Wednesday, 18 September 2019


Oh! sad is the hour – and ah! sad is each heart:–
And sad is the lovliest prospect to view;
When lovers so tender reluctantly part,
And pensively sigh out the lengthen'd – adieu!

Dear! dear is the kiss! – ah! how dear the embrace!
Their hearts cling together in unison sweet;
What tender solicitude speaks in each face!
What impatience again to be happy! to meet!

Behold the fond couple – now part – now unite! –
Behold the fond bosom – that labours with love! –
Behold the emotions that us'd to delight: –
Ah! see the sweet passion with anguish improve.

Yet – yet – once again – they take leave of each charm:
Time leans on his scythe, and surveys them with pain!
Then flaps his old wings: – love takes the alarm,
And – parting – they hope to be happy again!

Poem for Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 2 March 1805. Author unknown.
Image: Crop from The Parting of Robert Burns and Highland Mary by James Archer

Monday, 2 September 2019

Biographical Sketch of the Earl of Moira (1805)

Among the public men of our own times, there is not perhaps an individual who bears a more striking resemblance to the feudal chieftain, than Francis Lord Rawdon, Earl of Moira.

In tracing his career from his birth to the present day of his eminence and renown, we shall, most probably, be led to remark the strong resemblance which we have supposed to exist between his character and that of men who were distinguished for all that is illustrious and praise-worthy.

Earl Moira is sprung from a family which has been known in Yorkshire since about the period of the conquest. His ancestors migrated to Ireland during the last century; and from that country his family held its titles, until the present Earl obtained a British peerage. Sir John Rawdon, Baronet, his father, was, in 1750, created a peer, by the title of the Baron of Moira, and, in 1701, obtained the further honour of Earl of Moira, in the county of Down, with remainder to his heirs male. The present Earl of Moira is the eldest of six sons: these, with four daughter's, his father had by his third wife, Lady Elizabeth Hastings, sister to the late Earl of Huntingdon. His Lordship was born on the 7th of December 1754.

It may not be impertinent to remark, that, very early in life, Earl Moira (then Lord Rawdon) exhibited some of those traits of character which have distinguished his future life. Several anecdotes are related of him, which evince an early attachment to military pursuits, and an ardour of mind peculiarly tinctured with the enthusiasm of a daring soldier. When only a boy of 10 years of age, he was wounded in the leg by the bursting of a small brass cannon, with which he was battering an old folio volume. He was then accustomed to repeat, with all the fervor of generous youth, the following expressions of Zanga, when about to be tortured, and seemed to contemplate, with unspeakable satisfaction, every instance of heroic enterprise, and unshaken constancy of mind.
" The blood will follow where the knife is driven,
" The flesh will quiver where the pincers tear,
" And sighs and groans by nature grow on pain;
" But these are foreign to the soul: not mine
" The groans that issue, or the tears that fall;
" They disobey me. – On the rack I'll scorn thee,
" As when my faulchion clove thy helm in battle."
In addition to the improvement which his native country afforded, he visited the European nations that are celebrated for the refinement of their manners, or perfection in the arts of life: Thus animated, thus instructed, and thus polished, he entered upon the active business of life, and, at the age of 17, he, in September 1771, obtained an ensigncy in the 15th regiment of foot. He afterwards entered the 5th regiment of foot, in which he was a lieutenant of grenadiers: and in this corps he was among those who were destined to act against the Americans.

When we see a passion for military enterprize agitating a soul, in other respects endowed with the highest excellencies of our nature, we cannot fail to deplore the unfortunate co-operation of such means of mischief. We cannot persuade ourselves, that, in the instance of Lord Rawdon, we have not occasion to lament that he was stimulated by a thirst for military fame. His case furnishes a striking example of the influence of the military trade, in perverting the mind from the steady contemplation of what is correct and genuine in morality. Indeed, we could have wished to have seen the name of Rawdon enrolled in the list of those patriots who reared the hallowed fabric of American independence. An Alexander, a Caesar, and a Bonaparte, may be remembered, to the end of time, as the splendid destroyers of their race; but the fame of Wallace, and of Tell, of Kozciusko; and of Washington, will be imperishably recorded on every heart which beats with exultation at the triumphs of freedom, or sympathizes with the wrongs of the oppressed.

He partook, however, in all the dangers and vicissitudes of the war, and fought at Bunker's-hill, where he was one of seven, in the company of grenadiers with whom he went to the battle, who escaped from its ravages: His cap was shot through twice in this battle. He afterwards obtained a higher command, and acquired considerable reputation for skill and discretion in the lottery of war. So great indeed was his success, and so rapid his promotion, that, before he had completed his 24th year, he held the rank of colonel, and was appointed adjutant-general to the British forces under the command of General Clinton. He was entrusted with the conduct of various hazardous enterprises; and, in the separate command of which he was judged worthy, he displayed the wisdom of a veteran, and the consummate intrepidity of heroism.

The fatigues of war, and the heat of the climate had made an impression upon his constitution, and rendered it necessary that he should revisit England, for the restoration of his health. While labouring under the pressure of indisposition, a march which had been planned was countermanded, on account of his illness; but so keen was the ardour of his mind, that he gave new orders for it, when he had recovered from a swoon into which he had fallen. While on this march, he gave his orders from a cart, in which he was obliged to be carried. On the passage from America to Britain, the ship in which he had taken his passage was captured by a French man of war, and he was carried into Brest. He, however, at length reached England, and his services were much applauded. In November, 1782, his Lordship was promoted to the rank of Colonel, and to the command of the 105th regiment of foot, and was also nominated aid-de-camp to the King. On the 5th of March 1783, he was created an English peer, by the title of Lord Rawdon, of Rawdon, in the county of York. Thus honoured and rewarded for his exertions, his Lordship retired, for a season, from the bustle of public life.

During the long interval which occurred between the close of the American war and the commencement of the French Revolution, the name of Load Rawdon makes little figure in our public records. His time seems to have been passed in the enjoyment of private tranquillity, and the practice of the peaceful virtues. One eminent proof at least appears of the enlightened benevolence of his nature. The laws for the imprisonment of debtors, as they prevail in England, are of equivocal excellence. Various expedients had at different times been adopted for remedying this evil: one of these was an exertion of royal clemency, called an act of grace. Upon the accession of a king to the throne, or on any other occasion of public joy, it was common to release the prisoners from their bondage. There was another mode of effecting this, by what is called the Lords' act, which is a sort of perpetual law provided for compounding the affairs of debtors, whose debts do not exceed 100/. This limitation was extended, in the year 1785, to the sum of 200/. The prisons have also been, at different times emptied, by insolvent acts, when the measure was supposed to be absolutely necessary. One of these instances was occasioned by the riots in 1780, and another was attempted to be brought in the year 1783. The bill passed the Commons, but was rejected by the Lords. Similar attempts were made, with similar success, in the years 1784, 1785, and 1786. A bill was, in the year 1787, brought into parliament, and, on the 22d May, came to be read a second time in the house of Lords. It was supported by the Duke of Norfolk, who stated, that there were above three thousand debtors confined in the different prisons of England. Lord Rawdon stood up the champion of the unfortunate: He detailed the modes which had been resorted to, at different periods of the history of England, for compelling the payment of debt. Originally, it appeared, an individual was deemed so valuable to his family, and the public, that, when his property was seized, his agricultural implements were exempted from attachment. After various other stages, the system advanced, in the reign of Charles II, to the mode now in use, of detaining a debtor's person in confinement for an uncertain period. The bill was keenly opposed by Lord Thurlow; and Lord Rawdon's exertions were rendered ineffectual for a season. He again, in 1792, made another attempt; but, as the bill came before the Lords at a late period of the session, it was withdrawn, at the request of the Law Lords, who wished it to be fully considered. On the 7th of March 1793, he again brought the business before the House of Lords but to little purpose; for, upon the 18th ot that month, the Lord Chancellor made a motion, which was carried, that the matter should be remitted to the consideration of the Law Lords, by whom a bill should be framed, and brought in to the succeeding session of parliament, for remedying the defects of the law. These repeated discomfitures, however, did not diminish the perseverance of his Lordship; and his incessant application to Parliament on this subject affords the most satisfactory manifestations of his disposition.

From the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 25th February 1805

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Belfast in the 1830s...

In the Belfast Telegraph of 14 July 1980, a letter appeared castigating columnist Billy Simpson for an article he had recently written for his weekly column in which he outlined an imaginary visit by a country boy to the Belfast of the 1830s. Between them, they do give a brief but interesting insight into the place and characters of the time. Here is that letter with the original article below...

Belfast in the 1830s

I AM a great admirer of your columnist Billy Simpson. His weekly article is one of the highlights of the Telegraph. His humour is always original, droll, spontaneous and funny. But on reading his article on Belfast in the 1830s, there are so many vague generalities in it, which are open to question, that I have reached the conclusion that Billy has added a subtle touch of his humour — that he is pulling our legs and laughing at us for treating him seriously.


The dirty evil-smelling Belfast, with its ignorance, darkness and harlotry, was — if it existed at all — only a tiny part of the growing town. Years before that, Michael Atkins — proprietor of the Rosemary Street Theatre — described Belfast as the Athens of the North! Not only did he bring the greatest actress of that time, Mrs. Sarah Siddons, to his Rosemary Street Theatre but, shortly before 1830, he brought her back to the Theatre Royal.

The only Belfast women that Billy could find in 1830 were painted prostitutes plying their trade everywhere. But the town had also ladies like Mrs. McTier and I think Billy should consult her many letters that are still preserved. Mary Anne McCracken, a saintly woman, lived in Rosemary Street in 1830, and many of the things she wrote are still with us.

He did not mention the practical Christian work that Mary Ann McCracken and other women from the First, Second and Third Presbyterian congregations in Rosemary street — did in Clifton House, then as now, the home of the Belfast Charitable Society.


It amazes me that Billy did not direct the country boy to one of the many Harpers' festivals held in Waring Street, or to one of the two theatres in Smithfield, where there also circuses, fun fairs and singing public houses. S. M. Elliott, a Ballymacarrett writer of the last century, records that at night there was a gay Bohemian atmosphere in Smithfield Square.

Presbyterianism in Belfast in 1830 is summed up by Billy in a narrow-minded quotation from a dim-witted devine who was opposed to railways operating on Sunday. But this gives a false, and indeed an offensive, picture of Presbyterians then in the 1830s, they were doing much to educate children in Belfast, they were concerned with morals, with the teaching of the Scriptures and many of them tried sincerely to be practical Christians.

As well as this they were only 30 years away from the finest hour in their history. In 1798, hundreds of Belfast Presbyterians fought and many died to try and establish more liberty and better justice for all in this country.

People were better educated in 1830 than Billy Simpson suggests. The National Schools had not arrived but there were many church schools. There was a Society for Promoting Knowledge that still lives in the Lurenhall Library. There were also public schools some of which still survive. Does Billy not know how Academy Street got its name?

I think he should visit the old and historic First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street some time. It has been then since the mid 18th century. In it there are memorials to many Belfast folk who lived in our town around 1830. If he studies the inscriptions on some of them, I feel sure he will realise that, in his article he has been unfair and ungenerous to his ancestors.

LOUIS GILBERT, Islandmagee.

Here is Billy Simpson's original article from the Belfast Telegraph, 18 June 1980.

Billy Simpson goes back in time to 1830 and tells of the sights and sounds a spirited country boy would have met on his first visit to the city.

ONE HUNDRED and fifty years ago, before the great famine and the industrial revolution combined to create the urban explosion just a few years on, the "city" of Belfast had a population of around 30,000.

The small farm was still the backbone of the economy and provided the livelihood for most people whether squire, tenant farmer or labourer. Around 30 pc of all families still lived in one-room cottages.

There were no railways, although construction of a line between Belfast and Lisburn had already begun. Roads were narrow, rough dirt tracks. The well-to-do could travel by stagecoach. The poor walked. Although indeed few people travelled more than a few miles from their home throughout their lives.

Places that could not be reached on foot, and returned from on the same day, were not likely to be visited by the rural citizen. It was a darker world by night, brightened only by the candle or oil lamp.

A handful of gas lamps had begun to appear along the cobbled streets of Belfast, but if an aircraft could have flown over the Ireland of the 1830s at night the pilot could have been unaware that there was land below at all. The forest of jewelled lights we see today from the air did not exist.

Few people could reed or write. The National schools had yet to be set up although there were some schools in existence teaching the children of the poor their letters and numbers

Laws were harsh. Theft of a shawl could lead to seven years deportation to Australia. Assaulting a man to steal sixpence could lead to the gallows. The wounds of the '98 rising were still fresh. Sectarianism reared its head at times and in the interests of peace the Government had on occasion to ban Orange marches.

Robbers and footpads stalked the highways and travellers armed themselves as well as finances allowed. For the well-to-do there was the pistol and sword. For the coachman, a blunderbus — and for the poor man, a stout staff or club sufficed.

It was the age before petrochemicals changed forever the taste of the air we breath. The world did not smell any better, but it was different. There area little plumbing. The larger towns held some water supplies in dams but spring water or the village pump was the only source of drinking water available to most people.

A spirited country lad who managed to gather together a few shillings would inevitably be tempted to make the long journey to the city, his curiosity aroused by tales of gigantic buildings and ships with masts taller than a high hill. Of mills powered by steam engines. Of shops and stalls filled with an endless variety of mysterious things. Of the Glasgow steamer that brought secondhand clothes twice a week to the markets for sale. Of women who painted their faces like the wild Indians of the Americas. Of rogues and dandies and golden carriages.

Before leaving home he would breakfast on thick porridge washed down by sweetmilk. Tea was an unheard of luxury indulged in only by the rich since it cost between three shillings and 12 shillings a pound and had to be brought from the Orient

His mother would wrap a soda for him to take to eat on the way and warn him not to talk to strangers or drink city water which could be poisonous to a lad raised on clean spring water. His father would smile and warn him to stay away from the wild city woman and keep his money close to his skin where be could always feel it.

The lad would perhaps walk some miles, get a lift part of the way on a passing farm cart and finally reach the hills above the city where he would catch his first sight of the blue ocean and the clutter of streets hugging the river and the lough shone partly hidden in a haze of chimney smoke.

Walking down through the outskirts he would meet more and more people; and probably make the countryman's common error of trying to have a friendly word for each of them, only giving up when the numbers grew too many, and his "That's a brave day" greeting was ignored too often, or when he was frightened off by the rapid jabber of an alien scent that left him baffled.

Nearer the centre of town he would possibly be overpowered by the evil smells of the place. And would once or twice have had to step smartly to avoid being doused by slops thrown from an upstairs window into the street. The noises and the constant shouting would unnerve him. The clattering wagons on the cobbles and the neighing of hundreds of horses.

When he got to the wide avenue of Hercules Street (now Royal Avenue) the air would be rancid. It was a street of butchers and fishmongers. The entrails and waste of a thousand dead animals would lie behind the shops in steaming piles. Flies hovered over the piles like clouds and some crawling through the eye sockets of decaying skulls.

Escaping from the jostle and the throat-clutching aromas of the street of butchers, he might wander to the docks to breath fresher air from the sea.

Here the jostle would be almost as bad. Tail sailing ships from exotic ports would be in the process of being loaded or unloaded. Piles of tanned cowhides would sit high on the wharf waiting for export as chests of tea, coffee and tobacco were lowered ashore in nets by a crane mast.

The city men working the docks seemed incredibly small and frail for such heavy work, belying the wiry toughness under the dirty shirts.

A more rugged breed seemed the sailormen on the decks. Some, he would note, wore rings in their ears and, more shocking still, some were not even white men.

It was here that he met the painted women he heard of. One or two smiled and jabbered at him in their incredibly fast speech that continued to mystify him but the implication of the invitation was difficult to misunderstand in any language and he hurried off red-faced, automatically checking that his money was still there.

On a quieter street he noticed for the first time the lamp at the roadside. He want over and sniffed the strange odour and decided that they were unhealthy things and destined eventually to poison the inhabitants. At the same time he wished it was dark so that he could see one lit up.

Back on the wider avenues the market stallholders were shouting their wares. The odd drunken scut staggered out of an ale house and wandered off talking to himself.

There was a crowd at a corner surrounding a hell-fire Presbyterian preacher calling the Lord's wrath to descend on the Ulster Railway Company for planning to run trains on a Sunday when the new steam engine began operating between Lisburn and Belfast next year.

"I would rather join a company for theft and murder than the Ulster Railway Company because its business is sending souls to hell at the rate of sixpence apiece. Every sound of a railway whistle is answered by a shout in hell," he bellowed.

Some of tha crowd shouted "Hallelujah." Some of them shouted other things. A man with ale on his breath started shoving and a scuffle developed until someone shouted "It's the Peelers." The young man hadn't seen a Peeler before and stayed where he was while part of the crowd disappeared.

The constable was a tail, serious-faced individual in a blue frock coat with bright buttons. Closer to, the youth realised it was the tall hat that made him seem larger than he was. The constable walked through the throng in the firm and obviously correct, belief that his mere presence would quieten tempers.

Admiring his strut, the young man thought such a personage would be a highly decorative addition to his neighbouring village and regretted that the local folk had voted against having Peelers in the area since it would reflect on the honesty of the people of the district.

Back in the markets the hawkers, peddlers, water carriers, fish merchants, egg wives and wagoners kept up their cries and the young man struggled through the crowds to enter an ale house where he paid his 2d for a jug of Kane's Beer, brewed nearby in North Street.

Here he would over hear yarns of varying degrees of veracity. A sailorman might tell of seeing a sea serpent two miles long from bow to stern and someone recently back from America would tell of a newly-invented cart that loaded itself with scoops attached to the wheels. "It can do the work of 20 men and will take all our jobs if we allow them in here."

Another man complained about the new gas lamps being against nature since God had specifically made an endless supply of whales in the sea to provide oil for lamps.

Outside again the young man wandered through the streets for hours. Tay Lane, Clabber Lones, Cripple Row, Leggs Lane and through the rich Georgian street called Linenhall (now Donegall Place).

A street crier for the Dublin stagecoach company shouted the virtues of this wonderful mode of transport guaranteed to get to Dublin in just 14 hours — and for the ridiculously cheap price of only £1 16s 3d.

The young man wondered who on God's earth had £1 16s 3d. to spend on anything — never mind throwing it away on a tedious journey to another city. Having seen one city he had begun to appreciate the virtues of the farm.

By nightfall he would stand for some time watching the gas lamps being lit before finding lodgings for the night and a warm supper. He would not buy anything until he was starting home tomorrow. A few small shillings would be easier to guard from suspicious looking strangers than the few gifts he would purchase.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Who will be the Heroes Then?

When this old world, her task has done,
When shines no more yon setting sun,
When trumpet blast calls forth all men,
Say, – who will be the heroes then?

The men who walked through seas of blood,
Rode o'er the hearts that bled — rough shod,
With sword unsheathed and eyes aflame,
Athirst for vengeance and for fame?

Or he who sails from shore to shore,
And distant foreign lands explore,
His name be heard on every tongue,
His praise by all the world be sung?

Ah no! Methinks when Heaven is won,
The man who'll hear the glad “well done,"
Is he who fought another fight,
The battle cry — "For truth and right.”

Who conquers self, and passions strong,
And through his life may hear along
The scars of conflicts; victories gained
And nobler heights his soul attained.

Though sad his heart and pressed with care,
His lot in life be hard to bear,
With smiling lips he hides the pain
That other hearts some joy might gain.

The world may ne’er his name have heard,
Its fortune and its fame unshared,
Forgotten here his deeds of love —
Methinks they’re written up above.

And when, at last; all must appear,
Their sentence spoken loud and clear,
In foremost ranks of the hero band,
This nameless soul shall ever stand.

IVY. Londonderry.

Poem: The Witness, 16th May 1919
Image: No Man's Land by Maurice Galbraith Cullen

Wednesday, 17 April 2019


Amidst the varied scenes through which we trace
   The lot wherein our passing years are cast,
Time keeps unchanged each sacred resting-place
That marks life's pathway with familiar grace,
   And ever links the present to the past.

Again we see the hallowed dawn arise,
   Around whose advent purest thoughts abide,
For Faith still lingers to immortalise
The theme of Love Divine, whose sacrifice
   Won for the world its first glad Eastertide.

To-day, when lights of glorious promise shine
   O'er all our unforgotten paths of pain.
We turn, oh Easter, to thy tranquil shrine,
And, weaving there our mem'ries into thine,
   We cannot plead thy ministry in vain.

For thou unto our waiting souls dost bring
   The sympathy that calls all care aside,
And bids us hear thee down the ages sing
How Faith and Hope are proved by suffering,
   And Love itself by sorrow sanctified.

Nor can we miss thy nobler, higher plea,
   That breathes across the silence of the tomb,
How Life by Death alone can perfect be,
So, through the cypress boughs deep mystery
   Are woven flowers of amaranthine bloom.

This is thy crown, that round each lifted cross
   Unfolds the Peace that overcomes all strife;
This thy true balm that purifies earth's dross,
And this thy Victory, that o'er Death's loss
   Proclaims the Resurrection and the Life.

Lily Marcus, Londonderry.

Poem from The Witness, 18 April 1919.
Image Sunrise over Ards by Edward Connolly.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Burial at Sea

From his room to the deck they brought him drest —
For his funeral rites, at his own request,
With his boots and stock and garments on,
And not but the breathing spirit gone,
For he wished a child might come and lay.
An unstained hand upon his clay.

Then they wrapped his corse in the tarry sheet,
To the dead as Arabia's spices sweet,
And prepared him to seek the depths below,
Where waves never beat nor tempest blow
No steeds with their nodding plumes where here,
No sabled hearse and no coffin or bier,

To bear with parade and pomp away
The dead to sleep with his kindred clay.
But the little group, a silent few,
His companions mixed with the hardy crew
Stood thoughtful around till a prayer was said
O’er the corse of the deaf unconscious dead.

They bore his remains to the vessel’s side,
And committed them safe to the dark blue tide,
One sullen plunge — and the scene is o'er,
The sea rolled as it rolled before.

Poem from the Ulster General Advertiser, 15 November 1842.
Image:  The Burial at Sea by: Sir Frank William Brangwyn

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

A Visit to Belgium (1919)


The worthy Editor of "The Witness" has asked me to give some of my experiences of my recent visit to Belgium. I would advise those who meditate having a trip to Belgium to stop at home. There is little to describe. When you have seen one portion of it occupied by the Germans, all the rest is similar. Two of the quaintest old towns, Ypres and Dinant, are a mass of ruins. The former might be described as a scattered pile of bricks and mortar, and was in its time probably the most interesting town as regards architecture in Belgium. Passing in the trains from Courtrai, via Lille, Menin, Armentieres, and Bailleul towards Calais, for many miles it is one vast plain of desolation. You see ruined villages in all directions. Any houses still standing you can see every room in them, as if looking through a birdcage. The great bulk are destroyed by fire. Villages with the bare walls and gables standing up, all roofless. You see the many lines of trenches, all flooded, and the barbed wire defences. In many districts the shell holes are so numerous as almost to touch each other, and all filled with water. In many of these our guns disappeared and were lost. In Courtrai our buyer pointed out one shell hole which I measured, 45 yards in circumference. He stood at the bottom of it to give me an idea of its depth, and it was apparently fully 12 feet deep. One thing remarkable about it was, notwithstanding the great quantity blown out of it, you saw no trace of the earth on the surrounding grass. In Courtrai all the bridges have been blown up and all the houses in the proximity have been destroyed. Also in the country districts the bridges were all destroyed in the retreat by the Germans, and it is surprising how our Engineers have the trains again running on wooden bridges. The power of the bombs employed in destroying the railways is incredible. The ends of the rails are so curved up and standing in the air as if done by a machine. None of the rails appear broken, and the ends are four or five feet apart. Where the bomb lit between the rails, 50 to 60 yards are blown into the adjoining fields as if a new railway was going to be made. At the junction station of Denderleeuw, near Brussels, the havoc wrought there is inconceivable. Some days before the armistice was signed the Germans had the military trains collected there loaded with ammunition, apparently on the road to Germany. Seven of our machines flew over at night, and the destruction wrought could not he well described. You have six or seven acres of twisted iron, remains of engines, waggons, carriages, and rails, heaped up in different masses, and you have no trace of where the railway station stood. The adjoining village, about 400 yards off, all the houses facing the station are much damaged.


All our airmen escaped, but I think the transaction hastened the armistice. The object of my journey was Courtrai. I took sufficient luggage for a two months' stay. Arrived at Boulogne all right. Asked ticket for Bruges at the railway station. Lady clerk told me she could book only to Ghifeld, which all right, although I had not the remotest idea where it was. Arrived at Dunkerque about 9 o'clock p.m. Hotels were all closing. A porter piloted me into the town. There were no lights, and after several applications I found a room in the "Le Chapeau Rouge," which I can recommend. Next day being Christmas Day, having some old friends about 15 miles out in the country, I resolved to go and pay them a visit. I tried to get some sort of a conveyance, trains there were none; ordinary vehicles and motor cars refused. I got into the good graces of two American soldiers, motormen, who were running out provisions to the American contingent located in the village I wished to go to. The man who drove the motor was from "out West," evidently a half-cast Indian. He had a fine, determined, cool sort of expression about the lower jaw. His hobby was, apparently, just to "shave" the vehicles he passed, whether horse-waggons or motor-cars, by just a few inches, and to impress every one with the rate he could make that machine travel. So I could form in idea why "carriages for hire" preferred, remaining in the city. I spent a pleasant day in the American camp, and the hostess who put me up gave an officer and me a Christmas dinner I will long remember with pleasure. In the morning the camp did their best to have me sent back safely in one of their motor forage waggons. From all the officers and men, whether English, American, Australian, or Canadian, I experienced the greatest kindness and attention. I examined all the luggage lying on the platforms at Dunkerque, all apparently waiting for owners to turn up; but no trace of mine. I got a train to Bruges in the afternoon, arriving at Ghifeld Station, the French frontier station, about 9 p.m. There was no platform where the train stopped, and no lights. So I climbed down on to the ground, and there being no lights in the train I tied my pocket handkerchief to the handle of the door of the carriage to enable me to find my seat again. Walking round the front of the train, I got to the station, and found a soldier working the telegraph. I produced my ticket for the luggage. He told me there was no one there to open the depot, and to come in daylight. I explained that this was impossible. He then suggested it had gone on to Adinkerk, the Belgian frontier station. There was nothing to be done. After a wait of an hour, none of the Customs officers turned up, and the train proceeded to the Belgian station. There were no lights here either, and I found a soldier again working the telegraph. With out stopping the instrument, he said "Luggage would be sent on to whatever address was on it." The train waited an hour, and no Customs officers turned up, we proceeded, and arrived in Bruges at 6 am. The engine was much overloaded, and we had to stop often to get up pressure. Bruges station was much wrecked. There were no porters, and all the passengers had to look after themselves. Those who wished got hot coffee free in the third class waiting room. Accommodation in hotels in Bruges was very limited. The town generally is little damaged, except the bridges over the canals, which have been destroyed. There were no trains running to Courtrai; but, through the favour of our banker there, I got a seat on a Government motor lorry. Arrived at Courtrai, the driver asked where he would drop me. I suggested the hotel in the Grand Place. I found the gateway open, so went in, and found no one in it but a few English soldiers just arrived. And they knew nothing about it. I then went to the Town Hall, and I was directed to a house where I could put up. It was partially wrecked by shell fire. A shell had passed through my bedroom, and exploded on the other side of the wall. The windows were all boarded up. The houses on the opposite side of the street were a complete wreck, only portions of the walls standing. The next day a Good Samaritan, a leading surgeon, very kindly offered me accommodation in his house while I remained, for which I felt thankful. I refer to these little trifles to show how disagreeable travelling could be in Belgium at present. I found our stores a complete wreck. They were situated about 100 yards from a bridge the Germans blew up before leaving Courtrai; the roof was much damaged, and the doors and windows blown in. I found a family of refugees living in my house, which was very dirty, and anything of value had disappeared. I told them to be in no hurry out, as I was not likely to be able to occupy it till it was repaired. All the bridges are destroyed in and about Courtrai. The only communication between the two sides of the river is a narrow floating platform, about four feet wide. On the down stream side there is a hand rail to keep you from falling off and being carried off by the stream. If you fall on the "up-steam" side, the platform preserves you from that danger. Occasionally this floating platform or bridge gets overloaded and when the water commences to rise over your boots you hear some very impolite language from the front and rear. The Lye was much flooded; in fact, the whole country is in a bad state from the weighty rains.

Brussels is little changed. No damage done, and business goes on as usual. If you can pay, you can get all you want. Boots cost from £8-£12 per pair. Clothing is dear; I hear £20-£30 for a suit of clothes. Restaurants table d'hote dinners, 30-50frs.; wine, 20-70 frs. per bottle; quarter beefsteak with chipped potatoes, 7frs. All eatable in proportion.


When business gets settled again, Belgium will speedily revive. Belgians are both economical and hard workers, and their new style of Government and franchise will speedily tell on the welfare and prosperity of the country. Some families have been very heavily hit. Families with fixed incomes and those formerly holding good commercial positions are now rendered destitute, not to speak of the horrible barbarities enacted in many Belgian and French towns and villages, with their intense sufferings. At present the outlook in Belgium is very serious. All the factories are more or less injured. None of them are working, and a considerable time must elapse before there is a possibility of much employment. In the building and kindred trades there will be much to be done if the capital is forthcoming to do it. Where it will come from is not decided. The refugee population is now crowding back in thousands, and with the "chaos" that exists, it is difficult to conceive of prospects in the near future. Food is still distributed to those without means; but the finances generally must be at a very low ebb. What concerns us most is, perhaps, flax supplies. As to quantities, there is much "guesswork." There is still considerable flax in the country. Much has been bought up on speculation when the Germans left, and held at speculation prices. The Belgian Government have at present prohibited its export. The Ghent mills are little damaged, and will probably be resuming work at an early date. The French mills have suffered severely. Of sowing flax seed I understand there is a fair supply for their home-sowing, which is understood going to be large.

My home-coming had its little adventures. In Belgium the railways are very short of rolling stock — few engines, carriages, or waggons. The military trains are mostly open waggons, with an odd passenger carriage supposed to be for the officers, without glass in the windows. When travelling, you find out when there is a military train going your way. You climb up as best you can and where you can. Arrived at your destination, you get out the same way. No booking office, nor tickets to check. Riding in an open waggon is less draughty, generally, than the carriage. After much telegraphing, in which I was assisted much by our officers in Courtrai, I found my luggage had been sent to Thielt, with which there is at present no rail communication from Courtrai. I recovered it, however, and took the precaution to leave it behind till my return to Courtrai. I got a military train to Calais at four o'clock a.m. Travelled first to Menin — to secure a good seat. Then by way of Lille, Armentiers, Belluil, to Calais. Discovered the train did not go into Calais, but stopped about three miles out. I had some difficulty getting into town and finding a room. Next morning I found although several steamers going to Dover, they were for military only. So there was no other way except going by Boulogne. Happily I met a military motor car going to headquarters, and passing through Boulogne, about 50 miles off. The chauffeur gave me a lift. I will long remember that ride. Some of the holes in the road looked to be about two feet deep, and I felt if the agent of the Ocean Accidental Life Insurance Company knew I was on that car he would have spent a most uphappy three hours. When I reached London, after visiting several hotels, I spent the night on rather a short couch in a drawing-room of a pension I never visited before, and was very glad to have it. To those meditating a "joy-ride" to Belgium, my advice is — Don't!!


From The Witness, 21 February 1919.
Photo: The Town Square, Arras, France. February, 1919.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Sunset on the Sea

The shadows of eve were falling,
   and coldly the night wind blew;
The sky was a dusky crimson
   that faded to smoky blue;
And the sun, low down in the heavens,
   flamed as it sank from view.

There was no living creature,
   save only the gulls on high;
There was no sound in the stillness,
   save only the sea-birds cry;
And the wind-swept sea tossed purple
   under the fiery sky.

And white Kerbane to the westward
   shot out to the ocean wide;
And dark Benmore to the eastward
   swept down to the water's side;
And the white foam leaped from the breakers,
   as the last of the daylight died.

A white mist rose from the ocean;
   the face of sun was veiled;
The fiery light in the heavens waned,
   and the crimson paled.
And still through the gathering darkness,
   the voice of the seagulls wailed.


Poem: The Witness, 24 January 1919

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Universal Peace

"Ah! when shall all men’s good
 Be each man’s rule, and universal peace
 Lie like a shaft of light across the land?"
 — Tennyson.

I hear the bells on New Year’s Day
   Chime forth their joyful peals of praise;
With them a voice which seems to say —
   The time foretold in ancient days
At last is come, when war shall cease,
The reign of universal peace.

Too long this fine old world has been
   A battleground — a world of blood;
Too long the evil and unclean
   Have ruled out universal good;
Ah! when shall man with man agree,
From Orient to Western sea?

The old year, did it see the end.
   The final phase of cruel war?
Universal Peace! descend.
   And heal this world of wound and scar,
And quench the smould’ring fires of hate,
That war may die out — even late.

The opening year with joy we hail —
   Sweet harbinger of times at hand,
When, man no more shall man assail,
   But all men’s good in ev'ry land.
Shall be the rule, and ev’ry race
Shall join evil to efface.

O glad New Year! we welcome thee,
   So long foretold, so long delayed;
From land to land and sea to sea,
   May this year see a world remade,
And universal good increase,
And bring in universal peace.

The world is wide and beautiful,
   In ev’ry zone rich gifts abound,
And under nature's peaceful rule
   A plenitude for all is found;
But lust and might and selfish greed
The gentle steps of peace impede.

Ah! when shall man the rights of man,
   His brother, justly recognise,
And learn his brother’s wrongs to scan,
   His grievances no more despise,
Undo the bonds, the opprest release,
And bring in universal peace.

The past sad time of blood and tears,
   So filled with horror, pain, and woe,
Should teach mankind in future years
   How great the many ills that flow
From cruel war and all its train,
And hasten sure of peace the reign.

The world has wrongs yet unredrest —
   Humanity, so sad, so pained,
With heavy burdens crushed, opprest,
   So patient — of its life’s blood drained
Cries out with voices near and far —
The time is past for cruel war.

No time for war, but only time
   To widen freedom's bounds and see
That ev'ry man in ev'ry clime
   Has equal rights and liberty —
Knit in a common brotherhood,
Whose rule is universal good.

No time for war, but time to make
   This world a paradise on earth,
The social ills uproot, and break
   Down barriers of pride and birth,
And usher in with gladsome strain
Of universal peace the reign.

No time for war, but only time
   The victories of peace to win,
With actions noble and sublime —
   To trample down the vice, the sin,
Approve the right, the wrong decrease
And bring in universal peace.

Universal Peace! come down,
   The world has waited long for thee
Descend, ilumine, soothe, and crown
   Our struggling, sad humanity;
All pains relieve, all bonds release,
And tarry with us, blessed Peace.

I hear the bells on New Year’s Day,
   I listen to their pleasing chimes,
Which speak to me and seem to say –
   Arrived at last the glad new times,
So long delayed, when war shall cease,
The reign of universal peace.

R. C. MacBRIDE, B.A.
Ardmore Villas, Ballymena, New Year's Day, 1919.

Poem: The Witness, 3 January 1919