Tag Archives: Belfast

Belfast’s Harland & Wolff shipyard is nearly sunk

The 158-year-old Harland & Wolff shipyard on the Belfast waterfront is in bankruptcy proceedings and its last 130 workers are at risk of losing their jobs.

The firm’s receivers and union representatives are searching for a buyer and trying to make other imaginative accommodations to maintain the yard. Employment at H&W peaked at 35,000 in the 1920s , the decade after its workers built the Titanic.

The ill-fated liner is the focus of Titanic Belfast, an “experience attraction” that has become one of the world’s top visitor destinations. The museum and other adjoining former H&W property in Belfast’s “Titanic Quarter” are part of a booming redevelopment site.

That renewal is now threatened by uncertainty about the pending Brexit, which also likely will complicate efforts to salvage the remaining H&W operation.

One of the two 1970s-era gantry cranes at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast. This photo was taken during my July 2016 visit to Titanic Belfast.

One of my readers is the grandson of a former Harland & Wolff worker who helped build the Titanic and other ships during the early 20th century. This is portion of an essay that Joseph Wade Sr. (the grandfather) wrote in the 1970s:

My father was a joiner, a craftsman of fine woodwork, and worked on the interior finish of the great ships being built. It was the custom in those days for sons to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. When my older brother became of age, he started as an apprentice joiner. Two years later in 1908, when I reached the age of 14, I, too, started as an apprentice in the art of fine woodworking, and so we were a family of wood workers.

Apprentices were only accepted between the ages of 14 and 16. As boys, we were indentured for 6 years. Father had to deposit 5 pounds, which in those days, was a lot of money.  At the finish of our apprenticeship, the money was returned.

Joseph Wade, Sr., about 1918.

My father, brother, and I left our home shortly after 5:00 in the morning. We had about a 40 minute walk to work. We started work at 6 o’clock and worked until 8:20 when we stopped for breakfast. We started again at 9. Our lunch period was from 1 until 2, and our day finished at 5:30, then a 40 minute walk back home. With an average rainfall of 230 or more days a year, many times we were well soaked on our way to and from work.

As apprentices, we spent time in the shops preparing the work, and time on the ships installing it. The great shipyard of Harland and Wolff covered miles of territory. They had the facilities to build and finish eight large liners. Later, six more slip-ways were added, increasing their capacity to 14. Up to this time, they had built and completed over 390 ships, The White Star Line, the Olympic, was designated 400, and the 401 was the Titanic.

Read the full essay.

Visiting Ireland 2019: Days 1 & 2 photos

Along the River Boyne, County Meath. The “Battle of the Boyne” between Protestant and Catholic forces was fought here in 1690. 

Stone bridge over an abandoned canal along the Boyne. The canal project began in the mid-1700s.

Entrance to Newgrange Stone Age passage tomb, Meath. It is more than 5,000 years old.

St. Patrick’s grave, Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland.  Saints Brigid and Columcille also are said to be buried here. 

Statue of Queen Victoria outside Belfast City Hall, County Antrim.

Hotel Europa in Belfast. During the Troubles it became know as the most bombed hotel in the world.”  U.S. President Bill Clinton stayed here in 1995, three years before the Good Friday Agreement.

The Twelfth, 1919: Carson tells America to butt out

UPDATE:

“It is an anxious time for Northern Ireland’s unionists. Catholics will soon outnumber Protestants … and Brexit is wobbling the UK’s constitutional edifice. Conceivably, within a decade, a majority could vote in a border poll to join a united Ireland, as permitted under the Good Friday agreement,” the Guardian reported about this year’s Twelfth celebrations.

ORIGINAL POST:

In a fiery July 12, 1919, speech near Belfast, Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Edward Carson warned that changing Ireland’s government to a republic or home rule status would result in him calling out the Ulster Volunteers, an implicit threat of arms against the British authorities.

“Don’t let us talk. Let us be prepared for all and every emergency,” Carson bellowed before a large crowd of Orangemen.1

Carson also had a message for America: butt out.

I today seriously say to America: You attend to your own affairs and we will attend to ours. You look after your own questions at home and we  will look after ours. We will not brook interference in our own affairs by any country, however powerful.

He took aim at the American Commission on Irish Independence (ACII), the three-member, non-government, delegation that visited Ireland in May on a side trip from its advocacy at the Paris peace conference. Carson said:

What right had the American mission to come to this country? To come here in a breach of hospitality on one nation toward another–to attempt to stir up strife in matters in which they were not connected? … The encouragement that those men gave to the Sinn Féin Party has created for His Majesty’s Government far more difficulty than they ever had before. I believe that the visit of these men and the encouragement they gave to lawlessness, which was being preached throughout the land, has added greatly to the campaign of assassination of innocent policemen …

Edward Carson, in 1919.

Carson also mocked Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, “who is now working against you in America with the help of the Catholic Hierarchy … and who imagines in his vanity that one day or the other he is going to march through Belfast and Ulster and you will all willingly take off your hats and bow the knee to the head of the organization, which in the darkest hour of the war for the world’s freedom shot his Majesty’s soldiers in the streets of Dublin.” De Valera was then one month into his tour of America to raise money and U.S. political support for an Irish republic.

An Associated Press report of Carson’s speech was widely published in U.S. and Canadian newspapers, which focused on the charge of American meddling and the ACII, not de Valera. The Chicago Tribune Foreign News Service cabled from London, “Sir Edward Carson’s simultaneous declaration against the British government, the  Sinn Féin, and the United States over the question of changing the present form of government in Ireland has met with general condemnation from the London press.”2

The Brooklyn Times Union was not fooled by the Carson’s hypocrisy, and noted on its editorial page:

Sir Edward Carson’s record for loyalty to his own country is not so immaculate that the citizens of the United States need feel greatly pained by his reckless and absurd animadversions … The politician who threatened to fight the British Government with arms rather than submit to the laws of the British Parliament manifestly does not speak for the majority of the people of Ireland and presumably speaks only for a small and bigoted moiety of any British constituency.3

The Kentucky Irish American published a rebuttal to Carson by ACII member Michael J. Ryan,  who noted that “Carson now asks that America should attend to its own affairs. This, however, is a change from the plea when the cry for help came across the ocean when England’s army faced certain defeat.” The piece also said the Ulster leader “represents intolerance and organized ignorance in Ireland.”4

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, dismissed Carson’s “Belfast outbreak” with an uncharacteristically restrained shrug.

We have in America–even if the breed be unknown in Britain–some politicians who ‘play politics’ and who recognize the elemental fact that there are men in this country who give or withhold their votes from an American candidate in an American contest because of his policy toward Ireland. So they act accordingly. But there was no need for Sir Edward Carson to warn the mass of the American people off the grass.  They were not on it.5

The centenary of Carson’s 1919 Twelfth speech comes as the Oct. 31 deadline for Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain to withdrawal from the European Union–Brexit–draws closer and talk of a united Ireland grows stronger.

“No flag will fly in Ulster but the Union Jack,” Carson was reported saying at the 229th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.6  Whether that remains true in five or 10 years remains to be seen.

The Union Jack flutters at a housing estate in the unionist Shankill Road section of Belfast in July 2016.

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

We’ve reached the halfway point of 2019. My monthly roundup follows below. I will be in Ireland from late July through early August, posting about my travels. The monthly round up will return at the end of August. MH

  • My piece on Éamon de Valera‘s 1919 visit to Louisville, Kentucky, where he was drawn by up-and-coming caricaturist Wyncie King, was published on The Filson Historical Society Blog. The accompanying watercolor image probably has not been seen in 100 years.
  • Edward F. Crawford, 81, a wealthy Ohio businessman, was sworn in as the new U.S. ambassador to Ireland, more than two years after the Trump administration came into office.
  • “So let’s not wrap the death of “rural Ireland” in a shroud of nostalgia. Piety has never done the real rural Ireland any good. Dying worlds attract romantics and since “rural Ireland” has been dying for 170 years, it has been romanticised up to its neck,” Fintan O’Toole writes in a column for The Irish Times, part of a five-story exploration of rural Ireland.
  • New “mortality differentials” from the Central Statistics Office show Irish women live longer than men; marrieds longer than singles; professionals longer than unskilled workers; and Protestants longer than Catholics.
  • Fodor’s is dropping online and print references to Belfast’s political murals after the BBC suggested it guides pandered to damaging, unhelpful and unfair stereotypes of unionists. The guides described Catholic murals as “wildly romantic” and “aspire to the heights of Sistine Chapel-lite” while Protestant murals “resemble war comics without the humor.” The guides also said, “In Northern Ireland they say the Protestants make the money and the Catholics make the art.”

“King Billy” mural in Belfast, from my 2016 visit.

  • The Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) has secured one year of operational funding while it continues to look for long-term support. Ulster University announced earlier this year it was closing the highly-respected source of information about the Troubles and politics in Northern Ireland, drawing the ire of journalists, historians, and others.
  • Ivan Cooper, a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and civil rights leader in Northern Ireland, died at age 75.
  • TheJournal.ie has introduced an “Ireland 2029” podcast. The first episode explored whether Ireland (and the rest of the world) is ready for a four-day work week.
  • “A previously confidential government study detailing 142 areas of life in Northern Ireland that will be impacted by Brexit has been published, revealing risks to everything from cooperation on congenital heart disease and cross-border child protection to rules preventing the looting of national treasures,” The Guardian reported.
  • Niall Gibbons, the chief executive of Tourism Ireland, has rejected claims by the DUP’s Ian Paisley that the marketing agency favors the Republic of Ireland over Northern Ireland. Read Gibbons’ statement to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.
  • Arranmore Island, three miles off the coast of County Donegal, is trying to attract immigrants to boost its dwindling population of fewer than 500 people. The community council is promoting the island’s high-speed internet service and laid-back lifestyle will attract knowledge workers to the remote local.

Árainn Mhór Island

The other Irish aboard the ‘Lapland’ with de Valera

Stowaway Éamon de Valera was the most famous passenger aboard the S.S. Lapland’s early June 1919 voyage to America. He was smuggled aboard in Liverpool, suffered seasickness crossing the Atlantic, then secreted down the gangway at New York. It was the start of his 18-month tour of America, which I’ll return to in future posts through December 2020.

At least three dozen fare-paying Irish, detailed below, also sailed aboard the Lapland.1 They were among the rebuilding wave of emigrants to leave Ireland during the War of Independence and Civil War.

In 1918, the final year of the Great War, fewer than 400 people emigrated from Ireland. That was less than one one-hundredth of the previous 10-year high of 51,000 in 1910.2 The 1915 sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania and similar attacks at sea, and other factors related to the war, caused the reduced flow.

In 1919, however, Irish emigration surged tenfold to more than 4,300, with slightly more than half bound for America. It increased to 30,500 in 1920, as slightly more than three quarters sailed to U.S. ports. During the five-year War of Independence and Civil War period, 1919-1923, a total 115,477 people left Ireland (an average of 23,000 per year), with 73 percent (84,051) destined for America.3

As for the Lapland, it was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, and launched in 1908. In April 1912, the Titanic’s surviving crew returned to England aboard the ship. It was requisitioned during the war as a troop transport; then returned to commercial service between Liverpool and New York within weeks of the armistice being signed in November 1918.

S.S. Lapland

Author Dave Hannigan set the scene as the Lapland made its way through the Narrows and up the Hudson River. As de Valera remained hidden below decks waiting for the cover of darkness:

… hundreds of passengers percolated to the top deck to catch a better glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, coming into view on the port side of the boat. … Manhattan lay off to their right, already steaming in the early morning of June 11, 1919, a shimmering monument to the progress in the still-young century. … From the soldiers returning from Europe to resume live interrupted, to the immigrants dreaming of their new lives, the reactions were similar as the skyline took their breath away. Awe. Excitement. Joy. Relief. Their destination was at hand 4

Below are the names of the Lapland‘s Irish passengers who arrived in New York on June 11, 1919. Most were from locations in today’s Northern Ireland, or northwest portions of the Republic. Several had visited America before the war, just as de Valera was returning the country of his birth.

I’ve included the last place of residence, age, marital status, who going to see and where, and the length of stay, according to the manifest. Some planned to return within weeks or months; “always” and “permanent” were each used for those who intended to stay. There were probably additional Irish passengers aboard the ship among those listed with “British ethnicity” but no recorded place of residency.

I hope genealogists or relations of these passengers will be inspired to search for more details. Please contact me with any new information, which I’ll be happy to report in a future post.

  • John Bethune Armstrong, Belfast, 18, single, Uncle S. Murdock in Ridgemoor, N.J., 1 year.
  • Florence Carlisle, Belfast, 34, single, Sister Mrs. C.W. Salmond, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1 year.
  • Frank William Chambers, Dublin, 42, married, MacAlpine Hotel, New York, N.Y., 6 weeks.
  • William Mitchell Cooke, Belfast, 21, single, Friend Mr. Jackson, New York, 1 year/uncertain.
  • Agnes Copley, Dublin, 26, single, Sister Mrs. Howe, Brooklyn, N.Y., uncertain, See John James Black Mason below.
  • Minnie Courtney, Moy, 30, married, Brother (illegible), Philadelphia, uncertain.
  • Christopher Courtney, Moy, 3, See above.
  • Annie Dempster, Belfast, 47, married, Husband William Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • Elizabeth Dempster, Belfast, 27, married, Father-in-law Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., uncertain.
  • John Dempster, Belfast, 25, married, Father Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • Margaret Dempster, Belfast, 17, single, Father Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • William Goag Dempster, Belfast, 13, single, Father Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • John Russell Dempster, Belfast, six months, Grandfather Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • Alice Ferguson, Stradbully, 30, married, Husband William Ferguson, Villanova, Pa., always.
  • William Ferguson, Stradbully, 4, Father Wm. Ferguson, See above.
  • William Dudley Fielding, Dublin, 17, single, Grandfather C. Mallow, Elgin, Ill., uncertain.
  • Delia Gorman, Killkee, 25, married, Husband T.J. Gorman, Kansas City, Mo., always.
  • Thomas J. Gorman, Killkee, 3, Father T. J. Gorman, See above.
  • John Peter Hayes, Roscrea, 35, single, Friend Bishop Schinner, Spokane, Wash., permanent.
  • Winifred Lynch, Ballyhaunis, 32, married, Husband Thomas Lynch, U.S. Army, permanent.
  • John James Black Mason, Belfast, 57, single, Sister Mrs. Howe, Brooklyn, N.Y., uncertain, See Agnes Copley above.
  • Harry A. McCormick, Belfast, 36, single, Mr. Ward, Sausalito, Calif., 1 month.
  • Alfred McClintock, Bruckless, 32, single, Brother-in-law Rev. F. Timperley, Brooks, Maine, 6 months.
  • Patrick Joseph McGrady, Dronmore, 28, married, Friend J. McPoland, Pittsburgh, Pa., permanent.
  • Anna Kathleen McGrady, Dromore, 25, married. See above.
  • Michael O’Connell, Knocklong, 26, single, Right Rev. Bishop Grace, Sacramento, Calif., permanent.
  • Kate Reilly, Belfast, 52, single, Sister Miss Mary Reilly, New York, N.Y., always.
  • Amy Torpey, Kenmare, 30, married, Husband Michael Torpey, Philadelphia, always.
  • Sarah F. Torpey, Kenmare, 3, Father Michael Torpey, See above.
  • Catherine Walsh, Belfast, 60, married, Daughter Mrs. Campbell, Newark, N.J., always.
  • Margaret Walsh, Belfast, 35, single, Sister Mrs. Campbell, Newark, N.J., always.
  • Bridget Walsh, Belfast, 19, single, Sister Mrs. Campbell, Newark, N.J., always.
  • Norman F. Webb, Randalstown, 33, single, Imperial Hotel, New York, N.Y., 7 weeks.
  • William Hubert Webb, Randalstown, 47, married, Imperial Hotel, New York, N.Y., 7 weeks.
  • John Whelan, Youghal, 31, single, Sister Lena Doolan, Elizabeth, N.J., always.
  • Elizabeth White, Tallyearl, 40, single, Uncle George Mano, Philadelphia, Pa., always.

On returning to Ireland, a look back at previous trips

I’m traveling to Ireland for the Newspaper & Periodical History Forum of Ireland’s 2018 Conference, “The Press & the Vote,” at NUI Galway. Watch for my tweets (@markaholan) and posts over the coming week.

First, here are links to photo features from my last two trips.

February 2018

Douglas Hyde Center in Co. Roscommon.

July 2016

Belfast mural of nationalist hero Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike in 1981. (July 2016)

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

Pope Francis’ visit dominated the news from and about Ireland in August, but there were other developments. Here’s my regular monthly roundup:

  • Northern Ireland set a new world record on 29 August for the longest peacetime period without a government, 590 days and counting, the Associated Press reported. The Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration at Stormont collapsed in January 2017. People gathered across the North to protest that “Stormont is Dormant.”

  • The number of Irish people returning to live in the Republic of Ireland has overtaken those leaving the country for the first time since 2009. See full details from the Central Statistics Office.
  • The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland reported there are nearly 1,500 fewer pubs in the country than in 2005, a 17.1 percent decrease. Off licenses increased by 11.6 percent, and wine-only establishments increased by 3.1 percent.
  • A statue of former U.S. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama was unveiled at Barack Obama Plaza, a fast-food and petrol station on the outskirts of Moneygall, County Offaly.
  • Kirsten Mate Maher of Waterford was crowned the 2018 Rose of Tralee. She is the first African-Irish “Rose,” and the third mixed-race woman to win the title, according to The Irish Times.
  • Wild fires revealed a giant EIRE sign carved into the ground at Bray Head, County Wicklow. The World War II relic was created to warn Allied and Axis pilots of Ireland’s neutral status. In July, a previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, emerged as the result of exceptionally dry weather.
  • A major fire gutted the 233-year-old Primark building in Belfast city centre. It was not immediately clear whether the remaining sandstone facade of the historic five-story building could be saved.

Flames billow from the Primark store in the Bank Buildings on Castle Street, in Belfast city centre. Image from BBC.

12 July 1958: The wedding beyond the marching

On 12 July 1958, the BBC for the first time “live” broadcast a massive Orange parade in Northern Ireland. About 25,000 men from 300 lodges participated in the five-mile march from Belfast to “The Field” at Finaghy, according to news reports.

That day, 60 summers ago, was “dull and wet” across the Six Counties as Orangemen marked the 268th anniversary of the Battle of Boyne. I didn’t see any reports of violence at these soggy, pre-Troubles marches in my quick search of the Irish Newspaper Archives.

But the date is important to me for something that happened in America. That Saturday morning, 3,400 miles from Belfast, Richard Holan and Lenore Diggin were married at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.

The bride recalled that her mother, an emigrant of Ballylongford, Kerry, had raised an eyebrow about scheduling the wedding on the Orangemen’s day. Her father, also from Kerry, had died 17 years earlier.

The religious and political baggage of an historic date, however, seldom stop the nuptials of two people in love. And I’m glad of it. Happy 60th wedding anniversary, Mom & Dad.

Lenore & Rich, June 2018, just before their 60th anniversary.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisted: Final thoughts

This is the last post in a blog serial that has explored aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. All of the hyperlinks below are to earlier posts in the series. All of the posts and other background material are available at the project landing page. Thanks for supporting #IUCRevisited.

***

“I went to Ireland … to learn what I could of the social and economical conditions of the Irish people as affected by the revolutionary forces which are now at work in the country.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

I discovered the digital edition of Ireland Under Coercion several years ago while researching the 1888 Kerry murders of James Fitzmaurice and John Foran. The former was shot at dawn, 31 January 1888, at Lixnaw, as Hurlbert awoke in Dublin for his first full day in Ireland. He mentions the murder several times in the book. Foran was shot in late July, as the first edition of IUC was in production for its August 1888 release.

Period illustration of the murder of James Fitzmaurice, survived by his daughter Nora, which occurred in January 1888 as Hurlbert began his six-month travels in Ireland.

I was intrigued by the book from an American journalist traveling in Ireland during a flare up in the decade-long Land War. Hurlbert’s six-month reporting trip began shortly after the Times of London published its “Parnellism and Crime” series and ended just as a special judicial commission began hearings that largely disproved the newspaper’s allegations. He was in Ireland as the Vatican issued the Papal decree against boycotting and the rent-withholding Plan of Campaign. Tenant evictions continued on several large estates during this period. The rapidly growing number of nationalist newspapers that covered these events, Hurlbert asserted, did so less for domestic consumption than for foreign audiences. Across the Atlantic, the Irish in America played a significant role in their homeland politics as mass emigration continued from Ireland.

Like other journalists who wrote books about their visits to Ireland during this period, Hurlbert described the beauty of the landscape. He also detailed the sights of Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Kilkenny and smaller towns. Today, there is a romantic, late 19th century aura to his travels by rail and jaunting car. One of my favorite passages in the book:

“I pity the traveler of the future here, if he is never to know the delight of traversing these wild and picturesque wastes in such weather as we have had today, on a [jaunting] car, well-balanced by a single pleasant companion, drinking, as he goes, deep draughts of the Atlantic air.”

A rural road in Donegal. Photo by Rita Wilson/Donegal Film Office.

Hurlbert’s main focus was the big issues of the day: Home Rule, boycotting and moonlighting. He interviewed numerous people who shaped the period: Land League leader Michael Davitt; Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour; Catholic clergy and tenant activists Father James McFadden of Donegal, Father Patrick White of Clare, and Father Daniel Keller of Cork; Ulster Protestant clergymen and unionist supporters Rev. Dr. “Roaring” Hugh Hanna and Rev. Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane, both in Belfast; physically-challenged Irish aristocrat Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh; and the aging Fenian John O’Leary

To be sure, there are challenges to reading Hurlbert’s book. His conservative, pro-landlord, pro-unionist views frequently come across as smug, elitist and–history shows–wrong. He didn’t write the ugliest Irish stereotypes of the day, but they lurk between the lines. Many of his references to Irish and other world history, literature, and the law will be obscure to most modern readers.

Title page from digitized edition of Ireland Under Coercion.

Hurlbert’s 19th century writing style, meandering prose often filled with personal asides and other tangents, is grammatically correct; yet can be cumbersome for 21st century readers who prefer shorter sentences. Too many of the journal-dated sections of the book lack smooth transitions between paragraphs and could have benefited from subheads. Near the end of the book, Hurlbert accommodated the eleventh-hour request from one of his hosts to protect sources by replacing their names or other identifying information with clusters of * * * * *. It’s an unacceptable contrivance for a piece of journalism.

I don’t doubt that Hurlbert’s grave concerns about the outcome of Irish agrarian agitation and nationalist movements were deeply influenced by his experiences of witnessing the terrible American Civil War. Neither do I disagree with the contemporary critics who charged that Ireland Under Coercion was the American expat’s barely-disguised bid to cozy up to the British establishment. The project apparently generated some late-career income for Hurlbert after what appears to have been a comfortable and enjoyable tour of Ireland. He would need it, as his private life was soon caught up in a public scandal.

There is certainly more material in the book than I have been able to explore in the 40 previous posts of this series. I expect to return to this project in the future. For now, however, I’m moving on to other work. Thanks again for supporting Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited. MH

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

NOTES: Top quote from page 10 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.  

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

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