Grand Hotels of Belfast at the outbreak of the Great War 1914

Grand Hotels of Belfast at the outbreak of the Great War 1914

Grand Hotels Belfast

Like any major city in the UK at the time, Belfast had a wide range of hotels catering for all budgets and markets. The most prestigious of these were grand hotels found in the city centre, predominately on Royal Avenue, the premier address in the city, although many smaller commercial hotels also thrived around the railway termini, particularly the GNR on Gt. Victoria Street.

In this study, we will look at grand hotels at the top end of the market, which were designed for and patronised by the successful, the rich and the famous.

The Grand Central Hotel
Royal Avenue

Grand Central Hotel Belfast

Without question, the Grand Central Hotel was the finest hotel in the city, if not Ireland, when it opened for business on Thursday 1st June 1893. With 200 rooms over 5 floors, it was the brainchild of one of the city’s leading property developers, John Robb, who also operated one of the largest department stores in the city on Castle Place. The name came about from the original plan for the site, a central railway terminus, based on the Grand Central in New York. When the hotel opened it boasted every wonder of the age, with electricity generated in the basement which provided lighting throughout and which powered the elevators which took guests to every floor.

The public rooms of the hotel were situated on the first floor, overlooking Royal Avenue, and comprised lounges, a smoke room, billiard room, coffee room and several private dining rooms.

Grand Central Hotel BelfastThe finest suites were located on the second floor, and it was in these rooms that guests such as King Leopold of Belgium; Winston Churchill; Mario Lanza and Al Jolson stayed during their visit to the city. The hotel also played host to the cream of Ulster Society where the grand ballroom provided banqueting facilities for some of the most important events in the city, such as the official lunch celebrating the launch of the White Star Liner, RMS Titanic, in 1912.

It was therefore with a great deal of dismay that the owners of the hotel learned that they were being served with a requisition order issued by the Imperial government in Whitehall, ordering the hotel to be vacated for use during the first world war which broke out in 1914. The Robb family were forced to close the business, auction off all the contents, and hand the keys over to the War Office in London. It was only after the building remained empty for several months that the awful truth came out – a requisition order meant for the Grand Central Hotel in Bristol had been sent to Belfast by mistake! By that time the damage had been done and faced with the daunting task of re-furnishing the entire hotel, the Robb family decided to sell the business to a consortium led by the Scotch whisky distiller, John Grant, who reopened the hotel in 1927. Today the site of the hotel is occupied by Castlecourt Shopping Centre.

The Grand Metropole Hotel
York Street

The Grand Metropole Hotel York Street

The Metropole Hotel was located at 95-101 Donegall Street and 2-10 York Street, taking full advantage of a commanding corner site extending round into York Street and looking down Lower Donegall Street and Royal Avenue. Opened as the Queen’s Arms Hotel in 1850, its name was changed in 1890 by the then owners, the McGlade Brothers, no doubt to compete with it’s main competitor the Grand Central further down Royal Avenue.

The hotel was situated over four floors with its main entrance with a grand canopy on York Street, and a restaurant entrance on Donegall Street. It followed an irregular floor plan which allowed it to have lengthy frontages onto both thoroughfares.The Grand Metropole Hotel York Street

Although it opened in the mid nineteenth century, it appears to have reached its zenith in the Edwardian era, when it changed ownership several times. Although it did not achieve the same ‘celebrity’ status as its grander sisters on Royal Avenue (qv), the Grand Metropole was none the less an imposing, significant and important part of Belfast’s social history. It received much business from the nearby LMS railway terminus on York Road, to which hospitality carriages would have been sent to pick up guests, the grand hotel was also located on two of the busiest tram routes, which terminated at Castle Junction in the city centre, giving easy access to all parts of the city.

The hotel continued to flourish until 1929, when it was demolished to make way for a modern Art Deco retail building opening as Berris’s Walk Around Store in 1930. This building was subsequently demolished in 2017 to make way for the development of the Ulster University which will extend along the length of York Street.

The Midland Station Hotel
Whitla Street

The Midland Station Hotel, Whitla Street, Belfast

The Midland Station Hotel opened for business in 1898 and was in the style of the grand Victorian railway hotels of the period. It was designed by the leading railway architect, Berkeley Deane Wise for the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway Co and operated by the railway company in order to capture those passengers arriving into Belfast by rail and sea (at the nearby docks) and also as a base for touring the Antrim Coast and Glens and County Donegal. The competing railway companies built large hotels across the province, such as the Slieve Donard at Newcastle, the Northern Counties, Portrush and the Laharna at Larne.

As can be seen from the photograph, the hotel was directly attached to the impressive railway terminus buildings on York Road. The Corporation tramway also served the railway terminus directly connecting guests of the hotel to all parts of the city. The clientele would have been commercial and tourist in nature, but none the less, well to do, as many less expensive hotels existed around the area. The hotel was completely destroyed in the Blitz of Belfast in Easter 1941, along with much of the original railway terminus. It was however rebuilt, as the Midland Hotel and thrived in what later became a rather isolated part of Belfast until the 1980s when it was converted to use as offices by the Hastings Hotel Group. The building was demolished in 2017.

The Royal Avenue Hotel
Royal Avenue

The Royal Avenue Hotel Belfast

Constructed between 1882 and 1884, and designed by architect Thomas Jackson in the Italianate style, the Royal Avenue Hotel was the first hotel on the city’s main thoroughfare beating its main competitor (The Grand Central) to the title of Belfast leading address by nine years.

Royal Avenue Hotel Belfast bedroom

A bedroom in the Royal Avenue Hotel overlooking Belfast’s main thoroughfare

A four-storey building with round headed dormers and a rounded corner to Rosemary Street, it originally had 32 bedrooms – this was later expanded to 118 as the hotel grew in importance.

It was a property development devised by several of Belfast’s most successful merchants and was, until the opening of the Grand Central opposite, the most luxurious and centrally located hotel in the city. Synonymous with style and class it was typical of Victorian hotels found in city centres throughout the country.

Royal Avenue Hotel Belfast

A lounge in the Royal Avenue Hotel

The Royal Avenue was a much more intimate hotel than the Grand Central which was majestic in size and scale. The main entrance was onto Royal Avenue, with the public rooms overlooking the main thoroughfare and Rosemary Street.

The hotel continued to thrive until the early 1970s, when, with the arrival of civil unrest in the city, the business suffered a dramatic reduction until the hotel was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1984 and subsequently demolished.

 

 

The Imperial Hotel
Donegall Place

The Imperial Hotel BelfastMarketing material of the time proudly proclaimed that “It is highly probable that no establishment in the City of Belfast is so well known in all quarters of the globe as the Imperial Hotel “
Opened on Donegall Place in 1868, it was the brainchild of William J Jury, a Whiskey magnate and proprietor of Grand Jury Irish Whiskey which was exported around the world from Chichester Street, Belfast.

An additional two floors of bedrooms were added in 1868, at a cost of £2000!  Jury went on to open hotels (under his own name) on Dame Street in Dublin and in Cork City. These continued to expand as the Jury’s Hotel group and the business still trades today AS Jury’s Inns across the UK and Ireland. The Imperial remained one of Belfast’s oldest and busiest hotels until it closed in 1948, being replaced by a modern retail building in 1950.

Grand Hotels of Belfast Researched and written by:

Richard Graham
Member
History Hub Ulster

Ulster War Memorials from History Hub Ulster

As 2018 is the centenary of the Armistice on the Western Front, signed on 11th November 1918, History Hub Ulster felt it would be appropriate to produce a book, Ulster War Memorials to commemorate this important centenary.

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Whilst HHU Researcher Nigel Henderson had already photographed many memorials in Ulster, the main driving force behind the book, Ulster War Memorials is HHU Chair Gavin Bamford, who has had a long-standing interest in war memorials.

Belfast Cenotaph (Belfast News Letter, 20-08-1919)In the Preface to the book, Gavin says,

I first began to take an interest in war memorials whilst researching the employees of the Belfast Banking Company and the Northern Banking Company who gave their lives in the Great War. In addition to brass tablets listing those who served and the fatalities, both banks produced a series of studio portraits of the men. Currently, the brass tablets and portraits are located in the Head Office building of Northern Bank t/a Danske Bank. They are displayed in the basement and only accessible to the general public on request.”

Gavin recalls that a specific interest in war memorials that have been hidden, lost, or destroyed over time occurred whilst enjoying a cup of coffee in Flame restaurant on Howard Street in Belfast.

Garvagh War Memorial - Headlines (Northern Whig, 28-03-1924)

I noticed a plaque and, being curious, I went over to have a look. It transpired to be a commemoration of the laying of the foundation stone for the Presbyterian War Memorial Hostel in 1923. The stone had been covered over at some stage in the past, probably when the Skandia restaurant occupied the space, and had been uncovered during renovations by the current owners. They decided to retain the stone as part of the fabric and history of the building. More recently, I identified that the war memorial tablet from Elmwood Presbyterian Church in Belfast, which closed in the early 1970s, was held in a store room in Elmwood Presbyterian Church in Lisburn. Whilst, I knew about the war memorial tablets in Central Station in Belfast and Connolly Station in Dublin, I only recently discovered that a tablet had also been erected in the Londonderry terminus. It is in storage and I have initiated steps to get it renovated and re-erected. It is my hope that the memorials for the men from the three local railway companies will be brought together in one location in Weaver’s Cross, the new Belfast Transport Hub.”

Nigel Henderson had the task of compiling material relating to war memorials in Ulster, covering all nine counties of Ulster and identifying unique and interesting examples to feature in a forty-page book. No easy task, given the wide range of types of memorials and the research presented distractions – for example, German Trophy Guns and War Memorial Orange Halls.

Irish Nurses (QAIMNS) War Memorial (Irish Times, 07-11-1921)

Though the initial concept was for a coffee table book the final product goes a lot further, whilst remaining true to the original idea of focusing on public memorials which have an aspect that is unusual or unique. There is at least one war memorial from each of the nine counties of Ulster in the book – some of the memorials are monuments (cenotaphs, obelisks, statues, etc), some had a practical or community aspect, some were introduced as competition trophies by sporting associations.

It identifies the largest war memorial constructed in Ulster in the inter-war years as well as the tallest memorial and the only war memorial that is alive. For the memorials featured, research was conducted using newspapers and other online resources to identify material about the memorials – details on who designed, sculpted or constructed the memorial, details on when memorials were dedicated and by whom.

Public or town war memorials take many different forms:
• Cenotaph (for example, Belfast, Cookstown, Larne, Newry and the County Tyrone Memorial in Omagh)
• Obelisk (for example, Ballynahinch, Kilrea, Ballymena, Tandragee, Kingscourt)
• Temple (Lurgan)
• “Victory” figure (for example, Lisburn, Portrush, Londonderry)
• Soldiers (for example, County Fermanagh Memorial in Enniskillen, Downpatrick, Dromore and Holywood)
• Celtic Cross (for example, Cregagh, Hillsborough)
• Practical/Functional (for example, Ballinderry, Castledawson)
• Clock Tower (for example, Garvagh, Waringstown)
• Tablet/Plaque (for example, Castlewellan, Moneymore, Pettigo)
• Lychgate (Crumlin)

Snowman Memorial, Newtownards, March 1924

Snowman Memorial, Newtownards, March 1924

In the book’s forward, local historian and author, Philip Orr says,

As a result, both during and after the Great War, a remarkable and diverse array of memorials was created in Ireland, as indeed happened across these islands. These local memorials often located grief and commemoration in tangible, meaningful ways within particular civic, sacred or familial spaces. Nigel Henderson’s work plays an important role in drawing our attention to the subject, a century later. Despite problems caused by Northern Ireland’s political fractures and by the lack of funds in an inter-war era of poverty and economic downturn, the work went ahead – and Nigel’s thorough and revealing account gives the reader an insight into the motivations and practice of those involved in Ulster’s own memorialisation process. Most of these projects still survive to this day, though some are long gone.”

Whilst the book does cover some church memorials and contains a chapter (Playing The Game) on memorials produced by sporting organisations, the focus is on public memorials erected to commemorate those from a defined locality. There is a chapter that relates to women who died as a result of the war, with a focus on the Irish Nurses Memorial in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. There is also a chapter on memorials with which the Holywood-born sculptor Sophia Rosamund Praeger was associated – these include the memorials in Campbell College and Belfast Royal Academy, several churches within the Non-Subscribing (or Unitarian) Presbyterian denomination, the Workman Clark shipyard and the County Tyrone War Memorial in Omagh.

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Captain J.S. Davidson Memorial Tablet Unveiled 9th Feb 1918

History Hub Ulster friend John McCormick writes for us today on Captain J.S. Davidson, Director and General Manager of Davidson & Co. Ltd.

John is page admin of the Facebook page 36th (Ulster) Division For God and Ulster. He describes his page as “A page for anyone with a historical interest in the original: Ulster Unionist 1912; Ulster Volunteer Force 1913; 36th (Ulster) Division; Great War 1914 to 1919 and the Orange Order & the Great War.

FELL ON ANCRE SLOPES

___________________

LATE CAPT. DAVIDSON
___________________
KEEPING HIS MEMORY GREEN,
___________________
MEMORIAL TABLET UNVEILED.
___________________

 

Captain Davidson, James Samuel, 13th Btn, C Coy Royal Irish Rifles, attached to Machine-Gun SectionAn interesting function of a private nature took place on Tuesday at the Sirocco Engineering. Works, when a tablet in memory of the late Captain J. S. Davidson, director and general manager of Davidson & Co. Ltd., was unveiled in the presence of the workers. Captain ‘Davidson was the only surviving son of Mr. S.C. Davidson, founder, and managing director of the company. When the Ulster Division was formed in September, 1914, Captain Davidson, who had been an active and energetic member of the 1st Battalion North Down Regiment, U.V.F., was amongst the first to offer his services, and was given a commission in the 13th Batt. Royal Irish Rifles (1st County Down Volunteers.) His knowledge of practical engineering was speedily discovered, and he was transferred to the Machine-Gun Section, subsequently being appointed to the position of Brigade Machine-Gun Officer, in which capacity he was serving in charge of the Machine-Gun Company at the time of his heroic death on the terrible 1st of July. 1916, when on the shell-torn slopes of Thiepval he passed to his eternal reward, at the early age of thirty-eight.

Mr. A. Agar, as chairman of the Memorial Fund, in opening the proceedings, said:—The Captain J. S. Davidson Memorial Fund was conceived as the result of a general desire on the part of the employees and business associates of the firm to put in a permanent form their deep appreciation of his high qualities, together with the heroic conditions under which he met his death. In honouring him, they honoured themselves in the fact he was one of them. As an employer and associate who was straight, just, and generous, and as soldier he met his death as only a brave man can. He had left behind him a noble example and the tablet which was to be unveiled that day would be a reminder to all who passed in and out of those gates, that while he him-self was dead his example still lives. (Applause.)
Mr. H. T. Coulter (treasurer of the fund) said the spontaneity and sympathetic enthusiasm which applied to the Captain Davidson Memorial Fund was evidenced by the fact that it was voluntarily participated in, not only by the general body of employees at the works, but also by their different branches and agencies at home and abroad, as well as by some of the business associates of the concern throughout the world. Their Australian and American friends sent very generous contributions, and the total amount of the fund, including bank interest, represented in round figures some £550. (Applause.) Each section of the subscribers was represented on the committee, and the final allocation of the fund was as follows:-

A donation of £200 to the Ulster Women and Children’s Hospital, Templemore Avenue, to name two cots the Captain J. S. Davidson Cots. A donation of £100 to the U.V.F. Hospital for the equipment of a gymnasium in connection with the orthopaedic branch, Captain Davidson’s name being identified therewith.

THE MEMORIAL EXHIBITION

The founding of an engineering scholarship at the Belfast Technical institute, to be known as the “Captain J. S. Davidson Memorial Exhibition,” under which a gold medal will be awarded annually, together with a cash prize, the total value of the exhibition each year being £10, and applying in particular to the third year course in mechanical engineering. The gifts to the two hospitals had already been made, and commemorative tablets have in each case been installed by the hospital authorities, while, as regards the Engineering Scholarship, an investment was being arranged in the names of trustees in £200 War Loan stock, the income from which will furnish the necessary funds for the exhibition. The three trustees would be the chairman of the Technical Instruction Committee of the Belfast Corporation, the Principal of the Technical Institute, and a director of Davidson & Co., Ltd. The Institute authorities had already issued a prospectus giving details of the exhibition, which would be open for competition as from that year. The balance of the fund had been utilised for providing the memorial tablet, which was to be unveiled that day. It was felt by all of them that, in addition to the philanthropic and educational purposes to which the fund had been devoted, it was desirable to have some permanent memento of Captain Davidson associated with the works there seeing that his entire business career was spent in the concern, and no more appropriate site could have been chosen for the tablet than that on which it was now erected, as not only was this Captain Davidson’s own office in the years of his young manhood, but in his boyhood’s days he (Mr. Coulter) remembered that he and other members of his family received technical education from a private tutor in a small classroom of a building that stood on the same spot. The crest of the Davidson family (which is embodied in the tablet) shows the head of a phoenix, and a free translation of the family motto is “Virtue rises from ashes.” May the virtues of him who has fallen on the field of honour ever inspire us He is not dead who lives in the hearts of those he leaves behind. (Applause.)

The Chairman then called upon Mr. T. Bailie, who has been in the employment of the firm for 37 years, to address the meeting. Mr. Bailie said—In the awful crisis through which our nation is now passing one cannot help realising that, next to the protection of Providence, the barrier interposed between us and disaster is the bodies of brave men. Without them our Navy would be useless, our artillery silent, our machine-guns only so much scrap iron, and so we honour our brave defenders, and truly they are worthy of all the honour we can give them, for since the world began there hath not been done such deeds of bravery as our gallant soldiers and sailors have done and are doing by land and sea.

DAY OF SORROW AND GLORY

But of all these heroic deeds, the one which most appeals to the mind and heart of the people of Ulster was on that memorable Morn at Thiepval, 1st July, 1916, when our brave boys covered themselves with glory. But, alas, at what a cost! All over the hills and valleys of our fair province there was sorrow and sighing for the loved ones who were not. With all these we deeply sympathise, and the names and records of their fallen sons will never be forgotten. But we are met here to-day to pay tribute to the memory of Captain, J. S. Davidson, who was one of that immortal band who counted not their lives dear unto them, if so be they might help to carry the old flag to victory. Quiet, unassuming, and courteous in his manner and disposition, he won not only the respect but the deep affection of all with whom he came into contact. He had the highest principle and a strict sense of duty, and it was certain that no danger would daunt him, and no difficulties deter him from doing what he believed was right. This did not only apply to his more mature years, for I knew him from childhood; his whole life was consistent, his character clear as crystal and his honour true as steel. Such was the man, his life, and his death, and now that he has gone, it is most fitting that you and we, among whom he went in and out daily, should have decided to keep him in remembrance, not only by the beneficent schemes of which you have already been told, but also by the tablet, which is now made public and dedicated as a memorial to him. May it be a daily reminder to us and to those who come after us to follow those high ideals to which he was so devoted, and for the defence of which he gave so much, “for greater love than this hath no man that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Applause.)

Davidson Memorial Tablet

The chairman then called upon Captain G. W. Matthew, a director of the firm, who was with Captain J. S. Davidson on the 1st July, 1916, at Thiepval, to unveil the tablet. This having been done, amid cheers, Mr. S. C. Davidson, managing director of the company, in accepting the tablet, said Mr. Chairman and fellow-workers, on behalf of this firm, and also on behalf of all the members of my family, I most gratefully accept this beautiful bronze tablet in memory of my only son, who patriotically gave his life in defence of the constitutional freedom and liberties not only of our own country, but also of the greater part of the whole world, against the degrading tyranny of German military autocracy. I esteem this memorial tablet, and the endowments to which the treasurer of your ‘committee has referred, as a far higher tribute to my son’s memory than any posthumous honour which the Government might have awarded him, because such honours are usually in recognition of only some single act of bravery, or merit, whereas the memorial which you have so generously contributed is based upon your appreciation of his personality and character, since he was, as a boy, serving his apprenticeship here amongst you. Your committee kindly left to myself the selection of the position in which the tablet is placed, and my reasons for choosing for it the central pier between the windows of what was my son’s office are that, after the war is ended, it is my intention to put up a roll of honour tablet on each of the adjoining piers, one of which will give the name of every man who joined the colours from these works, and also from our home and foreign branches, as well as from my own home (in all about 170 men), and the other tablet the names of those who have fallen or been wounded in the holy cause for which we and our Allies are fighting in this terrible war, the end of which, unfortunately, does not yet seem to be in sight.

Davidson Memorial Tablet locationMr. G. Crawford proposed a vote of thanks to the committee of the fund for the manner in which they carried out their duties. They had not only made it a financial success, but had administered the fund to the entire approval of the subscribers. An endowment to two hospitals, an engineering scholarship, and finally this tablet would each in its own way keep green the memory of Captain J.S. Davidson, when those who knew him personally and cherished his memory were no longer here.

Mr. J. McDonald, in seconding the motion, said no permanent or other form of memorial could adequately commemorate the courage, gallantry, and resourcefulness displayed by Captain J. S. Davidson on that memorable day for the Ulster Division at ThiepvaI on 1st July, 1916, a day indelible in the memory of us all. 

The motion was passed by acclamation. Mr. A. Brown hamming acknowledged the vote of thanks on behalf of the committee, the proceedings terminated.

Princess Victoria Tragedy – 65th Anniversary

Princess VictoriaHistory Hub Ulster associate member Peter McCabe is a local historian who enjoys visiting local graveyards and discovering long lost stories. In this short article, Peter discusses a different aspect of the Princess Victoria shipping disaster on the 65th anniversary of its sinking.

Until recently I only had a passing interest in the sinking of the Princess Victoria, aware of the memorials in both Larne and Stranraer, and of my parents mentioning the disaster on occasions (they were both aged 8 at the time). Reading Stephen Cameron’s excellent ‘Death in the North Channel’ book heightened my interest, as did the passing of the last survivor of the Princess Victoria disaster at the end of last year, pantry boy at the time William McAllister.

So, on this, the exact 65th anniversary of the disaster of 31st January 1953 – when 135 passengers and crew perished in the North Channel, with not one woman or child amongst the 44 survivors – rather than revisit what happened to the Princess Victoria and its impact on the local community (imagine the shock if one of the ferries regularly plying the route from Belfast to Cairnryan was to flounder), I thought I would look at any ‘footprint’ left by the disaster all these years later.

As well as the sensitive memorial mentioned above in Larne, the main remaining ‘footprint’ is on the headstones of the fatalities – and one survivor – so, rather than starting by looking at the town of Larne first where the majority of the passengers are commemorated, I thought I would start with Belfast City Cemetery finishing with a selection of fatalities buried in Larne, with those photos kindly provided by Ricky Cole and History Hub Ulster member Nigel Henderson acknowledged as appropriate.

Belfast City Cemetery

During my regular cemetery wanders around this massive Cemetery, and from Tom Hartley’s fine book on the subject, I have identified 4 burials that were a result of the sinking:

Walter Dorling Smiles

Walter Dorling Smiles

Walter Dorling Smiles – By far the most prominent fatality laid to rest in Belfast City Cemetery is Sir Walter, an MP for the constituency of North Down at the time of his death aged 70. Walter had received 2 Distinguished Service Orders during the Great War and was recommended for a Victoria Cross on one occasion. It is said that, if the weather had been better, Walter would have been able to see his home at Orlock from the ship as she sank off the Copeland Islands.

Bloomfield Bakery

Bloomfield Bakery

Walter was the first Managing Director of the Belfast Ropeworks at Connswater. In one of the few commemorations of the sinking outside of local cemeteries, on the wall of the former Inglis building on the other side of East Bread Street from the Ropeworks, a plaque has been erected in memory of the Piggot brothers – both employees of Inglis, and both of whom perished in the disaster. Interestingly, the plaque also claims that their father Tom – the first Manager of the bakery – also died on the Princess Victoria, but this was not the case.

Robert Kelly – Robert was a 46-year-old married man and a fitter by trade living at Wallasley Park in Belfast. His headstone is difficult to read but, with the help of the online burial records, it is possible to establish that Robert’s wife Margaret is also buried in this plot, dying aged 84 in 1994 41 years after her husband.

Princess Victoria James Curry

James Curry

James Curry – at first glance the Curry headstone seems to indicate that the entire family perished in the disaster but, thankfully, that wasn’t the case, with ‘only’ James dying. Married with 3 children and living at Roden Street in Belfast, James was an employee of Short Brothers and Harland at their Wig Bay factory.

Victor Mitchell – Aged just 30 when he perished, like his cousin James Curry mentioned immediately above, Victor was employed by Short Brothers and Harland at the Wig Bay factory, working as an electrician, and living at Espie Way (off the Upper Knockbreda Road) with his wife and young children when back in Belfast. Whilst burial records show that Victor is buried in Grave X-227 in the Glenalina section, sadly, there is no evidence of his grave 65 years after he was interred there.

Dundonald Cemetery

Princess Victoria Edmund Freel

Edmund Freel

Edmund Freel – Edmund was a Fourth Engineer Officer who lived at 3 Ashbrook Crescent, and was aged 29 and married with a young son and daughter. Edmund had initially worked for Harland & Wolff, before joining the Merchant Navy after World War Two and travelling widely. Edmund had decided to leave British Rail (who owned the ship) to return to work in the Belfast shipyard and, heartbreakingly for his wife and young family, was only working an additional weekend shift to get extra money to buy tools before his return to ‘the Yard’. There was further heartbreak for his family when his body was recovered from a lifeboat that was washed up at Kearney Point, meaning that he had perhaps survived the initial sinking but perished afterwards.

Princess Victoria George Clarke

George Clarke

George Clarke – lived in Derby, travelling to visit his mother Winifred who lived at Hillsborough Parade, and was planning to take her over to Derby to live there too. Winifred is buried in the plot too dying 14 years later in 1967 whilst still living at the same address. Interestingly, at the base of George’s headstone, the following words are featured: ‘The Winds and the Waves Obey Thy Will’- not an easy sentiment to express in the months after George’s untimely death I’m sure.

 

 

St Elizabeth’s Church of Ireland graveyard, Dundonald

Princess Victoria Douglas & Ruby Bilney

Douglas & Ruby Bilney

 

Lieutenant Commander Douglas & Ruby Bilney – the Bilneys were travelling to take up a posting at the Royal Naval base at Eglinton. Commander Bilney’s body was washed up at Castletown on the Isle of Man several days later, whilst Ruby’s remains were recovered from the sea and brought to Belfast by SS Ballygowan. Ruby’s parents lived in Dundonald, so this is why the Bilneys now lie in this scenic graveyard in the shadow of the ancient moat.

Princess Victoria Frank Jewhurst

Frank Jewhurst

Frank Jewhurst – even more in the shadow of the moat is the final resting place of Frank Jewhurst. Frank was a captain and adjutant of the 53rd AA Workshop Company REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), living at Cherryhill Drive in the village, and was aged 60 at the time of his death. The name Jewhurst is the sole wording on this simple headstone. The only reason I know that this is Frank’s final resting place is because a relation of his happened to mention this to me when I was talking about Sir Walter Smiles during a guided tour of Belfast City Cemetery.

Drumbeg Parish Church graveyard

Princess Victoria Maynard Sinclair

Maynard Sinclair

57-year-old Maynard Sinclair was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the Northern Ireland government. He reputedly helped women and children up to the boat deck, an ultimately fruitless task as, as mentioned in the introduction, all women and children perished as, sadly, did Major Sinclair. On hearing of his loss, his mother-in-law died – presumably of a heart attack – adding further trauma to the family.

The Maynard Sinclair pavilion at Stormont is a tangible reminder of the esteem Major Sinclair was held in, whilst a children’s ward at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald is named in his honour and the Major J.M Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band is further evidence of this esteem.

Princess Victoria William Nassau Parker

William Nassau Parker ©Ricky Cole

 

 

 

Knockbreda

William Nassau Parker – ‘Willie’ was a fitter, like so many of the male fatalities, employed at Wig Bay aircraft factory. Married and living at Ava Gardens, his headstone at this scenic graveyard also commemorates his mother and father who had both predeceased him in 1935 and 1947 respectively. 

Carnmoney

Princess Victoria Adam McCann Reid

Adam McCann Reid ©Ricky Cole

Adam McCann Reid – Married with a teenage daughter and living at Armitage Street in Belfast, Adam was another employee (a labourer) at the Shorts Brothers and Harland factory at Wig Bay. His body was recovered by MV Fredor in the early days of February 1953 and was brought ashore at Londonderry.

Greenland Cemetery, Larne

Princess Victoria Roseann Baxter

Roseann Baxter ©Nigel Henderson

 

Roseann Baxter – a 39-year-old stewardess from Larne, Roseann had been a Wren during World War Two, before working on the cross-channel service, initially with the Princess Margaret. Roseann was last seen on the ship’s deck, holding a baby in her arms.

Princess Victoria Adam Heggarty

Adam Heggarty ©Nigel Henderson

Adam Heggarty – a steward on the Princess Margaret, he died along with his Scottish fiancé Phillomena McDowall. The couple, aged 23 and 19 respectively, planned to marry 2 months later. Adam’s headstone commemorates further premature loss with his brother also drowning in Gourock in 1962 aged only 13.

Princess Victoria William Hooper

William Hooper ©Ricky Cole

William Hooper – a 17-year-old pantry boy on the ship, William had always dreamt of going to sea, and 2 of his brothers had previously also served on the Princess Victoria. William was a second cousin of the other pantry boy on the ship William McAllister who, as mentioned in the introduction to this article, was the last survivor of the disaster to die.

Princess Victoria John Peoples

John Peoples ©Ricky Cole

John Peoples – the ship’s mess room steward, ‘Jack’ was aged just 16 years and 10 months and was the youngest member of the crew when he perished. A keen cyclist Jack had recently purchased a new bike and would regularly take his new bike on to the ship with him.

Princess Victoria William Dummigan

William Dummigan ©Ricky Cole

William Dummigan – A married 65-year-old greaser on the Princess Margaret, William was travelling on the Princess Victoria to commence his retirement.

Princess Victoria Horace Locke

Horace Locke ©Ricky Cole

Horace Locke – a native of Scotland, Horace was not due to sail on the Princess Victoria’s fateful voyage, but had covered for a crewmate who was attending a wedding. His wife Agnes was expecting their third child in Larne at the time of the disaster, dying more than 40 years after her husband.

Princess Victoria William McGarel

William McGarel ©Ricky Cole

William McGarel – the 55-year-old quartermaster on the ship, William had fought at the Battle of the Somme, and lived in Larne with his wife and their 5 children.

Princess Victoria Alex Craig

Alex Craig ©Ricky Cole

Alex Craig – Alex is recorded as a ‘survivor of the Princess Victoria disaster’ only passing away in 2008. When the sea breached the rear stern doors, able seaman Alex heroically had a rope tied around him and tried to close the door, but with no success. Alex was later thrown in to the water as the ship capsized, swimming to the safety of a nearby lifeboat (Number 6).

From reading up about the disaster I can’t decide if anyone in particular was to blame for the sinking of the Princess Victoria, but I do know that there is so much heartache and heartbreak evident on these sad memorials, and in Stephen Cameron’s excellent book, perhaps reminding us of how precious and transient life is.

Henry Pierson Harland 1876-1945

Henry Pierson Harland 1876-1945

© Richard Graham

HP Harland HarefieldH P Harland Henry Pierson Harland was born on 1 September 1876 at Harefield, Middlesex, England.

Henry was a son of the vicarage: his father, Rev Albert Augustus Harland M.A being Vicar of Harefield and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (F.S.A.) To be elected, one had to be ‘excelling in the knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other nations’.

During Henry’s childhood, Harefield would have been a small idyllic village, its origins going back to Saxon times and having been mentioned in the Domesday Book.

HP Harland Church

One of the most beautiful parish churches in England, the history of St Mary the Virgin goes back centuries possibly as far as 1086AD. The vicarage where Henry was born had been built in 1852, by the voluntary subscription of the parishioners, and was surrounded by 8½ acres of land so he would have enjoyed a carefree lifestyle as a child

Henry’s grandfather Dr William Harland (1787-1866) had been Mayor of Scarborough on three occasions as well as being a successful physician, with his own medicinal baths at the bottom of Vernon Place. He and his wife Anne (Pierson) had 11 children so the house must always have been a hive of activity.

His uncle Edward James Harland (1831-1895) – pictured below – one of the 11 children, went on to establish (in partnership with Gustav Wolff) the Belfast shipbuilding firm of Harland & Wolff in 1861, having moved to Belfast from Yorkshire in 1854.

HP Harland EJ Harland

Henry was educated at Rugby School, one of England’s finest public schools, where he would have been a boarder as it was many miles from his home in Harefield

No doubt influenced by his uncle’s success in Belfast, Henry joined the firm of Harland & Wolff in 1893 at the age of 17 as a premium or gentleman’s apprentice. By that time Sir Edward Harland had retired from taking  an active part in the business (since 1889 when he became MP for North Belfast), leaving the day to day control to Walter H Wilson and William Pirrie (pictured below). These two men had also entered “the Yard” as premium apprentices in 1857, as had Thomas Andrews the son of another prominent Ulster family four years earlier in 1889

 

HP Harland Wilson and Pirrie

 

In his early years at Queens Island, and during the rapid expansion of the yard under Pirrie and Wilson, Henry Harland did not receive any preferential treatment because of his family name. Although Thomas Andrews, upon completing his apprenticeship in 1894, was appointed an outside Manager, Harland’s rise appears not to have been as meteoric. Andrews’ mother was William Pirrie’s sister Eliza, so this may have played a part in his career advancement

In 1910, Pirrie had expressed concerns that as the Home Rule Bill for Ireland made its way through parliament, it may be necessary to close the shipyard in Belfast, should civil war break out in the city. As a result by 1912, he had put in place plans to take over the Govan Yard on the Clyde in Scotland should things deteriorate in Ulster.

HP Harland The Yard

By this time, it would appear that Pirrie considered Henry to be ready for his first major career challenge and he was sent to Govan in 1912 to supervise the construction of sub-contracted vessels through Pirrie’s arrangement to take over the yard at Govan in a deal made with Mackie and Thomson the original owners. Pirrie prudently put plans in place to rebuild the Govan yard and Henry Harland, as yard manager was pivotal in this development (see above for an aerial view of the reconstructed yard)

Under Henry Harland’s management the yard was completely rebuilt during the period 1913 – 1917, an important period for the supply of ships to the government. As a result H&W’s Govan shipyard became one of the largest, most modern and efficient on the Clyde

In March 1917, William Pirrie was invited by the British Prime Minister to accept the newly created post of Controller General of Merchant Shipbuilding, an immensely important position he would hold in addition to his chairmanship of H&W and the Royal Mail Group. Because of this enormous workload, Pirrie was forced to delegate some of his responsibilities at Belfast. George Cumming was appointed Deputy Chairman and Henry P Harland was transferred from Govan where he had been sent in 1912, to the London office of H&W as the chairman’s personal assistant. The importance of this appointment should not be underestimated. Pirrie was an extremely secretive and autocratic man and kept the private ledger for the Belfast firm in the office at London, where even Cumming could not get access to the essential financial information required for the overall management of the business. This would confirm that Pirrie held Henry Harland in a position of great trust that few of his other manager’s would enjoy.

HP Harland Downshire HouseThe London office had been opened in March 1907 and was situated at 1A Cockspur Street, a magnificent building just off Trafalgar Square, also housing the offices with the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company. Prior to this Pirrie had used Downshire House (right) his London home as his office, guarding the all important private ledgers and balance sheets relating to the business in Belfast. Henry Harland would have been a regular visitor to Downshire House to discuss strategy for the company following his move to London.

 

HP Harland NellieIt was also in 1917, and following his appointment to the London Office of Harland & Wolff, that Henry Pierson Harland married Helen (Nellie) Reilly Andrews (1881-1966), the widow of his former management colleague at Harland & Wolff, Thomas Andrews (1873-1912).  

Andrews had been Managing Director of the company in Belfast but had lost his life aboard RMS Titanic, of which he was chief designer, when the ship sank in the North Atlantic on 15 April 1912.

Henry Harland had been a suitor for Helen’s hand at the same time that Thomas Andrews showed an interest in wooing her some 10 years before. Helen was the daughter of John Doherty Barbour (1824-1901), a leading industrialist, politician, and chairman of the Linen Thread Company, one of the largest textile producing conglomerates in the world, which included the family firm of William Barbour & Sons, based at Hilden. As such she would have been considered a suitable and desirable wife to any young man of appropriate position in Edwardian Ireland.

Because of her indecision, Helen’s mother is reputed to have locked her in her room at Conway, the family home, and threatened not to let her out again until she decided whether she should marry Thomas or Henry. She chose Thomas and they were married on 24 June 1908 at Lambeg Parish Church.

Thomas and Nellie had one daughter, Elba, born on 27 November 1910 at the family home Dunallan, on Windsor Avenue in Belfast. Elba must have been the centre of attention of both the influential Andrews and Barbour families following the tragic death of her father aboard Titanic.  Helen had barely spent four years of her married life together with Thomas when she was left a widow at the age of 31

Following her re-marriage to Henry, Helen left Belfast to start a new life with her husband near London. Helen had been born at Warwick, (although she grew up in Belfast) near to where her father had business interests in Leamington Spa, where he was elected to serve as Mayor later in his life. Her mother died there at the Regent Hotel in 1934.

The newlyweds wasted no time in starting a family and their first child, a son Albert, was born on 20 November 1917.  Henry and Helen had 3 more children: daughters Evelyn (b 1918), Louisa (b 1920) and Vera (b 1924).

HP Harland Otterspool HouseThe family later moved to Otterspool House, a large house on the banks of the River Colne near Aldenham, Watford. The house was owned by John Pierpoint Morgan (1867-1943), son of the owner of the White Star Line, and leased to Henry under a tenancy agreement. The original house dated back to 1798, and had a succession of owners until the Harlands took up residency in the 1930s.

By 1921, Henry Pierson Harland had secured a position of financial security and prestige as a shareholder in Harland and Wolff with 10 shares valued at £1,000 each, as had his brother’s Albert and William. With 507 shares, Pirrie was not as many people thought the major shareholder: this was John Brown & Co with 560.

During the summer of 1921, IMM (International Mercantile Marine) entrusted H&W with the work of completing work on two massive half-completed German liners that had become the property of the Ministry of Shipping as war reparations. Pirrie put Edward Wilding and Henry Harland in charge of this project: Wilding being based in Belfast while Harland, based in London, would chair the Hamburg Committee, overseeing the work in Danzig.

HP Harland MajesticOne of the liners, previously named the Bismark and started in 1914, was re-named RMS Majestic  and launched in May 1921. The project had not been easy for Henry Harland, as there were difficulties involved in communication between Belfast, London and Germany, but Pirrie, not an easy man to please, was impressed by the way in which Wilding and Harland conquered these obstacles. Henry headed the Majestic’s guarantee group from Harland & Wolff for the maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 10 May 1922, as had Thomas Andrews with the Titanic in April 1912. On arrival, at Ellis Island in New York, Henry described himself as a ‘shipbuilder,’ rather than being any more specific.

The Majestic remained the largest liner afloat at 57,000 tons until the launch of the Normandie by France in 1935

HP Harland Harland and RebbickIn 1929, Henry Harland was made a director of Harland & Wolff, and subsequently was elected onto the boards of other associated companies. He represented the interests of the subsidiary ship finishing company of Heaton Tabb & Co based in  London (of which he was chairman) and later became a director of Short & Harland, following the move of Short Brothers to Belfast in 1937. This new company was 50% owned by Harland & Wolff, the idea being instigated by the then chairman Frederick Rebbeck (photographed with Henry Harland – cigar in hand – aboard the liner Capetown Castle 1938)

 On Friday 22 October 1937, Henry Harland represented H&W at the funeral of J Bruce Ismay at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge. Following the Titanic disaster, Ismay became somewhat of a controversial character and retired in disgrace to Co Galway. He died at Mayfair, London.

Henry was entitled to use an impressive list of qualifications to his name, these included:

Membership of the Institute of Naval Architects (M.I.N.A.)

Membership of the Institute of Marine Engineers (M.I.M.E)

Member of the Court of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights

Member of the General Committee of Lloyds Register

Member of the Consultative Committee of Shipbuilders and Engineers conferring with Marine Department of the Board of Trade

In his later years, Henry P Harland became increasingly interested in politics. As manager of the London Office of Harland & Wolff, he would have had enormous experience as an ambassador for the company in obtaining new business and looking after existing customers of the yard, so political life and the requirements of politics would have become second nature to him

He had long been associated with the Aldenham and Watford Conservative Associations near his home at Otterspool House becoming President of the former and Vice Chairman of the latter. The Conservative Party was closely aligned with the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland at that time, so the ideals of the two parties would have sat comfortably for him.

HP Harland GV Wolff

In a by-election caused by the elevation of Captain Herbert Dixon to the peerage in 1940, Henry Harland stood as Member of Parliament for the vacant seat of East Belfast and was returned unopposed as the Unionist representative on 8 February 1840. In becoming a Member of Parliament he was not only following in the footsteps of his uncle, Sir Edward Harland, but also in those of Gustav Wilhem Wolff, his uncle’s partner in the business who represented the same constituency of East Belfast unopposed for 18 years from 1892.

Following his election as an MP at the age of 64, he became less involved in the active management of the company, and his duties were shared with J S Baillie, the Company Secretary, at the London office. The London Office had an important function in the organization as it served as the main point of contact with owners and potential customers, and was also the centre for the administration of the repair branches.

In 1944, Henry and Helen moved home to what appears to have been a more manageable house called Oakwood, The Warren, Radlett, Hertfordhire, just a few miles away from Otterspool House in Aldenham. He was the sitting MP for East Belfast a position he would hold until he retired in June 1945, and still held the position of manager at the London office of Harland  & Wolff.

The death of Henry Pierson Harland on 10 August 1945 at the age of 68, ended the Harland connection with the company after almost 80 years. His death created a vacancy on the Board and in the London Office.

On the recommendation of Sir John Craig, Denis Rebbeck was appointed to succeed Harland on the Board. Denis, son of Sir Frederick, had joined the company in 1935, the first of a number of graduates appointed to the Board. J S Baillie took over at the London office.

HP Harland Barbour, Elba and Phoenix

Following her husband’s death, Helen, aged 64, returned to Dunmurry to be near her brother Sir Milne Barbour, who lived at the family home and estate at Conway. His wife had died in childbirth in 1910, and he didn’t remarry. Her new home became Phoenix Lodge which she shared with the daughter from her first marriage, Elba, who had previously lived for some time in Kenya, and her daughter by her marriage to Henry, Vera.

Helen died in a private nursing home at Adelaide Park in Belfast on 22 August 1966, having suffered from dementia for some time. Her daughter Elba, continued to live at Phoenix Lodge until the mid 1960s when she moved to a cottage at Milltown. Phoenix Lodge was shortly thereafter demolished to make way for a distribution centre for Castol Oil. It was later taken over by RFD who in turn sold the site to a property developer in 2014. The beautiful  Weeping Willow tree that survived in the grounds for almost a century was felled overnight and the site developed for apartments.

Elba was killed in a road traffic collision whilst driving her amphibious vehicle on the main Dublin to Belfast Road on 1 November 1973.

 

Addendum:  Additional information on Henry Harland

Henry’s brother was killed at the battlefield of Ploegsteert, near Flanders in Belguim in the early stages of the First World War. (Capt) Reginald Wickham Harland was a member of the Hampshire Regiment and was killed in action on 14 October 1914.

Other siblings included:

Albert Harland (1869-1957) Snuff Manufacturer of Sheffield, Member Sheffield City Council 1902-1911, MP for Sheffield 1923-1929

William Harland (1866-1964) Left £12,000 in the will of Gustav W Wolff           

Ethel May Harland (d.1962) Married Alan F Fremantle of the Indian Civil Service

© Richard Graham

Reina del Pacifico explosion 1947

History Hub Ulster associate member Peter McCabe is a historian who enjoys visiting local graveyards and discovering long lost stories.  In this short article, Peter discusses the Harland and Wolff ship, ‘Reina del Pacifico’.

I first became aware of ‘Reina del Pacifico’ on one of my many wanderings around Dundonald Cemetery, noticing on John Redmond’s headstone that he was ‘accidently killed on Reina Del Pacifico’.  Thinking initially that it was a place-name, with the help of a friend and then Google, I then realised that, rather than an exotic island in the Pacific Ocean, ‘Reina del Pacifico’ was, in fact, a ship.

A couple of weeks later, nearby I noticed the grave of Samuel Richmond who died as a ‘result of an explosion on the ‘Reina Del Pacifico’.  I still thought that both individuals were sailors who had perished at sea.  Months later when reading Tom Thompson’s ‘Auld Hands’ book (essentially detailing his experiences of working in Harland & Wolff in the 1950’s), I noticed that the book ended with short chapters on a number of vessels including, as expected, the Titanic and the Canberra, but also the Reina del Pacifico.

So, from that chapter and further trawls of Dundonald Cemetery looking specifically for victims of the Reina del Pacifico disaster – another September 11th disaster – here are brief details of my discoveries (interestingly of 8 headstones in Dundonald Cemetery, the first two that I stumbled across are the only two that mention the name of the ship, the others just referring in varying forms, to an accident):

Built by Harland & Wolff for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and launched on 23rd September 1930, Reina del Pacifico was the largest and fastest motor liner of her time. 

Reina de Pacifico

She became famous in 1937 after the former British Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald died aboard whilst on a cruise at the age of 71, just two years after leaving government.

 In 1947, after service during the Second World War, she was ‘taken in hand’ at Queen’s Island.  When the refit had been carried out, the liner crossed to the Clyde for speed trials which were completed satisfactorily over more than 33 hours on 10th and 11th September. 

Tragically however during the return voyage to Belfast, while speed was being increased, seven miles off the Copeland Islands, all four engines exploded without warning.   In an instant the engine room was a shambles, the lighting extinguished, ladders and access platforms destroyed and the atmosphere thick with smoke.   

Reina de Pacifico

 

When rescuers entered the engine room they found fires breaking out and bodies everywhere.  

 

The appalling result was that 28 people died, either instantly or from their injuries, and a further 23 were hurt, including William Thompson who suffered burns to 90% of his body. Unbelievably those injured in the explosion were docked a half-day’s pay…

From the Belfast City Council Burial Records website, I have been able to identify nine victims of the disaster, all buried in Dundonald Cemetery (unless stated, each of these individuals died on 11th September and were buried on 15th September.  They were:

James BarnesJames Barnes, fitter, aged 61

Lived at 11 Botanic Bungalows (between Botanic Gardens and Stranmillis Embankment).  All that remains on the grave is a homemade sign ‘in loving memory of Barnes Ellen died November 1906’ with, sadly, no reference at all to James.

 

 

James S. Collins, fitter, aged 27

28 Baltic Street (near the Waterworks). ‘Beloved husband of Elizabeth Collins killed as the result of an accident’.

Robert Ellis, fitter, aged 46

Lived at ‘Hillmount Ballybeen Dundonald’ (Ballybeen townland, rather than estate).

Ferran Glenfield, draughtsman, aged 19

Home address was 16 Keatley Street (a street that doesn’t exist anymore, off Templemore Avenue), and died at the Royal Victoria Hospital on 13th September. Grave also contains Susan Reid who lived at 21 Cyprus Avenue and who died on 13th September 1989 (exactly 52 years later) aged 91.

John Davidson McBlainJohn Davidson McBlain, fitter, aged 26

Lived at 30 Dunraven Parade. ‘Jack dear husband of Betty McBlain accidently killed 11th September 1947′.

 

 

Robert Cairns McClureRobert Cairns McClure, fitter, aged 25

Lived at 63 Beechfield Street, Short Strand. ‘Beloved husband of Rachel McClure accidently killed 11th September 1947′ and buried on 16th September.

 

 

Wesley Patterson, fitter, aged 21

Lived at 54 Enid Parade, Ballyhackamore. ‘In loving memory of our dear son killed as the result of an accident’.

 

John RedmondJohn Redmond, fitter, aged 42

Lived at 36 Raleigh Street (off Crumlin Road). ‘In loving memory of my dear son accidently killed on Reina Del Pacifico’. Wife Elizabeth died 49 years later, still whilst living at Raleigh Street.

 

 

Samuel RichmondSamuel Richmond, aged 33

Lived at 33 Parkgate Gardens dying at the Mater Hospital on 13th September as the ‘result of an explosion on the Reina Del Pacifico’.  Tragically his wife Elizabeth had died aged only 27 earlier in 1947 on 23rd February.

 

 

The inquest on 10th October 1947 found that ‘the accident seemed – and it is no exaggeration of language – just impossible, but it happened’, said the Belfast Coroner Herbert P Lowe who himself is buried in Dundonald Cemetery dying on 28th October 1970, my first birthday.

Peter McCabe

Associate Member History Hub Ulster