The Ulster History Circle is a small voluntary not for profit organisation that places commemorative plaques in public places in towns and villages all over the Province in commemoration of men and women who have contributed to its culture, industry and history.
Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013
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.