Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 29



By some lapse of eye and memory, I overlooked in my list of Lord Mayors, which concluded the week before last, the names of three who, for many reasons, I should not have forgotten — Sir James Henderson, in 1898; Lord Shaftesbury, in 1907; and Sir Robert Anderson, in 1908-9. Sir James Henderson (he received the knighthood during his year of office) was a most energetic and popular Mayor. He had always been an active member of the Council, and he did not spare himself during his term of office. He was most hospitable, and in his hospitalities he was greatly assisted by his wife. Lady Henderson, who, happily, survives him. In common with many colleagues I have occasion to remember Sir James Henderson’s kindness, and many opportunities of observing his energetic labours in the Council and out of it to sustain, as he did worthily, the position of the high office.

Lord Shaftesbury’s occupancy of the Lord Mayoralty brought into connection with the municipal life of the city a nobleman who had great interest in it, and one of a rank not previously associated with the office. At the same time his lordship was cordially welcomed, and, as far as his engagements would admit, he devoted himself most assiduously to the duties of the office, and brought to them not only the dignity of his position, but the graciousness of a courteous personality.

Of Sir Robert Anderson, who held office for two years, no man, and least of all myself, could speak too highly. As a successful businessman, he had gained a high reputation even before he entered the City Council, and his prosperity and popularity have grown with his growth ever since. He entered the Council with the intention to work, and he has worked all along with a continuity, energy, and singleness of purpose which have won him general respect. The tramways were for years not alone his hobby, but his serious thought, and as chairman of the committee he was always to the front where work was to be done. During his Lord Mayoralty he continued chairman of the committee, and it was a committee that involved great time, labour, and thought; and while there may have been differences of opinion as to policy.

During his Lord Mayoralty he continued chairman of the committee, and it was a committee that involved great time, labour, and thought; and while there may have been differences of opinion as to policy, there was none as to Sir Robert’s anxiety to serve the public and the trust. No man could have been more regular or attentive to the duties as Lord Mayor than he; and I will add no man could have done more as an ex-Lord Mayor, for he has ever been at the side of his successors, and always ready to take the chair in the absence of the occupant.

His term of office was memorable for his hospitality, which consisted more of receptions than dinners, and gave the ladies of the city special opportunities for sharing in the official hospitalities of the Lord Mayoralty. Sir Robert was, and is, a staunch teetotaler, and in consonance with his principles refused to have wines at his table. Consistency in this, as in all his action in life, in Church and in State, in business and in private life, is a characteristic of Sir Robert. He is an ardent and earnest member of the Presbyterian Church, and deeply interested in all its work and in its welfare. But Sir Robert has not confined all his energies to Belfast, but displayed them in other quarters. He is a native of County Monaghan, and he has done great work in assisting and developing industry in the county of his nativity. Sir Robert received the honour of knighthood when he officiated as Sheriff, and received a baronetcy on the occasion of the visit of the King and Queen to Ireland some years ago. And he worthily bears his honours and his years.

But any reference to Sir Robert Anderson’s activities as Lord Mayor would be incomplete without a reference to Lady Anderson, a daughter of the manse, whose graceful kindness, courtesy, and thoughtfulness in connection with the departments of her husband’s duties that fell to her share were unceasing, and left behind them the most pleasant and gracious memories.

To return to my muttons, so far as the local election was concerned, it left Presbyterians with one representative and the Episcopalians with another, which was in consonance with a written or unwritten law. But if the Liberalism, the sound, true, and constitutional Liberalism of the time, failed to secure a seat in Parliament, it was more successful in other parts of Ulster, where the Belfast Conservative votes did not play such a part as they did in Down and Antrim. In the County Londonderry, Mr. Law and Sir Thos. M'Clure; in Monaghan, Messrs. Givan and Findlater were returned; in Tyrone, Mr. E. Litton (afterwards Judge) was returned; in Donegal, the Rev. Dr. Kinnear and Sir Thomas Lea were returned; in Armagh, Mr. J. N. Richardson was returned. In Dungannon, Mr. T. A. Dickson won by two votes; but was afterwards unseated on petition. But in the City of Londonderry, Mr. Lewis won, and Mr. Adam Hogg was defeated. In Coleraine, Mr. Daniel Taylor was defeated, and in Downpatrick, Mr. Frazer was defeated.

It would not be historically or politically accurate to suggest that the Liberals who succeeded at this election won exclusively on party lines as these were understood in England. The question of tenant-right then bulked large in Ulster politics,, and many farmers who on other phases might not have voted Liberal, threw in their lot with the Liberals. But it was not Liberalism alone that won the elections for the Liberals in Ulster. It was Presbyterianism, which bulked large and more successfully at this election than it had done before, and the majority at any rate of the majority at any rate of the leaders of Presbyterianism, clerical and lay, were Liberals. There were about a dozen candidates for Ulster seats, and while some of them went down a majority remained. Mr. Corry and Mr. C. E. Lewis were Presbyterians as well as Conservatives, and that, no doubt, was a strong factor in their poll.

As a result of the contests, the following Presbyterians were returned — Messrs. Corry, Lewis, Givan, Findlater, Dickson, Sir Thos. M‘Clure, and Rev. Dr. Kinnear. Messrs. Chas. Wilson and Samuel Black were the Liberal candidates for Antrim, and both Presbyterians, but they were defeated by Messrs. Chaine and Macnaughton. In Down Lord Arthur Hill and Lord Castlereagh defeated Mr. Jas. Sharman Crawford, but so close was the contest that he was only twenty behind Lord Castlereagh. And thereby hangs a tale, which I will refer to later. I recall these incidents as historical facts, and not to revive controversies that are dead and buried. But these controversies and differences, denominational and political, were factors of the day that could not be ignored. And the fact was the very small number of Presbyterian ministers who appeared on the platform in support of the Conservative candidates. So far as this district is concerned, I can only recall the names of three — the Rev. Dr. Gray, the Rev. Hugh Hanna, and the Rev. W. G. M'Cullough. The Rev. John Macnaughtan, Rev. Archibald Robinson, Broughshane; the Rev. Robert Workman, the Rev. Jonathan Simpson, and many others appeared on the platform of the Liberal Presbyterians, And among the Presbyterian laymen the late Hon. Thos. Sinclair and Mr. W. D. Henderson took a prominent part. On glancing over the names in an old file among the ministers that I noticed taking part, the only one now living is the Rev. Robert Workman.

It was during this election that Mr. E. S. Finnigan, the Conservative election agent, brought off his great coup, or, rather, great-trick, in the matter of the secrecy of the ballot. It was a daring election venture, which ended in an election petition against Lord Castlereagh (afterwards Lord Londonderry), in whose interests it was issued. Mr. Finnigan’s shrewd and far-seeing idea was that if he could create an impression that the ballot was not secret the farmers, at any rate in the districts over which the Londonderry estate extended, would be afraid to vote against the young scion of the noble house. It was well arranged and well engineered. The late Mr. Jas. Jenkins, rent agent, was a friend and neighbour of Mr. Finnigan, but a strong Liberal. Mr. Finnigan asked him to attend in his room in Lombard Street at a certain time to show him that the secrecy of the ballot could be revealed, and suggested that he should invite me to see the exposition. In my simplicity I went, only to find Mr. Lilburn, the Editor of the “News-Letter,” among others there, which suggested to me at once that, whether the ballot was secret or not, this investigation was not to be secret. Mr. Finnigan went through his manipulation, which only brought out what we all knew, that, as the ballot paper contained the number of the voter on the registry, an individual vote could be discovered on a scrutiny; but it did not make clear that it could be discovered otherwise. On the contrary, it made clear to my mind the very opposite. After Mr. Finnigan had manipulated his papers with the skill of a conjurer, he asked each individual present if he had made good his claim that the secret of the ballot could be disclosed. He asked me, among others, and I said that he had on the same principle that if he could enter Robb’s or Anderson & M'Auley’s, get over the counter, seize a parcel of cloth, get past all the assistants in the shop and all the police they could call to their aid, he could succeed in stealing the cloth. The vote of no individual could be discovered at the counting, as was suggested, unless everyone in the booth, from the Sheriff’s representatives, the agents of both parties, and all the clerks at the counting, were in a conspiracy, and I questioned if even then it could be discovered. That was not expressing satisfaction with his success.

Fancy, then, my surprise on reading in the “News-Letter” the next morning that everyone present had admitted that Mr. Finnigan had made out his case, and this was done in a half column description. Copies of the paper containing that article were sent to all the electors, and, for my part, I have no doubt that it influenced the electors. But on a petition Baron Fitzgerald thought not, and so refused to unseat Lord Londonderry.

I was present in Downpatrick at the trial of the petition; and a wonderful trial it was. According to Mr. Finnigan’s friends, it was all the result of a mere accident that the matter got into the “News-Letter;” the fact that the Rev. S. D. Burnside happened to be in the rooms at the time (though he was seldom, out of them) and the incidental communication of the fact to him that the article appeared. We have had no revelation of the secrecy of the ballot since, and as Mr. Finnigan represented the matter, in my opinion it would be impossible to have any. But the incident and the article beyond a doubt did its work, and raised Mr. Finnigan’s prowess as an electioneering agent to the highest pitch, at which it remained till his death.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 19th January 1917.

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

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 28



I hope my readers will pardon me if I make an excursion into local politics, as revealed in the election of 1880. I admit we have no politicos now; but we had them in excelsis in the past. We had Liberals and Tories forty years ago, as we had for many decades before that; but though the names have not disappeared, the distinctive divisions have passed away. Liberalism, in its good old sound Imperial sense, went with Mr. Gladstone's conversion, or rather perversion, to Home Rule, and Tory disappeared when the necessities of Empire and the Kingdom rendered a fusion of the forces of Imperial patriotism absolutely necessary. Liberalism has become Radicalism, with a political war chest largely filled with German gold and with a heterogeneous collection of Socialists, Labourists, pacifists, and Irish Nationalists. Toryism has become Unionism, with its ranks swelled by Liberals who put Empire before party and patriotism before politics.

We have now a Government in power which, while nominally partially composed of Radicals, is really Unionist in its determined effort and enthusiasm to carry on the War with a single eye to the interests of the country instead of as on the Radical lines. With one eye, and that the one most in evidence, on party. It is true that the present Prime Minister was a Radical of Radicals and a pacifist of pacifists, a Little Englander, if you will, in his old and unregenerate days; but when his eyes were opened to the treachery to the Empire that the carrying out of his old principles involved, he had the patriotism to cast off the old man and put on the new; and in forming his Government he had the courage to shed such of his old colleagues as he knew or feared would prefer “wait-and-see” to “push-and-go,” and who would pander to the agents of a German peace rather than pursue a righteous and rigorous campaign against German Junkerism. The Radicals themselves practically admit this, and Mr. M'Kenna, the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, banned the Premier and his Government as outside the ranks of the Liberal party, and declared that the Liberal party, with Mr. Asquith at its head, were in opposition to the Government. It is true Mr. Asquith tried by some characteristic
words to remove the impression that his lieutenant had produced. But what was said was said. And said, I verily believe, with truth so far as the party, and especially, the interests of the party war chests, are concerned.

In 1889, however, we had just Liberal and Tory. In the ranks of the former, or at least as their supporters, were the Roman Catholics, who at that time were only asking for equality, for which the Liberals were working, and not clamouring for ascendency as they are doing now. In the ranks of the Tories were the Protestant working men of Belfast, the remnant of the Jonstonites of 1868, who objected to being only hewers of wood and drawers of water for the old Tory clique, and they called the leaders of that party, and who might be described as democratic Tories. When the General Election of 1880 took place, Mr. Disraeli was Prime Minister, memory of “Peace with honour” still fresh upon him. Mr. Gladstone had, like Achilles in his tents, retired from the leadership of the Liberal Party; but he emerged during the Russo-Turkish war, and roused the country by his savage indignation at the Bulgarian atrocities, for the disclosures of which to the country the “Daily News” and its brilliant Irish-American correspondent, Mr. M'Gahan, were chiefly responsible. Mr. Disraeli had described as “coffee-house babble” the stories in which Mr. M'Gahon had founded his articles; and Mr. Gladstone started his [--eat] crusade, which roused this country to its centre, and the Disraeli-despised crusader became the hero of the nation and the head of the new Government after the election. But I am anticipating.

It is doubtful if the great issues of the nation at the time had much effect on the elections in Belfast, where local feelings and differences dominated — Home Rule or Parnellism had not really appeared upon the horizon to any marked extent at the time. Mr. J. P. Corry and Mr. Wm. Ewart — the honour of baronetage came to both later — had been the sitting members, and offered themselves for re-election, basing their claim in their personal services to the constituency and the Disraelian, or rather Beaconsfield Government, for Mr. Disraeli had then entered the kingdom of the Lords and the service of the Premier and his Government of the country. For a time it seemed as if these gentlemen were to have the field to themselves; but after ten days a new candidate appeared. Mr. Charles Ward and the Protestant Working Men's Association still remembered 68, determined to challenge the seat, and selected as their candidate Mr. Robert Seeds, a member of the North-East bar, and a member of a family prominently identified with the legal profession as solicitors — Messrs. H. and W. Seeds. Dr. Seeds championed the democracy, and championed it well.

In the “Ulster Echo” at the time we championed the cause of Dr. Seeds as representing the most Liberal element of the three, though Dr. Seeds did not, and dare not, use the unblessed word Liberal. The “Evening Telegraph” at the time rather [---lied] in its support of the representative of the fierce democracy; and we wrote up Dr. Seeds in “The Echo,” with the result that we could scarcely print at the time efficient paper to meet the demands of the Shankill Road. Our newsboys, who had ever been very welcome in that district, were cheered and besieged as they rushed up with our words in praise of Dr. Seeds. I had, and have, a strong impression that if no other candidate had appeared in the field, Dr. Seeds would have secured one of the seats, if popular acclaim counts for anything.

But in the second week of the contest a Liberal appeared on the scene, and changed the entire aspect, both for ourselves and the election; and while we supported Dr. Seeds as a means of defeating the old Tory leaders, when a Liberal light in the person of Mr. John Shaw Brown appeared the entire situation changed. We supported Mr. Brown with greater enthusiasm than we had supported Dr. Seeds, and while still regarding the latter as representing the least evil, so far as the Conservative party were concerned, concentrated our energies on Mr. Brown. And we ceased to be the favourite of the Shankill Road that we had been for the previous days — crowns were changed to kicks in that region till the heat of the contest was over.

While Messrs. Corry and Ewart dealt in generalities, Mr. Brown dealt in particularities. Tenant-right, free sale, fair rents and permanent possession, peasant proprietary, the assimilation of the franchise with that of England, compensation for injuries to workmen, the consideration of local public Bills in Belfast instead of Westminster were among the objects he favoured. I doubt if any of these, save perhaps the last two, had much local interest or influence for them. I must truly say we were all for party. But at any rate his address suggested a programme and a principle wider than his opponents. I may say, however, that though Mr. Brown fought a good fight and kept the sound Liberal faith, he did not win. Messrs. Corry and Ewart were returned in the order mentioned. Dr. Seeds came third, and Mr. Brown fourth. Taking the vote in thousands, Mr. Corry was eight, Mr. Ewart seven, Dr. Seeds six, and Mr. Brown five, which was not at all a bad vote having regard to the political complexion of the constituency at the time.

There were some interesting developments in the election. It was claimed on the side of the old Conservative party that this was an alliance between the supporters of Dr. Seeds and Mr. Brown, while on the democratic side there was an allegation that there was an alliance between the other two candidates. This meant that as each voter had two votes, the voters for the one set would give one vote for each of the candidates. But this could not have been the case, as Mr. Corry was about a thousand above Mr. Ewart, and Dr. Seeds was about a thousand above Mr. Brown. In that case there must have been considerable plumping or cross-voting — that is, an old Conservative supporter voting for one or other of the two remaining candidates or giving one vote to one of the two and another vote to one or other of the successful candidates. What did likely happen was that some of the Presbyterian Liberals voted for Mr. Brown and gave their second vote to Mr. Corry, and that some of Mr. Corry's Presbyterian voters, which, however, was less likely, gave their votes for Mr. Brown. In the same way it is likely that some of the Episcopalian democrats voted for Mr. Ewart and that some of the latter's friends voted for Dr. Seeds. No doubt the Roman Catholic vote must have largely gone to Mr. Brown, though at the time the Rev. Mr. Cahill, who was the fiery leader, with journalistic proclivities and opportunities, of at any-rate a section of that party, was a Conservative. I have no recollection of the result of his influence in Belfast, but I remember that he supported Lord Castlereagh (afterwards Lord Londonderry) for County Down. Mr. Parnell had then set out on the warpath; but his incursion into the North was later.

There was a good deal of cross-firing between the “Whig” and “News-Letter” and their respective followers at the time; and the rivalries of these newspapers found developments among the supporters, as the “News-Letter” was groaned at Dr. Seeds' meetings and the “Whig” groaned at the meetings of Messrs. M'Clure and Corry. There were one or two anomalous incidents during this election. The Rev. John Rogers, of Comber, afterwards professor, who had supported Mr. Corry at the previous election, and who had supported the Conservative candidates in 1888 (I admit on the promise of Mr. Disraeli, which turned out to be of no value in fact, whatever may be the intention, that he would, if returned, raise the Regium Donum to £100 a year for each Presbyterian minister), entered the lists against Mr. Corry, and discharged two or three epistolary bullets at his head. He alleged that Mr. Corry had neglected Presbyterian interests, and that he had supported the Bill for abolishing the old Queen's University and establishing the Royal University, whose ill-starred life continued for a couple of decades. It was under this Bill, or simultaneously with it, that the Faculties of the Assembly's and Magee Colleges were enabled to confer degrees. As might be expected, Mr. Rogers' attacks were severe, for Mr. Rogers spared no one when his caustic tongue or pen was brought into action. Professor Watts, who was Moderator at the time, and who, though an ardent Liberal, was also an ardent Presbyterian, defended Mr. Corry so far at least as his attention to Parliamentary calls in Presbyterian interests were concerned, on behalf of the Church, and because of the measure for conferring D.D.'s, for which Mr. Corry got credit, came to the defence of that gentleman; and so, I think, did one or two other Presbyterian ministers. And this may have secured votes from Presbyterians who were not Conservative.

There was another element that was suggested by Mr. Corry as having had an influence on Mr. Rogers' action. A vacancy had occurred in the Presidency of the Queen's College some time before, and the Rev. Dr. Porter, who had been a professor in the Assembly's College, had received the appointment. It was an open secret at the time that, at any rate the friends of Mr. Rogers thought he should have received the Presidency on account of the electoral support he had given the party in 1868 and since, and many, therefore, were not surprised when Mr. Corry, with, whom the nomination rested, stated, in reply to these attacks, that if he had given a favourable reply to Mr. Rogers' request for the Presidency, he would not have appeared as his electoral enemy. Mr. Rogers, in reply, denied that he had ever made the request for the position seriously, though he said he had in a passing way on the lobby in Westminster, said to him in a light vein, “Will you give me the Presidency of the Queen's College?” Those of us who were about at the time formed our opinion on the controversy according to our political leanings or according to our knowledge of the men and of human nature. There was another phase of this Presidential vacancy. It was freely reported at the time that the appointment had been given, or was about to be given, to another than Dr. Porter or Mr. Rogers, and that Mr. Corry had blocked it, and secured the high, office for Dr. Porter. This much, however, must be said of Dr. Porter, that he towered head and shoulders above his competitors, as Saul was above the other Israelites. He also excelled all his brethren in dignity, or at any rate in a sense of dignity, and presided over the college till his death.

There was another anomalous incident. Mr. Wm. Johnston was returned in 1868 by the democratic section of the Conservatives, with the assistance of “split” votes from Mr. M'Clure, which “splits” were reciprocated. It was the same association — the Protestant Working Men's Association, and largely the same men — “Charley” Ward, Wm. M'Cormick, Wm. M'Dade, and others, who put forward Dr. Seeds in 1880, and with the same grounds and grievances against the old leaders. Mr. Johnston, however, on this occasion did not identify himself with his old friends, and for a time did not identify himself with any section till after the contest was in progress for some time, when, at a meeting of Messrs. Corry and Ewart's supporters, Mr. Johnston got up and said he was there uninvited, but he hoped not unwelcome; and then he made a speech in support of the two candidates and the Conservative party. I will say this for Mr. Johnston, that while he called himself a Conservative, he boasted more of his Orangeism; and I presume it was the Orangeism in him that led him to give many Liberal votes, especially on the Ballot and the Land Bill. It is quite possible this may have helped to secure the return of the two candidates. I do not think, however, I am straining the sequence of events if I say that an Inspectorship of Fisheries followed. But if that tempted him for a time, it did not tempt him for all time, as I shall have occasion to relate hereafter.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 12th January 1917.

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

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued...

From The Witness, 5th January 1917.

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

Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Old Year, and the New

We must bid good-bye to you, Old Year,
    Time’s sands are well-nigh run;
We bid farewell with much regret
    But, alas? it must be done.

Your cup of sorrow was great, Old Year,
    Almost full to the brim;
You oft drank of the waters of Marah,
    Mercifully slaked with Elim.

The Reaper Death was busy, Old Year,
    His scythe cut many down;
We trust, through faith and service,
    They gained an immortal crown.

You witnessed sad grief, Old Year—
    Bereavement, anxiety, pain;
The world seemed groaning with sorrow.
    And tears were hard to restrain.

Hark! ’tis the last stroke of midnight,
    The Old Year has silently fled;
It has joined the many before it,
    It is numbered with the dead.

We turn to greet the New Year,
    We stand at its portals so clean;
No foot has yet crossed its threshold.
    All its plans are yet unseen.

“We have not passed this way heretofore,”
    The road may seem dark and strange;
But God, who upholds the universe,
    Can surely our short lives arrange.

We cannot see into the future,
    We know not what is in store;
But the Father’s love and protection
    Encompass us evermore.

With courage we enter the New Year,
    Taking short views of the way;
Having faith that our Leader
    Will give grace and strength each day.

We pray to the God of armies,
    That He grant strife and bloodshed to cease;
And send to all the nations
    In the New Year, lasting peace.

Jane Thomson, Cullycapple, Aghadowey.

Poem: The Witness, 29th December 1916
Image: Edinburgh Castle with fireworks at New Year by Andy Peutherer.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 26



The reign of the Lord Mayors of Belfast has been the reign of law and also of gospel, the gospel of progress and prosperity, the gospel of social and material improvement and development. I do not suggest or imply that we had not a good deal of this before, or that all the credit of it rests with the generation that produced it. Much planning and preparing had taken place. The seed had been sown, and all that this generation had to do was to reap the harvest. And it has reaped it in abundance, Belfast was not extended and developed into a city by a stroke of a pen or the flash of a magician’s wand. It became a city because it had grown into a city, and all that authority did was to give it the Order of Merit as it is given to a successful statesman or soldier. And if Belfast has progressed as a city it has not been in despite of, not on account of external and even internal efforts, to depress, discredit it, and destroy it. It may not have been the object of the British Radicals and the Government in Ireland that it set up to mar its prosperity; but everything they proposed and planned tended in that direction. Its interests and its feelings were disregarded and outraged. Its prosperity was denied, and its Unionist and pro-British association and ambitions decried. A campaign of slander and insult, of deprecation and depreciation was carried out, not only by Nationalist leaders, in Ireland, but by their representatives in the British Cabinet and in Dublin Castle. Then, as now, Mr, Joseph Devlin used all his resource of ingenuity and daring devilishness to belabour and belittle it, and he found support and encouragement in high places. He is carrying on that same campaign still, as we have evidence of late; but with all his faults Mr. Duke is not as Mr. Birrell, and has blessed where Mr. Birrell would have cursed. Mr. Duke nailed Mr. Devlin’s lies to the counter, whereas Mr. Birrell would, in all probability. if not in all certainty, have upheld them, if not with oaths and curses, at least with flippant jests and insolent sneers.

It was in 1888, under the Mayoralty of Sir James Haslett, that the charier constituting the city was granted; but if was not till 1892, and the May of that year, that the dignity of Lord Mayor was conferred. On the 1st of May Mr. Daniel Dixon presided as simple Mayor — only simple, however, in a titular sense — and on the 1st of June he presided as Lord Mayor, and received the congratulations of his brother members and the thanks of the citizens on his new dignity, which, however, was later overshadowed by that of the Right Hon. Sir Daniel Dixon, Bart. I must say, however, they seem to have taken matters quietly in those days, for the congratulations only come in incidentally and in connection with the report of the Law Committee, mildly announcing the new dignity; and I could not help noting that Mr. Robert Wilson, Ormeau Road, joined in the congratulations as a junior member of the Board. Mr. Wilson is still with us in good health and spirits; but he is no longer a junior member; he is very senior and respected at that, on the Water Board, of which he was chairman.

I have said that before this period the fathers of the city had not been idle in the way of development. Within the period under review up till tin it time we had the Gasworks purchased, at a cost of £386,000, and the horse tram system introduced by an English company. We had Ormeau and Royal Avenue opened, the Queen’s Bridge widened, the collapsed Albert Bridge reconstructed, the extensive main drainage works, with the improved sanitation resulting, in great part carried out, the Free Library in Royal Avenue opened. These were all great works and valuable, even if costly; but we forget the cost in appreciation of the satisfactory results in convenience, comfort, health, and educational improvement that have resulted. An honour, say I, to the men, the Mayors, and the Councillors who were concerned in the promotion and development of these, among other, local improvements; and while in this column as from 1892 I welcome the coming Lord Mayors, I would speed the parting Mayors with hearty acknowledgments of their work and worth.

Sir Daniel Dixon, the first Lord Mayor, was a unique personality, a man of sound common sense and shrewdness, without show or pretence, a worker who never wasted his time and breath in idle talk, an industrious and enterprising business man, to whom success seemed to come as naturally as his breath, and who carried into municipal and public life the same qualities of initiation and organisation, of energy and foresight that characterised him in business. His word was his bond. He was no time-server or popularity hunter. He was slow at promising, but prompt in performance. If he could grant a request, he would say so off hand. If he promised to grant it whatever was asked was done, without show or parade, and as if it was a duty and not a service he was performing. He occupied the Lord Mayor's chair for six years, in itself a tribute as rare as it was merited, a tribute honourable alike to him and the men who chose him.

To him succeeded Mr. Wm. M'Cammond, who filled the chair for two years in succession, and was honoured with a knighthood in the second. Sir William was a man of the people, who carved his own way to the leading position he occupied in the building world and in the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and carved it as honourably as successfully. He was eminently practical and clear-sighted, shrewd, sagacious, and enterprising; as modest as he was prudent and forceful, and as kindly and good-natured a gentleman as ever lived.

Then came a gentleman who has been as much in the public eye as any citizen of his day and generation. This was Mr. W. J. Pirrie, now, Lord Pirrie, peer of the realm, and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, magnates in the shipbuilding and shipping industries of the world. If Sir Edward Harland laid deep and strong the foundation of the Queen's Island Shipbuilding and Engineering Works, Lord Pirrie has erected a superstructure that stands four-square and defiant to all the winds that blow and to all the storms that beat. He had done much and travelled far at the time he entered upon the Lord Mayoralty; but his doings since and his travels on the road of fame since have so completely overshadowed his earlier achievements that one finds it difficult to realise that one man has done and travelled so much in the path of industry and honour, and is doing and travelling still to even greater fame, if possible.

His occupancy of the Lord Mayoralty was, a revelation of good work, noble deeds, generous hospitality, and civic dignity. He was unsparing of his time, his talents, and of his purse in his efforts to sustain the dignity and fulfil the duty of his high office; and he succeeded beyond all precedent and all criticism. His mansion at Ormiston was a centre of hospitality as tasteful as it was extensive, while his attention to all the official requirements of his office was the subject of general praise. The city was justly proud of him, not only as Lord Mayor, but as a great captain of industry, and felt itself honoured by his life work and service in its midst. It was proud of his Ulster association, Ulster characteristics, and of what he had done to sustain the prestige of Belfast and Ulster all the world over. He was not only kindly and courteous, but efficient and energetic. He thought rapidly, and acted promptly. He did not wait upon the order of doing, but did at once. He had no patience with slowness or sloth. He sometimes got impatient with the slowness of public Boards. He told me once that it worried him to have to spend hours or days in considering matters no more important than he had to dispose of in every fifteen minutes of his life, and if he could not do that he could do no business at all.

But no notice of Lord Pirrie as Lord Mayor, or, indeed, as anything else, would be complete without a reference to Lady Pirrie, If ever there was a case in which husband and wife were one in excelsis it and was, in the case of Lord and Lady Pirrie. Before she became Lady Mayoress Lady Pirrie was known as a lady of grace and charm in all her social relations. After that she became known not only as a lady of charm, but as a lady of eloquence, tact, and gifts for public life before these qualities had become vitalised, and in some cases vulgarised. The first occasion on which I heard her in her new role was at a dinner in Ormiston, when she responded for the ladies with a fluency and grace that put all the male orators in the shade. As I was taking leave of her later in the evening she expressed the hope that I had enjoyed myself. I saw her countenance change as I told her I was very sorry I had been there. What has happened? she asked. Well, I replied that up till that evening I had been content with her husband’s oratory as representing the city, but after I had heard her I was afraid I would not be able to listen to him patiently again. Her sweet smile I that followed is my last remembrance of the occasion.

One other personal incident with regard to her ladyship. It was during Mr. Pirrie’s Lord Mayoralty that the Institute of Journalists visited the city for the first, and up till the present the last time. Those of us connected with the local body were anxious that they should receive a good reception, and were sure, that the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress would do their part. Personally I feared – I hope the word will not be misunderstood – that the Lord Mayor would give a dinner, and in those days ladies were not so much invited to dinners as in later years. We thought of the ladies and I thought of the Lady Mayoress, and delicately conveyed a hint to her that the Lord Mayor and the men could look after themselves, if she would look after the ladies. I had no more in my mind than a garden party at the time, and no one was more astonished than myself when I received an invitation from her ladyship for a ball in the Ulster Hall. That ball came off in due course, and to say that it was magnificent would be to describe it feebly — it reached perfection’s graceful heights. All I will say of it is that, as we were taking our departure at a very late, or early, hour two or three of the Institute leaders from London called me over and told me that they had all come to the conclusion that that was the most magnificent entertainment they had received, except, perhaps, at the Guildhall, London; but that that of the Lady Mayoress had surpassed the London one in the personal attentions paid the guests and in the happy Irish manner in which they were all made to feel at home. I have had occasion to thank Lady Pirrie for almost unbounded courtesies and kindness during my life; but her graceful and generous action in this matter remains as a crown. All we journalists felt her action as a compliment to ourselves as well as a gracious and generous development of civic hospitality.

I hope Lord Pirrie, if he ever reads this, will pardon me if, despite his own personal kindnesses which have been unceasing, the warmest corner in my heart and memory is for Lady Pirrie. I need not dwell upon her great work in connection with the Royal Victoria Hospital, of which she may be truly said to have been the creator, or to her other acts of generosity in connection with the city. In common with almost every citizen with whom I came in contact I regret that circumstances have separated Lord and Lady Pirrie from the residential, social, and philanthropic life of the city. Though their visits now are almost as rare as those of angels, we are always glad to see them and to hear of them. We have the evidence from time to time that we are not forgotten by them. And we have had only recently strong proof that Lord Pirrie is extending and developing the business interests of his great firm in the city on an extensive and enterprising scale; and I for one am satisfied that his heart and that of her ladyship is still with the city in which they both grew up in life and love and in personal and public association.

The name of Sir Robert M'Connell must ever occupy a prominent position not only for his services in the capacity of Lord Mayor, but for the part he displayed in the development of the city before that time, and the part he has played since. He was not only the recipient of civic honours, but of regal honours. It was his fortune to be Lord Mayor during the visit of the late Queen to Dublin. In connection with that visit there was a certain amount of local feeling because her Majesty did not include Belfast in her Irish Royal tour. No doubt her Majesty received a right royal reception in the capital, and a loyal one, too, inasmuch as thousands of Loyalists from Ulster and other parts of the country went up to Dublin to add their voice to that of the Irish capital, which then, as now, was not so loyal as some other parts of the country. But if her Majesty did not visit Belfast, she did not forget it, and on one memorable night the Lord Mayor was visited by a special courier from Dublin, armed with the official mandate creating him a baronet of the United Kingdom. The honour was welcomed and accepted bv the Lord Mayor and the citizens as a compliment in Royal recognition and position of the prestige of the city.

Sir Robert made an excellent, efficient, and an hospitable lord Mayor, and retired with the respect of the citizens, which he still enjoys. But, to my mind, Sir Robert’s work as a developer of the city overshadowed even his work as Lord Mayor. His success in the city was as rapid as it was beneficial, not only to himself, but to the city. I remember him a young and energetic clerk in a rent agent’s office, and in common with my compeers I watched his progress until he became the most prominent rent and estate agent and the most inspiring and enterprising factor in the development of the city. His position in the Council gave him special opportunities for promoting schemes of development; and as he had initiative, foresight, and enterprise, he was able to carry them out. He bought land here and there through the city in large plots, and multiplied new houses and new streets, and new villa districts, until places that were little more than wildernesses or desert blossomed into roses, rents, and rates for the advantage of the promoter as well as the city. In fact, for years there was a regular boom in such property, until the enterprise of himself and others, of course, overleaped itself, and there was a reaction. We had too many houses, with the natural result of a temporary set back. But it is for the prophets to look ahead; and Sir Robert was a prophet. Where would we have been now for house accommodation but for his enterprise and the spirit of enterprise he encouraged or developed? The cry now is that we have not houses enough, and the consequence is that in many cases we see advertisements of premiums offered to secure them. So that, in my humble opinion, Sir Robert M'Connell has done a great work for the city, and in conjunction with his son, Mr. Joseph M'Connell, is doing a great work still, and that despite the fact that his physical sight has diminished almost to vanishing point. But his mental strength is still as strong and clear as ever; and long may it remain.

Sir Otto Jaffe, whom the terrible changes of war have, I hope only temporarily, personally divorced from the commercial and public life of the city, of which he was long a great part, filled the office of Lord Mayor for two years, and discharged the duties with conscientiousness and efficiency. In race and religion he was not of the people, but his father established a fine business here, to which he, in conjunction with his brothers, now dead, succeeded, and which under his careful hands, grew and prospered. Though a German by race, and a Jew by religion, Sir Otto Jaffe identified himself with all our local interests, and as I came a good deal into personal contact with him I am satisfied that the interests and prosperity of the city and country were dear to his heart. He has large interests in the city and in its trade; and in his absence his son, Mr. Wm. Jaffe, who is personally respected by all who know him, represents his interest. But he is entitled to respect for what he did as Lord Mayor and for the interest, he took in the material and philanthropic developments of his time.

When Sir Daniel Dixon in his second period of office laid aside his cloak of office Mr. Robert J. M'Mordie put it on, and worthily wore it for several years till his death occurred so sadly and so suddenly when he was at the zenith of his popularity and potency. His name and work are still so fresh in the memory of my readers that it would be needless for me to dwell on it. But I can at least say this, that no man could have devoted himself more assiduously, with greater singleness of purpose, and more whole-hearted devotion to maintain the dignity of the office and the improvement and development of the city and the citizens than he. He was able and tactful, sound in judgment, and endowed with great common sense and practical sagacity. His success in the chair, in the management of the Council, and in the affairs of the city was a surprise as well as a delight to those who had known him as I did. It was not that we did not know his ability and thoroughness, his knowledge of men and affairs. But he had shown in his earlier years such force of individual character and such independence of judgment and action, such disregard of popular opinion, such resolution in maintaining what was right and scorning compromise that I for one never believed that he could work in harness with so many and such conflicting elements. But no man could have displayed more of the qualities that go to concentration and harmonising, and in promoting unity and concentration in the great work and duty of head of the civic government than he. And the honours showered on him in his life and the tributes paid at his death were no more than the joint recognition of brilliant service honestly and honourably rendered. A notice of him would be incomplete without a reference to Lady M'Mordie, who is still with us, who was his stimulator and supporter in all his social and philanthropic and hospitable work, and who, though not Ulster born, has become more Ulster than the most of the Ulster born in her interest in and enthusiasm for everything connected with the life and progress, and especially the health and social well-being, of the community.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 29th December 1916.

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

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Santa Claus

Twas the eve before Christmas; “Good night” had been said,
And Annie and Willie had crept into bed.
There were tears on their pillows and tears in their eyes,
And each little bosom was heaving with sighs.
For to-night their stern father’s command had been given
That they should retire precisely at seven
Instead of eight; for they troubled him more
With questions unheard of than ever before.
He told them he thought this delusion a sin,
No such being as Santa Claus ever had been,
And he hoped after this he should never more hear
How he scrambled down chimneys with presents each year.

And this was the reason that two little heads
So restlessly tossed on their softy downy beds.
Eight, nine, and the clock on the steeple tolled ten;
Not a word had been spoken by either till then,
When Willie’s sad face from the blankets did peep,
And whispered, “Dear Annie, is you fast asleep?”
“Why, no, brother Willie,” a sweet voice replies;
“I’ve tried in vain but can’t shut my eyes
For somehow it makes me sorry because
Dear papa has said there is no Santa Claus!
Now, we know there is, and it can’t be denied,
For he came every year before mamma died;
But, then, I’ve been thinking that she used to pray,
And God would hear, everything mamma would say,
And perhaps she asked Him to send Santa Claus here
With the sack of presents he brought every year.”
“Well, why tan’t we pray dust as mamma did den,
And ask Dod to send him with presents aden?”
“I’ve been thinking so, too,” and without a word more
Four little bare feet bounded out on the floor,
And four little knees the soft carpet pressed.
And two tiny hands were clasped close to each breast.
“Now, Willie, you know we must firmly believe
That the presents we ask for we’re sure to receive,
You must wait just as still, ’till I say the Amen,
And by that you will know that your turn has come then.”
“Dear Jesus, look down on my brother and me,
And grant us the favours we are asking of Thee.
I want a wax dolly, a tea set and ring,
And an ebony work-box that shuts with a spring.
Bless papa, dear Jesus, and cause him to see
That Santa Claus loves us far better than he;
Don’t let him be fretful and angry again
At dear brother Willie and Annie, Amen.”
“Please, Desus, et Santa Thus turn down to-night
And bring us some presents before it is light,
I want he sud dive me a nice little sed
With bright shining ’unners an’ painted all 'ed,
A box full of tandy, a book and a toy,
Amen, and den, Desus, I’ll be a dood boy.”

Their prayers being ended, they raised up their heads,
And with hearts light and cheerful again sought their beds.
They were soon lost in slumber, both peaceful and deep,
And with fairies in Dreamland were roaming in sleep.

Eight, nine, and the little clock had struck ten,
Ere the father had thought of his children again.
He seems now to hear Annie’s half-suppressed sighs
And to see the big tears stand in Willie’s blue eyes.
“I was harsh with my darlings,” he mentally said,
“And should not have sent them so early to bed.
But then I was troubled, my feelings found vent
For bank stock to-day has gone down ten per cent.
But, of course, they’ve forgotten their troubles ere this,
And that I denied them the thrice-asked-for kiss;
But just to make sure I’ll steal up to their door.
For I never spoke harsh to my darlings before.”
So saying he softly ascended the stairs;
And arrived at their door to hear both of their prayers.
His Annie’s “bless papa” draws forth the big tears,
And Willie’s grave promise falls sweet on his ears.
“Strange, strange, I’d forgotten,” said he with a sigh,
“How I longed when a child to have Christmas draw nigh.
I’ll atone for my harshness,” he inwardly said,
“By answering their prayers ere I sleep in my bed.”
Then he turned to the stairs and softly went down,
Threw off velvet slippers and silk dressing gown,
Donned hat, coat, and boots, and was out in the street,
A millionaire, facing the cold driving sleet.
Nor stopped he until he had bought everything
From the box full of candy to the tiny gold ring.
Indeed, he kept adding so much to his store
That the various presents outnumbered a score.
Then homeward he turned with his holiday load,
And with Aunt Mary’s help in the nursery ’twas stored.
Miss Dolly was seated beneath a pine tree
By the side of a table spread out for her tea.
A work box well filled in the centre was laid,
And on it the ring for which Annie had prayed.
A soldier in uniform stood by a sled,
“With bright shining runners and painted all red.”
There were balls, dogs, and horses, books pleasing to see,
And birds of all colours were perched in the tree.
While Santa Claus laughing stood up on the top,
As if getting ready for more presents to drop.
And as the fond father the picture surveyed
He thought for his trouble he had amply, been paid.
And he said to himself, as he brushed off a tear,
“I’m happier to-night than I’ve been for a year.
I’ve enjoyed more true pleasure than ever before.
What care I if bank stock falls ten per cent. more.
Hereafter I’ll make it a rule, I believe,
To have Santa Claus visit us each Christmas Eve.”
So thinking he gently extinguished the light,
And tripped down the stairs to retire for the night.

As soon as the beams of the bright morning sun
Put the darkness to flight, and the stars one by one,
Four little blue eyes out of sleep opened wide,
And at the same moment the presents espied.
Then out of their beds they sprang with a bound,
And the very gifts prayed for were all of them found.
They laughed and they cried in their innocent glee,
And shouted for “Papa” to come quick and see
What presents old Santa Claus brought in the night
(Just the things they wanted), and left before light.
“And now,” added Annie, in a voice soft and low,
“You’ll believe there’s a Santa Claus, pappa, I know.”
While dear little Willie climbed up on his knee,
Determined no secret between them should be.
And told in soft whispers how Annie had said
That their dear blessed mother, so long ago dead,
Used to kneel down and pray by the side of her chair.
And that God up in heaven had answered her prayer.
“Den we dot up and prayed dust well as we tood,
And Dod answered our prayers, now wasn’t He dood?”
“I should say that He was, if He sent you all these,
And knew just what presents my children would please.
(Well, well, let him think so, the dear little elf,
’Twould be cruel to tell him I did it myself.)”

Blind fathers! Who caused your stern heart to relent,
And the hasty words spoken so soon to repent?
’Twas the Being’ Who made you steal softly upstairs,
And made you His agent to answer their prayers.

Poem: The Witness, 22nd December 1916.
Image: Santa Claus by William Holbrook Beard c1862

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 25



Glancing over the carefully compiled and compact booklet in which the Town Clerk, Mr. Meyer, records the beings and doings of our civic fathers, it occurred to me that from its resources and those of my own recollections I might recall some memories, or at least names, of the men whom Belfast made, and who in turn helped to make modern Belfast. And, first, I thought I would take note of some of the Mayors and some of the Lord Mayors of the city. We had Sovereigns before we had Lord Mayors, and Mayors before we had Lord Mayors. The Sovereigns and Mayors, as far as titular rights are concerned, have gone; but the Lord Mayors remain, and I hope will go on for ever.

The Mayors within my memory were all very good Mayors, as the demands of the time went; and our Lord Mayors have all been good Lord Mayors as far as such have met all the new requirements of the more exalted title with unfailing dignity and success. They ail labour under a disadvantage compared with holders of the dignity in other is and towns. They have no salaries to cover the expenses of their office, and they are many. A salary of £1,000 a year was attached to the office, but the salary disappeared in the early 'seventies, though the office and its duties remained. The Apostle Paul said that bishops must be given to hospitality. Though I do not think such a duty was as divinely ordered in the case of Mayors, I must say our Mayors, and especially our Lord Mayors, have lived up to injunction quite as much as the bishops have done as far as I can know or hear of such privileged and exalted personages. In the 'seventies and 'eighties, and even in 'nineties, the Mayors were given to hospitality; but it was not till we had Lord Mayors, and a then Mr. Pirrie, to set the example, that we had hospitality in excelsis. In the last century Aldermen and Counsellors, with Judges, prominent and representative citizens, and even newspaper Editors, were entertained in groups at intervals in their private houses. And excellent entertainments many of them were. But with the advent of Lord Mayors, and especially with the fine facilities of the City Hall, the hospitality given to single spies has been given to battalions. And at every frequent intervals not only the blessed Corporators, but other citizens, as well as distinguished visitors, have experienced the hospitable attentions of Lord Mayors in large numbers, and with lavish kindness.

The first Mayor within my recollection to break through the rule of purely private hospitality was Mr. James Alex. Henderson, who was Mayor in 1873-74, and who, in the autumn of his second year, created a pleasant and welcome sensation by inviting the member's of the British Association and hundreds of the citizens to a trip to the Giant's Causeway in one of the Fleetwood steamers, and entertaining to luncheon, and tea, to say nothing of the etceteras, with characteristically tasteful and hospitable liberality. I well remember the disappointment of many noblemen and gentlemen of the district who had made arrangements for entertaining the Association in sections when they found that the majority of the members of the Association, who seemed to have as keen an eye and mind for social enjoyment as for scientific investigation, begged to be excused by their original hosts, and rushed off to enjoy the refreshing breezes and the Northern seas and coasts and the kindly thoughtfulness of the Mayor. I must confess that I, who had intended to stay at home for the day, could not resist the tempting invitation, and joined the crowd of savants and citizens who enjoyed a pleasant excursion. I do not think science was much discussed or thought of on the day; but more pleasant subjects and matters were freely discussed. And I think if ever there was a host who had “For he's a jolly good fellow” sung into his ears it was Mr. Henderson on that day. And those who remember him need no assurance that he was a model host as well as a fine and courteous gentleman; and while happiness reigned around that day I do not think there was a happier man on board than he.

In these good old days the Corporation only consisted of forty members; but they were very representative members, not only of the city, but the larger interests of the city, more so, I will say, without meaning either offence or reflection, than the sixty members of the present day. And yet those of us who were Liberals – this wa in a day when Liberalism was something dignified and respectable, and not a mere cloak covering a heterogeneous and hybrid collection of Radicals, Socialists, pacifists, pro-Germans, intransigeants, and separatists, who put party before patriotism and place before principle — had many hard things to say of it and had occasion to say many things. The Corporation was a close borough for Conservatives; and if “No Liberal may enter here” was not written over its portals, it was certainly not easy for Liberals to enter. Yet when I look back upon what they were, and what they did, I must admit that they left their mark on the city in many improvements and developments. The Corporation may have travelled at a greater pace and spent thousands where hundreds were spent in more recent years; but having regard to the times and to the fact that it was not till the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain set an example of what Corporations might do that municipal authorities everywhere rose to anything like the full height of their duty and responsibility. In that year there were in the Council Daniel Dixon, who, with his brother Thomas, was laying strong and deep the foundations for the great enterprises with which his name was subsequently and honourably associated; Thomas G. Lindsay, brother of Robert Lindsay, who had been a kind of king of the Corporation for many years, and representing large business interests; Mr. (afterwards Sir) Wm. Ewart, the head then of one of the greatest spinning and weaving factories in the city; John Browne, whose extensive timber trade was one of the commercial features of the city, and of which the Corporation had ample opportunities of judging; T. H. Browne, his brother, who was as much an upholder of temperance as timber; Samuel Lawther, then blossoming into the great shipowner which he afterwards became; Philip Johnston, who, with James Carlisle, represented what is become the Brookfield Spinning Co.; Wm. Harvey, one of the founders of the firm of M'Laughlin & Harvey, then developing into the great firm it has become; Wm. Gregg, extensively engaged in the iron trade, whose business characteristics and public interests of the city are so well represented by his sons; James H. Haslett (after Sir James), who early gave promise of that municipal, political, and philanthropic potency which he afterwards attained; William Mullan, wholesale grocer, who was described as the only Liberal in the Corporation; Elias Hughes Thompson, then the head of a large firm of linen and flax merchants; Robert Boag, Afterwards Mayor and knight, and head of a high-class tailoring business known as the extensive wire manufacturer, who only passed away a few months ago. Then we had Dr. Whitaker, medical man and chemist, of the then leading firm of Wheeler & Whitaker, a popular member, who subsequently became Medical Officer of Health to the Corporation, and died at a ripe old age, leaving a family whose sons have won respect in their professions, and whose daughters rendered effective service in connection with local political and patriotic movements; Robert Kelly, a well-known and respected solicitor, whose son, Mr. Hugh C. Kelly, is the popular Sub-Sheriff of Down; Mr. Jas. Jenkins, Mr. R. D. Bates, and many others whose names I cannot recall.

I set out with the intention of dealing in some detail with the characteristics and work of our various Mayors and Lord Mayors; but on recalling their number and the variety, I am forced to the conclusion that I have come face to face with a difficulty too great for me to overcome. I find that it would need a page instead of the couple of columns I propose to devote to this corner of my memory to do justice to them. I must, therefore, content myself with a few personal references to each, and as a section, first, to the Mayors up to 1892, when the town became a city, and the name Mayor became absorbed in the greater dignity of Lord Mayor. In these eighteen years we had nine Mayors, which goes to show that several of them enjoyed two years of the office, and one did, in fact, enjoy three years. Mr. Thomas G. Lindsay and Mr. (afterwards Sir) Robert Boag had one year each — one '75 and one '76. The first-named was a member of a family that held an influential position in the business as well as the public life of the city, and was himself a gentleman of very strong and decided views and of marked individuality. He believed in Belfast, he believed in Conservatism, and he believed in Protection, and never hesitated to give expression to hie convictions. And he was a man who did what he thought was right, and little troubled what others thought of him or his projects, and he left the office, having discharged all its functions to the satisfaction of his fellow-townsmen, and lived for several years afterwards. His successor, Mr. Boag, was a very quiet, dignified, and courtly and courteous gentleman, who was the very essence of courtesy and courtliness; and the knighthood which he received at the termination of his year of office was regarded as a fitting compliment. Mr. John Preston, who followed, acquitted himself so well in his first year that he was unanimously accorded a second, earning a knighthood as well as the respect of the Corporation and the ratepayers. He was the head of a very fine business, which still bears his name, and he was, in addition, one of the political leaders of the time, who exercised great influence and gained much respect in his time. He interested himself in the Harbour Board as well as in the Town Council, and was much respected.

Mr. John Browne, who succeeded, was also accorded a two-year term of the office. He took a great interest in the development of the town, and for years acted as chairman of the Improvement Committee, for which his extensive knowledge of the timber trade gave him special knowledge and interest. His great business grew in his hands, and he prospered with it.

Mr. E. P. Cowan, afterwards knight, was the first liberal in my time to be called to the office of Mayor — Mr. Wm. Mullan, who was described by John Rea as a Whig, was Mayor the winter I came to Belfast. He was connected with the whisky trade, which, perhaps, was not so much under a ban then as it has become since; but he was very popular among Liberals — in fact, he was one of the leaders of the party; and more than once in his lifetime entertained the Liberal leaders visiting the town at his picturesque residence, Craigavad, now occupied by Mr. John C. White. The hospitalities of his mansion were great, and his wife, Lady Cowan, was a model hostess He was knighted in his first year of office, and he certainly was a very popular and dignified Mayor. Mr. (afterwards Sir) David Taylor, like Sir Robt. Boag, was Scotch by birth and accent, too, but his enterprise in connection with the house of Arnott & Co., his chairmanship of the Poorlaw Board, his interest in the municipal and philanthropic life of the city identified him and His interests so closely with Ulster that we forgot that he was not native and to the manner born. Certainly Sir David was a very fine, kind-hearted gentleman, and a devoted Presbyterian to boot, and he gave to the Church one of his sons, now Dr. D. A. Taylor, who has done so much in connection not only with its pulpit, but its philanthropic work.

I must make a pause at the next Mayor — the Mayor of 1885. Mr. E. J. Harland had been the prime factor, in transforming the Queen's Island from an Easter Monday and summer evening pleasant resort into a hive of industry, and laid strong and deep the foundations of the great firm that still bears his name, and has attained such world-wide fame and rendered such brilliant service to the commerce and the war service of the country. He devoted many years to the shipyard and the White Star Line, and some of the leaders of the city I thought he might devote some of his energy, and, I will add, his cultivated taste, to the town. And he gave both in lavish I abundance for two years, and so impressed the community with his worth that the fine statue now in front of the City Hall perpetuates his memory so far as the public life of the city is concerned. His work as a great master and industrial pioneer is perpetuated in the name of the firm.

It was during his Mayoralty that the late King Edward and Queen, Alexandra, then Prince and Princess of Wales, visited Belfast, and no man could have done more than he did on that occasion to honour the Royal guests, and the town at the same time. The magnificent ball that he gave their Royal Highnesses in the Ulster Hall eclipsed everything that had gone before, and in its special characteristic anything that came after it. The decorations of the hall, the brilliancy of the gathering, the scene of life and grace and beauty were such as could not fade from the memory of anyone present, while the supper arrangements, in charge of the most celebrated London caterer of the day, rounded off an evening of joy and pleasure and charm unbroken and unconfined. The baronetcy that he received shortly afterwards was regarded by all the citizens as a mark of Royal appreciation, both to the Mayor and to the town, and as a tribute richly deserved. During his term of Mayor Sir Edward Harland also discharged the duties of chairman of the Harbour Board; but so well was his mind and time organised that no interest, public or private, suffered during his term of office. Though he owed his birth to England, he devoted his life to Ulster, and his name deserves to be remembered and honoured by all who can appreciate work and worth for the welfare of the community. He afterwards faithfully served the city in Parliament, and died rich in its honour and respect.

Mr. James Haslett, who followed Sir Edward Harland for two years, did not occupy such a prominent position in the industrial life of the city as he; but no man of his day, or, indeed, of any day, was more prominently or more assiduously associated with the municipal and political life of the community in which he lived. He was an assiduous worker, an admirable speaker, a most courteous and obliging gentleman, and as Chancellor of the Exchequer — a position since admirably filled by the Mayor-elect — he looked carefully after the pence as well as the pounds of the ratepayers. He was a most popular Mayor, and his popularity continued as member of Parliament till death took him. He was one of the most obliging and kindly of men, to whom it was a pain to refuse a request. His Mayoralty involved a new departure in the hospitalities of the office, for which he was much criticised by some and much applauded by others. He was a rigid and consistent teetotaler, and he had the courage of his convictions — and it required courage at the time — by refusing to introduce any wines or liquors at his official luncheons or dinners. It required a strong man to do this at the time, but Mr. Haslett was a strong man and a consistent one, too, on the temperance question, and he set an example which, however, has since been more honoured in the breach than the observance. Sir Robert Anderson, to whom reference will be made later, did the same.

His successor was Mr. C. C. Connor, whose name and family had been prominently identified with the linen trade of the town. He was himself a most cultivated gentleman, and more attached to pursuits of science than of business. He devoted himself unceasingly and ungrudgingly to the duties of his office, and the fact that, he was called upon to fill the chair three times in succession was a proof that his worth and services were appreciated by his fellow-citizens, Parliamentary honours followed.

Here endeth the Mayors.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 22nd December 1916.

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