet and a fine gathering and a great display. About ten or eleven o’clock, however, a telegram reached Sir Ed. Cowan, who was to be his lordship’s host, announcing that the Marquis had taken suddenly ill in Dublin, and would be unable to fulfil his engagement. Hurried meetings were held, and the wires set in motion to see if some other Minister could take his place; but none was available; and as the Tories of the time said, a performance of “Hamlet” went on with the Royal Dane’s part left out. And no doubt their Press and the party made merry over the incident, and poked fun at the Liberals, as they had done in the case of Sir Stafford Northcote. It was a jolly banquet, however, and while the guests may have missed a very solid oration, they missed nothing else, either solid or liquid.

At the same time, the party had to endure a disappointment, as well as much chaff. Though it was officially stated that the Marquess had been really ill, that he had met with a slight accident a day or two before, and that his medical men would not allow him to make the journey, there were not a few Liberals who felt with all the Conservatives, that diplomacy rather than the doctor had made the stay imperative. I have never been able to satisfy myself on that point, for matters in Ireland at the time were in a critical state; and I was one of those who believed, or, perhaps, I should say, feared, that information that he had not wot of communicated to him in Dublin had made it difficult for him to make an important pronouncement at the time.

At any rate he did come in the following November, and in the midst of a General Election, for in the meantime Lord Salisbury, who had taken up the reins of office on Mr. Gladstone’s defeat over a very miserable matter connected with the Budget, but could not command a satisfactory majority, appealed to the country, and a General Election was rushed through in a couple of weeks. The club was opened in due form. It was a rather Irish opening, inasmuch as the club had been going on in full working order for nearly a couple of years. The club, according to one of its original rules, was formed for “bona-fide Liberals in politics and loyal to the principles of Constitutional government land to the maintenance of the Union with Great Britain.” The assemblage in the club on the occasion was brilliant, and Lord Hartington and the other guests of honour on the occasion were as enthusiastic and delighted over the magnificence of the building and the adornment of the local habitation and name the Liberal party had secured in the capital of Ulster. Lord Hartington made an interesting speech on occasion, which was largely one of congratulation and appreciation of the work done and suggested in Ulster. Before I refer further to Lord Hartington’s visit, I should like to mention one or two private incidents of the time that it can ao no harm to mention now. The late Mr. John Shaw Brown, in addition to having been one of the originators and one of the largest subscribers to the funds for starting the building, supplied free, and of the finest description, all the napery required for the club. I think I am right in saying that the late Mr. Samuel Johnston, of Highfield, Belfast, was the gentleman who first conceived the idea of the club. Some time after the club was formed — I cannot recollect whether it was after or before it was formally opened — Mr. Brown was entertained to dinner by the members. Laudations were poured upon Mr. Brown’s head during Hie evening for the part he had taken in the formation of the Club. All who knew Mr. Brown will remember his happy, handsome, and smiling face beaming good humour, good nature, and geniality all round, and will also remember that he was the most natural and unaffected of men.

When it came to his time to acknowledge these compliments and laudations, he said, inter alia, “You have been all giving me credit for starting this club. I did not start the club. There’s the fellow (pointing to Mr. Johnston, who, with his characteristic modesty, was sitting at a private table) that started the club. He called at my office one day after the General Election, and said, ‘Don’t you think it would be a good thing to start a Liberal Club in Belfast;’ and I said, ‘It would be a very good thing; but how will we do it?’ He said, ‘I’ll subscribe a thousand pounds.’ That was a staggerer; but I said I would not let any Englishman come over here and outdo a Belfast man, and I said, ‘I’ll give a thousand pounds too.’ That’s all I did. Sam Johnston is the man who deserves all the credit.” I may say, however, that all the subscriptions given were put into shares in the Building Fund, which continues to give a return to the original holders — the club pays a rent to the Building Committee that represents the original contributors. There is one other incident in connection with the early days of the club. The late Sir John Preston was being shown over it; and after he had gone over the various rooms and was looking round the fine billiard room, with its splendid light and outlook, he said, “This is a very fine club; it will do very well for us after a while.” The late Mr. Robert MacGeagh, who was in the group, and he was never behind with a retort, at once said, “Oh, yes, your party is very fond of second-hand goods” — a reference to the old Musical Hall, which had been converted into a Conservative club, which was a palpable hit. But then Mr. MacGeagh never failed in that respect. I remember on one occasion when a certain gentleman, who at the time deserted the early principles of the club, almost trampled on him in passing along one of the rooms of the club. Mr. MacGeagh’s sight was not of the best, and he had not recognised his old friend. “You don’t seem to recognise your old friends,” said the gentleman. Turning quickly towards him, and shading his eyes with his hand, as was his wont in certain lights, Mr. MacGeagh shook his friend’s hand warmly, and smilingly said, “Oh, you know, when a man changes his coat it is sometimes difficult to recognise him.”

To be continued...

From The Witness, 23rd February 1917.

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

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1917) part 33



In the particular period under review what I have been and am anxious to emphasise is that whatever may have changed in Ireland, and much has changed for the better, Irish Nationalism has not changed either in its irreconcilability or in its imperfectability, in its helplessness of initiative except in agitation; in its criminality and rebellion, and in its hopeless divisiveness, and in its internal jealousies. No sooner does one leader come to the front than he is pecked at by some more ambitious or more violent adventurer. It was so in O’Connell’s time; it was so in Butt’s leadership, and in Shaw’s leadership. It was so in Parnell’s time, and he only held undivided sway so long because he was not a Celt, and kicked his followers rather than courted them. It has been so in Mr. Redmond’s time. Parnell himself was little more than a voice in the wilderness till Michael Davitt started the Land League, with all the crime that dogged its steps, and till Mr. Parnell summoned from their horrid depths the Fenian forces in Ireland and in the United States. I can well remember the delight that filled his audience and his followers when he announced that am Irish-American had sent him a small Contribution for the famine and a large one for lead.

If he had united his followers in his life through his underground machinations and his ostentatious contempt, he divided them in his death, and the Parnellites and anti-Parnellites fought rings round each other for years. When Mr. Redmond emerged he had a hard road to hoe, and when, by one circumstance and another, became nominally the leader of what he called a united party, he was no sooner enthroned aloft in awful state than he was made a mark for attack by jealous or rival spirits of his own section. If ever there was a case of one set of fleas finding other fleas to bite them, it was this. We had Mr. Healy and Mr. Wm. O’Brien, and we have John Dillon, whose only reason for acquiescing in Mr. Redmond’s nominal supremacy is that he has been the power behind the throne. I do not attribute jealousy or rivalry to Mr. Devlin, who is content with the knowledge that power is in his hands, or to Mr. T. P. O’Connor, who, by his brilliant pen and his plausible, eloquent and “deludering” tongue, has done more to advance the Irish Nationalist cause among the simple Saxons than all the rest put together.

I indicated in my last how in the early ’eighties Parnell invaded the outworks of Ulster, but though he did not gain much headway except among those who were not of his own Protestant faith, he was powerful enough to destroy at once and forever all hope of recruiting the Ulster Liberal as well as Conservative to assist him in the work which his successor, Mr. Redmond, is engaged in — namely, breaking the last link of the connection of Ireland with Great Britain. What Liberal Protestant Ulster complained of was not only his principles, but his methods, his bitter hatred of England combined with horror at his policy and means of giving effect to it. While professing respect for law and to a certain extent for constitutionalism, he deliberately let loose the dogs of havoc over the country, and suggested if he did not incite to the boycottings and butcherings that followed. I am aware that he appeared terribly disheartened and distracted by the Phoenix Park murders, and threatened to give up the fight in consequence. But I remember afar times and after deeds, and I have read records of them as chronicled by Nationalist historians. In my last I only gave the headings of part of the murders and assassinations of the ’eighties, and these chiefly while Mr. Gladstone was in power, and, to a very large extent, conciliating and pandering to Mr. Parnell, making even his arrests and imprisonment pleasant interludes. in his life, and making Kilmainham not only the starting place of new and criminal agitations, but the fitting ground for a treaty of peace with Mr. Parnell. It goes without saying that Mr. Parnell did not long observe the terms of the Kilmainham treaty. He voted with the Tories at the next election. I am quite aware of the intermediate nibblings of Lord Carnarvon that led Parnell to think, I hope falsely, that the Tories were going to go one better than Mr. Gladstone in the matter of Home Rule.

But what I want to emphasise is the character and spirit of Mr. Parnell and the methods of agitation he advocated and pursued, and that the present Nationalist leaders of all sections claim to be inheritors of the Parnell traditions and the upholders of his aims and principles, It is this fact which gives a present interest to the past policy, and should serve as a caution and a warning not only Ulster Unionists, but to the Government. I do not suggest that Mr. Parnell did not possess the ordinary feelings or humanity, cold and steel like as was his disposition, or that he was a perfect Hun. I have no doubt he regretted the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish and possibly regretted also the death of Sir Thomas Burke, though many of his followers at the time, at any rate, seemed to think that he got his deserts. At the same time, I had, and still have, a strong impression that, at ell events, the temporary political effect of the crime upon his agitation and policy was as great a factor in his emotional indignation as humanity.

There is another feature of these days that is reproduced in the present, and which makes it impossible for us to forget. In all Parnell’s speeches and in those of his followers almost every crime — perhaps I may make an exception of the Phoenix Park murders — were either palliated, excused, or apologised for. The crimes were not blamed on the criminals who perpetrated them, but the landlords or the Government. The criminals in the main were the heroes of the hour and of the time, and many of them are still treated as heroes in the Nationalist literature. If there is ever reprobation it is mild, suggestive more of a desire to placate Protestant opinion than to promote Nationalist horror. I have in my possession a six volume well bound and well written history of Ireland, by a Roman Catholic ecclesiastic, published only a year or two ago. I was looking over it the other day to see in what light the author regarded the events of this period. I find that the horrors and atrocities of the ten years’ conflict are summarised in about twenty or thirty lines, with an apologetic or explanatory sentence at the end that for the majority of these crimes the landlords and the Government were responsible. I find also that thirty or forty pages are devoted to detailing the action of the Government and lauding the Nationalist leaders with the suggestion that the latter were all the time working to prevent crime and the Government doing their best to further it. What are termed Coercion Acts get pages of chronicle and condemnation. What ordinary men and men not of the Hun type would call crimes are disposed of in as little space as a newspaper paragraphist would give to a street accident; and a reader would be uncertain whether it was the record of a crime or the laudation of a hero that was under review. Mr. Justin M‘Carthy is not much better in his treatment o£ the period.

Those who live outside Ireland and do not know its inner life and workings, often express surprise at its discontented, unrestful, and rebellious condition, and rush to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with the Government. They never seem to ask whether there is anything wrong with the people and with their teaching, something peculiar about their racial and religious ideas that account for their disposition to groan over centuries old wrong and to gloat over British difficulties and dangers. We all know what has been done in recent years to develop the prosperity of the country, and that phenomenal prosperity has been the result. Yet the Nationalists not only show no gratitude for what has been done, but, on the contrary, growl and grumble as if nothing had been done, and try to throttle not only the Government, but the prosperity.

Though Ireland at the present time has better land laws and greater freedom than any country on earth, we hear of little from Nationalists save screeches and screams about shackles and slavery. It is not only asked to do, but it has done less than any part of his Majesty’s dominions in and for the war; and yet one would think, from the Nationalist and Radical babble, that it has done all the fighting and all the sacrificing, whereas the only sacrifice it favours is the sacrifice of Ulster Protestants and Unionists.

It is impossible to account for all this on any principle of fairness, justice, or equality. It can only be accounted for by the supposition that some malicious fairies dropped into the ears of every Irish Celt some distilment, or squeezed some juice into their eyes that affected their sight and hearing and upset their judgment. We say of the Germans that they have come to believe that everything they do is right no matter how cruel, and everything that is done to repress or thwart their virulence and violence is wrong. The Irish Celt seems to have a similar obsession — plus the love of fighting for its own sake. I think there is little doubt that the English were at first brought into the country by one faction in order to help it to overthrow another, and that ever after the erstwhile rival factions made common cause against the English. And that is the case to this day. It is possible, I will admit it is certain, that the English, at many times and under many circumstances, did not- do their ministering as wisely, prudently, or honourably as they should. But it is also possible, and highly practical, that at the earliest times, as at the present, the action of the Irish was so animated by irrational hate and irreconcilable hostility, that measures which might not commend themselves to modem ideas had to be resorted to. We know even at the present day that rebellion is regarded as a virtue and its repression as a crime, and that the heroes of the time are the promoters of the rebellion, and their enemies are the military authorities, for we cannot call it a Government that put it effectually down.

Now, my main reason in dwelling upon this phase of Nationalist life at this time is on account of the efforts that are being made to enthrone the rebels in the government of the country, and to compel the British authority and power to kiss the rod. No doubt there are some who say, “Why trouble yourself about Home Rule; it is dead? No government on earth would be so foolish or weak as to tolerate such a policy at such a time.” I am not sure of that. I am afraid that there are at the very heart of Irish government in Dublin Castle, and even in some Protestant circles in the Metropolis, men and forces at work with the object of securing the practical triumph of the rebels, if not by compulsion, at least by compromise or cajolery. I am afraid this is more serious and more determined than some of my Ulster friends believe; and I desire, for what my opinion may be worth, to offer a word of warning lest while we may be sleeping in confidence, the citadel of our hope and our safety may be entered and our liberties destroyed. I write as to wise men, and I hope they will hear and judge, what I say aright.

Discussing the situation the other day with a Scotchman who has been for some time living in the very heart of Ireland, he saad that there was a “kink” somewhere in the Irish nature that he could not understand that made it difficult to understand him. We are all familiar with the old story about the Irishman being agin the Government, no matter what it was; and so far as this country is concerned he is agin any Government that really governs. The Irishman is a bunch of contradictions; on one hand genial, jovial, kindly, and generous, and on another saturnine, morose, obstinate. He is never content when he has a grievance, and never content when he has not got one. He believes more in preaching and praying than in practising and working, and expects Providence and the Government to provide for all his necessities. He can appreciate personal kindness with any man alive, but regards Government kindness as payment of a debt rather than an expression of a feeling. He is wayward, fractious, and factious, and acts often more as a spoiled child than as a mature man. He is never happy under rule, and never more miserable than when he is left to the freedom of his own will. He is difficult to lead, and more difficult to drive. He will do little for himself, and then blames others for what he lacks in consequence. He divides his time between cursing England and begging from her. According to Lady Limerick, Prince Henry, the brother of the Kaiser, told her that the Irish were the most undisciplined people in the world, and that the only people who could rule them would be the Germans.

Some of the Irish think, or acted as if they thought, that the rule of Germany would mean not the reign of law, but the abolition of all law, which some of them seem to prefer and regard as a Paradisaic condition. We have the Irish Nationalists at the present time doing as little service as possible for the war and the Empire; and, as I have hinted above, claiming reward as if they had done all the fighting themselves. In reading some reminiscences of Lord Redesdale, an old diplomatist, the other day, I came across a reference to the Irish in the United States at the outbreak, and the rush to secure British protection. The paragraph is as follows:—
“An article from a Southern newspaper is worth quoting — ‘We can conceive nothing more disgraceful than the conduct of Irishmen, for example, who have been cursing the British Government ever since they could talk, who have emigrated from their country to escape the British yoke; but who now run to an English Consul and profess themselves subjects of Queen Victoria in order to evade their duties in the land of their adoption.’ That, of course, alludes to the South; but Lord Lyons himself on 11th May, 1863, writes no less bitterly — ‘I have been unwell for more than a month, and am beset by a quantity of small vexatious business concerning the wrongs of the British subjects who have suddenly proclaimed their unswerving loyalty to the British Crown, and demand my protection.’

It is, no doubt, difficult for any Government to deal with such people; but the worst way of dealing with them would be to give them what they ask, for then the summer of their discontent would become a veritable winter of discord and strife, of conspiracy, open and secret; of the dangerous development of that hatred and hostility to England that is taught and preached to the Irish Celts from youth to age.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 16th February 1917.

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

Friday, 10 February 2017

A Soldiers Dream

Transferred from a world of sorrow
    Realistic the phantoms seem;
Clear as the noonday shadows
    Friends do they ever seem.
Sorrow and sickness o’ertook me,
    Ah! momentary glimpse of the unseen,
Trouble so hard and oppressing,
    Stay, I will lighten the gloom.

Below in the world of sorrow,
    Striving my right to maintain
Those I have loved and cared for,
    Desolate still remain.
Transfer me once more to the homeland,
    My aching eyes would it see,
Blest with the hope of contentment,
    Poor though it’s all to me.

This world in her bountiful mercy
    Hath laid at the foot of the throne
Riches in sweet abundance.
    Help to the poor whose alone,
Thanks to the kind friends unceasing
    Blest shall their efforts be
When sheathed is the sword of victory
    Peace shall the whole world see.

Bessie Breakey, Drumskelt.

Poem: The Witness, 9th February 1917.
Image: Two soldiers at Arras, 1917 by John Singer Sargent.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 32



Last week my space-controller — we are all, except Irish Nationalists, under control now — cut me off abruptly as I was contemplating the addition of some incidents or anecdotes in connection with the Ulster Reform Club. I am afraid some of these have now escaped my memory or got out of their setting, and I can only hope they will return to me when at a later date I intend to give an account of the opening of that fine institution by Lord Hartington, as he who died Duke of Devonshire then was. I am sorry to say that I cannot keep the threads of my story so well in hand as the parishioner of a ministerial friend who told me the story was able to do. My clerical friend was in the habit of visiting and discussing with this member of his flock, among others, the topics of the time that were mutually interesting. On one occasion, however, he was making a purely pastoral visit, but the good farmer, as usual, started out about crops and prices and other matters especially interesting to himself. At length the minister, recalling the special object of his visit, suggested that he should engage in prayer, which was done. Immediately they had risen from their knees the farmer addressed himself again to the minister, beginning, “As I was saying when you interrupted me;” and then resumes the conversation where he had left off.

Now, I have not my subject so well in hand as this good gentleman had, with the result that I am once more landed in a difficulty from which I hardly know how to extricate myself. But just as I am writing my eye falls on a cable which Lord Shaughnessy has sent to the various Lord Mayors who had entertained the Irish-Canadian soldiers, one of the chief of whom was his own very young and game son. In this cable he says — “If their visit makes for conciliation and harmony and the submergence of narrow sectarian and local prejudices, its importance cannot be overestimated.”

Now, I do not suggest that in this sentence Lord Shaughnessy meant a special reference to Protestants and Unionists, Home Ruler though he is; but I could not help noticing that it is in line with almost all the suggestions, or rather lectures, of Home Rulers, who profess to think that sectarian and local prejudices are a special Protestant monopoly, and that if Unionists would only abandon these and accept the Irish Roman Catholics and Nationalists as the angels of light and exemplars of toleration that they claim to be, we could all live happily ever afterwards under their gentle and tolerant rule. I cannot forget, however, that his lordship is, or was, a strong Home Ruler; that when he was sworn in as a peer of the realm his chief vouchers and associates were Mr. Redmond and the leader of the Irish Nationalist party. I cannot forget that he was heralded the other day from Canada, where he resides, via Chicago, as a possible Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who had special qualities and special knowledge for settling the Irish question. And I cannot help feeling that somewhere in his mind, if not in this sentence, there is the suggestion that all would be well in this country if Ulster and Irish Unionists should forget the past and their principles in the desire to appease Irish Nationalists, and the Protestants of Ireland should cease to regard Roman Catholics as enemies of their interests and the interests of the United Kingdom. I have also before me as I write the result of the Roscommon election, in which Count Plunkett, who owes his title to the Pope and his election to his connection and that of his family with the Sinn Fein movement, has been returned to Parliament by a majority of nearly two to one over the official Redmondite candidate. It strikes me that Home Rulers should confine their monitions about union and harmony of the Nationalists, from whom both are more absent than from any other section in the country, and that before a Nationalist begins to lecture Unionists on the importance of harmony they should at least have some harmony in their own ranks. We are asked by these good friends to secure harmony by bowing the knee to Mr. Redmond and the party leaders, yet here is a great typical Nationalist constituency that not only refuses to bow the knee to Mr. Redmond, but incontinently and very emphatically kicks him. These incidents project my mind back to the Irish situation in the early ’eighties and to its connection with the present.

Now, it may be that I have prejudices in this or other matters, though I modestly think I am as free from that as any Irishman, if being an Ulsterman the Nationalists will permit me to regard myself as an Irishman at all. And it is to show my own spirit of liberty and freedom and the real interests of Ireland and that of those with whom I was associated in the ’eighties, I will recall some of the incidents of that time and the action of the Ulster Liberals in regard to them. In the ’eighties the Ulster Liberals supported Mr. Gladstone and his policy; they supported his Land Act; they supported his Land Commission — even though at its opening its chief official announced that “the Court of the Land League is now open;” they supported the sub-Commissions in their decisions reducing rent; they supported as long and as far us they could the policy of governing the country without what, in the language of the day, was called a Coercion Act; they advocated the abolition of the Grand Jury System and everything in the way of legislation, short of the integrity of the Empire, to conciliate Irish Nationalist opinion. It is true they did not support the Land League, they did not support the Home Rule either of Isaac Butt, or Shaw, or Parnell, and they protested with Mr. Gladstone, and as strongly as he, against the crime that dogged the footsteps of the Land League. But they and the land legislation and administration that they supported had leavened Ulster, and especially rural Ulster, with principles of rational reform and true national Liberalism, which, but for the Parnell invasion of the province, would have swept at least the Ulster counties. It was an open secret of the early ’eighties after the sub-Commissions had been at work reducing rents that, in many old Conservative districts where farmers dominated even the “News-Letter” was ceasing to be the god of their idolatry as it had been before, and many Orange lodges were weakening in numbers and influence. This was a time when I question if outside Belfast it would have been possible to hold a purely Conservative political meeting in any part of Ulster.

I remember during that time having had a conversation with Mr. Wm. O’Brien, who had not yet projected himself into politics; but was the brilliant writer upholding the cause of the farmers, as well as Home Rule, in the “Freeman’s Journal.” At that time Parnell was as much anathema to Ulster Liberals as he was to the Conservatives, and was regarded as a greater danger to our cause, the cause of liberty, Liberalism, and progress, than he was to the Conservatives. I said to O’Brien that if he could keep Parnell out of Ulster the cause of true Liberalism would triumph in that province; but if Parnell once entered its borders the cause would be lost, and the Orange farmers of Ulster would return to their old allegiance. At this time a contest was brewing in County Tyrone on account of Mr. Litton, who was one of its members, having been, or being expected to be, made a Judge of the Land Court.

Mr. Parnell, in the saturnine form of the Rev. Harold Rylett, Unitarian minister of Moneyroe, contested Tyrone, and was beaten hands down. But the mischief was done. Almost in a night; in the twinkling of an eye, the whole situation was changed. The farmers in large numbers returned to the Orange lodges, which once again resumed full sway, and the cherished hopes of Liberals of a happy and contented Ireland under the Union and loyal to Britain destroyed. Ulster farmers, however much their own interests had been benefited by the land legislation, were not prepared to submit to Parnellite dictation or evasion then any more than at the present.

While I am on this topic, I may refer to another conversation with Mr. O’Brien in regard to a crucial epoch in his own life, and, I will add, in the life of the country. I may have told it before, but I will mention it in this connection. One fine summer night Mr. O’Brien asked me what I would think of his going into politics. I said I should be sorry to hear it. I told him that I knew what his dreams and ideas were; that he had a free hand in the “Freeman” to give full effect to them; that I did not believe he was cut out for a political or public life, and that as sure as he went into politics he would be in Kilmainham in six months. I pointed out to him many of the difficulties, financial and commercial, that he knew nothing of that he would have to face. At the end of our conversation, which was at the small hours of the morning in Sackville Street, Mr. O’Brien said — “I wish I had met you last week. You have put views of this question before me that had never occurred to me. I am sorry, to say it is now too late. I have burned my boats. I signed my agreement last night.” He started “United Ireland” shortly afterwards. It is a matter of history and was a fulfilment of my prophesy that he was in Kilmainham inside six months. He was in Kilmainham and in other prisons afterwards. But that is another story.

It was about the same time that the manager of the “Freeman’s Journal” asked my opinion about the prospects of Mr. Gray’s taking over the “Morning News” of this city and running it as a Parnellite paper. With all the advantage of a special wire and the assistance of the “Freeman’s” London staff he, or at least his manager, seemed to think that the paper, under such circumstances, would succeed at a bound, I tried to disillusionise the not altogether canny Scot who represented him. I told him that if the Land League had given Mr. Gray twenty thousand pounds to throw away on propaganda work he might go on. But if Mr. Gray was putting his own money into the venture I begged him to urge him to desist. I had a great respect for Mr. Gray, and thought he would want all his money to rebuild the old offices in Princes Street rather than to waste in Ulster. I asked him if he imagined that if Mr. Henderson, of the “News-Letter,” started a paper in Cork and gave the value of the London “Times” for one penny that he would get either readers or advertisers to support him. The mere fact that it would be propaganda work he would be engaged in, I told him, would impel the people to oppose and resist his efforts. If Mr. Gray heard he did not heed. He took over the “Morning News” shortly before the Phoenix Park murders, and on the Monday after that terrible tragedy his Editor recalled the suggestive story of the old Roman ruler cutting off the head of the tallest poppy as a delicate suggestion of “removal” — a word that became historic in connection with the Dublin tragedy. Bad had begun, but this was the climax so far as local feeling, or, if Lord Shaughnessy will, prejudice, was concerned. Mr. Gray held on to the “Morning News” for some years. I met him one night after his connection with the unfortunate concern ceased. He then told me that he had just signed a cheque, making £17,500 as the amount of his loss up to that time, I do not think that £25,000 got him clear, and his widow has still to pay nearly £100 a year as the difference between the full rent for which he was responsible and the amount for which the premises are let. When I remember that in my time the “Freeman” was making £6,000 or £7,000 a year — at least so I was told and believe — and its history and losses since, I cannot help thinking Nationalist journalism in Dublin is no more brilliant than it proved in Belfast under his regime.

Now, in the early ’eighties Home Rule had not come to be regarded as a practical possibility, and in the opinion of the Liberals as well as the Conservatives what made it appear impossible was the action of the Nationalists themselves. They seemed then, to have as little of practical initiative and suggestion as they have to-day, as much division as they have to-day, as much hostility to British rule and authority as they have to-day; with this difference, that in the ’eighties it found expression in moonlighting, mutilation and murder, in boycotting and butchery, in threatenings and outrage, while to-day it has taken the form of open and undisguised rebellion, with death and havoc in its train, as many shootings in one week as in a decade in the former period. In the early ’eighties the Liberals had no idea that Mr. Gladstone would surrender to rapine and murder, as he did in the later. All we had at that time to guide us was a speech delivered by him in the ’seventies in Aberdeen, in which he said — “If doctrines of Home Rule were to be established in Ireland, they would be just as entitled to it in Scotland. . . . Can any sensible man, can any rational man suppose that at this time of day, in this condition of the world, we are going to disintegrate the great Capital institutions of this country for the purpose of making ourselves ridiculous in the sight of all mankind, and crippling any power we possess for bestowing benefits through legislation on the country to which we belong.” We had in 1881 his declaration that “with fatal and painful precision the steps of crime dogged the steps of the Land League.” We had his war with the League and Mr. Parnell up till the fateful hour. I have been looking over an index to a volume that gave a record of the principal events of the nation from 1880 to 1887. Under the head “Ireland” I find eighty or ninety references to Ireland, and more than half of them relate to murders and massacres, moonlighting and other shootings, boycottings and arrests, and trials in connection therewith. These are a few in the order in which they appear:— Assassination of Mr. Boyd; Murder of Lord Mountmorris; Boycotting at Lough Mask; Mulholland Shot; Parnell, Dillon, &c., Imprisoned; Outrages (three separate lists); Lough Mask Murders; Phoenix Park Murders; Outrage at Gort; Murder of Mr. Blake; Murder of Joyce Family; Attempt on Justice Lawson; Murder of Denis Field; Joyces’ Murderers Executed; Trial of Phoenix Park Murderers (more separate references); Attempted Murder of Bailiffs: The Queen Insulted — “at the inaugural banquet given by the Lord Mayor of Dublin (1885) the health of the Queen was received with mingled applause and hissing” — Return of Outrages; Outrages in Kerry; The Chapel Bell Signal — put into requisition at Carrickmore, near Dungannon, preventing the service of an ejectment, the crowd summoned attacking the police; Cartho Family Assaulted.

These are only some of the incidents of a little over half a decade, the majority taking place after Mr. Gladstone had introduced the Land Act, and while alternately fighting and funking, arresting and releasing leaders, repressing violence and surrendering to it. Belfast and Londonderry and Newry are the only Ulster places mentioned in the index in connection with riots. Belfast also appears under the heading of Loyalty in Belfast — referring to a meeting held in January, 1886, on the initiative of the Chamber of Commerce, protesting against the imperilling of the Imperial connection, and expressing loyalty to the Throne — a form of expression rare in other parts of Ireland at that time, and rare since. I admit, however, there were also records of eviction.

I intend to refer further to this time and this subject next week, and I introduce the incidents of the eighties as being part of those we are coolly asked to forget. We might be able to forget them if the Nationalists would give us the chance, but they are proving to us still that in irreconcilability, in hatred of England, in their disloyalty and ruthlessness as exemplified by the recent rebellion they are just the same Nationalists they were. In the eighties they were as ruthless under Mr. Gladstone’s Government as under that of Lord Salisbury, biting the hand that was feeding them with beneficent legislation. Mr. Gladstone did much for Ireland; Lord Salisbury did much also. Mr. Balfour did much in the way of practical development. Land Purchase has made Irish farmers the envy of the kingdom, and streams of money flowed into the country. And yet the spirit of Nationalism is as bad and as mad as ever; still ungrateful, still revengeful. What the Nationalists seem to do in the way of forgetting is to forget all the blessings and benefits British rule has given in the last three or four decades, and remember only what happened centuries ago, what they read in their school books and in their rebel literature about the wrongs of past centuries. Protestants can forget past wrongs in present rights and circumstances. The Presbyterians of Ulster suffered almost as much as Roman Catholics from disabilities and from the treatment of the Episcopal Church, but they have forgotten all that in the newer and better life of the present, and the memories of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and even the nineteenth century do not come between the great and united effort they have now to make for religion and life, for country and Empire. The Roman Catholics remember the wrongs centuries old, and forget the blessings and benefits of the present. Protestants and Unionists are willing to forget even the bad past of Nationalism if the Nationalists did not keep piling up deeds that keep them alive.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 9th February 1917.

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

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 31



In my last article I hinted at the difficulty I felt in recalling memories of Belfast in the 'eighties. By that of course I meant memories relating purely to the city and apart from the outside questions that perturbed it. I violated my own rule not to look over files by looking over some files of “The Echo” for that period but I found few local topics specially worth remembering or recalling. What remains chiefly in my memory and what occupied my own chief attention during this period were the Irish outrages and disturbances, the wars in which the Government were engaged, the Irish Land Bill and its developments, the Franchise and Redistribution Bills, the visit of Sir Stafford Northcote and Lord Hartington, the opening of the Ulster Reform Club, and the evils of Home Rule that were casting their shadows during the first half decade of the ’eighties; the break up of the old local Liberal party, and the adhesion of the somewhat miserable minority to Home Rule, with the vast majority forming the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association; the introduction of the Home Rule Bill, and the riots that followed. In all these Belfast was deeply interested. Though Belfast, has been called the Northern Athens, I do not suggest that it was like the Athenians of Paul’s time, who were, always seeking after new things. For they were not. But new things, and in the main bad things, were forcing themselves on our people, and each demanded attention, perhaps not entirely to the exclusion of local topics, but to their subordination.

Take the present time as an illustration of what I mean. The first remark that one usually makes to another each morning — this was written last week — is as to the news from the war front. That is the first and pertinent question. There are others that may come in incidentally, such as the location of the proposed club for soldiers and sailors. We have had the members of the Rotary Club seizing the happy idea and forming a club for soldiers and sailors spending their intervals of leave in the midst, and selecting on the locus in quo the Ulster Hall, about the wildest thing that ever entered into the mind of a man to conceive. We have had a great deal of local controversy as to various or conflicting sites, and many laughable and some saddening incidents in connection with it. At the time of writing I cannot say whether we are to have a club or not, or where it shall be or how far it will be satisfactory and serviceable, if it should be. But I do hear a good deal of talk and gossip about it. But, then, who, after twenty or thirty years, perhaps after twenty or thirty days, will remember anything about it, and what will be the loss to the world or to history if it should be forgotten? I have no doubt there were many questions like that cropped up locally in the period under review; but I hope it will be no reflection on my memory or my interest in local affairs if I say I have forgotten about them, as I am sure the reader will forget all about this little club controversy before the ides of March.

But what remains in my mind in regard to the election was that it resulted in a great victory for Mr. Gladstone, who, having previously retired like Achilles to his tent as a dissatisfied man in dudgeon, came forth and led the old Liberal forces to victory. I remember walking down Donegall Street on the morning of the Belfast election, and remarking that no matter what would happen in Belfast the Liberals were winning all over the kingdom, and the party could get on without the assistance, as it had to do for several years. At that time Mr. Gladstone was the grand old man to me, as to all other Liberals. We had no more idea after the anti-Home Rule speech he had made some years ago that he would have descended into the Avernus of Home Rule than I would have imagined three years ago that Mr. Lloyd George would become the champion of Imperial interests and honour and of the patriotic spirit that he is to-day. Some men disappoint us by descending in the scale of true patriotism and others disappoint us by ascending to the greatest heights. Mr. Gladstone is my chief example of the first, and the present Prime Minister of the second.

There are two outcomes of this victory to which I will refer also by way of contrast. In England the Liberal triumph sent the English Liberals into such delight that they immediately set about the formation of a club to celebrate it. This was completed in due time and called the “Eighty Club.” At the time Home Rule was as remote from the minds of English as of Irish Liberals. Yet only three or four years ago we had about fifty members of that same club, all committed to the hilt to Home Rule, coming over to Ireland representing themselves in advance as English gentlemen setting out to make an independent inquiry into the subject at first hand; and yet, as an introduction to independent inquiry, they came to Dublin under the aegis of John Redmond and to Belfast under the aegis of “Joe” Devlin.

It was the same Liberal victory that impressed a fine English Liberal and local manufacturer, the late Mr. Samuel Johnston, with the idea of founding a Liberal club in Belfast; and the Ulster Reform Club was the result. The principles of Liberalism, including the unity of the kingdom, were the bases of the club; and these are its bases; strengthened and emphasised by later developments since, at the present time. In 1886 and afterwards the club became the centre of Liberal Unionism, and though some of the original members who had deserted that principle remained in it for years afterwards, the basis of the club was, and is, support of the Union. The English Eighty Club broke down in its Imperial Liberalism, but the Ulster Club remained true, and is true and staunch to this day.

One other fact connected with the club I may now mention, without violating historical accuracy or violating confidence. While the club was being erected and formed it was the idea and hope that Mr. Gladstone would come over to open it; and I believe in one of the early ’eighties he was asked, but could not avail himself of the offer. In course of time, however, Lord Hartington was asked to perform the ceremony, and though it was well established — for it was ’85 before it was formally opened – the ceremony was performed by the heir of the Cavendishes, on whose Unionism no shadow of suspicion had ever rested, or could rest. Many a time and often did I hear the old leaders and founders of the club thanking their stars that Mr. Gladstone had failed to materialise as sponser of the club. If the club had been opened under his auspices I am afraid it would have lost prestige, and I am quite sure its members would not have felt as happy and proud if his name, or his later shadow, had been over it, as it is now with no suggestion of either.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 2nd February 1917.

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