Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

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

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Blue plaque for James Viscount Bryce

An unseasonably cold and wet morning greeted the guests who gathered at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast to mark the life and achievements of James Bryce on the 175th Anniversary of his birth at 40 Upper Arthur Street. 

Chris Spurr
Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, welcomed everyone to this special occasion, the latest of the series of blue plaque in this part of the city. Jame Bryce was joining Luke Livingstone Macassey in Chichester Street, John Boyd Dunlop in May Street and Harry Ferguson in Donegall Square East. James Bryce's many achievement during his long life were impressive; historian, politician and diplomat. Although he lived in a very different age from our own his achievements remain exemplary in the present time. He was of course of Scottish stock who became one of the most prominent Ulster-Scots of Edwardian times. On this, the 175th anniversary of his birth in this street, it was fitting that we now have a visible and permanent record of his life and achievements here in Belfast. Since the early 1980s, the Ulster History Circle has put up more than 150 plaques all over Northern Ireland to celebrate the achievements of those men and women who have contributed significantly to our history, locally, nationally, and internationally. It is an entirely voluntary organisation, and relies on the support of local authorities, individuals, organisations, and businesses to fund the plaques. Chris extended his thanks to the Ulster-Scots Agency for its financial support for the plaque and for hosting the refreshments later and in particular he thanked Maynard Hanna of the Agency for all his help and support during the planning process. He also thanked Noel Phoenix and Clive Neville, joint owners of the building, for allowing the erection of the plaque there. 

Ian Crozier
Ian Crozier, CEO of the Ulster-Scots Agency, thanked the Circle for undertaking the project. This was the first of five plaques that the Circle would erect this year to commemorate Ulster-Scots people who had made a significant contribution not only here but internationally. He hoped this co-operation would continue into the future. Ulster people are a very forward looking people, always looking for the next challenge but one thing they are not so good at is recognising and celebrating their achievements and bringing them to the attention of the next generation as an inspiration. Over the next few years the Agency and the Circle would be working to bring such achievers to public recognition. Today we are honouring James Bryce. There were other Ulster-Scots like Lord Kelvin, honoured in Scotland, buried in Westminster Abbey but virtually unrecognised by today's generation. Blue plaques are too small to record the full extent of the achievements of people like James Bryce. He would not deal in detail with Bryce's life and achievents. That would be provided by Gordon Lucy in the Agency HQ later. It was with great pleasure that he unveiled the plaque. 

Dr Gordon Lucy
Following refreshments in the Agency's premises Dr Gordon Lucy addressed the gathering. Over the course of a stimulating, entertaining and informative 20 minute talk he took us through Bryce's origins, birth and early childhood in Belfast and Glasgow and showed how his early promise was exemplified by his academic achievments. He described the origins of Bryce's liberalism and the development of his scholarship, his extensive travelling and impressive mountaineering skills as well as providing an insight into Bryce's political and diplomatic achievements. 

For more information about James Bryce's life and achievements visit

Catch-up time

I've been neglecting my updating of the blog. Since the last update the Circle has unveiled four plaques. Links are provided to the reports of the unveiling of the individual plaques.

  1. Sean Lester, Last Secretary-General of the League of Nations, 22 February 2013. See  Report of the Lester unveiling
  2. Isabella Tod, Suffragist and Campaigner for Women's Rights, on International Women's Day, 8 March 2013, See Report of the Tod unveiling
  3. Dr James McDonnell, Physician (Father of Belfast Medicine), 15 April 2013, see Report of the McDonnell unveiling and 
  4. Gustav Wilhelm Wolff, Shipbuilder, 17 April 2013. See Report of the Wolff unveiling

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Blue plaque for Sir Otto Jaffe - 14 January 2013 - at 10 Donegall Square South, Belfast

The Event

The wintry day, with a cold drizzle, that met those gathering for the unveiling ceremony opposite the rear entrance of Belfast City Hall did not dampen the spirits or detract from the warmth of the occasion.

Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, welcomed the Lord Mayor, Alderman Gavin Robinson and the guests to the unveiling of the latest of the Circle's plaques and the first of 2013. Sir Otto Jaffe had made a significant contribution to the enterprise of Victorian Belfast. So much so that 113 years ago it made him Lord Mayor for the first time and the Circle was delighted to honour him with this plaque. He thanked the City Council for funding the plaque and Mr John Miskelly and the management of the 10 Square Hotel for allowing the plaque to be erected on the building that had originally been called Yorkshire House.

Belfast Lord Mayor, Alderman Gavin Robinson, with
Sean Nolan and Chris Spurr , Ulster History Circle
The Lord Mayor thanked the Circle for erecting the plaque and said how interesting it was to read about Sir Otto and the contribution he had made to this great city of ours. Although he was Hamburg born, coming to Belfast at the age of six, he contributed so much to the City's way of life. Sir Otto was an illustrious predecessor of his and it was interesting to note that his family's linen business was here on this site and his own family's linen business was at the other end of the same street. He got involved in Belfast politics at the age of 30 and rose to become Lord Mayor in 1899 and again in 1904. He gave so much to the City; he contributed £10,000 to the returning servicemen of the Boer War, £1,000 towards the construction of the RVH, £4,000 for Queen's College (now QUB), and established the Jaffe Elementary School for the citizens of Belfast, not just for members of the Jewish community. The Lord Mayor also acknowledged that Belfast had become an unattractive and unwelcoming place for someone who had done so much for the City and so in 1915, after the start of the War, when anti-German feeling was growing in the City, Belfast was no longer an appropriate place for Sir Otto. So he hoped that unveiling this plaque today would in some way to help to reconcile the City with all the great things he gave, the contribution that he made and all that the City owed to Sir Otto Jaffe. In thanking those present for being here today he hoped that we did, in some small way, by unveiling this plaque in his memory, heal those wounds that were so apparent during the War - his memory lives on and his legacy lives on.

Members of the Belfast Jewish Congregation,
with Chris Spurr, after the unveiling
Mr Ronnie Appleton QC thanked the Lord Mayor for his address and the Circle for honouring Sir Otto with this plaque. Sir Otto, twice Lord Mayor of Belfast and Life President of the Belfast Jewish Community, was a philanthropist extraordinary. He came to urban Ireland with his father Daniel at the age of six in 1857. He contributed to many causes; three libraries in Belfast, RVH, Queen's College and the Jaffe School used by a wide number of organisations and used t teach Jewish Children their religion in the evenings. His firm, Jaffe Brothers, was the largest exporter of linen in Ireland and gave much-needed employment. He paid for the Jewish Synagogue that was founded in 1904 and served the Jewish Community until 1964. His contribution was substantial to Northern Ireland and is something that he is now being recognised in this way.

The Man

Sir Otto Jaffe
Otto Jaffe was born in Hamburg in 1846, the third son of Daniel Jaffe. He came to Belfast at the age of 6 and at 16 he entered the family  business, Jaffe Brothers Linen Merchants, also known as Strand spinning, which provided work for about 350 local people, rising to 650 in 1914 when the company expanded to make munitions. Otto was educated in Belfast, Hamburg, and Switzerland. After carrying on business in New York from 1865 to 1877, he became chief director of the Belfast firm.

He was elected a City Councillor for St Anne's Ward in 1894 and became the city's first Lord Mayor in 1899, being knighted in March of the following year. He served as High Sheriff and was re-elected Lord Mayor in 1904.

Sir Otto was well known throughout his public life in Belfast for his generosity of both time and money. During his first term as Lord Mayor he and the Lady Mayoress raised £10,000 for the dependants of soldiers and sailors serving in the Boer War. He contributed £1,000 to the original building fund for the Royal Victoria Hospital where he was Governor.

In 1905 Sir Otto gave £4,000 to the fund for better equipment for Queen's College (now university). He was an active member of the committee that got the Public Libraries Act extended to Belfast, leading to the first free library being established.

As President of the Belfast congregation he made a huge contribution to the consolidation of the province's Jewish population, providing most of the funds for the new synagogue in Annesley Street, Carlisle Circus, in 1904. He had a deep interest in education and funded the Jaffe Public Elementary School at the corner of Cliftonville and Antrim Road in 1907, which, by his stipulation, was not exclusively Jewish, either in its management, staffing or pupils. He was a justice of the peace, a member of the Harbour Board and the German Consul.

In 1915, after 25 years service in Belfast and despite his naturalisation as a British citizen in 1888, and the service of his son Daniel in the British army, Sir Otto was forced to move to England as a result of the intimidation of the family during the war due to their German roots. Sir Otto died and was cremated in London in April 1929. His wife dies in August of the same year.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Blue Plaque for Belfast Artist: 30 November 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank McKelvey died on 30 June 1974 in Belfast.

The Unveiling

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

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

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

Anne McKelvey and Trevor
Kennedy unveil the plaque

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

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

Founder of the oldest continuously published regional newspaper

30 October 2012 (A Blue plaque is unveiled)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francis Joy died in Randalstown on 10 June 1790.

The Event

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Blue plaque for Dr Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Blue plaque for physician, anthropologist and writer from West Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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