Wednesday, 16 August 2017


Tho’ I’m sitting here in Ireland,
   My mind is travelling far,
To a place that’s known as “Somewhere,”
   In the language of the war;
Where the sons of dear old Ulster
   Their spurs of honour won,
And were crowned with fame immortal
   For their deeds of valour done.
            Brave sons of Ulster!
               Heroes every one!
            Fighting for your country
               Till the vict’ry’s won.

And ever o’er the ocean wide
   Our thoughts to “Somewhere” roam,
To where the brave lads nobly fight
   Far away from home, sweet home.
They heard the clarion call of war,
   They went to stand or fall;
For heroes Ulster’s brave sons are,
   God bless them, one and all.
            God bless our soldiers
               As they bravely fight
            For the cause of freedom,
               Gird them with Thy might.

There are sacred spots in “Somewhere,”
   Where the dear ones softly sleep,
And until their Captain calls them
   There the angels vigil keep;
Not a strain of strife disturbs them
   Tho’ the guns fire thund’ring near;
There they sleep until the morning
   When their Captain’s voice they hear.
            All their toil is o’er,
               Now they softly sleep;
            And the angels o’er them
               Still their vigil keep.

Margaret S. Quigg

Poem: The Witness, 17th August 1917

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Blarney Castle (1832)

There is not one of our readers who has not heard of
"The groves of Blarney,
  They are so charming."
and the subject of our wood-cut might naturally tempt us to be mirthful and extravagant. But despite of Milliken’s excellent song — we are not in the vein, and feel more disposed to melancholy than gaiety at sight of a noble castle, the seat of one of the most ancient, and most unfortunate princely families of Ireland — the Mac Cartys of Desmond.

The castle of Blarney was founded about the middle of the fifteenth century by Cormac Mac Carty, or Carthy, surnamed Laider, or the strong, descended from the hereditary kings of South-Munster. He was also founder of the beautiful abbey and castle of Kilcrea, the nunnery of Ballyvacadine, and many other religious houses, in the former of which he was buried, and in which his tomb was till within a few years to be seen, bearing the following inscription:—
"Hic. Jacet. Cormacus. fil. Thadii. fil. Cormaci. fil. Dermitii. magni. Mc. Carthy, Dnus. de. Muscraigh. Flayn, ac. istius. conventus. Primus. Fundator. An. Dorn. 1494."
The castle remained in possession of his descendants till forfeited with the extensive estates belonging to the lord Muskerry and Clancarthy, in the war of 1689, after which it came into the possession of the Jeffrey's family, to whom it still belongs. A pension of three hundred a year was however allowed to this unfortunate nobleman, on condition of his leaving the kingdom. "With this," says Smith, "he retired to Hamburgh on the Elbe, and purchased a little island in the mouth of that river, from the citizens of Altona, which went by his name." He died here October 22, 1734, aged 64, leaving two sons, Robert, a captain in the English navy, commonly called Lord Muskerry, and Justin Mac Carthy, Esq. Lord Muskerry having fallen under suspicions of being attached to the house of Stewart, "which had on a former occasion," remarks Charnock, in his Biographia Navalis, "proved the ruin of his father, was ordered to be struck off the list of naval officers, on the 16th July, 1749. He afterwards entered into foreign services."

The military and historic recollections connected with Blarney are doubtless of sufficient importance to give an interest to the place: but to a curious superstition it is perhaps more indebted for celebrity. A stone in the highest part of the castle wall is pointed out to visitors, which is supposed to give to whoever kisses it the peculiar privilege of deviating from veracity with unblushing countenance whenever it may be convenient — hence the well-known phrase of "Blarney." The grounds attached to the castle, as I before observed, though so little attended to, are still beautiful. Walks, which a few years since were neat and trim, are now so overrun with brambles and wild flowers as to be passed with difficulty. Much wood has also been cut down, and the statues, so ridiculously enumerated in a popular song, removed. A picturesque bridge too, which led to the castle, has been swept away by the wintry floods, and, with the exception of a small dell called the Rock Close, every thing seems changed for the worse. In this romantic spot nature and art (a combination rather uncommon in pleasure grounds) have gone hand in hand. Advantage has been taken of accidental circumstances to form tasteful and characteristic combinations; and it is really a matter of difficulty at first to determine what is primitive, and what the produce of design. The delusion is even heightened by the present total neglect. You come most unexpectedly into this little shaded nook, and stand upon a natural terrace above the river, which glides as calmly as possible beneath. Here, if you feel inclined for contemplation, a rustic couch of rock, all festooned with moss and ivy, is at your service; but if adventurous feelings urge you to explore farther, a discovery is made of an almost concealed, irregularly excavated passage through the solid rock, which is descended by a rude flight of stone steps, called the "Witches' Stairs," and you emerge sul margine d'un rio, over which depend some light and graceful trees. It is indeed a fairy scene, and I know of no place where I could sooner imagine these little elves holding their moon-light revelry.

From The Dublin Penny Journal, 8th September 1832.

Friday, 14 July 2017

A Case of Local History

Neill's Hill Station and surrounding area. OSNI Historic Third Edition Map 1900-1907.

When looking into the history of a local area information can be found in some unexpected places.

As an example I present the case of Boyd v. Keenan in 1908.

This case, covered in the court reports of the major newspapers, was a suit for the recovery of moneys relating to the maintenance of a road, but in doing so, however, it gives some insight into the area around Neill's Hill and the transcript below is that from the Irish News, 20th May 1908.

Neill's Hill was a railway halt on the Belfast and Co. Down Railway which ran from Comber to Belfast. Situated in the townland of Ballycloghan it served the nearby village of Ballyhackamore.

The contemporary map above shows the station and surrounding area, and would indicate that the sandpits mentioned were situated between the station and the Knock River at Clara Park. The area now known as Sandhill Gardens and Sandhill Parade.


This was a civil bill action in which Henry Boyd, William Sinclair Boyd, and Robert Boyd, of 93 Ann Street, agents, sued Jacob Walter Keenan, 36 Corporation Street, shipbroker, to recover the sum of £45 9s 6d, money paid, laid out, and expended by the plaintiffs for the use of the defendant, at the request of the defendant, under an agreement dated 16th February, 1897. The case was tried before a jury.

Mr. T. J. Campbell (instructed by Messrs. Joseph Donnelly & Co.) was for the plaintiffs, and Mr. A. J. Lewis defended.

Mr. Campbell said they sought to recover £45 9s 6d, money actually paid for the benefit of the defendant under an agreement dated February 16th, 1897, and under which agreement plaintiffs were bound to keep a road in proper repair. The road was used by defendant in connection with an excavation of sand near Neill’s Hill Station. Defendant, who was a shipbroker, started business in the sand line in 1905, and he used the road to cart the sand from the place where it was procured. In the year 1897 the road in question was merely a private way, but since defendant began to dig and cart sand it had been used more than formerly. Heavy loads of sand were daily carted over the road, which was in constant need of repair. These repairs had been done by the plaintiffs, who now sought to recover for work extending over a period of twenty months.

Mr. Henry Seaver. C. E., deposed that the road was a little over three hundred yards in length, and led from Neill's Hill Station to some villas. Witness also deposed to the contract which was entered into in 1897 relative to the repair of the road being carried out by plaintiffs, and added that in 1905 defendant developed some sand pits which led to heavier traffic passing over the road than previously. The plaintiffs did not use the road themselves. Witness described the effect of heavy traffic passing over the road, and said more frequent repairs were necessitated. He supervised the work, which was done at the lowest possible cost.

Cross-examined by Mr. Lewis, witness said the cost of repair was not excessive, considering the amount of traffic passing over the road, which was constructed in the first instance for light traffic. He admitted the centre of the road was higher than the footpaths on either side.

Evidence was also given by Mr. Francis Quinn, who made the road, to the effect that the expenditure on the road was fair and reasonable. He also deposed to the agreement between Mr. Thomas Tier, who formerly owned the road, and plaintiffs.

James Shaw was also examined, and this closed plaintiffs' case.


Mr. Lewis, opening the case for the defence, said he and others were growing old in this litigation, about which there was one peculiar circumstance. It was that at no time had they seen any of the plaintiffs in the witness-box. Keenan was a man who began as a common soldier. He saved sufficient money to buy a little property, and he had his little all in that property at Neill's Hill. Originally the lease was granted by the representatives of Sir Thomas M'Clure to a man named Tier, who was bound by covenant to erect certain houses on the land. The ground, however, turned out to be of such formation that it was necessary to level it, and finally he sold to Keenan for £2,000. Keenan developed the property more rapidly than his predecessor, and began to export sand, which evidently the plaintiffs did not like. Continuing, Mr. Lewis said the matter would turn upon the construction of an agreement entered into between Tier and the plaintiffs, and he submitted that the proper interpretation of that agreement was that the plaintiffs should provide the materials necessary for the repair of the road, and that Tier or Tier's successors should provide the necessary labour. Mr. Lewis then read numerous correspondence bearing on the subject, and, continuing, said the case was like the story of the boy and the frog — it was fun to Boyds, but death to Keenan, and he submitted that there was not fair dealing.

Defendant, examined, said in 1905 he purchased Tier's interests in the estate. He developed sandpits in order to prepare the land for buildings, and plaintiffs also had sandpits in the neighbourhood. He alleged the plaintiffs first resisted his right to the road. In the terms of the agreement referred to, he applied to plaintiffs to supply him with gravel for repairs to the road, and they wrote telling him to take what gravel he required. He added that he was always anxious for an amicable settlement, and was still willing to pay his proportionate share of the cost of repair.

Cross-examined, witness said the plaintiffs wrote him to the effect that gravel was too soft, and that macadam should be used for repairs. He admitted his liability to pay a fair and reasonable price for the maintenance of the road, but he contended the account rendered was excessive.

Mr. Allan B. Stokes, C.E., was also examined. He was of opinion the road was not being kept in proper condition. The gravel to be found on the estate was suitable for repair work.

Mr. Robert A. Boyd corroborated the last witness as to the view that the road was not kept in proper repair. A sum of £10 8s would keep the road in repair for a year.

Benjamin Stafford, contractor, estimated bis price for adequate repairs for a year at £14.

His Honour having summed up, the jury retired to consider their verdict.

The jury found for plaintiffs in the sum of £31 1s, and His Honour granted a decree accordingly.

Irish News, 20th May 1908

Griffith's Valuation map
In this earlier map created for the Griffiths Valuation, Neill's Hill Station is indicated as a crossing although not named (the station being erected and opened in March 1890). The land there being leased from the Belfast and Co. Down Railway by Robert Boyd – although one would suspect it was not the same Robert Boyd named in the suit. The area at that time being largely undeveloped and Cadgers Loaney which became the Sandown Road.

Robert is also recorded as the leaser of section 6 in the adjacent townland of Ballyhackamore through which the railway continued.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Prayers for our Brave Heroes

            We say “God speed,”
            And smile, and strive
        To check each rising tear;
We clasp the hand, the hand so dear,
And try to banish doubt and fear,
When parting from our loved ones dear
        Who sail for distant lands.

            We pray God bless,
            And guard and keep
        Our loved ones on the deep.
As o’er the main with hearts so brave,
Our warriors speed with hopes full high,
To strive, to fight, perchance to die
        For Freedom’s noble cause.

            We yearn to hear,
            As days go by
        The tidings “All is well.”
While hopes and fears alternate rise,
And tears of longing fill our eyes
For loved ones dear ’neath foreign skies,
        Who fight for liberty.

            O hearts so brave
            On land and sea,
        We think of thee at home!
We can but wait, and watch, and pray.
That ’mid the tumult and affray
Thy Father’s arms may round thee stay,
        Whate’er the issues be.

            O King of kings
            Bid war to cease
        Since all the world is Thine!
O speed the day when right shall win
A victory over war and sin,
And Peace her golden reign begin;
        O speed that hallowed day!


Poem from The Witness, 13th July 1917.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

A Letter from the Cat

Dear Editor, I hereby take
My pen in paw to say:
Can you explain a curious thing
I found the other day?

There is another little cat
Who sits behind a frame,
And looks so very much like me,
You’d think we were the same.

I try to make her play with me;
Yet, when I mew and call,
Though I see her mew in answer,
She makes no sound at all.

And to, the dullest kitten
It’s plain enough to see
That either I am mocking her,
Or she is mocking me.

It makes no difference what I play,
She seems to know the game;
For every time I look around
I see her do the same.

And yet, no matter though I creep
On tiptoe lest she hear,
Or quickly dash around the frame,
She’s sure to disappear.

Poem: The Witness, 25th April 1917.
Painting: Fairest of them all, Frank Paton.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Fifty Years of the General Assembly – A Reminiscence in 1917 (conclusion)



I have just been reading in that journalistic world’s wonder, the “Ladies’ Home Journal,” of America, wonderful for its literature by women, for women, and for its extensive and artistic advertising, a story of an American mother of seventy, who had, after fifty years’ absence, paid a visit to her native home, chaperoned by her daughter of twenty-five. The daughter, who tells the story, makes careful note of the directions she had received from her elder sister about the attention she should bestow upon the old lady in regard to her health and comfort. To her surprise, when her mother found herself in her old home and amid the friends of her youth who remembered her as she had been then, and who looked upon her and themselves as still in their heyday, the old lady discarded the garments and the feelings of age, and joked and jaunted with the gaiety and flamboyance of youth, so that the daughter felt that she was old and staid and her mother young and frivolous.

Something of this old lady’s spirit comes over me as I wander in thought back to the ’seventies and ’eighties of the last century. And this is specially so as I think of the General Assembly of that now remote period and its ministers with whom I was so much associated. I sometimes forget that they are almost all gone, in Tyndall’s words, to mingle with the infinite azure of the past, but according to higher authority, to be “For ever with the Lord.” I think of them as alert and active, as grave and reverend or bright and jocund, full of the joy of living and working. I think of the then venerable President Killen, of Professor Watts, paying me frequent visits to my sanctum; and cheering me with their bright looks or helping me with their sage counsel. I think of the Rev. T. Y. Killen, the Rev. Thos. Hamilton, and the Rev. Henry Osborne coming out and in every week, and often several days in the week; and assisting me in “The Witness” with their wise judgment and facile pens. I think of Dr. Petticrew and Dr. Corkey, of the Rev. Dr. George Magill, of “Archy” Robinson and Professor Smyth, of Dr. Todd Martin, of Wm. Irwin, of Castlerock, and of Thos. Croskery, of Dr. Johnston, and a host that I could not number — with whom I had intimate associations, and whose memories I cherish. Of these the only three remain. They are Thomas Hamilton, now D.D., and Chancellor of the Belfast Queen's University, who is not only very much alive, but still doing ----------- work for the University to -------- of his life have been so loyally and successfully devoted; and the other is the Rev. Henry Osborne, who though well advanced in his eighties, is still, I am glad to learn, in the enjoyment of wonderful strength of body and mind for his year. And the third and most wonderful of all is the Rev. Dr. George Magill, who, despite his long years of active service is still able to go out and in amongst us with an alertness of body and mind marvellous for his age, and with all his old interest, and his strong convictions on questions affecting Church and State.

I seem, while reflecting on these old times, to feel as if my youth had returned, and the old faces and the old voices were meeting and greeting me. I feel, too, that the old interests and the old questions have revived with all their freshness, and that I am looking on or participating in old conflict or controversies, and that age has given place to youth. This may explain why an d how I dwell on incidents or questions or persons that our moderns may regard as ancient history. And yet even ancient history has its uses both as lessons and warnings; and if some of us would study the past more we would understand the present better, for, after all, life is a mingled farm, and made up not only of good and ill, but of old and new.

The years from 1867 to 1870 were notable years in the life and histoy of the General Assembly. The first two might be said to have been years of destruction so far as the Regium Donum represented the life work of the Church, and the two second years of construction and reconstruction. There were those who held that the loss of the Regium Donum would be a death-blow to the Church; and there were others who felt that its loss would open up a new life of effort and energy on the part of the Church, and what the Church might lose the country would gain in the removal of what was then regarded as the outstanding grievance of Roman Catholics, and bring about concord in the country. The prophecies of the reawakening of the Presbyterians to the necessity of greater effort and greater lib-----lity have been largely fulfilled; but prophecies that the religious quality which the Disestablishment of the Irish Church brought about would remove or mitigate the Roman Catholic discontent have been -------------- with painful and baneful results. Those who only know of the present can hardly realise what this resolution meant to the Presbyterian Church and the General Assembly representing it. The Conservative party were in oower in 1867, and in the May of that year Mr. Gladstone carried his famous resolutions pronouncing the doom of the Irish Establishment, and with it the Regium Donum and the Maynooth grant. Upon this, the Government, in which Mr. Disreali was Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons, tendered its resignation; but her Majesty Queen Victoria declined to accept it, and Lord Derby, who was Prime Minister, agreed to carry on the Government on the understanding that an early appeal would be made to the constituencies, and with that decision of the majority of the HOuse of Commons staring them in the face, that the General Assembly met in 1868. The political issue before them and the country was Disestablishment or not; and so far as the Assembly was concerned the main issue was was whether the Regium Donum should follow the fate of the Irish Church and perish with its Disestablishment, or continue with the prospect of an increase. The Assembly deputation, of which the Rev. John Rogers was the most active leader, had obtained a promise from Mr. Disraeli, or what was regarded as a promise, that if his party was returned to power they would adopt what was called the “levelling up” policy, which involved the preservation of the position and endowments of the Irish Church and increases of the Regium Donum and the grants to Maynooth. (I should mention that there had been a project on foot by the Conservatives for granting a charter to a Roman Catholic university; but that while the Assembly was in session Lord Mayo announced that all negotiations on that subject, which had caused great interest and anxiety in the Assembly, were at an end.) As I have in previous issues referred in some detail to the discussion and decision of this Assembly, I do not propose to do more now than explain that the majority of the Assembly voted in favour of the principle of Establishment and the maintenance of the Regium Donum. But though the issue was for or against Mr. Gladstone, I should not suggest for a moment that the vote represents the political leanings of the members of the Assembly at all events, for, to my personal knowledge, several of the ministerial supporters of the resolution were among the most ardent Liberals of the time. In fact, the Conservatives out and in the Assembly were comparatively few, Liberalism, attributed to the broadening influence of the Queen’s University, having become the badge of the majority.

I may, however, state that the resolution was moved by Rev. Dr. Dill, then of Ballymena, and the amendment, protesting against “the indiscriminate endowment of truth and error” as implied in the resolution, was moved by the Rev. Dr. Kirkpatrick, of Dublin. In the division which took place after a long, stormy, and somewhat heated debate, 180 voted for the amendment and 211 against it, and the resolution was afterwards carried as the deliverance of the Assembly by the same vote. Practically the entire minority signed reasons of protest against the resolutions, some few against special paragraphs; and the fact that one of these protestants was a great friend of my own, and a strong Conservative, would add to what I have indicated, that the decision had not a political significance. Of these protestants, the following, so far as I could notice, are all that are alive to-day — Revs. Thos. West (Moderator), Dr. George Magill, A. J. Wilson, Wm. Wylie, E. F. Simpson, John Davidson, J. Watson.

I remember one stirring incident in the Assembly as indicating the delicacy of the situation as affecting both politics and the Irish Church. It was reported in the Press that the Rev. Henry Henderson had told Mr. Disraeli in his interview that there was a difference of opinion among Presbyterians as to the Irish Establishment, but a great majority of the members of the Church had stood forth boldly in defence of it. Attention was called to this statement, the accuracy of which was vigorously assailed by many; but a letter was read from Mr. Henderson denying that he had made the statement attributed to him, and thus what threatened to be a great storm ended in a teacup.

The Assembly of 1869 was largely a transition Assembly, while that of 1870 was a reconstructive one. The Irish Church Act came into force in 1870, and it was at a special meeting of the Assembly in that year that the great decision in favour of commutation in the interests of the Church was carried by 246 against 25. It is true that before that the great scheme of the Laymen’s Conference was before the Church, with the prospect — a very distant one as it has proved — or a Sustentation Fund to give £100 per year to each minister, and was undergoing a preliminary trial, and a sum of £22,800 had been raised There were those then, as there may be some still, who gave the commuting ministers little credit; but I can well remember the time and the feeling. The old saying of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush was as true then as to-day; and it was also as true then as now that a promise or a pledge is one thing, and its fulfilment another. What this meant to the commuting ministers was the giving up of a certainty for an uncertainty, and to more conservative or doubting spirits this seemed a strong reason. And I felt at the time, and feel still, that the ministers of the Church who cast their financial interests into the common fund of the Church, thereby providing a permanent endowment for the future, rendered a noble service to it, and that their memories and their actions — I will not use the word sacrifice — deserve to be held in the highest respect.

From The Witness, 25th May 1917.

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

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Fifty Years of the General Assembly – A Reminiscence in 1917 (pt 3)



In looking over the Minutes of Assembly for 1867 to recall some of the proceedings, I observed that in the form of presentation and in the marginal notes, the Minutes were the same as at present, with the difference that the statistical reports are now more detailed and the organisations more numerous. I observe also that the Minutes of 1867 were signed by the Rev. Robert Park, the junior Clerk, with the statement that the Rev. T. M. Reid, Rathfriland, the senior Clerk, was unable to be present. I cannot recall the appearance of Mr. Reid and I am not sure that I ever saw him, as Mr. Park was the only Clerk with whom I had to deal; and I have had much to do with all the Clerks in the interval. Mr. Reid was a member of a very able family, of which Captain Mayne Reid, the celebrated author of “The White Chief” and other American Indian tales, was a member. His tales were favourite reading of my youth and time. And he certainly was a great romancer. I remember the late Mr. Hugh M'Call, who was a great friend of Mayne Reid’s, telling me that the Captain told him that in his novels he had often to minimise some actual occurrences that had come within his own experience and adventures in order to keep them within the limits even of a romance writer’s play upon the credulity of his readers. One of these incidents related to the most sensational, and, as a reader, I would have said, most wildly imaginative incidents in “The White Chief,” which he had to minimise in order to give it even a semblance of feasibility. Then, no doubt, as now, truth was stranger than fiction — as, I believe, would apply to a truthful narrative of recent and present events in Ireland written half a century hence.

In looking over the names of the members present at that Assembly, I had the curiosity to note the names of those now living, and I could find only about twenty, and some of them would put to shame many men of half their age for virility and activity. Age may have withered some of them, but the spirit of loyalty to Church and truth remains. The names as far as I noted them are President Leitch, Professor Heron, Dr. Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor Belfast Queen’s University; Dr. Wm. Park, Dr. Geo. Magill, Dr. A. J. Wilson, Dr. Workman, Henry Osborne, E. F. Simpson, Ballymena; Dr. John Davidson, Glennan; S. Lindsay, then of Middletown, afterwards of Ceylon, and now retired; Jas. Meeke, Kingsmills; H. M. Butler, Magilligan; William Wylie, then of Ballyroney, later of Larne and Newry; W. Mitchell Ballyblack; E. M. Legate, Ballyclare; John Watson, Boyle. Dr. Wm. M‘Mordie happened to drop into the Assembly Office as I was poring over the Minutes, and he kindly assisted me in my research. I concluded that he would have been among the men of that Assembly but he told me he had only been ordained in the September of that year. The fact that I am myself among the survivors is nothing remarkable, as I did not require to be a reverend, and, therefore, mature as well as learned and grave before taking a seat in the Assembly. To be a reverend one needed more maturity and grace than I could have claimed then or, as to the graces I could claim now.

I also looked over the list of elders present; but the only one that I noticed who is now living is Mr. Archibald Murray, of Limerick. He was the representative elder of Limerick Church then, and I am sure is an elder still. I can vouch for it that he was alive and very active, as I saw him about a year and a half ago in the magnificent establishment of which he is the head in Limerick, and heard the praises of his goodness as well at his greatness from many lips, and chiefly from those of Roman Catholics. I met the present minister of Limerick at the Dublin Synod recently, and he told me that Mr. Murray was still up and doing, with a heart for any fate or any work.

It would seem that the same routine of procedure in regard to reports and other matters was observed as at present. There were deputies from other Churches, and deputies appointed to other Churches in, I think, greater numbers than at present. For example, there were interchanges of deputies between the Assembly and the Presbyterian Churches of America. In that year the deputies to the American Presbyterian Churches were the Rev. Dr. Denham, of Derry, and the Rev. John, Hall, of Dublin. The American deputy was the Rev. Dr. Field, one of the most prominent ministers of his time, and the Editor of a great Presbyterian newspaper in that country. We had some deputations from the Presbyterian Churches of the Western Continent afterwards, and I heard many brilliant speeches from them. But I have heard none for many years. It was in all probability that visit to the United States that led to John Hall’s translation to New York, and it may have been that the Irish Assembly was afraid to continue these deputations lest the United States should be tempted to commandeer all our best men, as even without that preliminary introduction they commandeered many. Certainly the removal of John Hall was a great loss to the Irish Presbyterian Church, as the transfer of Dr. M‘Cosh was to the old Queen’s College. But what was our loss was America’s gain. And therein were we content. It gave us a kind of Presbyterian alliance, as a foretaste of the political and military alliance we have now.

In this Assembly there were the reports of Synods as now, the reports of committees as now, and longer speeches than now, and less time is occupied though there are more committees and subjects to deal with. The committees on that occasion were represented by their Conveners as follows:– Dr. Kirkpatrick, State of Religion and Church Extension; John Meneely, Sabbath Observance; I. N. Harkness, Temperance; Dr. Morgan, Foreign Missions; Dr. Bellis, Board of Missions; John Rogers, Jewish Mission; Wm. M‘Clure, Colonial, and Continental Mission; T. Y. Killen, Ministerial Suport; L. E. Berkeley, Elementary Education; William Johnston, Sabbath-school Auxiliary. There was also the report of a Committee in Correspondence with the Government, and reports of the Assembly’s and Magee Colleges. In connection with the elementary education report, there were questions troubling the Church then as there are now, and in the same or similar lines — namely, the encroachments by the Roman Catholics on the principle of united secular and separate religious instruction, and the struggle of the Assembly to maintain it. Much water has run under the bridge since then, and the original principles of the Board are more and more departed from, with the addition that the teaching in Roman Catholic schools is not only more denominational, but more anti-British, the fruits of which are seen in many developments in the country, and not least in the late rebellion and in the Longford election of last week. The “Irish Times,” in its comments on that election, notes the fact that the National (in these cases it should be Nationalist) teachers were prominent in support of the Sinn Fein candidate, himself undergoing a sentence of three years’ imprisonment for the part he took in the rebellion. It says – “The Commissioners of National Education have denied that many National school teachers were in sympathy with the rebellion. They will hardly be able to deny that National teachers in South Longford gave public expression to their sympathy with the Sinn Fein candidate.”

The question of ministerial support formed as prominent a question as it does to-day, with this difference, that the contributions of the people were much smaller and their ideas of the necessities, owing to the Regime Donum, less liberal. Mr. T. Y. Killen (the D.D. to him and others came later), in presenting the report, pointed out that one of the difficulties of increasing the fund was the fact that large numbers of congregations could do nothing for a general fund, as it required all their efforts to qualify for the Regium Donum. With the substitution of the Sustentation Fund for the Regium Donum that is true to-day, though I must say that some of the smaller and less prominent congregations do marvellously well. Indeed, in many cases they set an example to the rich.

The Foreign Mission work of Dr. Morgan and the Church at the time was chiefly confined to India. But at this Assembly a star from the East appeared in the person of the Rev. W. S. Swanson, who was a missionary in China from the Presbyterian Church in England;, and he made such a starring appeal on behalf of China that led the Assembly, under his spell, to add China to the sphere of the Foreign Mission, with the result that we have now eighteen missionaries in China, who are playing a great part, as far as their numbers and scope will admit, in the new awakening of China. In 1867 there were ten missionaries in India and four to the Jews. The number of Indian missionaries has increased since to fifteen, while those to the Jews remain at four. But, of course, the war, has interfered with the activities of the latter. So that the addition of China to the field has not weakened the Church interest in India, but increased it. And then in addition to the male missionaries there are twenty-seven lady missionaries. And in connection with this work in the East the women of the Church now do a wonderful work, the records of which can be found from time to time in “Woman’s Work.”

There was then as now a Committee in Correspondence with the Government, but at that time it was not so much concerned with the state of the country as with the state of the Church, so far as chaplaincies and endowments were concerned. It was not easy at the time to secure recognition for Presbyterian chaplaincies, but the committee of the time was most zealous on the subject, and were able to report some success. It was at this Assembly the appointment of the Rev. James Speers as chaplain was reported. So far as the Regium Donum was concerned, great efforts had been made to get an increase from the £75 to the £100 — the Regium Donum was in Irish money, and not quite up to the British standard, but I am sure the Assembly would have taken the £100 in Irish money if they had got it. But they did not. A deputation had been appointed to wait on the Government on the subject. The Government then in power was a Conservative Government, of which Lord Derby was the head and Mr. Disraeli the Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons. The question of the Irish Church was then in the balance, Mr. Gladstone having headed the Liberal forces against its perpetuation as an Establishment. The Government Committee, with that wisdom which always characterised it, selected as its deputies to the Government four or five ministers who would be most likely to commend the cause to the Government, and, of course, the cause was to get the Regium Donum increased to £100. The names were the Rev. John Rogers, who, if I remember aright, was convener; Dr. Wilson, of Limerick, Moderator for the year; Dr. Morell, Dungannon; Rev. Henry Henderson, of Holywood; and Mr. G. W. Slator, a fine old, sturdy Presbyterian elder, whom I remember well. I never remember Dr. Wilson's name in connection with politics, but of the Conservatism of the Rev. Henry Henderson and Dr. Morell there could be no doubt, save that Dr. Morell represented the principles in a mild form, while Mr. Henderson represented them in excelsis, and Orange to boot. The only name that could have offended the Government, so far as politics were concerned, Mr. Rogers, for he had been one of the advanced guard of Liberalism in the M‘Knight and early tenant-right times. But so far as the increase of Regium Donum was concerned, Mr. Roger's, then minister of Comber, was an out and outer, and regarded politics as nothing compared to the interests of the fund and the Church as affected by it. The deputation had interviews with Lord Derby and Mr. Disraeli. And their report of the result was a suggestion or promise that if the Conservatives would be returned at the election then looming they would increase the Regium Donum to £100 a year. The subject excited the greatest controversy at the time not only in the Church, but in the country. There were the two policies known as levelling-up which the Conservatives were supposed to favour, which included the increase of the Regium Donum and large subsidies to Roman Catholics in payment, either directly or indirectly, to the priests or to the Church. The Liberal policy was that of levelling down, which meant the Disestablishment of the Irish, Church and the withdrawal of the Regium Donum.

The report of the result of the deputation’s visit was considered by the Assembly in private, and the only thing made public was that it was agreed by a majority of 152 to 61 that the deputation should be sent again to ask for an increase. The defeated amendment was moved by Rev. L. E. Berkeley, and seconded by Rev. Geo. Shaw, and no doubt represented the feelings of the liberal section of the Assembly prepared to approve of Mr. Gladstone’s policy.

I may say that during this controversy the Rev. John Rogers and the “Northern Whig” were at daggers drawn, and in leaders and in letters Mr. Rogers was denounced for his betrayal of his Liberal principles and for supporting a policy that would have involved the endowment of the Roman Catholic Church implied in the levelling up policy of Mr. Disraeli, to which the minister of Comber had irrevocably committed himself. The result of the subsequent visits of the deputation will come into a later story. But what I have stated was the position of the time, and the vote to send their deputation again to interview the Government clearly indicated that the majority of the Assembly favoured not unnaturally, perhaps, not only the maintenance, but the increase of the Regium Donum. But I would not like to describe the old Liberals who supported that policy as hostile to Liberal principles or the Liberal party, for the Rev. Prof. Smyth was one of them, and a stauncher Liberal never lived.

The outgoing Moderator this year was the Rev. Dr. Wilson, of Limerick, a man of great strength and weight physically and intellectually. He was also strong in character and wise and sound in judgment, and for years wielded great influence in the counsels of the General Assembly. The Moderator of the year was the Rev. Robert Montgomery, who had just retired from a long and successful career as a missionary in India. He was the uncle of the Rev. Dr. Montgomery and Mr. S. G. Montgomery, of Bangor, and had proved himself an ideal minister in zeal and fervour and in energy and success. Neither the outgoing or incoming Moderator touched on public events of the time, and contented themselves with practical questions affecting the life and interests of the Church.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 18th May 1917.

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