Combating the “flu”: Spanish influenza in Ulster – Part 2

This is the second part of a long read. Read the first part of the article here.

Influenza in Ulster

The first outbreak of influenza in the province of Ulster visited the towns of Belfast, Lurgan, Portadown and Londonderry during June 1918, causing havoc as businesses had to close or function on reduced staff.  Services were disrupted throughout these towns. In other Ulster towns such as Larne, Clones, Cookstown, Newry and the county of Donegal, their main influenza outbreaks occurred during the second and third waves in the autumn of 1918 and spring of 1919. 

In Ulster, as elsewhere in Ireland and Great Britain, it was the local authorities and their Medical Officers of Health that had responsibility for public health in their respective towns and cities. They were tasked with the management of the disease at a local level. It was the Poor Law medical system of the Union infirmary and dispensary districts – administered by the Board of guardians – that bore the brunt of medical care.  However the Local Government Board for Ireland (LGBI) controlled the activities of the boards of guardians in relation to the administration of the dispensary medical system, union infirmaries and fever hospitals it also controlled the administration of the Public Health Acts by the rural, urban and County Councils.[36] So how did these combined forces in Ulster respond to the public health crisis of epidemic influenza?

During the first wave the Medical Superintendent Officer of Health for Belfast Corporation, Dr Hugh W. Bailie ordered school closures and recommended the thorough disinfection of cinemas once or twice a day. He also proposed sending out his public health department inspectors around their districts to advise people on what measures they should take if they contracted influenza.[37]  In Londonderry the main recommendation by the corporation was school closures.[38]  This is surprising as influenza was rampant in the city with burials at the City Cemetery reaching a record number of 50 during the week ending 6 July 1918 and nearly 20 burials alone on Monday 8 July 1918.[39]   There was no evidence that any specific steps were taken to prevent the spread of influenza in either Lurgan or Portadown during the first wave. Again this is noteworthy as there were 31 influenza deaths were recorded in the town area from the middle of June until the end of July 1918.[40]  The lacklustre response from these local authorities during the first wave may be due to the consensus that this outbreak of the disease was a seasonal flu and therefore unworthy of any particular action. 

During the second wave, there was a more proactive response by local authorities in Ulster towns as many of the councils took preventative measures.  A common recommendation was the closure of day, Sunday and technical schools. It was not a compulsory measure but in general, school managers adhered to it.  However, Methodist College in Belfast remained open during this virulent wave with tragic results. Influenza hit the school at the end of October 1918. Student boarders contracted the flu and only the Medical Officer, matron and headmaster of the school avoided contracting the disease.  Sadly during November, two members of staff, George Manning and the Rev P. P  O’Sullivan, as well as one of the boarders, Oliver Crawford, aged 15 died from pneumonia following on from influenza.[41]  The Friends school in Lisburn may also have regretted its decision to remain open.  Influenza was rife and by 31 October 1918 only 17 boarders and two members of staff had not contracted the disease.  Helen Clarke, a day pupil died on 31 October 1918.  When pupils Anna Magowan and Sadie Walsh died on 3 November and 8 November 1918 respectively, it was then decided to close the school and send the remaining 16 pupils home.  The larger dormitories in the school acted as wards where the remaining students who were ill were nursed.  The housekeeper, Miss McCullough and headmaster’s daughter, Frances Ridges, a student from Queen’s University, Belfast, worked as nurses but unfortunately they both lost their lives to influenza.  The school eventually opened again in early January 1919.[42]

In Ulster, as with the rest of United Kingdom, several councils singled out places of entertainment for closure and ventilation under the pretext that people gathered there and could therefore spread the disease. In Newry both local cinemas closed for one week at the Medical Officer of Health’s request, however, one of them, the Imperial, re-opened without consulting the Public Health Authority, while the other, the Frontier, remained closed.[43]  The Public Health authorities in Belfast, Portadown and Newtownards requested permission from the LGBI to close cinemas in their towns.  However, the LGBI advised that they had no powers to close the cinemas, as this action was not approved in any part of the United Kingdom.[44]

Mass gathering of people in the cinemas, theatres and trams were not the only cause for concern and the Irish News feared that the congregation of huge masses of people on the streets during the armistice celebrations would further spread the disease.[45] It has been suggested that an ironic impact of the war was the extra infections and deaths that occurred as a result of the armistice celebration, where the celebrations became the foci of new or recurring outbreaks of influenza.[46] In Belfast the armistice celebration occurred during the peak of the second influenza wave in the city.  Interestingly, deaths from pneumonia – a common complication of influenza – peaked in Belfast on 23 November 1918 not long after these celebrations took place.[47]   Whether the celebrations aided this peak is a matter for debate. 

In Belfast, Larne and Cookstown, public notices of preventative measures were displayed in public places, published in the local newspapers and printed on handbills for distribution. These notices recommended avoiding crowded gatherings, good ventilation and cleanliness in homes and discouraged spitting on the streets.  Influenza sufferers should go to bed early and remain there until completely recovered.[48]

The Irish tradition of waking the dead came in for much criticism as it was feared that the custom would aid in the spread of infectious disease. Both Newry and Ballyclare councils produced public notices which recommended the prompt burial of influenza victims without a wake being held for the deceased.  However, again there was no official central government support given to forbid the holding and attendance at wakes.  Again it was not a compulsory measure but only a strong recommendation as the local Public Health Authorities had no powers to stop wakes. These were not the only towns to criticise the tradition of holding wakes In Dublin during the second wave, an Irish Times editorial complained that attending wakes of people who had died from influenza was an objectionable practice that was believed to be a fruitful cause of the spread of infection and that this custom more than anything else frustrated the efforts of the public health authorities to eradicate influenza.[49]

There were valid objections to ‘waking the dead’. Contemporary opinion was that infection was thought to remain in the corpse and therefore could be spread to the living.  However, there is no evidence that this was the case with respect to the influenza virus.[50]  Waking the body in an open coffin may not have spread the disease through the corpse.  However, anyone attending the wake who had the ‘flu could bring the infection to a small house where many people congregated in confined spaces.  Once there it could be spread quickly within a community. 

Medical Response

The main medical response in towns was by the Poor Law Union under the auspices of union infirmaries and the dispensary system.  However, these institutions were unprepared for the number of influenza patients needing treatment. During the first wave in Belfast the number of influenza patients admitted to the union infirmary was so large that it greatly increased the workload in the hospital and the Visiting Medial Officer, Dr Gardner Robb stated:

‘Never in my recollection has the strain on the staff been so great as during the past few weeks.’ The whole staff has worked most enthusiastically and the generous recognition of our efforts by the Board is most appreciated by all.[51]

The Lurgan union infirmary was also under pressure and there were reports that it had not been so full in over thirty years due to an influx of influenza sufferers.[52] The workhouse infirmaries throughout Ireland were extremely busy.  During 1918 the number of deaths in Irish workhouses increased by 3,329 on the previous year with influenza and pneumonia deaths rising by 2,551.[53]

There was also a scarcity of medical professionals as many doctors were serving at the western front.  Temporary doctors were difficult to source for both the union infirmaries and the dispensary districts. Doctors that were available could, in many cases, demand whatever salary they wanted much to the annoyance of the guardians.  However these doctors were justified in requesting a higher weekly salary as they were under severe pressure.  During 1918 the Medical officers of health worked long hours to treat their patients, paying 100,000 more home visits during this period than in the previous year, indicating not only the virulence of the disease throughout Ireland but also the work pressure that dispensary doctors were under during this pandemic.[54]

Cures and treatments

Unsurprisingly, as the real cause of influenza was unknown at the time and as there is still no known cure for the disease, there was little consensus among the Irish medical profession on the best treatment for, or, prevention against the disease, which resulted in many cures and treatments being suggested.  According to Ida Milne, some Irish doctors recommended gargling with a tincture of creosote or a solution of permanganate of potash; calomel (as a purgative); oxygen; stimulants (such as strychnine); some preparation of opium for sleeplessness.[55] An article in the Armagh Guardian advised that if attacked by influenza, the sufferer should at once take a dose of opening medicine such as castor oil, and if possible take a hot bath and go to bed and send for the doctor.  It advised that to work or walk off an attack is dangerous.[56]  A popular treatment choice was quinine and the Belfast MOH, Dr Bailie recommended taking quinine tablets of between 2 and 5 grains twice daily as a tonic and preventative.[57] 

Some doctors widely endorsed the use of alcohol in influenza cases to relieve pain and bolster strength.[58]  This treatment was so popular that in February 1919, the Dublin Public Health Committee requested the War Cabinet to call for the immediate release of supplies of whiskey in the interests of public health.[59]  The lack of a cure for influenza meant that people resorted to over-the-counter cures to help treat the disease.[60]  An immense assortment of products claimed curative or preventative powers against influenza.   Disinfection was considered a good preventative as influenza was believed to be a bacterial infection. Lifebuoy soap claimed to be a ‘reputable germicide and sure disinfectant.’[61]

A nationally established disinfectant proclaimed ‘Guard against Influenza by the daily use of Jeyes’ Fluid.’[62]  Disinfection with Jeyes’ Fluid was one of the recommendations of the Dublin Medical Officer of Health, Dr Charles Cameron in dealing with influenza.[63]  Oxo and Bovril were popular beef teas of the day and were thought to strengthen the body against the onslaught of disease.[64]  So popular were these products that during December 1918, a series of advertisements apologised for the shortage of Bovril during the influenza outbreak.[65]  Bovril was considered a very important form of nourishment during the epidemic. So much so that during November 1918 the Belfast Guardians increased the nurses’ Bovril rations by one quarter of an ounce per day to boost their diet to help them cope with their increased workload

In reality there was no cure for influenza and traditional nursing care provided the best and only effective treatment for the disease.[66]  However, nurses like doctors were in short supply as many professional nurses had also volunteered for both army and naval medical corps during the war.[67]  This situation was further exacerbated when remaining nurses started to contract influenza themselves. In Ulster where there were numerous reports of professional nurses being infected with influenza during the course of their duties.  Workhouse infirmaries reported the absence of their nursing staff due to influenza.  Many nurses in the Belfast Infirmary contracted influenza during the first and second waves and six died from the disease.[68] Similarly, during the second wave several nurses in the Londonderry Union contracted influenza with two fatalities.[69]  Also during the second wave, eight nurses in the Lurgan Union infirmary contracted influenza and two later died from the complication pneumonia.[70]

The medical response during the second and third waves was similar to that of the first.  Influenza sufferers availed of treatment and medicines through the dispensary system and the workhouse infirmaries.  The demands of war impacted on the workhouse infirmaries because in many cases wards or entire workhouse hospitals were requisitioned for military patients. The workhouse infirmaries were filled to capacity and suffered from overcrowding.In Strabane, the military acquired the workhouse for treatment of troops just prior to the outbreak of influenza in October 1918 and most of the inmates were sent to the Londonderry workhouse.[71] The chairman of Strabane council was very concerned about the lack of treatment and hospital accommodation for the sick poor in the town.  The council eventually convinced the guardians to provide hospital accommodation for those suffering from influenza but not before a young boy, who was forced to lay ‘on a bed of straw and bags’, had died from influenza.[72] 

The local authority response to influenza in towns like Belfast, Londonderry Lurgan and Portadown was poor but the United Kingdom as a whole did not respond effectively to the crisis.  Central government was pre-occupied by the war and left it up to individual local authorities to deal with influenza at a local level.  In Manchester, the public health committee—aware of the gravity of the influenza pandemic — were more proactive. They supplied additional help to nurse and provide domestic assistance to influenza sufferers where it was needed in the city.  They also supplied food and coal for those unable to provide the same for themselves. It has been suggested that in Manchester public aid with food, fuel and nursing during the pandemic was of much more value than treatment by local physicians in the city.[73]

There is no evidence that the bigger industrial towns such as Belfast, Londonderry and Lurgan took similar measures as Manchester to help their citizens. Nevertheless, some Ulster towns took more concrete measures to help the sick poor.  Influenza was rife in Newry with many people dying of the complication pneumonia. Newry council was aware that the poor needed more substantial charitable help especially with nutrition.  The provision of nourishing food was deemed important.  The council arranged for two Newry creameries to supply sufficient quantities of free milk for distribution due to the influenza outbreak.[74]  The staff of the domestic department of the Newry Technical School provided nourishing foodstuff for the sick such as beef tea and mutton broth during their closure.  This work was discontinued on 25 November 1918 when the school re-opened.[75]

Despite this aid, the situation in Newry was very serious.  A Relief of Distress Fund Committee was formed to ‘consider the best means of meeting the exceptional expenditure that has been and is being incurred by the various charitable organisations in the relief of distress arising out of the influenza epidemic.’[76]  A circular was sent out inviting subscriptions to the fund and it was hoped that a sum of at least £1,000 would be raised.[77] The fund was closed on to 31 December 1918 and a total £734 4s. 2d. was raised and was allocated as follows: three-quarters (£550 13s. 2d.), to the Catholic Charitable Organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, and one quarter (£183 11s.), to the local Protestant clergymen for distribution.[78]  The fund reimbursed the St Vincent de Paul Society for the expenditure it had already incurred in Newry, where it had spent several hundred pounds on clothing, coal, groceries, butter, milk and other necessities for the poor during the pandemic.  This indicated that charities in the town rose to the challenges imposed by the pandemic in a timely manner.[79]

In Cookstown, although both the council and the guardians made efforts to combat the pandemic, it was the middle class population of Cookstown who made the biggest contribution in dealing with the effects of influenza in the town.  As in Newry, a subscription list was opened and a committee was formed to look after the sick poor in the town and dispensary district.  Many local trained ladies volunteered to act as nurses in the district offering their services for no payment.  The Sick Nursing Society used the Technical School kitchen to provide nourishing food, not only for the sick poor in the town, but, also for those families that could afford to feed themselves but were too sick to provide food and nurture for other family members.  This was a popular service with up to 170 families in the town and district receiving this aid.[80]

In Clones the workhouse hospital was full and doctors were working to full capacity.  The Clones Relief Committee was formed to assist families incapacitated by influenza with both nourishment and nursing.  The committee established a kitchen in the Town Hall and prepared and distributed soup, beef tea and porridge to those patients requiring them. The St Vincent de Paul society placed their funds at the disposal of the relief committee.  The committee did not raise a public subscription in the town but instead they took action first and sought reimbursement later from the guardians for any expenses incurred.[81]

In conclusion the response from most local authorities in Ulster consisted of applying preventative measures such as closing schools, producing public notices, encouraging disinfection of factories, cinemas and public buildings.  However they lacked the authority from the central body of the LGBI to enforce recommendations such as closure of cinemas or prevention of wakes.  The boards of guardians actively tried to obtain sufficient medical personnel to help during the pandemic and in general adhered to the requests of their Medical Officers of Health with respect to treatment of the disease.  However public aid with food, fuel and nursing during the pandemic could be of much more value than treatment by local doctors.[82] So although local guardians in Ulster actively tried to obtain sufficient medical personnel to help during the pandemic, maybe if they and the local councils in towns such as Belfast, Londonderry and Lurgan looked towards the physical nourishment and welfare of the poor, then the influenza death toll may have not been so high.

Dr. Patricia Marsh: Queen’s University, Belfast

Dr. Marsh will be giving a talk entitled “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic in Antrim and Down 1918-1919” at Bangor Library on Thursday 21st February 2019 at 7.30pm, and Lisburn Road Library on Wednesday 27th February 2019 at 6.30pm 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.


[36]Report of the Irish Public Health Council on the public health and medical services in Ireland [Cmd 761], H. C. 1920, xvii 2, 1075, p. 4.

[37] Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Belfast’, pp. 66-7.

[38]Irish News, 25 June 1918; Derry Journal, 26 June 1918; Dungannon Democrat, 26 June 1918.

[39] Derry Journal, 10 July 1918; Irish News, 9 July 1918.

[40] Lurgan Medical Officer of Health Report, 5 Aug. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Lurgan Medical Officer of Health Report, LA/51/9D/6); Lurgan Mail, 10 Aug. 1918.

[41] John Watson Henderson, Methodist College, Belfast, 1868-1938: A survey and retrospect Vol. 1 (Belfast, 1939), p. 271.

[42]Neville H. Newhouse, A History of the Friends School, Lisburn(Lurgan, 1974), pp. 90-1.

[43]Newry Reporter, 19 Nov. 1918.                                                                                            

[44] Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Belfast’, pp 71-73.

[45]Irish News, 13 Nov. 1918.

[46] Niall Johnson, Britain and the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: A dark epilogue, (London/New York, 2006), p.193.

[47]Weekly returns of births and deaths in the Dublin Registration area and in eighteen of the principal towns in Ireland 1918, (Dublin, 1919).

[48]Irish News, 31 Oct. 1918; Belfast News-Letter, 31 Oct. 1918.

[49][49]Freeman’s Journal, 2 Nov 1918; Irish Independent, 2 Nov 1918, Irish Times, 4 Nov 1918

[50] S. S. Bakhshi, ‘Code of practice for funeral workers: Managing infection risk and body bagging’, in Communicable Disease and Public Health, 4:4 (2001), p. 284.

[51] Belfast Board of Guardians Meeting, 9 July 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union Minute Books, BG/7/A/100).

Irish News, 10 July 1918; Belfast News-Letter, 10 July 1918.

[52]Belfast Evening Telegraph, 19 July 1918, Belfast News-Letter, 20 July 1918, Armagh Guardian, 26 July 1918.

[53]Annual Report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for the year ended 31st March 1919, p. xxiii.

[54]Annual Report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for the year ended 31st March 1919, p. xxvi.

[55] Ida Milne’s contribution to Guy Beiner, Patricia Marsh and Ida Milne ‘Greatest killer of the twentieth century: the Great Flu of 1918-19’ History Ireland (March/April 2009), pp. 40-43.

 History Ireland article

[56] Armagh Guardian, 08 Nov 1918

[57]Irish News, 31 Oct 1918 and Belfast News-Letter, 31 Oct 1918

[58]Lori Loeb, ‘Beating the flu: orthodox and commercial responses to influenza in Britain, 1889–1919’ Social History of Medicine 18:2 (2005), p. 220.

[59]Irish Independent, 22 Feb. 1919.

[60]Loeb, ‘Beating the flu’, p. 203.

[61]Northern Whig, 28 Nov. 1918; Ulster Herald, 15 Feb. 1919; Belfast News-Letter, 12 Mar. 1919; Irish News, 18 Mar. 1919, 25 Mar. 1919.

[62]Belfast News-Letter, 5 Mar. 1919, 12 Mar. 1919, 19 Mar. 1919.

[63]Lurgan Mail, 2 Nov. 1918; Larne Times, 2 Nov. 1918; Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 2 Nov. 1918; County Down Spectator, 2 Nov. 1918.

[64]Loeb, ‘Beating the flu’, p. 220.

[65]Irish Independent, 23, 27 Nov. 1918, 4, 13, 23 Dec. 1918; Irish Times, 29 Nov. 1918, 7, 21, 28, 30 Dec. 1918.

[66] Carol R. Byerly, Fever of war: The influenza epidemic in the U. S. army during World War 1 (New York/London, 2005), p. 144.

[67] Barrington, Health, medicine and politics in Ireland, p. 73.

[68] Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Belfast’, p. 32.

[69] Londonderry Board of Guardians Meeting, 9 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Londonderry Union Minutes, BG/2/A/33), Derry Journal, 11 Nov. 1918.

[70] Belfast News-Letter, 23 Nov. 1918, Belfast News-Letter, 7 Dec. 1918; Irish News, 23 Nov. 1918; Lurgan Mail, 23 Nov. 1918; Lurgan Board of Guardians Minutes, 21 Nov. 1918,  5 Dec. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Lurgan Union Minute Book, BG/22/ A/114).

[71] Strabane Board of Guardians Meetings, 27 Sept. 1918 and 8 Oct. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Strabane Union Minute Book, BG/27/A/50).

[72]Belfast-Newsletter, 6 Nov. 1918; Derry People, 9 Nov. 1918; Ulster Herald, 9 Nov. 1918.

[73] Fred, R Van Hartesveldt, ‘Manchester’, in Fred van Hartesveldt (ed.) The 1918-1919 Pandemic of Influenza: The Urban Impact in the Western World (Lewiston, Queenstown, Lampeter: The Edward Mellon Press, 1992), p. 103.

[74]Newry Urban District Council meeting, 4 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Newry Urban District Council minutes, LA58/2CA/6).

[75]Newry Reporter, 29 Oct.1918; Newry Reporter, 28 Nov. 1918.

[76]Newry Reporter, 16 Nov. 1918.

[77]Newry Reporter, 16 Nov. 1918.

[78]Newry Reporter, 11 Jan. 1919; Belfast News-Letter, 13 Jan. 1919.

[79] Patricia Marsh, “‘An enormous amount of distress among the poor’: Aid for the Poor in Ulster during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919’ in Poverty and Welfare in Ireland 1838-1948, Eds. Crossman, Virginia and Gray Peter, (IAP, 2011), pp, 217-218.

[80]Irish News, 18 Nov 1918, Belfast News-Letter, 18 Nov 1918, Mid Ulster Mail. 17 Nov 1918, 30 Nov. 1918 and 7 Dec. 1918.

[81]Belfast News-Letter, 21 Nov. 1918, Anglo-Celt 30 Nov. 1918, 1 Feb. 1919, 15 Feb. 1919.

[82] Van Hartesveldt, ‘Manchester’, p 103

Combating the “flu”: Spanish influenza in Ulster – Part 1

Dr. Patricia Marsh: Queen’s University, Belfast

Dr. Marsh will be giving a talk entitled “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic in Antrim and Down 1918-1919” at Bangor Library on Thursday 21st February 2019 at 7.30pm, and Lisburn Road Library on Wednesday 27th February 2019 at 6.30pm 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.

Towards the end of the First World War in June 1918, a fatal influenza epidemic not only hit troops in the western front but also the civilians throughout the world. Although the exact mortality figures are unknown, it was responsible for the deaths of more people than the First World War[1] and in 2002 the global death toll of the pandemic was estimated to be approximately 50 million.[2]  Although called the ‘Flanders’ grippe ‘by English soldiers’;  ‘Blitzkatarrh’ by the Germans; ‘the disease of the wind’ in Persia; the name it became commonly known as was the ‘Spanish Influenza.’[3]  So why Spanish influenza? The neutrality of Spain during the First World War meant that there was no newspaper censorship in that country and consequently reports about the disease were published not only in Spanish newspapers and also in the worldwide press. The Times reported 100,000 victims in Madrid of an unknown disease responsible for 700 deaths in 10 days, which had caused disruption to public services, offices and factories.  King Alfonso XIII of Spain and other leading politicians were among those afflicted.[4]  It was these reports that gave rise to the erroneous impression that influenza had originated in Spain, leading to the misnomer Spanish influenza.  However, the Spanish themselves called it the soldier of Naples.[5]

The disease, however, did not originate in Spain.  One theory is that the pandemic originated as early as the winter of 1916, on the Western Front at the British Army camp at Étaples. The outbreaks at Étaples were diagnosed at the time as purulent bronchitis but in retrospect they showed the same symptoms as the Spanish ‘flu.  Dr Herbert French, author of the 1920 Ministry of Health Report was strongly of the opinion that the fatal cases from purulent bronchitis were likely to be the same as those of the pandemic.[6]  It has also been suggested that the pandemic could have originated in China and that the movement of a very large number of workers from China to France during the First World War might have played a part in the pandemic’s development.[7] However the most popular theory was that influenza started in America. The earliest recorded outbreak of the disease was on 5 March 1918 among army recruits at Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas. By the end of March it had spread to military training installations in several US mid-western and south eastern states and from here it travelled with the troops on the ships to the Western Front.[8] 

1918 influenza victims crowd an emergency hospital at Fort Riley, Kansas

The Flu in Ireland

Spanish influenza struck in three concurrent waves throughout the world and Ireland was no exception with three distinct waves of influenza, which occurred in June 1918, October 1918 and February 1919.[9]  Speaking in 1920, the Registrar-General for Ireland, Sir William Thompson was of the opinion that influenza in Ireland was the worst disease of an epidemic nature since the period of the Great Famine.[10]  The death toll in Ireland was approximately 23,000,[11] however this is a conservative estimate as not all influenza deaths in the country were registered and also some were registered incorrectly. The morbidity from the disease is more difficult to ascertain as no accurate records of incidences of influenza were kept during this period.  However, Ida Milne suggests that as many as 800,000 people could have been infected in Ireland.[12]  As many as 300,000 people could have been infected in the province of Ulster, where 7,582 people were recorded as dying from influenza.  However, the death toll could have been much higher.[13] 

The first recorded outbreak of Influenza in Ireland was on the United States Ship Dixie docked in Queenstown (now Cobh),[14] however this outbreak was confined to the ship as there were no reports of ‘flu in the town.  The first wave proper was reported to be principally in Belfast and other districts of the north of Ireland.[15]  First mention of influenza in the province appeared on 11 and 12 June 1918 in Belfast newspapers when a notice appeared regarding the re-opening, after influenza, of a department in James Mackie & Sons munitions factory situated in the Springfield Road.[16]  Influenza spread from Belfast across the north of Ireland probably via the rail network. Elsewhere in Ireland there were also sporadic outbreaks at towns such as Ballinasloe, Tipperary town and Athlone.  It is notable that these towns were situated near army bases as the general consensus was that ‘flu was brought to Ireland with troops returned home on leave or to convalesce from wounds and then spread via the rail network.[17] 

The second wave originated in Leinster. Howth on the east coast appeared to be the entry point and was reported to be there as early as 1 October 1918.[18]  From Howth it spread to Dublin and then throughout Ireland.  In Ulster influenza was first reported in the naval port of Larne on 9 October 1918.[19]  The disease did not reach Belfast until the end of October 1918.[20]  Influenza spread to most Ulster towns during this wave and this was the most virulent wave in the province.  County Donegal was badly affected during this outbreak, especially the Inishowen Union District, which had the highest death rate per thousand of population in Ulster.[21]

The third wave which started in February 1919, again originated in Leinster.  It was first reported on 5 February 1919 in the Celbridge district in Co Kildare.[22]  Initial reports of influenza in Ulster during this wave were in Holywood on 6 February 1919[23] and it was in Belfast by 18 February 1919.[24] Influenza visited most Ulster towns but in many such as Belfast, Lurgan, Larne, Newry and Dungannon this was a milder wave than those in 1918 and this may be because immunity was gained from previous waves. However, Dublin county and borough suffered severely during all three waves of the disease. County Donegal was again severely affected with a higher mortality during the third wave in 1919 than in both waves during 1918.  This was also the case with other counties in the west of the country such as Mayo, Sligo and Galway.

Age distribution

There was an unusual age distribution for this pandemic as it targeted young adults in particular.  Normally influenza kills the very young and the very old but Spanish influenza showed an unusual age distribution of deaths.  Although there was still high mortality for the very young and very old there was also a very high mortality for the age group between 15 and 44.[25] In England and Wales mortality was  concentrated among those aged 20 to 40 and especially those 25 to 35.[26]  It has been suggested that this peculiarity helped to produce Britain’s ‘lost generation’ caused by not only from the high mortality among young men killed due to the war but also from influenza on the home front.[27]

 In Ireland 55.5% of all influenza deaths in 1918 were of those aged between 15 and 45.[28]  In 1919 more than 58% of the total influenza mortality was between the ages of 20 and 65.[29]  Figure 1 is a graphical representation of the age-specific influenza death rates for Ireland comparing 1918 and 1919.  It shows that the age-specific death rates for Ireland followed the global trend of targeting young adults and that during 1918 it was those aged 25 to 35 who suffered the highest mortality of any age group.[30]  The Irish figures also show that infants under one year were also at particular risk during the pandemic.  This was hardly surprising as, even without epidemic disease, the urban areas of Ireland such as Dublin and Belfast suffered from one of the highest infant mortality rates in the United Kingdom due to infection and poor diet.[31]


Figure 1: Graph comparing the age-specific influenza death rates for Ireland for 1918 and 1919

Why was the pandemic so detrimental to 25 to 35 age-group? 

One theory was that elderly people had gained immunity to the 1918-19 pandemic due to previous exposure to the influenza epidemic of 1847-48 which may have been caused by a similar H1 virus.[32]  Another is that young adults were more likely to attempt to work through illness, thus maximizing their risk of succumbing to influenza.[33]  It has also been suggested that many of the age group 20-45 had been soldiers living in miserable conditions on the western front which would have lowered their immunity, but the same death rates were seen in young people in countries unaffected by the war.[34]  However, the answer may lie in a scientific study that took place in 2007, which suggested that the strong immune systems of young adults overreacted to the 1918 virus causing this particular age group to be at the most risk during the pandemic.[35]

Read Part 2: Spanish Influenza in Ulster

[1] Howard Phillips and David Killingray, ‘Introduction’ in Howard Phillips and David Killingray (eds.) Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1919: new perspectives (London, 2003), pp 3-4.

[2]Niall P.A.S. Johnson and Juergan Mueller, ‘Updating the Accounts: Global Mortality of the 1918 –1920 “Spanish” Influenza Pandemic’ Bulletin of History of Medicine. 76 (2002),, p. 115

[3] Pete Davies, Catching cold: 1918’s forgotten tragedy and the scientific hunt for the virus that caused it (London, 1999), p. 58.

[4]The Times, 3 June 1918.

[5] Davies, Catching cold,  p. 58.

[6] J. S. Oxford, ‘The so-called Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 may have originated in France in 1916’ Phil. Trans. Royal Society London 356 (2001), pp 1857-1859.

[7]Christopher Langford, ‘Did the 1918–19 influenza pandemic originate in China?’ Population and Development Review 31:3 (2005), p. 492.

[8] K. David Patterson, and Gerald F. Pyle, ‘The Geography and Mortality of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic’, Bulletin of History of Medicine  65 (1991), p. 5.

[9]Annual report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for year ended 31 March 1919, [Cmd 1432], H. C. 1920, xxi, 1, p. xxxvii.

[10] William J. Thompson, ‘Mortality from influenza in Ireland’ Dublin Journal of Medical Sciences 4th Series 1 (1920), p. 174

[11]Patricia Marsh, ‘The Effect of the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic on Belfast’, ( M.A. thesis, Queens University Belfast, 2006), p.42

[12]IdaMilne, ‘Epidemic or Myth?: The 1918 Flu in Ireland’. (M.A. thesis, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 2005), p. 35.

[13] Patricia Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Ulster (PhD dissertation, Queen’s University Belfast, 2010), pp 42-57.

[14] United States Navy Department, Annual report of the Secretary of the Navy, Miscellaneous reports (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1919), pp. 2423-4.

[15]Annual report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for year ended 31 March 1919, p. xxxvii.

[16]Belfast Evening Telegraph, 11 June 1918; Belfast News-Letter, 12 June 1918.

[17] Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Ulster, p, 67

[18]Irish Times, 1 Oct. 1918; Irish Independent, 1 Oct. 1918.

[19]Larne Board of Guardians Meeting, 9 Oct 1918 (P.R.O.N.I, Larne union minute book 1918, BG/17/A/132)

[20]Belfast News-Letter, 30 Oct. 1918.

[21] Fifty-fifth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), pp. v.

[22]Irish Independent, 5 Feb. 1919.

[23]Holywood Public Health Committee meeting, 6 Feb 1919 (P.R.O.N.I., Holywood Urban District Council minutes, LA/38/9AA/3)

[24]Belfast Board of Guardians meeting, 18 Feb. 1919 (P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union minutes, BG/7/A/101).

[25]Andrew Noymer and Michel Garenne, ‘The 1918 influenza epidemic’s effects on sex differentials in mortality in the United States’, in Population and Development Review, 26:3 (2000), pp. 566-67.

[26] Herbert French, ‘The clinical features of the influenza epidemic 1918-19,’ pp. 90-1.

[27] Niall Johnson, Britain and the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: A dark epilogue, (London/New York, 2006), p. 84.

[28] Thompson, ‘Mortality from influenza in Ireland’, p. 183.

[29]Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p. xvi.

[30] Mortality figures calculated from Fifty-fifth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p xvi and Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p. Xvii

[31] Ruth Barrington, Health, medicine and politics in Ireland 1900-1970 (Dublin, 1987), p. 75.

[32] Christopher Langford, ‘The age pattern of mortality in the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: An attempted explanation based on data for England and Wales’, in Medical History, 46 (2002), p. 15. Ann H. Reid, Jeffery K. Taubenberger, Thomas G. Fanning, ‘The 1918 Spanish influenza: Integrating history and biology’, in Microbes and Infection,3 (2001), p. 83.

[33] Johnson, Britain and the 1918-19 influenza Pandemic, p. 88.

[34]Reid, Taugenberger and Fanning, ‘The 1918 Spanish influenza’, p. 83.

[35] Kerri Smith, ‘Concern as revived 1918 flu virus kills monkeys’, in Nature, 445 (18 Jan. 2007), p. 23.



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

Cleaver of Dunraven: A Famly History

A Family History
Researched and Compiled by Richard Graham

COPYRIGHT RICHARD GRAHAM

The Cleaver family originated in Scotland where one of the earliest recorded marriages took place between William Cleaver and Elizabeth Dunstone on 2nd February 1770. William served in the army, and the couple’s children were born and raised in the parish of Kilmallie, near Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. Upon his death in 1787, the family moved to Bishopstone, a small village close to the south coast of England in East Sussex.
From there, the family dispersed to the West Indies, Victoria and Tasmania in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, but for the purposes of this paper, I will focus on that branch of the family that relocated to Ireland in the mid-1800s.

John Cleaver was born in Bishopstone on 23rd September 1841, the great grandson of William Cleaver of Fort William. He served his apprenticeship in retail in London, and in a bid to further his career, he crossed the Irish Sea in 1865 to manage one of the departments in the established firm of James Lindsay & Co; general drapers, silk mercers and linen merchants at the Ulster Arcade on Donegall Place. The Lindsay family had themselves made their way to Ireland from Scotland in 1678, where they played an active role in the Relief of Derry in 1689, before moving to Belfast to establish a “woollen, linen and haberdashery warehouse” at 15 Bridge Street, the then centre of commerce in the town, in 1822.

It was during his time at Lindsay Brothers, that John Cleaver met Edward Robinson, a young man from Ballymena, who had earlier secured for himself an apprenticeship with the same company. His father Alexander, was a woollen draper in the County Antrim town. Both men soon realised the enormous potential for the development of the sale of Irish linen products, and with financial assistance from their families, set up a business partnership in premises on Castle Place in 1870, styled as Robinson & Cleaver. 

The success of their business was based on the fact that until that time, it had been almost impossible to obtain locally produced goods at reasonable prices. They were quick to identify this gap in the market and within a short space of time, the business had expanded and the partnership moved to larger premises on High Street (left) in 1879. The potential for growth of such a business in Belfast at that time was phenomenal.

On 12th August 1869, John Cleaver married Mary Anne Spence at Rich Hill Wesleyan Congregational Church in Co Armagh. They had met in Belfast, where Mary Anne had also come to seek work and soon they set up home at Ashley Villa, on Ashley Avenue, a middle class residential area just off the Lisburn Road, close to his business partner who resided on nearby Eglantine Avenue.

All of John and Mary’s children (3 sons and 5 daughters) were born at Ashley Villa:

-Arthur Spencer Cleaver (b 1870)

-John Martin Cleaver (b 1871)

-Kathleen Mary Cleaver (b 1872 – died, aged 9, 1882)

-James Frederick Cleaver (b1875)

-Mabel Cleaver (b 1877)

-Florence Edith Cleaver (b1878)

-Norah Heathcliff Cleaver (b 1881 – died, aged 9, 1890)

-Eileen Martha Esther Cleaver (b 1886)

The children were christened at nearby University Road Methodist Church (1865) – an institution that would prove to be pivotal in the life of the Cleaver family in Ireland.

In addition to raising a large family, the business at High Street continued to expand. Belfast was fast becoming one of the leading manufacturing cities of the British Empire, with markets for products produced in North East Ireland opening up across the civilised world. The partners were not slow to capitalise on this phenomenal growth and soon they were supplying high quality items of Irish linen to households across the United Kingdom. Soon the company outgrew their premises on High Street and by the mid-1880s the partners began to look for larger premises. They purchased one of the last residential houses on Donegall Place (see right) which had a large garden onto Donegall Square North, and quickly commissioned one of the leading architects of the day, Young & McKenzie, to design a building that would be fitting for the business they had grown over the past 15 years. The vast majority of parcels despatched from Belfast came from the house of Robinson & Cleaver and the company pioneered overseas sales via their brochures to homes and businesses across the empire.

The ‘Royal Irish Linen Warehouse’ of Robinson & Cleaver opened for business on September 1888, the same year that Belfast received its charter as a city. With success came great wealth for the founding partners and by this time, they would have been the equivalent of millionaires in today’s money. This precipitated a move to a larger house on the Malone Road for the Cleaver family – a large Victorian terrace opposite Fisherwick Presbyterian Church.

In 1892, such was the success of Robinson & Cleaver, that John Cleaver moved residence again, this time to the estate of ‘Dunraven’ on the Malone Road. Dunraven, a large Italianate Villa, had been built for the timber magnate and shipowner, James Porter Corry in 1870. It extended over several acres with its own lake and extensive parkland. It was in this house that John and Mary would spend the rest of their lives. 
With success came prosperity, and John Cleaver was in the position to educate his children at the same time elevating himself to a position of importance in Ulster Society.

By 1900, his eldest son, (aged 29) Arthur Spencer Cleaver, in addition to becoming a director of Robinson & Cleaver, had embarked on a military career and became a second Lieutenant in the Southern Division of the Mid Ulster (Royal Field) Artillery (left) – a regiment within the British Army. He removed to London, primarily to look after the Regent Street store at the same time becoming an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel with the Royal Garrison Artillery, 1st Reserve Battery. 

It was however his wife, Adelaide, who achieved notoriety as an adventurer and women pioneer in aviation in the 1920s and 30s. She was an avid mountain climber, expert driver and skilled motor mechanic. Adelaide Franklin Pollock was born in Newtownards in 1896, the eldest daughter of the Rt Hon Hugh MacDowell Pollock, first Minister of Finance in the Government of Northern Ireland created in 1921. Having developed an important flour importing business, Pollock was independently wealthy, and as Chairman of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners had one of the docks named in his honour. Coming from such a privileged position within Ulster Society this was the type of union John Cleaver would have nurtured and encouraged for his offspring.

Adelaide was one of the few women to be granted a pilot’s licence in the UK in the inter war era. She flew from London to India and back in 1929, and in the following year, boarded a steamer from London to New York, with her ‘Moth’ on board, with the intention of becoming the first British woman to fly across the United States. After many thrills and spills, she eventually achieved this goal, being welcomed in Hollywood, California as somewhat of a major celebrity. She subsequently visited China, Japan and Egypt in her travels across the globe.

See thread on Rootschat here:  http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=686031.9
Arthur and Adelaide had two sons, both of which followed their father into the armed forces. Cecil Alwyn Spencer Cleaver was born in 2 Southwick Crescent, Hyde Park, the family home in London in 1907, and embarked on a military career. As a gentleman cadet, he attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, before joining the Grenadier Guards becoming a 2nd Lieutenant with the Foot Guards in 1926. On 3rd October 1930, he arrived in New York having travelled out of Southampton aboard RMS Berengaria, flagship of the Cunard Line. Cecil was killed in action whilst serving with the British forces in Tanganykia Territory, East Africa in 1935, at the age of 28 without issue. His death occurred at Tabora Hospital. This part of Africa was a colony of the British Empire and under British Administration having formerly been under German control before the First World War

Gordon Neil Spencer ‘Mouse’ Cleaver was born in Stanmore, Middlesex, in 1910, and educated at Harrow. As an accomplished skier, he was the inaugural winner of the ‘Hahnenkammrennen Combined’ in Austria in 1931. The ‘Cleaver Cup’ was subsequently named after his success on the slopes. He joined 601 Fighter Squadron (The Millionaire’s Squadron) Auxiliary Air Force in 1937, being promoted to the position of Flying Officer in October 1938. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War he was mobilised in November 1939, travelling to France with his Squadron to Merville in Northern France. He claimed 7 confirmed “kills” during the Battle of Britain before his hurricane was shot down during combat over Winchester. Although he baled out, the fragments from the Perspex canopy on his plane, shattered into his eyes and face blinding him in the right eye. For his valour, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Despite his injuries he remained in the RAF throughout the war, being released on medical grounds in November 1943, retaining the rank of Squadron Leader. Following on from the injuries he received, Cleaver underwent 18 operations on his eyes under the accomplished eye surgeon Harold Ridley. It was during work carried out during these procedures that Ridley developed the intraocular lens, a major development in repairing damage to the human eye.

John Cleaver’s first born daughter, Kathleen, died at the age of 9 years, in 1882, at the family home on Ashley Avenue, before the move to Dunraven, most likely from TB which claimed the lives of thousands of people in the town of Belfast at that time

His second son, (John) Martin Cleaver, born in 1871, was educated in England and Germany, gaining a BA from the Royal University of Ireland (precursor to QUB) and graduating from TCD with a law degree in 1893. He set up his own practice as a solicitor later that year at premises on Wellington Place. In 1897, he took into partnership William Fulton, whose father John Fulton, was a linen manufacturer at the firm of John Fulton & Co on Ormeau Avenue. The partnership was style as Cleaver & Fulton. Both the Cleavers and Fultons were Methodists, with John Fulton being greatly interested in Foreign Missions, in addition to being solicitor to the Board of Governors at Methodist College. Soon after the partnership was established, Martin Cleaver, influenced by Fulton’s vision, retired from the law, devoting his whole time to the Egypt General Mission of which he was one of the founders. He arrived in Alexandria, Egypt on 31st January 1898, one of a group of 7 missionaries where he met Aileen Mary White, who had also carried out missionary work in Egypt. After their marriage, they both returned to Alexandria, but after four years of travelling in North Africa, his health broke down, and he took up residence in London as Secretary to the Mission.He later went on to co-found the ‘Fellowship of Faith for the Muslims’ (1915) an international fellowship of Christians who have a concern for the Muslim world, publishing such pamphlets as “Why do the Muslims need the Gospel?”Having been at Keswick in 1915, he returned to visit his father at Dunraven in Belfast, but became ill and died during that visit in August of that year. Both J Martin Cleaver and his wife Aileen are buried at Belfast City Cemetery. The company he established in 1893, Cleaver Fulton Rankin, remains one of Northern Ireland’s leading law firms.

John Cleaver’s third son, (James) Frederick was born at Ashley Villa on 8th June 1875, and after being educated in Belfast and Germany, he travelled the world, visiting Australia and New Zealand, before following his father into the family business at Robinson & Cleaver, in 1895. The firm had developed branches throughout the UK including Regent Street, London; and Church Street, Liverpool. The importance of the company to the economy of Belfast cannot be underestimated. Robinson & Cleaver sent more parcels containing linen products of Irish manufacture out of the city of Belfast than any other business. Their store on London’s Regent Street was one of the most opulent and exclusive in the capital (right). He soon became Managing Director of the firm at its headquarters on Donegall Place (1906) and resided at a house called ‘Bishopstone’ on Deramore Park, recalling the origins of his father’s home in Essex. He married, in 1901, Sarah Hammond Fulton, eldest daughter of John Fulton and sister of the partner of his brother’s law firm, Cleaver and Fulton (see J Martin Cleaver).

Fred Cleaver was a staunch Unionist and Ulsterman. He was an active member of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce; the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society; the Belfast Harbour Board; The Belfast Chamber of Trade, and was Chairman of the Ulster Tourist Development Association. As a member of the Ulster Unionist Council, he took an active part in the Anti Home Rule campaign and he took a leading part in the organising and equipping of the Ulster Division in the run-up to the Great War of 1914-18. During the war, he led an expedition to retrieve the US crew of the SS Otranto which sank in 1918 whilst in use as an armed merchant cruiser. For his services, he was Knighted in 1927. Upon his father’s death in 1926, Sir Frederick became Chairman of Robinson & Cleaver, but such was the international reputation of the company that several approached were made to acquire the capital from the family controlled concern. The ordinary shares of the company were transferred to Edward de Stein, a merchant banker, in 1935, with Sir Frederick and his brother Arthur being retained in an advisory capacity.

Sir Frederick Cleaver died suddenly on the evening of Saturday 31st March 1936, following his decision to take a walk from his home, Marlborough Park House, to which he had moved in 1927 (left). He had reached Stranmillis Road, when he collapsed and died. He was survived by his wife Lady Sarah Cleaver who died at Broomhill Park in December 1951. Like so many other members of the family, she also took an active interest in the work of the Methodist missions.

John Cleaver’s eldest surviving daughter, Mabel, was born in March 1877 and in what was not perhaps a surprising move, she married Edward (Ned) Robinson on 12th June 1901 at University Road Methodist Church. Ned Robinson was the eldest son of Edward Robinson, one of the founders of Robinson & Cleaver and was a joint managing director of the firm at Donegall Place. They began their married life at a house on Somerton Park, but following the death of his father in 1906, they moved to a magnificent estate at Shaw’s Bridge overlooking the Lagan named Terrace Hill. It was the sale of the company to Edward De Stein in 1936, that precipitated the couple to demolish the original house of 1856. Ned and Mabel who enjoyed a fantastic social life, built a sprawling new house in an American neo-Georgian style, the design being executed by Young & McKenzie, (who designed the original store on Donegall Place in 1888) and in which they could entertain the cream of Ulster Society. Mabel had two daughters, who were brought up in a very privileged environment. Terrace Hill extended to over 9,200 sq feet, and had beautifully manicured gardens overlooking Barnett’s Demesne to Malone House on the other side of the valley. The house had tennis courts and a swimming pool. The eldest, Gwendoline, married Peter Swann, an insurance broker of the Wirral and left Northern Ireland in 1951, whilst Inez married Thomas Agnew, a land agent in Belfast. They were the last occupants to live at Macedon House at Whiteabbey, before it was taken over by Barnardo’s as a children’s home in 1950, as was Terrace Hill, after the departure of the Clokey family in 1970. Inez died in 1978 without issue
Ned died at Terrace Hill on 7th December 1947, after which the house was sold to the Clokey family of King Street in Belfast. Mabel died two years later in 1949 at Musgrave Nursing home aged 72.

John and Mary Anne Cleaver lost another one of their children to an early death in 1890, when Norah Heathfield Cleaver died at the young age of 9 years old. She is buried with her parents in the family plot at Belfast City Cemetery.

Their two remaining daughters left Belfast and moved to England where they married and had families. In doing so they left few members of the family residing in Northern Ireland after Sir Frederick’s sudden death in 1936. Perhaps they felt an affinity with their origins in Bishopstone, where many of the Cleaver family originate from. Florence died in Poole in Dorset in 1946, aged 68, but is commemorated on the family memorial with her parents. She had married Norman MacNaughton in 1911, whilst Eileen married Charles Mitchell Clegg in 1914 and died in Harrowgate, Yorkshire in August 1973, aged 87

Today there are several reminders of the power and influence of the Cleaver family in Ireland, although there are no remaining family members now resident here. The site of the once magnificent family home and estate at Dunraven, is now covered in villa developments from the 1930s, when the house was sold, and is now known as Cleaver Park and Cleaver Avenue, off the Malone Road.

 

The magnificent department store buildings of Robinson & Cleaver still stand on the Corner of Donegall Place and Donegall Square North, as they do in London, although the family connection with the business was severed in 1936. The achievements of the company in obtaining several Royal Warrants and supplying Royal households across the world was none the less remarkable
 

The final resting place of the Irish branch of the family can be found at Belfast City Cemetery, where there are three separate memorials. The saddest of these is the main family memorial which has only recently been revealed having been badly damaged by vandals during the period of civil unrest in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

Thanks to Peter McCabe and Ricky Cole the inscriptions of the memorial have been exposed to remind us of the power, wealth, privilege and good works that came about from the arrival of John Cleaver to Belfast in 1865. 

 

 

COPYRIGHT RICHARD GRAHAM

Commander of the Belfast Regiment Irish National Volunteers lost on HMS Hampshire

Today marks the Centenary of the sinking of HMS Hampshire with Lord Kitchener on aboard.

On 5 June 1916, HMS Hampshire left the Royal Navy’s anchorage at Scapa Flow, Orkney, bound for Russia. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, was on board as part of a diplomatic and military mission aimed at boosting Russia’s efforts on the Eastern Front.

At about quarter to nine in the evening, in stormy conditions and within two miles of Orkney’s northwest shore, she struck a mine laid by German submarine U-75.

There were at least 28 Irish sailors lost on HMS Hampshire.

One of them was the ship’s surgeon, Dr Hugh Francis McNally from Belfast, son of the principal of Raglan Street Boy’s School on the Falls Road.  McNally, an ex St Malachy’s pupil had studied Medicine at Queen’s University and was a member of the Queen’s Officer Training Corps.

He joined the Irish National Volunteers at its formation and was immediately appointed company officer.  On the retirement of Captain Berkeley he was appointed Commander of the Belfast Regiment of with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

At the start of the First World War, he joined the National Volunteers. He was a magnificent organiser, and was responsible for the 1915 parade in Dublin.  Newspaper reports at the time note that he ‘his name will always be remembered by the Belfast National Volunteers with the kindliest feelings’.  On receiving his degree from Queen’s University, he joined the Royal Navy, giving his service ‘in the cause of humanity’.

His obituary notes ‘By his death a bright future has been cut short, while his loss to the Volunteer movement will be widely regretted.’

The sinking of HMS Hampshire was a grievous blow to the Allied war effort. The British Empire lost Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, whose organisational ability ensured that Britain had an army, of sufficient size, to be able to stand alongside her Allies in a major European conflict. Kitchener was a personality who was instantly familiar to all British people, both young and old, whose death was mourned as if he had been a close relative.

In addition to the crew, who numbered around 650, was Kitchener’s delegation, consisting of military officers, politicians and their staffs, who also went down with the Hampshire.

Only 12 men, all from the Ship’s company, survived the disaster.

Lord Kitchener, left, is seen aboard the HMS Iron Duke on June 5, 1916, the day before his ill-fated voyage on the HMS Hampshire. (National Army Museum archives)

Lord Kitchener, left, is seen aboard the HMS Iron Duke on June 5, 1916, the day before his ill-fated voyage on the HMS Hampshire. (National Army Museum archives)

The lost lives of the Battle of the Somme

Belfast City Council event with History Hub Ulster member Nigel Henderson.

The lost lives of the Battle of the Somme

Date: 21 Jun 2016

Time: 6.30pm – 9pm
Venue: Banqueting Hall, Belfast City Hall

Over 200,000 Irishmen fought in the Great War, and it’s estimated that up to 25,000 – 30,000 Irish soldiers from the Irish Divisions and others in British based Divisions died between 1914 and 1918. The most iconic Battle involving Irish soldiers was the Battle of the Somme, which began on 1 July 1916.

Nigel Henderson and Philip Orr will deliver a presentation on some of those who lost their lives, focussing on the impact that this had on communities in Belfast. The presentation will also include poetry written in Ulster and in France during the period of the Battle of the Somme.

The presentation will be followed by a dramatised reading of the Halfway House, which looks at two women who met in 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, hearing of the experiences of their fathers who were on different sides in 1916.

Light refreshments will be served at 6.30pm.

Booking is essential, email goodrelations@belfastcity.gov.uk or call 028 90270 663 to register.

http://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/events/Event-61893.aspx

Call for Participants in North Belfast Remembers Project

CarolineA sea of lights to remember those from North Belfast who died in the First World War.

On Saturday 19th March, participants of North Belfast Remembers will set sail glass bottles with LED lights and details of individual men and women from North Belfast who served in the First World War.

Adults and children will partner to tell the stories of 100 men, will attend a memorial event and release their glass bottle into the water at HMS Caroline.  At workshops in North Belfast, the adults involved will research a serviceman and write a letter to an unknown child about his life.  Each child will receive a letter and design their glass bottle accordingly.  The letters will be inserted into the bottles, and together each partnership will turn on the LED light in their bottle and push their bottle and letter into the water, a message in a bottle.  The sea of LED lights will serve as a poignant reminder of those lost during the First World War.

If you are from North Belfast and would like to take part in a research workshop please get in touch by emailing research@historyhubulster.co.uk

Research skills workshops will be roughly 2 hours long and will include basic research skills using a number of sources on local library computers.  Each participant will then write a letter to a child with all the information they have found. The child will use the letter to design their bottle in keeping with the man’s life. Each participant will then be required to attend an informal memorial event on the evening of 19th March at HMS Caroline, and throw their ‘message in a bottle’ into the Victoria Channel.

All members of the community will be invited to attend, bringing their own letters to place into bottles which will be provided on site and can be thrown into the channel.  Details of this will be circulated at a later date on this site.

 

HMS CAROLINE TO OPEN JUNE 1 2016. SIX MONTHS TO GO!

The count-down has begun for the opening of one of the world’s most historically significant war ships. Urgent repairs to halt the deterioration of World War One light cruiser HMS Caroline were completed earlier this year making the ship safe for the next stage of restoration. Now the final leg of restoration and interpretative work can be completed to allow the ship to function as a world-class museum, a cross-community centre and a meetings and conferences venue.

National Museum of the Royal Navy Chief of Staff Captain John Rees OBE has been leading the complex funding and restoration programme in partnership with the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. He says: “HMS Caroline is a living legend. We are breathing new life into what is an internationally significant piece of world history. We are particularly looking forward to the ship being ready for public opening on June 1 2016. This will mark the first stage of a series of phased openings. The second and third phases will see the ship dry docked for hull conservation works in the winter and then the completion of onshore facilities.

“This is a world class heritage asset and the only ship remaining from the Grand and High Seas Fleet of some 250 vessels.  We must not underestimate the value of this ship and the resonance of its history and position in Northern Ireland, so it is a matter of pride for us as well as a contribution to local communities that the ship is brought back to life as a museum, visitor and community centre.”

Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell says: “As the last floating survivor of the Battle of Jutland, HMS Caroline is an integral part of the rich tapestry of maritime history at Titanic Quarter. I have no doubt it will prove to be a popular draw for tourists when it opens as a world class museum in six months’ time.”

The vessel has been based in Northern Ireland for over 90 years and has undergone the first stages of restoration which will eventually see it opened to the public as a world class museum and heritage visitor attraction. The opening date is due to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Jutland on May 31 2016.

NMRN in a joint venture with Northern Ireland’s Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment initially secured £1m from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to safeguard the ship, £11.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £2.7m from the Northern Ireland Government to complete the restoration, preservation and interpretative work.

COMMEMORATION OF THE IRISH SAILOR

31st May 2016, the Centenary of the Battle of Jutland, is the chosen date to mark the contribution of all involved in war and life at sea 1914 – 1918 with a Commemoration to the Irish Sailor in the Great War.  The event will be run in Belfast next to Jutland’s only afloat survivor, HMS Caroline, and will include her official opening as a heritage visitor attraction.  The commemoration will connect people in maritime activity a hundred years ago with descendants, and to those engaged in similar activity today.

If you have links to sailors, fishing, shipbuilding or other maritime activity from 1914-18 and wish to be involved, please see here:  http://historyhubulster.co.uk/irishsailor/

HMS CAROLINE Project Phasing

The project is split into three distinct phases as outlined below:

PHASE 1The Ship: These works comprise of asbestos removal, ship adaptation, audio visual hardware and software and exhibition fit-out and interpretation fit-out.

PHASE 2Dry Docking: of the ship for conservation works to the hull

PHASE 3Visitor Centre & Landscaping: refurbishment works to the Pump House blocks 1-3 including the Alexandra dock

Schedule of opening

2016

May 31: Commemoration of The Irish Sailor. Centenary of Battle of Jutland ceremonies and events at Alexandra Dock.

June 1: HMS Caroline welcomes its first public visitors.

August: Landscaping of Alexandra Dock complete.

November:  HMS Caroline leaves Alexandra Dock for dry dock inspection and hull conservation works.

December: HMS Caroline returns to Alexandra Dock and new position close to Pump House and facing out to sea.

2017

May: Completion of Pump House restoration and installation of permanent ticketing office and visitor welcome centre.

caroline pic

Letters of 1916 Belfast Launch

EXPLORE life in Ireland a century ago, CONTRIBUTE to a crowdsourced history project, LEARN about how a digital archive is created, DISCOVER hidden stories of 1916.

Bring your family letters written between 1 November 1915 – 31 October 1916 to digitize and add to the Letters 1916 archive:

WHERE: PRONI
WHEN: Thursday 28th May 2015, 5.30pm to 9.00pm

5.30pm – 6.30pm Open Session – Letters 1916 – Meet the team demo, transcribe, digitise.
6.30pm- 7.45pm A year in the life: A series of talks exploring life in Ireland a century ago highlighting letters from PRONI’S collection, including Professor Susan Schreibman (Maynooth University), Ian Montgomery (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland), Stephen Scarth (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland), Jason Burke (East Belfast & The Great War)
7.45pm – 8.30pm Reception

Admission is FREE, Please contact PRONI to secure your place

letters1916

WW1 Centenary: Social Media reunites Great War Silver War Badge with Belfast soldier’s family

History Hub Ulster member, Nigel Henderson, has been successful in re-uniting a lost Great War Silver War Badge with a living relative of the North Belfast soldier to whom it was awarded. The Silver War Badge was issued to men who were discharged from military service due to war-related injuries or illness. The recipients were required wear the badge on the right lapel to show that they had “done their bit” and would not be regarded as shirkers.

HHU's Gavin Bamford and Limerick RBL's Brian Duffy

HHU’s Gavin Bamford and Limerick RBL’s Brian Duffy

Albert Edward Baxter was born around 1884 or 1885 to James Baxter and Agnes Baxter and the family lived at various addresses, Midland Street (Woodvale), Argyle Street (Woodvale), Byron Street (Oldpark) and Harkness Parade (Sydenham).

He enlisted into the Royal Engineers (Service Number 57649, 121st Field Company) on 28/11/1914 within four months of war being declared and, after training, was posted to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on 04/10/1915, where he stayed for just over 1 year. His next posting was back to the Home Service until he was discharged on 24/12/1917 with an unspecified sickness, being awarded Silver War Badge number 295512. Home Service suited Albert, a tailor by trade, as he met Margaret McFarlane and they married on 08/07/1907 in St Anne’s Church, Belfast. Albert died on 16/02/1960 aged 75 and his widow, Margaret, died a couple of months later on 05/04/1960 aged 74. They are both buried in Roselawn.

In early 2014, Brian Duffy, Secretary of the Limerick Branch of the Royal British Legion, discovered the Silver War Badge on a militaria stall in the St George’s Street Arcade in Dublin. Realising the badge had been issued to a Belfast man who had served in the Royal Engineers just as his own Dublin grandfather had, he secured it in the hope of reuniting it with the Baxter family.

Silver War BadgeBrian said, “I was browsing in the hope of finding my own grand-fathers lost medals but seeing this badge’s local connection, I believed that it could and should be reunited with Albert Baxter’s family. It was an act of Remembrance really and I posted an appeal on the Facebook page that I administer for the Limerick Branch of the Royal British Legion. Our Belfast following is quite strong and I was confident someone there would be able to help”.Pop in Shop Belfast

History Hub Ulster’s Nigel Henderson, a local Great War researcher, picked up on the post and, having done some additional local research, identified the date on which Albert Baxter died and the names other members of Albert’s family from the death notices in the Belfast newspapers. Nigel posted a request appealing for relatives to come forward on the Belfast Forum and a response was received from Garry Young of Ballybeen in January 2015.
Garry, whose father served with the Royal Ulster Rifles and whose grandfather died with the King’s Royal Rifle Corp during the Dunkirk evacuation, said,

“I knew that my great grand-father was in the Great War, but I did not have any other details. It is fantastic to have this piece of my family history and I am truly grateful to Brian and Nigel for making it possible.”

Unfortunately, Garry Young was too unwell to meet Brian himself and his grandfather’s Silver War Badge was accepted on his behalf by History Hub Ulster’s Gavin Bamford.

Photos: Nigel Henderson