The Silent Land

Belfast Evening Telegraph, , 1906

IV -- Clifton Street Burying-Ground

The Silent Land IV Clifton Street

Although the name "New Burying Ground" still appears on a rather modern-looking brass plate at the entrance gate in Henry Place, it is well over a century since, according to Benn, the following advertisement was given publicity:--

"Poorhouse, March, 1797. -- The Public are informed that the Burying Ground near this Poorhouse is now ready, and that Messrs. Robert Stevenson, William Clark, and John Caldwell are appointed to agree with such persons as wish to take lots."

And it would appear from the date that the gentlemen concerned in this venture were no novices in business. They must have possessed a sort of prophetic instinct that trouble was brewing, but could they possibly have forseen a rebellion?

You will find sufficient proof that their confidence was fully justified if you stroll through the grounds hidden away behind the modern edifices which form the eastern side of Carlisle Circus. Every now and again in this perfect labyrinth of tombs you may notice dates which follow very closely on the date of the advertisement. But all other considerations are ousted in the joy of surprises at the familiar names of famous townsmen -- men famed in every business and profession that has made the city renowned. One gets puzzled with the rush of memories. Here is the tomb of the distinguished Dr. Alexander Henry Halliday, the intimate friend of Dr. Drennan and of Lord Charlemont, who was reviewing officer in the days of the Belfast Volunteers. His will was a work of art. At the wall which skirts Antrim Road lie the remains of his companion, Dr. William Drennan, who played such a prominent part in the "Hearts of Steel" rising. When endeavouring to dissuade the "Hearts" from attacking the military barracks and releasing their comrade, the doctor was seized by the mob and sworn to aid them. He carried out the terms of his oath, got Douglas released, but not before many of the mob had been killed and wounded. He was acquitted of a charge for seditious libel in 1794. His memorial bears the following inscription:--

"Pure, just, benign; thus filial love would trace
The virtues hallowing this narrow space.
The Emerald Isle may grant a wider claim,
And link the Patriot with his country's name."

William Drennan Tombstone

What may have been the original memorial lies broken and defaced, but the present tablet is comparatively new in appearance. Most of the plots in the vicinity are protected by tall iron railings, and in some cases stout vaults with iron doors and bars serve as a resting-place. These are all relics of the body-snatching days.

The place is so full interesting memorials as to be positively bewildering. Here is the burying ground of Narcissus Batt -- the Batts of Purdysburn; although the last of the line is buried at Ballylesson -- and there Rev. Gilbert Kennedy, the second minister of the Second Congregation , succeeding Rev. James Kilpatrick, a man of note in his day. James Luke, the banker; John Gregg, a name also connected with the city's progress; Valentine Jones, "an eminent merchant and a gentleman of the first respectability," and very many more are all gathered together here in a final rest from their labours. Occasionally we come across something out of the ordinary. Men of learning are often eccentric, and one tablet exemplifies this. Here is the photograph: --

"Mouldering" Young

Through the generosity of a local admirer the present tablet was recently erected to replace the original, which had decayed. This covered the remains of an eccentric college professor, at one time connected with the Belfast Academical Institution. He has for a neighbour a colleague, the

Revd William Cairns, LL.D.,
for 33 years Professor of Logic
and Belles Lettres in the Royal Academical Institution.
Died 1848. Aged 64.

and if his term of tutorship only ended with his death he must have joined the staff shortly after the opening in 1814, when e had as a colleague James Sheridan Knowles. The newspaper world is represented by Francis Dalzell Finlay, founder of "The Northern Whig" and Alex. MacKay, jun., who was connected with the earlier days of "Belfast News Letter." Even so long ago as 1800, shipbuilding had lost several masters, notably the Ritchies, from whose yard in 1807 was launched "a very large ship of 400 tons burthen." Think of this and than the Adriatic a century later!

Many of the families, who have still living representatives are providing new memorials. These are generally placed in front of the original tombstone, and this the antiquity and the records are both preserved. Chief among these is


about which Benn says "Whether we consider their consistent political opinions or their high standing in commerce, the Sinclaire family must be deemed one of the most important in Belfast." There are the Hyndmans, with the statue of a dog on top of the new stone, and the legend is that this is the representation of a faithful animal (belonging to the family) that was so much distressed at his mistress's death it could not be torn from her grave, and it eventually died there. Not far away are the Joys and the E-----heads, while a very modest memorial covers the last resting-place of the parents of Sir Daniel Currie, who so recently has shown Belfast how fortunate she was to be his birthplace.

It would simply demand an entire volume if I attempted to give anything like a full list. There is also in a fair state of preservation the grave of Michael Atkins, Esq., the actor, whose story was recently told in these columns. But we will return to the lighter side, and I will reproduce gems which I have gathered from this mine of information. On a "flat" stone is the following:--

to the
Henry M'Dowell
eldest son of Henry M'Dowell, of Belfast
in the 7th year of his age.
For his years
This engaging boy was intelligent and pleasingly
Evincing an eager desire for information
and blending with sweetness of temper
a disposition the most affectionate
By his endearing manners
exciting early and warm attachments
By his death
leaving behind him deep and sincere regret.

He certainly accomplished a great deal in his seven years, but many parents would not consider "the desire for information" in their children anything to write epitaphs on, while the "pleasingly inquiring" youngster is the worry of many a fond father's life even to-day. In another portion of the graveyard we have one erected to Captain John Mullin. He was probably a sea captain, but his virtues and other things are eulogised in the following content:--

"Fair science frown'd not on his humble birth
But melancholy marked him for her own."

In the early years of the 19th century it appears to have been the custom to express the grief or otherwise in verse. That it was sometimes "otherwise" is proved by the following, taken from a small insignificant stone hidden among the overhanging trees, and over-shadowed by the larger memorials around it:--

Charles Minnifs, jun., who departed this
life March 25, 1806. Aged 24 years.

How loved, how valued once, avails thee not
To whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of thee
'Tis all thou art and all the proud shall be.

Someone must have been unhappy when they chose or composed that verse. But here is a grave, which I would have overlooked had it not been pointed out to me, and yet many seek it under a false impression. A plain black railingwith a metal tablet and the simple inscription

The Burying Place
Henry Joy M'Cracken

Many visitors to the graveyard take this to be the insurgent chief, and flowers are frequently deposited there, but although he may have been some relation of the hero of '98, I am assured the person buried there cannot possibly be the great man of that name. In the next plot almost is a memorial, nearly hidden by the long grass, to Dr. Stuart, the historian, of Armagh -- once connected with Christ Church, Belfast.

The cosmopolitan nature of the inhabitants is further enhanced by the presence of a few foreigners:--

Here Lieth
the body of Nicholas Burdot
of Chaumont in Bossigni in

and near by is one to a "Dorenza Eid." Suddenly I drop down to examine another poetical epitaph. It is to John Pritchard Clarke -- three months:--

"Grieve not my parents dear,
I am not dead but sleepth here,
My debts are paid and that you see
Prepare for death and follow me."

He certainly was wise for his years, and if he was consulted at all in the construction of his epitaph, he was a patriarch in wisdom. Imagine having debts at three months

Everywhere one turns they are confronted with the most elaborate arrangements -- quite different from anything in other cemeteries. Here is a miniature chapel to the late William Dunville, with ornamental iron gate, through which we can see the glint of embossed medallions to the memory of different members of the family. The Bristows of banking fame, are strongly represented, and there is one to John Hamilton, who was, I presume, on of

The Four Johns

concerned in the early financial institutions of Belfast.

In his "History of Belfast," Mr. Benn says there were no constables in Belfast in 1801, but they must have been introduced shortly after, for we have a memorial here to

John Smith,
High Constable of Belfast,

who died in 1810. We have a curious case in a stone which records that

Here Lyeth the Body of

and, after giving particulars, states he died in 1714, "& of aged 80 years." There also lies here

James M'Gee, Merchant
in Belfast, son of JAMES

and died in 1763 "and of age 25 years."As the burying-ground was not opened for nearly a century after they died, their remains must have been transferred from "Bell ROBART & PARISH OF HOLLIWOOD." A widow consoles herself with the following:--

"Oh shade revered, this frail memorial take
    'Tis all alas thy sorrowing wife can make
    'Faithful, and just, and humble, and sincere,
Here lies a valued friend -- a husband dear.
    'Composed in suffering and in joy sedate
    'Good without noise, without pretentions great.

The grounds are divided into two separate sections by a wall running parallel with Antrim Road, and it is natural enough that the lower or new portion does not contain so much of interest to the antiquarian. But several of those mentioned earlier in this article are to be found there, in company with others prominently identified with the later history of the city. One striking memorial is that of the Ewarts of Glenbank. The single tablet bears the names of quite a formidable roll of members of the family. Twenty-five names already appear, and there are some yet to be added.

Ewart Tombstone

In another part of the same section there sleeps a late master of the Academical Institution, along with his three wives, whose names and ages are given in [--?--].

A pathetic note is introduced when we stand in front of a little granite column on which is recorded the fact that two brothers lost their lives at sea, both at exactly the same age -- nineteen years, and fifteen years separated the dates of the fatalities.

A flat stone, protected by a rusted railing, from which the record is almost obliterated, cover the remains of a colonel, who, it appears, was a man about town in his day. At one time worth £50,000, the vagaries of fortune left him penniless, and he was buried by private subscription.

Every stone seems to breathe chapters of local history, and although when the new section had been opened the fashion in epitaphs had changed considerably, yet the names alone furnish substantial food for thought to those interested in local history.

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