Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Storied Homes of Ulster – The Old Museum, Belfast

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.


The Old Museum, Belfast

A glance back to the time when Belfast’s museum was founded.

ONE of the objects of the Belfast Reading Society, established in 1788, was the formation of “collections of nature and art."

The Reading Society, now known as the Linenhall Library, flourished, but little was done about the “collections of nature and art" until, in 1821, eight young citizens formed themselves into the Belfast Natural History Society.

The first meeting was held on May 5, 1821, at the house of Dr. Drummond, one of the founder members, in Chichester Street. The newly-formed Society continued to meet in Chichester Street until Dr. Drummond's lease expired, when the natural philosophy classroom at the Belfast Academical Institution was offered to them as a temporary headquarters.

Membership and interest in the new Society grew, their headquarters were again changed, and at length it became obvious that they must seek a permanent home, both for the ever-increasing “collections of nature and art," and for their frequent meetings.

Eventually the founder members secured a part of Thos. M'Cammon's land in College Square, tenders were sent out by the architects, Messrs, Duff & Jackson, and on May 4, 1830, the Marquis of Donegall laid the foundation stone of the Belfast Museum.

The old Museum is to-day the headquarters for various societies, and the original collections have been removed to the Municipal Museum in Stranmills Road.

The classical proportions of the old building retain their dignity, although overshadowed by the more opulent Technical College.

This was the first provincial museum to be built in Ireland, and for 80 years it served the public well. At first the museum was open only on specific days, but in 1837 it was decided to open six days a week.

Charges ordinarily were 3d for mechanics and children, and 8d for other persons, but on Easter Monday, which was the great day for visiting the Museum, the charge was 1d for children and 2d for adults.

A hundred years ago the majority of Belfast citizens had only about six days holiday a year — two days for July 12, two days for Christmas and two days for Easter. The great thing to do at Easter was to go, first to the Botanic Gardens to watch the balloon go up, and then to the Museum, where strange, wonderful and rare things were to be seen.

The growing popularity of the Museum can be gauged from the numbers who went there. On Easter Monday, 1843, 1,200 folk visited it; on Easter Monday, 1853. 5,950 went to see the exhibits.

The Easter advertisements which told Belfast citizens of the wonders on show at the old Museum were very different from the bulletins which now tell us what we may learn in the new building which has inherited the original “collections of nature and art."


Next week – Corry's Crescent, Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 2 December 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Saintfield House, Co. Down

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.


Saintfield House, Co. Down

Baffled pikemen and the painted beauty

SOMETIME between 1749 and 1790, prior to big marriage. Francis Price had a house built in the heart of his rolling Saintfield parkland. The trees that he and his successors planted are old giants now, fringing the winding drive that leads to the house, and casting long shadows as the wintry sun momentarily turns the last dried leaves to a glowing amber.

Against the walls of the house the Virginia creeper still flaunts a few flushed flags, but on the climbing rose only dusters of brilliant berried remain of all the summer's glory.

Originally, the house consisted of a three-storey centre block, but later, flanking wings, two floors high, were added, and these were joined to the main edifice by single storey connecting blocks. This variation in height adds to the interest of the exterior of the house.

Within the dwelling aere many mementos of the Price ancestors. Still preserved is a magnificent blue velvet coat, with companion satin waistcoat lavishly embroidered in blue and silver, that Francis Price wore on special occasions. There is also a curious contraption used by Nicholas Price, son of Francis, to enable him to take exercise when, after his eightieth birthday, he was too old for riding horse-back.

Nicholas Price was probably the best-known of this old family. Mrs. Delaney met him when he was a small boy, and she wrote of him: "Poor little Nickey Price, I’m afraid there is no hope for him."

In spite of the doubts of the Dean's wife Nicholas Price lived to be 96, and it is said that he attributed his life and health to the waters of Ballynahinch Spa. He came to be known as "The Old Squire."

During the '98 rising, the Old Squire had a most fortunate escape. Whilst he was away in Dublin a band of rebels marched on Saintfield House and lined up a cannon on the lawn, preparatory to blasting the place.

The steward, who had been left in charge ran out to say that his master was away, whereupon the rebels held their fire and chased the steward indoors. The unfortunate man id in a passage that runs round the basement, whilst the cut-throats sought him throughout the house.

In the search, a pike was thrust through a portrait of a lady, presumably to discover if the unlucky wretch had hidden behind it. The scar left by this pike-thurst mars the lady's painted beauty even yet.

Eventually the unhappy man was discovered, taken to the lawn in front of the house, and shot.

For several weeks the rebel gang had possession of Saintfield House, but were eventually overcome, after the Battle of Ballynahinch.


Next week — The Old Museum, College Square North, Belfast

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 25 November 1953.

Storied Homes of Ulster – Hockley Lodge, Armagh

The following is part of a series of articles which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1953 under the pen name 'Fina'.


Hockley Lodge, Armagh

Dower House that retains its old-world charm

THE roads of Co. Armagh interlace the flourishing countryside as ribbons interlace a Victorian petticoat. Alongside some of these winding roads run the high, strong walls of those twenty-two proportions of territory, possessed by English settlers, into , which the baronies of O’Neilland and Orior were divided when the King's Commissioners began their inquiry in 1618.

Some little way beyond one of these enclosing walls, about two miles from Armagh, lies Hockley Lodge, once a Dower House of the Molyneaux family of Castledillon.

The great house of Castledillon is now an annexe of St. Luke's Hospital, and the splendid coach-house, designed by Cooley, where once the ladies of the house ran a charity school, are workshops.

The small Dower House is, however, still a charming home. Built on sloping ground, its entrance in classic Georgian style, is single-storied, whilst the rear of the building, of seventeenth century origin, is two-storied.

The window tax caused many of the windows at Hockley Lodge to be blinded, about the year 1807, but it is noticeable that, in order to escape the tax, the windows were not bricked up in the usual way, but had a brick wall built about 18 inches away from them, somewhat in the manner of modem windows protected from air-raid blast.

Evidently the then owner of Hockley Lodge believed that the window tax would not last long How irritated he must have been that the hated tax was not repealed until 1851!

At the rear of the house is a courtyard containing the farm buildings, the most imposing of which is an octagonal dairy, forming the centre of one side of the court. This dairy is lit from a high, domed roof and its cool gloom is accentuated by its floor of Armagh marble.

Outside the kitchen door is a brick oven, complete with flue, where once the bread for the household was baked.

At the time of the 1641 rebellion, Hockley Lodge was occupied by a daughter of John Dillon. As she was married to a man of native extraction, she remained safe from harm when the county was a battleground. Indeed, she was able to help some of her friends and neighbours to escape, even though nearby Charlemont Fort was conquered and held by the rebel, Sir Phelim O'Neill.

It is recorded by Sir C. Cooks in his “Statistical Survey of County Armagh,” published in 1804, that at that time a Mr. Shields was then the occupant of Hockley Lodge. At the time of the “Survey’s” publication, Mr. Shields, like all the other county families, would be enjoying the years of troubled peace that followed the ’98 rising — such troubled years as those that we have seen in our own day and generation.


Next week – Saintfield House, Saintfield, Co Down.

Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 13 November 1953.