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Like an old cathedral city: Belfast welcomes Queen Victoria, August 1849

  • S.J. CONNOLLY (a1)


Belfast, with its history of communal violence, is normally seen as lying outside the mainstream of nineteenth-century British urban development. The queen's visit, however, reveals a community characterized by much the same mixture of civic pride and diffidence that characterized other provincial centres. The episode also casts light on the ambivalent attitude of the British and Irish political establishments to the new industrial town, and on Belfast's ambiguous position within the Irish urban hierarchy.



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1 Garrard, J., Leadership and Power in Victorian Industrial Towns 1830–80 (Manchester, 1983), ch. 2; idem, ‘Urban elites: the rise and decline of a new squirearchy’, Albion, 27/3 (1995), 583–621.

2 The cultural turn in British urban history can be traced back to Briggs, A., Victorian Cities (London, 1963), and received a huge boost from Dyos, H.J. and Wolff, M. (eds.), The Victorian City (London, 1973). For recent work, see Gunn, S., The Public Culture of the Victorian Middle Class: Ritual and Authority in the English Industrial City 1840–1914 (Manchester, 2000); Hunt, T., Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City (London, 2004).

3 Cannadine, D., ‘The transformation of civic ritual in modern Britain: the Colchester oyster feast’, Past and Present, 94 (1982), 128–9.

4 Wright, F., Two Lands on One Soil: Ulster Politics before Home Rule (Dublin, 1996); Farrell, S., Rituals and Riots: Sectarian Violence and Political Culture in Ulster, 1784–1886 (Lexington, 2000); Hirst, C., Religion, Politics and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Belfast (Dublin, 2002); Doyle, M., Fighting like the Devil for the Sake of God: Protestants, Catholics and the Origins of Violence in Victorian Belfast (Manchester, 2009). Miller, K.A., ‘Belfast's first bomb, 28 Feb. 1816: class conflict and the origins of Ulster Unionist hegemony’, Eire-Ireland, 39 (2004), 262–80, is less useful, explaining plebeian sectarianism by a crude model of manipulation from above.

5 Murphy, J.H., Abject Loyalty: Nationalism and Monarchy in Ireland during the Reign of Queen Victoria (Cork, 2001), 78. For other general accounts of the royal visit, see Woodham-Smith, C., The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845–9 (London, 1962), 384406; Loughlin, J., ‘Allegiance and illusion: Queen Victoria's Irish visit of 1849’, History, 87 (2002), 491513. The only extended discussion of the Belfast part of the visit is Kinealy, C. and MacAtasney, G., The Hidden Famine: Hunger, Poverty and Sectarianism in Belfast (London, 2000).

6 Prince Albert to Lord John Russell, 6 Jun. 1849 (Royal Archives, Windsor (hereafter RA) VIC/MAIN/D/19/46, copy).

7 Col. Charles Phipps to Sir George Grey, 7 Jul. 1849 (ibid., no. 71, copy).

8 Grey to Phipps, 10 Jul. 1849 (ibid. no. 81); Beechey to Phipps, 15 Jul. 1849 (ibid. no. 88).

9 Clarendon to Russell, 3 Jul. 1849 (Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Clar. dep. Irish, vol. 4, fol. 73). Clarendon also argued that it would be regrettable if the Prince, who had shown such interest in industrial progress and the well-being of the working class, lost the chance to add to his popularity by a similar display in Ireland.

10 George Dawson to Sir William Freemantle, 26 Jul. 1849 (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (hereafter PRONI), T2603/9). Dawson was deputy chairman of the Board of Customs and a son-in-law of Sir Robert Peel.

11 Belfast News Letter (hereafter BNL), 28, 31 Aug. 1804.

12 Donegall to Thomas Verner, 3, 22 Jul. 1849 (PRONI D1798/7/21A, 24). See Maguire, W.A., Living Like a Lord: The Second Marquis of Donegall 1769–1844 (Belfast, 1984); idem, ‘The 1822 settlement of the Donegall estates’, Irish Economic and Social History, 3 (1976), 17–32; idem, ‘Lord Donegall and the sale of Belfast: a case history from the Encumbered Estates Court’, Economic History Review, 29 (1976), 570–84.

13 Phipps to Grey, 13 Jul. 1849 (RA VIC/MAIN/D/19/85, copy).

14 Clarendon to Grey, 8, 10, 20 Jul. 1849 (Bodleian, MS Clar. dep. Irish, vol. 4, fol. 77r, 79v, 92r); Grey to Phipps, 22 Jul. 1849 (RA VIC/MAIN/D/19/94).

15 Grey to Clarendon, 13 Jul. 1849 (Bodleian, MS Clar. dep. Irish, box 13). Johnson, youngest son of a leading Belfast merchant, had qualified for the bar but appears to have been a gentleman of leisure. See Dod, R.P., The Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland for 1864 (London, 1864), 349, and Johnson's own speech at the dinner to celebrate the success of the visit (BNL, 14 Aug. 1849).

16 Clarendon to Grey, 26 Jul. 1849 (Bodleian, MS Clar. dep. Irish, vol. 4, fol. 101v).

17 Londonderry to Clarendon, 24, 26 Sep. 1849 (Bodleian, MS Clar. dep. Irish, box 18).

18 BNL, 3, 6, 17, 24 Jul. 1849.

19 Ibid. 3 Aug. 1849.

20 Ibid. 14 Aug. 1849; Northern Whig (hereafter NW), 14 Aug. 1849.

21 Glasgow Herald, 13 Aug. 1849; Banner of Ulster, 14 Aug. 1849.

22 For the portcullis see BNL, 14 Aug. 1849, and the queen's own comment in her journal of 11 Aug. 1849 (RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ/1849, 304).

23 Pilson, J.A., History of the Rise and Progress of Belfast and Annals of the County Antrim (Belfast, 1846), 25.

24 For the urban landscape of nineteenth-century Belfast, Jones, E., A Social Geography of Belfast (London, 1960), chs. 2, 3, remains the classic work. See also Maguire, W.A., Belfast: A History (Lancaster, 2009); Royle, S.A., Belfast Part II, 1840–1901, Irish Historic Towns Atlas No 17 (Dublin, 2007). For railway development, see McCutcheon, W.A., The Industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland (Belfast, 1980), ch. 3.

25 Pilson, Rise and Progress, 26; O'Hanlon, W.M., Walks among the Poor of Belfast (Belfast, 1853), 1316.

26 BNL, 7 Aug. 1849. The Banner of Ulster, 19 Jun. 1849, explicitly acknowledged the significance of the location, expressing indignation that disorderly sports in the fields near the Crumlin Road should take place almost under the walls of the new prison, ‘so terrible to felons, and even those convicted of misdemeanours’.

27 Inglis, H., A Journey through Ireland during the Spring Summer and Autumn of 1834, 5th edn (London, 1838), 343.

28 BNL, 17 Dec. 1847.

29 Dawson to Freemantle, 10 May 1850 (PRONI T2603/10). See also Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the State of the Municipal Affairs of the Borough of Belfast (Parliamentary Papers 1859 (2470), vol. 12).

30 NW, 28 Jul. 1849.

31 BNL, 14 Aug. 1849. The News Letter also regretted that the gallery erected in front of the classical façade of St George's church, erected in 1816, prevented the queen from seeing ‘one of the few substantial public edifices which grace our Irish Athens’.

32 The fullest account of party politics in this period is G.J. Slater's unpublished thesis, ‘Belfast politics 1798–1868’, D.Phil., University of Ulster, 1982. Budge, I. and O'Leary, C., Belfast Approach to Crisis: A Study of Belfast Politics 1613–1970 (London, 1973), remains the most detailed account in print.

33 NW, 14 Aug. 1849.

34 RA VIC/MAIN/, QVJ/1849: 11 Aug. 1849, 303.

35 NW, 12, 14 Jul. 1849; ‘County Antrim Orange processions 1849’ (National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, Outrage papers, Co. Antrim, 1849, 1/89).

36 Farrell, Rituals and Riots, 1–4.

37 John Hamill to Sir Thomas Redington, 5 Feb. 1849 (National Archives of Ireland, Outrage papers, 1849, 1/28).

38 Freeman's Journal, 13 Aug. 1849.

39 Clarendon to Grey, 14 Aug. 1849 (RA VIC/MAIN/D/20/17, copy).

40 For discussion of the equal status to be given to all three major religious denominations during the visit, see Phipps to Grey, 13 Jul. 1849 (RA VIC/MAIN/D/19/85, copy); Clarendon to Grey, 10 Jul. 1849 (Bodleian, MS Clar. dep. Irish, vol. 4, fol. 79v, copy).

41 BNL, 27 Jul. 1849.

42 NW, 4 Aug. 1849.

43 R.B. Knox (see below n. 51) to Clarendon, 29 Aug. [1849] (Bodleian, MS Clar. dep. Irish, box 10).

44 Hempton, D. and Hill, M., Evangelical Protestantism in Ulster Society 1740–1890 (London, 1992), 111–12.

45 Holmes, J., ‘The role of open-air preaching and the Belfast riots of 1857’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 102C, no. 3 (2002), 4766.

46 BNL, 27 Jul. 1849. Another paper reported the phrase as ‘working men’ (Banner of Ulster, 27 Jul. 1849).

47 See in particular Bew, J., The Glory of Being Britons: Civic Unionism in Nineteenth-Century Belfast (Dublin, 2009).

48 Banner of Ulster, 27 Jul. 1849; BNL, 27 Jul. 1849.

49 Writing to Clarendon a week after the visit, Grey confirmed that he had received letters saying that a visit would be ‘inexpedient on account of the exclusive character of the institution’ (Bodleian, MS Clar. dep. Irish, box 13, 18 Aug. 1849).

50 BNL, 17 Aug. 1849.

51 Clarendon to Grey, 27 Aug. 1849 (Bodleian, MS Clar. dep. Irish, vol. 4, fol. 117v). In deciding on the allocation of the queen's bounty, Clarendon had followed the advice of the Church of Ireland bishop of Down and Connor, Robert Brent Knox, who was also his chief correspondent on Liberal politics in the town. See Knox to Clarendon, 23, 29 Aug. 1849 (Bodleian, MS Clar. dep. Irish, box 10).

52 RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ/1849: 11 Aug. 1849, 303. See Silke, J.J., ‘Cornelius Denvir and the “spirit of fear”’, Irish Theological Quarterly, 53 (1987), 130–43.

53 Kinealy and MacAtasney, The Hidden Famine, 149–52.

54 NW, 14 Aug. 1849.

55 RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ/1849: 11 Aug. 1849, 304a.

56 Daily News, 14 Aug. 1849.

57 BNL, 14 Aug. 1849; NW, 14 Aug. 1849. Another reported slogan, ‘Up goes my caubeen/For Erin's own queen’, employed a dialect word for ‘hat’ recently popularized by Carleton and other Irish writers in English: see, for example, Morgan, Lady [Sydney Owenson], O'Donnell, A National Tale, 3 vols. (London, 1814), II, 251; Carleton, W., ‘The poor scholar’, in Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, 2 vols. (Gerrard's Cross, 1990), II, 265.

58 Flanagan, T., ‘The literary tradition’, in Hachey, T.E. and McCaffrey, L.J. (eds.), Perspectives on Irish Nationalism (Lexington, 1989), 66.

59 Maume, P., ‘From Scotland's storied land: William McComb and Scots-Irish Presbyterian identity’, in Ferguson, F. and McConnel, J. (eds.), Ireland and Scotland in the Nineteenth Century (Dublin, 2009), 7692. For a fuller discussion see A.J. Hughes’ contributions to de Brún, F., Belfast and the Irish Language (Dublin, 2006), 43100.

60 Banner of Ulster, 14 Aug. 1849.

61 Kinealy and MacAtasney, The Hidden Famine, 158–62.

62 Malcolm, A.G., The History of the General Hospital, Belfast (Belfast, 1851), 138–9.

63 NW, 14 Aug. 1849.

64 Daily News, 14 Aug. 1849.

65 Victoria to Leopold, 6, 14 Aug. 1849 (RA VIC/MAIN/Y/94/38, 39); journal, 3, 11 Aug. 1849 (RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ/1849, 275, 304a).

66 Morning Chronicle, 13 Aug. 1849.

67 RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ/1849: 11 Aug. 1849, 304a, 304b.

68 NW, 16 Aug. 1849; Banner of Ulster, 17 Aug. 1849.

69 Minutes of Belfast Town Council, 1 Oct. 1849 (PRONI LA/7/2EA/2); minute book of the Friends of the Victoria Fete 1851–52 (PRONI D317); Black, E., The People's Park: The Queen's Island, Belfast 1849–79 (Belfast, 1988).

70 BNL, 17 Aug. 1849.

71 Connolly, S.J., ‘Cardinal Cullen's other capital: Belfast and the devotional revolution’, in Keogh, Dáire (ed.), Paul Cullen and his World (Dublin, 2011), 289307.

* The research for this project was part of a contribution to the Economic and Social Research Council project ‘Identities and Social Action’, supported by ESRC grant RES-148–25–0054. Quotations from the Royal Archives are by permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. For permission to quote from the Clarendon papers I am grateful to the earl of Clarendon.

Like an old cathedral city: Belfast welcomes Queen Victoria, August 1849

  • S.J. CONNOLLY (a1)


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