Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Blue Plaque for Belfast Artist: 30 November 2012

A latish start and traffic conditions conspired to make me nearly late for the start of the ceremony to unveil the plaque to Frank McKelvey. Luckily I had five minutes to spare to set up the sound and recording equipment before the start. The people there included members of McKelvey's extended family, including some of his great-grandchildren, representatives of Belfast City Council and local historical and heritage Societies.

Frank McKelvey
Frank McKelvey
Frank McKelvey was born on 3 June 1895 at 11 Glenvale Street, Belfast. After attending Mayo Street National School, he became an apprentice lithographer and poster designer at Davis Allen & Sons. He then entered the Belfast College of Art, where in 1911- 12 he won the Sir Charles Brett Prize, and in 1913-14 the Fitzpatrick Prize, both for figure drawing from life.

Frank's father, William, was a painting contractor, and in his early years Frank worked from his father's premises on the Woodvale Road. He first exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1918 and his landscape painting won him immediate recognition in Dublin. He continued exhibiting at the R.H.A. every year for the next fifty-five years, showing from three to eight works each time.

McKelvey became a full-time painter of landscapes and portraits, opening his first studio at 142 Royal Avenue around 1919, next to that of artist J.W. Carey (1859-1937) and exhibiting mostly in Belfast, Dublin and Glasgow. His landscape paintings are typically of farm scenes in Co Armagh, the North Coast, and later in Co Donegal. Thomas McGowan commissioned him, together with other local artists, to paint pictures of old Belfast, and this collection is in the Ulster Museum. As a member of the RHA, he exhibited in Belfast, Dublin and Londonderry, and in 1936 had a one-man show where three of his landscapes were purchased as a wedding present for Queen Juliana of the Netherlands by Dutch people living in Ireland.

McKelvey also painted many portraits, amongst them the mathematician and physicist Sir Joseph Larmor; the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sir Martin Wallace; Sir William Whitla; the 3rd Duke of Abercorn and Professor Sir William Thomson. Thirteen of his large-scale portrait drawings of U.S. Presidents with Ulster lineage were presented to the Belfast Museum & Art Gallery in 1931. He also illustrated Margaret Holland's book My Winter of Content under Indian Skies.

His work can now be found in the Royal Collection at The Hague and in many places in Ireland including the Crawford Gallery, Cork; Queen's University, Belfast; the Ulster Museum and the Masonic Hall in Dublin. In London the National Maritime Museum houses one of his paintings depicting an Aran Island currach.

Frank McKelvey died on 30 June 1974 in Belfast.

The Unveiling

Chris Spurr
Welcoming the members of the McKelvey, Kennedy and Whiteside families, City Aldermen and Councillors and the others who were here to commemorate Frank McKelvey, Chris Spurr, Chairman of the ULster History Circle said that Frank McKelvey was born not too far away in Glenville Street. He spent his formative days on the Woodvale Road, where his father had a business on this very site. Here he developed his talent as an artist, achieving great acclaim throughout Ireland and beyond. His renowned ability as a painter of landscapes and portraits is acknowledged both by the many exhibitions during his lifetime, and by the number of distinguished persons who sat for him. First hand examples of his work are available in Belfast City Hall, Queen’s University, the Ulster Museum, and the Belfast Harbour Commissioners’ Office and, in these digital times, many of his public works can be seen on-line through the BBC’s Your Paintings webpages. Chris thanked Belfast City Council and the council’s Development Committee for funding today’s plaque, the Spectrum Centre for providing the refreshments afterwards and Mr Frank McAllister for allowing the plaque to be sited here.

Alderman Christopher Stalford said that as Chair of the Council's Development Committee he was delighted to support this and other initiatives throughout the City. In Belfast awareness of he positive impact that many Belfast people have had both here and in shaping the world was becoming increasingly recognised. It was therefore entirely appropriate to commemorate Frank McKelvey for the contribution he had made. He spoke about the view of art before McKelvey's time as 'art without roots' and said the McKelvey had helped to give it those roots, quoting from John Hewitt (another Belfast man). He thanked the Ulster History Circle and all those present for being here to commemorate Frank McKelvey.

Dr Brian Kennedy, Alderman William
Humphrey MLA, Cllr Naomi Thompson,
Frank McAllister (owner of 56 Woodstock
Road)and Alderman Christopher Stelford
Alderman William Humphrey MLA welcomed everyone to the Woodvale Road, 'The Heart of the Empire', to mark another Woodvale man in Frank McKelvey. McKelvey was world famous and a man to be proud of. He recalled that another famous Artist, William Conor, was born in 'The Hammer'. That tradition of producing notable personalities and talents continues with people such as Norman Whiteside and Wayne McCullough. Some years ago he had suggested to the Council that plaques be erected to the City's famous sons and daughters and he was pleased to see that this was being taken up in such a positive way. He thanked the Circle for erecting the plaque and Frank McAllister (another Shankill man) for allowing the plaque to be erected here.

Anne McKelvey and Trevor
Kennedy unveil the plaque

Dr Brian Kennedy (McKelvey's Biographer), spoke of the view in the early 1920s that Irish Artists should paint Irish subjects and how Humbert Craig, Paul Henry and Frank McKelvey (all three of them being Belfast men) had developed this genre Irish Landscape painting during the inter-war years.

McKelvey's daughter-in-law, Mrs Ann McKelvey and his nephew, Trevor Kennedy spoke briefly to give some reminiscences of the artist and to thank the Circle and the people of the Shankill for this tribute to him.

Founder of the oldest continuously published regional newspaper

30 October 2012 (A Blue plaque is unveiled)

A mizzley day greeted the guests as they gathered at Joy's Entry in Belfast to remember and commemorate Francis Joy, who had founded the Belfast News Letter 275 years ago.

Francis Joy (1737-1790)
Francis Joy was born on 3 August 1697, probably in Killead, Co Antrim. Family legend suggests he was descended from Captain Thomas Joy, a follower of Sir Arthur Chichester.

In 1737 Francis founded the Belfast News Letter after apparently receiving a printing press in lieu of a bad debt. Of all English language daily papers in publication today, the Belfast News Letter is thought to be the oldest continuously published title in the world. 2012 marks the 275th year of publication.

The earliest extant issue is No. 113 for 3 October 1738, printed by Joy "At the sign of the Peacock in Bridge Street". A copy of this early edition is in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. Joy had moved to the Peacock premises in 1737 and remained there until 1746. Joy’s Entry is named after Francis Joy, and is the place where he had a warehouse, near to the site of the paper’s first publication.

Faced with a shortage of paper, Joy developed the family business to include papermaking, first in Ballymena and then in 1745 at Randalstown, where he installed a larger mill. He married Margaret, daughter of Robert Martin of Belfast, and had at least two sons: Henry Joy (1719/20-1789) and Robert Joy (1722-1785). Joy twice petitioned the Irish House of Commons for assistance in his paper making, eventually being granted £200, a considerable sum, in 1749. By now, however, his sons Henry and Robert were running the printing business, having taken charge of the Belfast News Letter in 1745.

Henry and Robert predeceased their father, with the Belfast News Letter being passed to Henry, Robert's son. On 15 May 1795 the paper was sold to a Scotsman named George Gordon.

Francis Joy died in Randalstown on 10 June 1790.

The Event

Grandfather and grandson
Among those who attended the event were former First Minister Lord Bannside and Baroness Paisley, South Belfast MP Alastair McDonnell and Geoff Rowlings, the son-in-law of the late Captain Bill Henderson, a former owner of the paper. Also among the guests were three former News Letter editors, Darwin Templeton, Austin Hunter and John Trew, as well as Chief Executive of Johnston Press Ireland Jean Long.

From left: Darwin Templeton; Austin Hunter;
Jean Long, Managing Director, Johnston Press;
John Trew; Rankin Armstrong
Welcoming the guests, Ulster History Circle Chairman, Chris Spurr, said that this was the latest of nearly 150 plaque unveilings over the past 30 years. There were several in this part of the city but none closer than that of Francis Joy's grandson, Henry Joy McCracken, unveiled over 20 years ago. Today we commemorated the founding father of the News Letter in its 275th anniversary year. He thanked the Belfast City Council for supporting the plaque, the First Trust Bank for allowing the plaque to be erected on its premises and the News Letter for providing the refreshments.

Alan Boyd chats with
Lord Banside and Baroness Paisley
Rankin Armstrong, Editor of the News Letter, said that he was delighted to be unveiling the blue plaque in memory of Francis Joy. He thanked the Ulster History Circle and the Belfast City Council for their efforts in ensuring that the legacy of Francis Joy is acknowledged and the Linen Hall Library for its long association with the paper. He also commended the work of Ben Lowry, Billy Kennedy and others for their work in keeping alive the history of the newspaper in this its 275th anniversary year. The paper Francis founded in 1737 is the oldest continuously published local newspaper in the UK, making an indelible imprint on our history. He then unveiled the plaque.

Afterwards, refreshments were provided in the News Letter Offices and Ben Lowry gave a short address on the life and times of Francis Joy and the survival of his paper. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Blue plaque for Dr Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe

Date: 28 September 2012
Location: 7 Northland Road, Londonderry
Time: 12 noon

The weather cleared and the sun shone on the family and friends of Dr Armattoe. They had gathered to honour his life and achievements.

Gathering for the ceremony
Sean Nolan, Secretary of the Ulster History Circle, welcomed Mayor Kevin Campbell, MP Mark Durkan and other guests to this celebration of the life and remarkable achievements of Dr Armattoe. Dr Armattoe's son, Stanley Armattoe, had come from London to be present as had other members and representatives of the African and Caribbean communities. He thanked Philippa Robinson for proposing the plaque and working closely with the Circle in planning the event and Garvan O'Doherty for allowing the plaque to be erected on the headquarters of his Company and for his contribution towards the cost of the plaque and hosting the reception later.

Cllr. Kevin Campbell, Mayor
Cllr. Kevin Campbell, Mayor of Derry City, having welcomed everyone to the City gave a brief resume of Dr Armattoe's life and commended his work in his adopted City as well as his literary and international efforts. He thanked the Ulster History Circle and Philippa Robinson for their work in honouring Dr. Armattoe and adding his story to "the rich and varied history of our city". 

Philippa Robinson spoke of the broad sweep of Dr. Armattoe's interests and concerns, encompassing all of humanity. It was fitting that the plaque was erected in time for the 100th anniversary of his birth. 

Stanley Armattoe unveils his father's plaque
After James King had read one of Dr Armattoe's poems, Requiem, Stanley Armattoe thanked the Circle for this tribute to his father. He said the plaque was a remarkable acknowledgement of his father's impact on the people of Derry and of the positive part played by African people in the life and culture of the City and of Northern Ireland.

Later, at a reception in Da Vinci's Hotel there was an opportunity for further contributions about Dr Armattoe's achievements.

Alfred Abolarin
Alfred Abolarin
Alfred Abolarin, Manager of the African and Caribbean Support Organisation Northern Ireland, said that this was a significant and symbolic milestone in the history of the Irish African community in Northern Ireland. The life and work of Dr. Armattoe proved that Africans can and have contributed to civic society in the Province. For too long the perception of African people had been one of negativity. However, today the Ulster History Circle, by this plaque, was sending a different message; a message of equality and protection of human rights, a message of inclusivity, of hope and of positive change.

Elly Omondi Odhiambo
Elly Omondi Odhiambo said that his first encounter with the famous name of Armattoe was when he had been doing research at Magee and had difficulty finding anything about African people in the West of the province. There had been anti-slavery Africans who visited Ireland, such as Frederick Douglas and Olaudah Equiano. Armattoe was trying to defeat discrimination through his writing and his great book about West African civilisation in which he had set out to refute the Western view that African art and culture was simplistic. It was a pity that his work was not taken seriously because he died at such a young age. It was gratifying to note however that a lot of people were now interested in writing about him. 

Felicia Okoriji
Felicia Okoroji, read two of Armattoe's poems, 'Our God is Black' and 'They Say'
Rachel Naylor
Rachel Naylor, based in the University of Ulster at Magee said that she had done quite a lot of work in the area where Armattoe was born. She was sure that people in that part of Ghana and across the border in Togo would be very proud that this honour had been given to a person from that area and she hoped that they would get to know about it.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Blue plaque for physician, anthropologist and writer from West Africa

At 7 Northland Road, Londonderry on Friday 28 September the Ulster History Circle will unveil a blue plaque in honour of Dr Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe who from 1939 to circa 1950 lived there and carried on his practice as a GP. The plaque will be unveiled by his son, Stanley Armattoe who is travelling from London for the ceremony. Present will be representatives from many African organisations in Ireland. 

Dr REG Armattoe
Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe was born in August 1913 to a prominent family of the Ewe people in Togoland, West Africa. He came to Europe at the age of 17 to continue his education. He studied in Germany, France and Britain; coming to Northern Ireland shortly after receiving a medical qualification in Edinburgh in 1938.

Besides practicing medicine in Derry, Raphael Armattoe made a unique contribution to the intellectual life of the city He gave talks on a variety of subjects, mainly medical and anthropological, to diverse groups such as the Great James’ Street Women’s Guild, the Amateur Radio Club and the St John’s Ambulance Society. The doctor wrote articles for the Londonderry Sentinel as well as for academic journals such as Man, Nature and African Affairs.  

From his base at Northland Rd, Armattoe wrote a book on The Golden Age Of West African Civilization (published in 1946) and issued numerous pamphlets. He also found time to give lectures and make presentations in Dublin and London and further afield. He spoke at the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England and the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace in New York in 1949. At both of these major conferences, Dr Armattoe called for independence of the African colonies.

It is a sign of the esteem in which Armattoe was held, that members of both Stormont and Dáil Eireann as well as three Westminster Members of Parliament nominated the doctor for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949.

In 1948 Dr. Armattoe received a grant from the Wenner Gren Foundation for anthropology research. The grant allowed him to return to West Africa for the first time in eighteen years. He returned to Derry half a year later to write up his reports. Most of the papers published as a result of this research trip were studies of Ewe physical anthropology, especially charting the distribution of blood groups, a field of study that was just emerging at the time. Armattoe also brought many botanical specimens back to Ireland with him, intending to study their curative properties.

Towards the end of 1950 Armattoe and his family settled in Kumasi, in what is now Ghana, where he set up a medical clinic and research centre. He now embarked on new adventures in poetry and politics. His two books of poetry, Between The Forest And The Sea and Deep Down In The Black Man’s Mind, are of continuing interest to students of African literature. 

After the First World War, the former German colony of Togoland was divided into two mandates, one under French and the other under British rule. As the Togoland mandates and the Gold Coast colony were moving towards independence, Armattoe called for British and French Togoland to be reunited as a single country, rather than British Togoland becoming part of Ghana, as it eventually did become. Armattoe became active in both the pre-independence Ghana Congress Party, in opposition to Kwame Nkrumah; and the Joint Togoland Congress.

Dr Armattoe travelled to New York in 1953 to address a United Nations commission on the ‘Eweland question’ and Togoland unification. On his way back to Kumasi, he visited the British Isles and Germany. Taken sick en route, Armattoe was treated in hospital in Hamburg, where he died on 21 December 1953

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Blue Plaque for teacher, scholar and Gael - 1 September 2011

Short Biography

Muiris Ó Droighneáin
Muiris Ó Droighneáin was born on 12 November 1901 in Newtownshandrum, An Ráth, County Cork. He was a teacher of Irish in St Malachy’s College, Belfast. During his career, he became an expert in the field of Irish grammar, and was renowned for ensuring that publications used a standardised form of Irish (An Caighdeán Oifigiúil). He married Róisín Ni Mhurchú in 1944 and had two daughters and a son.

Ó Droighneáin was educated in University College Cork where he graduated in 1927 with his BA, taking honours in Irish and English. In 1928/29, he was awarded his MA which he completed under Torna (Tadhg Ó Donnchadh), Professor of Irish in UCC. It proved to be a seminal piece of research into the history of Irish language literature and was published in 1936 under the title Taighde i gcomhair stair litridheachta na Nua-Ghaedhilge  ó 1882 anuas. 

Many notable Irish scholars passed through the doors of Ó Droighneáin’s class in St Malachy’s. In 1944, Professor Proinsias Mac Cana (Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies and other universities) achieved the highest mark in Irish ever awarded in Northern Ireland. Other pupils included Professor Emeritus Gearóid Stockman (Queen’s University Belfast).

One of the first obstacles he encountered in his teaching career in Belfast was the difficulty in teaching Irish to Northern students using his Munster dialect, so he resolved to learn Ulster Irish and spent months in the Donegal Gaeltacht. From then on he was a strong supporter of Ulster Irish and when An Caighdeán Oifigiúil was being formulated by Rannóg an Aistriúcháin in the 1950s, Ó Droighneáin sat on a sub-committee, An Fo-Choiste Gramadaí, which was especially established to ensure that particular nuances of the Ulster dialect would be protected in the standardised form of Irish. 

Ó Droighneáin put his exact knowledge of Irish grammar and An Caighdeán Oifigiúil to good use with the publication of Nótaí Gaeilge, an instructional booklet for English speakers on the basics of Irish grammar. Closely related to An Caighdeán Oifigiúil was the production of English/Irish and Irish/English dictionaries.

The Plaque
One of Ó Droighneáin’s other great interests was the correct form of Irish surnames, and one of his lasting achievements was the publication of An Sloinnteoir Gaeilge agus An tAinmneoir in 1966. Many people corresponded with him about surnames, some suggesting amendments or additions, others sharing their wealth of knowledge such as Éamonn MacGiollaIasachta (Edward MacLysaght), author of A Guide to Irish Surnames

Ó Droighneáin had a lifelong interest in the production and translation of religious texts into Irish, such as the Bible or the liturgy of the Mass, and he corresponded on such matters with An tAthair Pádraig Ó Fiannachta and An Cairdinéil Tomás Ó Fiaich. 

The scope of Ó Droighneáin’s work in the world of Irish grammar can be seen in the monthly articles he wrote for An tUltach, the journal of Comhltas Uladh of Conradh na Gaeilge, between 1933 and 1979. An index to An tUltach lists approximately 400 articles under his name.

Ó Droighneáin died on 28 June 1979.

The Plaque Unveiling - 1st September 2012

After a week of rain and high winds the sun smiled warmly on the family and friends of Muiris Ó Droighneáin as they gathered at his former home to celebrate his memory and unveil a blue plaque as a permanent memorial to his life and achievements.

Introducing the event, Sean Nolan, Secretary of the Ulster History Circle said that, although a native of Munster, Muiris Ó Droighneáin became one of the most influential figures in the development of Irish in Ulster during the mid-twentieth century. His own scholarship in the language inspired others, resulting in a lasting legacy that the Ulster History Circle was proud to acknowledge with this blue plaque. He thanked Belfast City Council for their financial support; in particular their agreement to fund 16 plaques over the next three years. He also thanked the Greenwood family, present owners of the property, for allowing the Circle to erect the plaque there.

Councillor Máirtin Ó Muilleoir, Deputy Chairman
of Belfast City Council Development Committee
Councillor Máirtin Ó Muilleoir, Deputy Chairman of Belfast City Council Development Committee said that it was important to recognize Belfast's rich and diverse cultural heritage and the role that all of its citizens have played in developing the city we know today. It is for this reason that the council has agreed to fund a new series of blue plaques celebrating and commemorating the lives of those who have played their part in weaving the rich tapestry of modern Belfast. Muiris Ó Droighneáin played a crucial role in the promotion of the Irish language in Belfast and his progressive ideology and wise advice made a strong impression on him he was growing up, but also on several generations of Irish speakers in this city. He thanked the Ó Droighneáin family for their support of the Irish language that their father had always displayed, and the Ulster History Circle for erecting the plaque.

Councillor Caoimhín Mac Giolla Mhín, who had nominated Muiris for the plaque, spoke about the enduring value of Muiris' work in the service of the language and its enduring legacy.

Fr. Desmond Wilson, a former pupil, spoke movingly about Muiris' committment to the purity of the language and his unceasing pursuit of perfection, often in the face of official and unofficial indifference. He also outlined Muiris' committment to social justice at a time in the 1930s when it was regarded with suspicion to hold and advocate such views.

Alan and Diarmuid Torney unveil the plaque
Diarmuid Torney, Muiris' grandson, on behalf of the whole family, including his son Jimmy and his family in Australia, thanked everyone, from near and far, for being here today. His grandfather died the year before he himself was born but he has always been a very important part of their lives. They knew of the work he did as a teacher, a scholar, and a promoter of the language. They were very proud that he was being honoured in this special way today. And although she died a few years ago, he knew that his grandmother, Roisin, would also have been very happy to see Muiris's life's work recognised in this way.

The Ó Droighneáin family at the ceremony
Alan Torney said that more would be said at the reception later about his grandfather's passion for the language. He was sure that Muiris would be impressed by the progress that has been made by the language movement in Belfast in the 33 years since his death - and we were honoured to be joined by some of the pioneers of that movement here today. He thanked Fr. Wilson for drawing attention to his grandfather's fearless advocacy in the area of what would today be called "social justice" but which, for my grandfather, was just an instinctive expression of the Christianity that guided him for his whole life.

In the Culturlann
Later, at a receception in the Culturlann on the Falls Road, Professor Gerry Stockman spoke at length about Muiris' passion for the language. He knew him as a teacher, a colleague and a scholar. He recalled the discipline Muiris had brought to the teaching of Irish and of his concern to make Irish as easy as possible to learn, compiling the rules of grammar into a little booklet. His scholarship was recognised nationally and internationally and he was always generous in assisting other scholars who were working on behalf of the Irish language. He thanked the Ulster History Circle and the O Droighneain family for helping to keep green the memory of a teacher, writer, scholar and upright man.

Professor Stockman,  Caitriona O Torna and Harry Torney
Muiris' granddaughter, Caitriona O Torna, remarked that it was difficult for people today to imagine a language without an official standard for spelling or grammar, yet that was how it was for Irish when Muiris started out on his studies. Throughout his life he had laboured diligently for standardisation, despite criticism. His devotion to the language carried through to his personal life and his children were raised through the medium of Irish. This influence also carried through to subsequent generations. Her grandfather was a man out of the ordinary. The family was delighted with the erection of the blue plaque which not only marked the place where he lived for half his life, but would be a reminder of him for all who passed by.

The final tribute to Muiris was given by his son-in-law, Harry Torney, who remembered his dry wit. He suggested that throughout his life Muiris would have thought it inconceivable that his life's work would have been so 'wonderfully and publically celebrated' as had happened today. And if we were to ask him 'Well Muiris, what do you think of your blue plaque?' he would probably reply, with his usual clarity and wit 'Does it help the language?'. It certainly does that and it certainly celebrates a wonderful, life-long champion of the language.

Classical Scholar, Educationalist and Writer - 15 June 2012

Short Biography
Samuel Dill was born on 26 March 1844 at Hillsborough, Co. Down, the eldest son of the Revd. Samuel Marcus Dill DD, Presbyterian minister of Hillsborough.

Dill was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and the Queen's College Belfast, where he took his degree in arts in 1864. In Lincoln College, Oxford, he obtained firsts in classical moderations (1867) and in literae humaniores (1869). In 1869 he was elected fellow and tutor of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Later he became librarian and dean of the college, and was made an honorary fellow in 1903. In 1877 he was appointed High Master of Manchester Grammar School. During his time there the school was reorganised; new buildings were erected and school societies developed. His liberal conception of education is illustrated by his development of the teaching of modern subjects, and by the connection that he established between the school and working boys' clubs. He attached particular importance to developing the corporate life of the school outside the classroom.

The Plaque
In 1890 Dill returned to the Queen's College as professor of Greek. As a member of the Belfast University Commission, he took a large share in transforming the college into a university in 1909. He was chairman of the viceregal committee of inquiry into primary education (1913-14). He influenced Irish education by his work as a member, and later as chairman, of the intermediate Board of Education. He received a knighthood from the Liberal government in 1909 for his services to education. In 1898 Dill published Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, which was followed in 1904 by Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius. His Roman Society in Gaul in the Merovingian Age was edited and published posthumously in 1926 by his son-in-law, the Revd C. B. Armstrong. These books are less histories of a period than studies of the life of societies in dissolution or in spiritual crisis or decay, and reveal his moral and religious sympathies.

In 1924 Dill received the honorary degrees of LittD from the University of Dublin, and of LLD from Edinburgh and St Andrews.

Dill died at Montpelier, Malone Road, Belfast, on 26 May of that year

The plaque unveiling - 15 June 2012
An unseasonable day in the middle of June brought heavy rain to an otherwise pleasant and convivial occasion at the Headquarters of the Ulster Teachers' Union when the plaque dedicated to Sir Samuel Dill was unveiled before an audience of over fifty people.

Diane Nugent unveils the plaque
Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle said that Samuel Dill was an exceptional example of a pioneer and innovator in education, and the Ulster History Circle was delighted to be honouring his achievements with this blue plaque. During his lifetime his brilliance was recognised by the many accolades he received, and in this new century as an educationalist sine pari he is venerated once more. The Circle would especially like to thank the Ulster Teachers' Union and the Heritage Lottery Fund for generously supporting this plaque.

Diane Nugent, President of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said that the union was extremely proud to have this building recognised by the Ulster History Circle, and it has given Blue Circle status to the union's headquarters. She applauded Professor Evans' insight and wealth of historical knowledge about the great Sir Samuel Dill and the time he spent here. Sir Samuel Dill was a real pioneer and innovator in education and she recognised the many accolades that he gained for his work as a Professor of Greek in Queens University, Belfast. It was gratifying to learn about the building's legacy and for the union it was significant that the work carried out here continues to initiate changes. The union would endeavour to follow Sir Samuel Dill's example and create a legacy of its own. She thanked the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting the event and all the neighbours, guests, colleagues from INTO and others for sharing in it.

With Sir Samuel's portrait
Mark Glover, member of the The Heritage Lottery Fund Northern said that it was a pleasure to once more join the Ulster History Circle in the unveiling of another Blue Plaque from the Celebrating Achievers Project. As an alumni of Queen's University Belfast it is also wonderful to learn something more about his own academic heritage. He said that the Heritage Lottery Fund was the UK's leading advocate for the value of heritage to modern life. HLF sustains and transforms our heritage through innovative investment in projects with a lasting impact on people and places. The Fund was delighted to support the Ulster History Circle in raising awareness of local achievers.

Professor Williams
Professor Alun Evans said that he had always been aware that Sir Samuel had lived next door and when the Ulster History Circle in 2005 erected a blue plaque there to his father, E Estyn Evans, he had suggested to Avril Hall-Callaghan that a blue plaque to Sir Samuel might be appropriate. He regretted that Sir Samuel's great grandson, Professor William Farley, of Heidleburg, was unable to attend.

Professor Frederick Williams,the last Professor of Greek at QUB before the Department was closed down, thanked the Ulster History Circle and the Ulster Teachers' Union for giving him the opportunity to say a few words about Sir Samuel Dill. He chronicled the career and achievements of "an outstanding Ulsterman"; First class honours at Oxford in both parts of the "legendarily formidable course Literae Humaniores, a uniquely wide-ranging and uniquely demanding amalgam of Greek and Latin languages and literature, ancient history, and philosophy both ancient and modern"; Fellowship at Corpus Christi College; eleven years as High Master in Manchester Grammar School; thirty-three years as Professor of Greek at Queen's College Belfast (later QUB); his three formidible and learned publications (still in print today)

Friday, 11 May 2012

Plaque for Ulster born Lord Mayor of London

Short Biography
Sir William McArthur
Son of a poor Scots-Irish father William McArthur was born at Malin Co. Donegal, in 1809. At the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a woollen draper in Enniskillen. In 1831 he started a woollen export business in the Diamond in Londonderry. In 1841 he became a member of the town council, and that same year his younger brother Alexander went to Australia. William sent his firm’s woollen goods to his brother, who began to operate as an import-export merchant in Sydney. The gold rush increased demand for woollens; Alexander opened branches in various parts of Australia, and the McArthur brothers became wealthy. In 1857 William transferred the headquarters of the firm to London, and settled in Brixton Hill. By the mid-1860s the brothers had extended their activities into banking and insurance. 

In 1868 William was elected junior member for Lambeth, and continued to represent that constituency until the dissolution in 1885. His staunch Methodism informed his politics, and he led the movement in favour of the annexation of Fiji, where there was a strong Methodist missionary presence, achieving his aim in 1874. Apart from colonial affairs, William mainly devoted his attention in the House of Commons to educational or Irish questions.

William became Sheriff of London in 1867, an alderman in 1872 and Lord Mayor in 1880. Throughout his mayoralty he showed an active interest in colonial matters and in religious enterprises, setting a pious tone by forbidding wine, card playing and dancing at the Mansion House. He was one of the founders of the London Chamber of Commerce in 1881, and its first President. On 17 November 1882 he was made KCMG. He was always generous towards Methodist causes, including contributing to the establishment of Methodist College in Belfast, and laying its foundation stone in 1865. On his death he bequeathed over £150,000 to Methodist charities

McArthur died from heart failure on the London Underground on 16 November 1887. He is buried in Norwood cemetery.

The Plaque Unveiling - 26 April 2012
The Plaque
By an irony of fate, total abstainer McArthur's first business premises are now occupied by one of the Wetherspoons chain of pubs, whose founder is the Derry-born Tim Martin, and it is on this temple to the 'demon drink' that his commemorative plaque is prominently displayed.

The threatened rain stayed away and the cool and breezy late morning did nothing to dampen the cheerful and enthusiastic group of local and international businessmen and interested Derry citizens from celebrating the life and achievements of a local entrepreneur. William McArthur had started his business life in this spot and gone on to mighty achievements in London, becoming an international businessman, a Member of Parliament and Lord Mayor of London as well as being the founding President of the London Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Spurr chats with Willie Walsh
Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle said that when William McArthur opened his first business within Derry's walls in 1831, he little knew this enterprise would lead to him becoming a prominent businessman in London, the city's Lord Mayor, a founder of the London Chamber of Commerce, and its first President. The Ulster History Circle was delighted to commemorate McArthur's achievements with this blue plaque, the tenth in the city, and was grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Derry Chamber of Commerce for their support. He thanked Mr Colm Cavanagh for his valuable help and advice throughout the preparations. He thanked Mr Willie Walsh, the current President of the London Chamber who had come from a very busy business life to unveil the plaque to his distinguished predecessor.

Alderman Maurice Devenney, Mayor of Derry City, welcomed everyone to the City and hoped that their visit would be a pleasant one. Like Sir William, he also was a Donegal man who had settled in the City. He thanked the Ulster History Circle, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce for organising the event.

Gerry Burns, Member of the Heritage Lottery Fund Committee for Northern Ireland said that the Fund was delighted to be involved in this project to raise awareness of individuals like William McArthur who have made significant contributions to the development of our society. The Blue Plaques were an excellent way of linking the buildings where these people once lived or worked to their lives and achievements, enabling us all to learn more about our heritage.

Tim Martin, owner of the Wetherspoons Inns chain, revealed that he had been born in Derry and remained a supporter of Derry City Football Club. He was delighted to be at the unveiling of the plaque on one of the firm's premises.

Colm Cavanagh talks about McArthur
Colm Cavanagh, London~Derry Connections, gave a short but interesting talk about Sir William, whom he described as a role-model for anyone seeking to be a success in life as well as business. Having started his business in Londonderry he expanded into Australia after his brother moved there for the good of his health, eventually moving to London where he became an Alderman and an MP, helping to set up the Chamber of Commerce and becoming its Founding President. His working day started at 6.00 a.m. and he faithfully followed a set of eight 'rules' which included an hour of scripture reading. He never drank alcohol. A devout Methosist all his life, when he died he left £150,000 to Methodist causes. He was grateful to Ulster History Circle for agreeing to erect the plaque to Sir William, to the Londonderry Chamber for inviting Mr Walsh to unveil the plaque to his predecessor and to Mr Walsh for agreeing to do so.

Willie Walsh unveils the plaque
Padraig Canavan, President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, said that the Chamber was pleased that Mr Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airways Group and President of the London Chamber of Commerce, had agreed to speak to the Chamber's Annual President's Lunch and to unveil the plaque to his distinguished predecessor as President of the London Chamber, Sir William McArthur. The Chamber was pleased to support the unveiling and thanked the Ulster History Circle for its work in the City and elsewhere.

Mr Willie Walsh said that when he became President of the London Chamber of Commerce he was described as the first Irishman to hold the position, so it was a surprise to discover that this was not the case and that indeed the founding President in 1881 was also an Irishman. Apart from the fact that they were both Irishmen, he could find little in common other than that they both arose at 6 o'clock in the morning! One major difference was the fact that during McArthur's Presidency no alcohol was allowed in the Mansion House! Indeed looking at the work he had been involved in, he reckoned McArthur was more hard-working than he himself was. He was delighted to have been invited to unveil the plaque and he thanked the Londonderry Chamber and the Ulster History Circle for inviting him.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Next Plaque - Strabane-born industrialist & philanthropist

Next Friday, 3 February,  the Circle unveils a plaque on the Strabane Library in Railway Street to an almost forgotten son of Strabane. Members of the Donnell family will be present as will the Chairman of the District Council, Councillor Brian McMahon.  

Ezekiel J. Donnell was born in the townland of Ballee in 1822. He arrived in America when he was eighteen years old, becoming a successful merchant in Montgomery, Alabama  before moving to New York in 1854 where he established himself as one of the foremost cotton merchants in the United States. 
Ezekiel J. Donnell (1822-1896)

In 1872 he published a Chronological and Statistical History of Cotton and became an acknowledged authority on the industry. He was a strong believer in individual freedom in trade and an active opponent of trade protection. He was one of the earliest advocates of a comprehensive public education system claiming the right of person to be educated at the public expense. In pursuit of these views he donated one million dollars towards building a library where young people could achieve the self-improvement that he saw as essential for the development of economy and society. The donation was to “erect a fireproof building suitable and proper for the purpose of a library…. With a reading room open free every day in which young people can spend their evenings profitably away from demoralising influences.”

This bequest was publicly if rather belatedly recognised in the opening of the Donnell Library Centre in the New York Public Library in December 1955. In May 2008 the Library was temporarily closed while efforts are being made to redevelop the whole New York Public Library site. Ongoing problems about the viability of the planned site have now been resolved and it is planned that the library will reopen in 2014.

Donnell was an active and vocal member many trade organisations and progressive clubs.  Some of his public addresses were published in pamphlet form. 

Donnell died in 1896.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Blue Plaque for Ulster-Scots writer and storyteller

This is a very late report of the unveiling of a blue plaque in Ballyclare on 8 October 2011 to a local man whose fiction and stories were grounded in the observation of the people in his local community around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

The occasion was a double celebration as the Ulster-Scots Language Society launched a reproduction of his best-loved book, The Auld Meetin' Hoose Green. Both events were at the Town Hall in the village Square. 

Archibald McIlroy was born in 1859 in a townland close to Ballyclare, where his father was a small farmer. He studied Belfast at the Mercantile Academy and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. Hving worked as a clerk in the Ulster Bank he set up his own business on his own account. He became a JP, and a member of Down County Council, a position that gave him the chance to promote the cause of land reform, a contentious issue in late-Victorian Ireland.

McIlroy's young son started his writing career by badgering his father for stories. A series of sketches based on his youthful exploits around Ballyclare became McIlroy's first book, When Lint was in the Bell. This book's popularity encouraged him to write The Auld Meetin' Hoose Green in1898, a humorous re-working of tales told to him by his mother, and by workers in the east Antrim countryside. McIlroy uses the true Scotch tongue of the countryfolk in his writing. The book sold well on both sides of the Atlantic.

Five more books followed, By Lone Craig-Linnie Burn, A Banker's Love Story, The Humour of Druid's Island, Burnside and By the Inglee Nook. The popularity of his writing made McIlroy in demand as a lecturer, when he would regale audiences with tales of old Ballyclare. In 1912 he travelled to Canada to work for the Presbyterian Church, but his final journey was to be on the RMS Lusitania, which was sunk off the coast of Cork by a German U-boat on May 7th, 1915. One of almost 1200 souls who perished that day, McIlroy never returned to the land of his birth.

Although the weather was indifferent there was a great turnout of the local people for the occasion. 

In the Town Hall after the ceremony Ronnie Hassard, Principal of Ballymena Academy, McIlroy's biographer spoke movingly about McIlroy's life, work and times. Jeanette McKendry, of the Ballyclare Historical Society read excerpts from The Auld Meetin'-Hoose Green. It was interesting to listen to the authentic voice of the local people over a century ago as conveyed through McIlroy's words.

A musical group from Ballyclare High School entertained the company. It was a wonderful performance and soundly acclaimed. 

In the Town Hall there was an Exhibition of McIlroy's life and work, contributions from the Ballyclare Historical Society, refreshments courtesy of the Borough Council and the launch of the reprinted book by the Ulster-Scots Language Society.

By the end of the day it was clear that Archibald McIlroy was forgotten no longer; the book and the plaque being tangible reminders of his contribution to his community and to the world.