Tag Archives: Queens University

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Beautiful Belfast

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

***

“If Belfast were not the busiest and most thriving city in Ireland, it would still be well worth a visit for the picturesque charms of its situation and of the scenery which surrounds it.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert ended his six-month reporting trip to Ireland in Belfast. He admitted that his “flying visit” was solely “to take the touch of the atmosphere of the place” in order to write about Ulster’s unionist sympathizers. Many journalists, myself included, have made similar quick trips to Belfast to report on the deep cleaves of Irish political, religious and social history.

Queens College Belfast, circa 1888. Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

Hurlbert, the former New Yorker, described Belfast as “very well laid out … with broad avenues and spacious squares  … an essentially modern city.” He noted the city’s incorporation in 1613 under James I, but did not mention that earlier in 1888 it was granted city status by Queen Victoria. Since the late 18th century, he said, the city had grown “after an almost American fashion” to a population of more than 200,000, second largest in Ireland. He noted the waterfront city had filled surrounding marshlands to accommodate its expansion, similar to Boston’s Back Bay district.

“Few American cities which are its true contemporaries can be compared with Belfast in beauty,” Hurlbert wrote. He admired the “imposing” front facade and “graceful central tower” of Queens College; the Botanic Gardens, “much prettier and much better equipped” than public gardens in Boston or New York; the “whilom mansion” of the Marquis of Donegal “still called the Castle“;  and the Queens Bridge over the River Langan, “a conspicuous feature in the panorama  [with its] five great arches of hewn granite.”

Queen’s Bridge, circa 1888. Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

Hurlbert also noted the Richardson and Co. warehouse; the Robinson and Cleaver store; and “the famous shipyards of the Woolfs (sic) on Queen’s Island.” In contrast to his observations about “the worst quarters of Dublin” at the beginning of the book, Hurlbert gushed:

The banks, the public offices, the clubs, the city library, the museum, the Presbyterian college, the principal churches, all of them modern, all of them bear witness to the public spirit and pride in their town of the good people of Belfast.

High Street in Belfast, circa 1888. Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

NOTES: From pages 199, and 407-410 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: Civil War

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Guest post: questions about Brexit’s impact on Ireland

Less than two months ago, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. Northern Ireland voters wanted to “Remain” in the EU by 56 percent to 44 percent. So far, most questions about the impact of the UK’s decision on the island of Ireland are unanswered.

A Question Lingers on the Irish Border: What’s Next?,” The New York Times reported 6 August:

Four decades of European integration have helped Ireland not only escape the shadow of Britain, but also improve relations with London and work with the British for peace in Northern Ireland. Now the question is whether Britain’s departure from the bloc will drive a wedge between them.

The Washington Post headline two days later: “The Brexit Wildcard? Ireland.

What will happen to the Irish isle, north and south, is one of the biggest wild cards of the Brexit vote. … What will happen to trade and travel is unknown — and there are even bigger questions being asked about unification of the island.

The Irish Times is devoting a special section to its ongoing Brexit coverage.

Timothy Plum has been traveling to both sides of the Irish border for more than 20 years on business, academic and personal reasons. Listen to him talk about “Conflict identity and school achievement in secondary education in Northern Ireland” in this 6 June podcast with Drive 105 radio host Eileen Walsh in Derry. Tim just returned to Washington, D.C. after spending a month in Belfast. He filed the guest post below the map. MH

northern_ireland_map.jpg (1200×961)

By TIM PLUM

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was announced in the airplane cabin as my wife and I landed in Dublin in June. I was beginning a month of graduate work at Queens University, Belfast.

My first thought: How can this happen? My next thought: We’re on the ground in Ireland at a very historic moment for the island.

Reactions to the referendum ranged from outrage and quiet reservation to acceptance and joy. Perhaps nothing should surprise us in a year that has seen Donald Trump win the U.S. Republican Party nomination.

But the people we met were genuinely stunned by the Brexit vote. They soon grew more bewildered as PM David Cameron resigned and left the mess for someone else to clean up.

The outrage was most pronounced among the students, professors and staff at QUB. They could not believe the “stupidity” (their word, not mine) of the conservatives in London who managed to scare people into voting “Leave,” then quickly exited the political stage themselves. Boris Johnson and Neil Farage were among those who abandoned the ship when the country needed their help.

We also heard quiet reservation from wait staff, hotel workers and bar patrons. Some of the later group insisted to my wife that Brexit might work, and that we should support Trump.

I personally know two people in Derry who voted “Leave” and supported the outcome. Their reasoning was simple: economics in the EU are a mess and perhaps standing alone will bring more prosperity.

I raised the possibility of renewed border controls and stiff tariffs that EU nations promise to put on UK goods. But I could not persuade them to change their views, even as Theresa May became PM and appointed Johnson as Foreign Secretary.

So I guess we will have to see what happens once May files the Article 50 to begin the process of untangling the relationship between the UK and the EU.

As they wait for those details to emerge, Queens students are worried about scholarship funding, and people all over Northern Ireland are concerned about the end of EU support that has helped the peace process.

It seems most people on the island, especially in the Republic, do not want Brexit to result in a united Ireland, even as many people in the north begin filing for Irish passports.