The Silent Land

Belfast Evening Telegraph, Friday, April 26, 1907

XV -- Balmoral Cemetery.

It may be taken for granted that only a very small percentage of the citizens of Belfast have any idea of the importance of Balmoral Cemetery, the principal reason being that few people -- Belfast is no worse in this respect than other cities -- care to trouble themselves about matters of this kind until the way is made easy for them. They leave the pioneer work to those with a taste for exploration or investigation. They like to be told the exact spot in which they may find such-and-such a curiosity or memorial, and I am in such a position that I can at once recommend those interested in the immediate past history of our city to visit Balmoral, for it holds within its somewhat prescribed limits all that remains of many whose names must be for ever connected with the rise and progress of Belfast -- names that are even familiar to most of the rising generations. There they may refresh their memories by inspecting the memorials to the mighty dead whom they may have known by reputation or acquaintance. What will strike even the casual observer is the number of clergymen buried here. One of the very first to attract their attention lies on the left of the entrance gate.

To the memory of
Rev. John M'Alery, B.A.
Minister of Ballycarry Presbyterian Church
who departed this life 19th Sept. 1895
aged 38 years.
Whose last words were "Victory,
Victory through the Lord Jesus Christ."

Rev. John M'Alery was well known in Belfast, and it has been said that his devotion to duty practically brought him to his early grave. His parish at Ballycarry was widely scattered, and if his congregation were to receive proper attention from their minister they must be visited regularly -- a task which would have damped the ardour of one less enthusiastic in his work. But perhaps the memory of the most important member of the Presbyterian body interred at Balmoral is immortalised by a massive yet plain granite sarcophagus, on one side which is inscribed


and on the other side,

Born 11th May, 1788
Died 13th Dec. 1868

He needed no recommendation from survivors. His life was an open book, in which all might read the record of a vigorous, fearless, conscientious minister of the Gospel. It may be that none of his brethren felt qualified to frame an epitaph that would do justice to that noble career. His name itself is a monument of all that is best in this existence. His history reads like a romance, with the series of great scenes in connection with the Ulster opposition to the repeal of the Union standing out in brilliant prominence. The present generation of Unionists can scarcely calculate how much it owes to the courage of the reverend doctor in challenging O'Connell, then in the zenith of his power, to discuss the advantages or disadvantages of repeal in public in Belfast. O'Connell's lame excuses, his evident desire to shirk meeting his doughty opponent face to face, his ignominious flight practically broke the vaunted power of the so-called Liberator and opened the eyes of the loyal minority in Ulster to the necessity of keeping the watchmen constantly on the tower. The Dublin "Evening Mail" of that time, in advocating the scheme of a testimonial to this champion of civil and religious liberty, said, "If the Union be of any value to the country, the country owes a proportionate debt to the man who has done more to cripple and discomfit the principal assailant of that Union than anyone else since the time when the Right Honourable Francis Blackburn was Attorney-General."

"And never methinks, did the crowd evince
For a sceptred king or a jewelled prince
A deeper or a holier reverence."

Dr. Cooke's history just at the present stage of political affairs is deeply interesting.

On the base of the memorial is carved in the same simple characters "Catherine Cooke," with date of death and other unpretentious slabs announce that the enclosure is shared by Rev. Wm. Gordon, Gilford Presbyterian Church, and Dr. Porter, of the Queen's College, both brothers-in-law.

Dr Cooke's Memorial

About one hundred yards divides this from the last resting-place of one who was no less zealous for the cause, and who in his time commanded the respect of all creeds and classes by his enthusiasm. The memorial again is massive, the epitaph modest:--

Died 3rd Feby. 1898
aged 67 years.
Erected by St. Enoch's Congregation
and Sabbath Schools.
"He being dead yet speaketh."

The famous divine's life work has been further eulogised by the statue in Carlisle Circus, opposite the scene of his labours. Other important members of the Church buried here are Rev. Robert Montgomery, founder of Great Victoria Street Church; Rev. David Hanson, York Street Presbyterian Church; Rev. William Oliver, Dunluce Presbyterian Church; Rev. Jas. M'Kee, 20 years General Assembly's missionary in India; Rev. James Wallace, who, after officiating as minister of First Saintfield, also worked in the Indian mission field for almost thirty years; but perhaps one more than usually interesting is the memorial to the Rev. James Mackenzie, who during his lifetime was proprietor of the ground which the cemetery occupies, and which is now owned by his heirs.

One remarkable fact in connection with Dr. Killen's tombstone is the record which shows that he and his wife were born within four days of each other in April, 1806, and while his partner lived to the ripe old age of 80, the learned doctor survived her, and reached 96.

There are many other clergymen of this and other denominations. These are only a few picked out at random. There is also a remarkable representation of those whose work has had an important bearing on the history of the Presbyterian Church. For instance, take the following:--

"The memory of the Just is blessed."
Here lie the remains of
John Edgar, D.D., LL.D.,
Professor of Theology for the
Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The Christian Philanthropist and the
founder of the Temperance Reformation,
who died August 26th, 1866,
Aged 68 years.

or the modest inscription which perpetuates the memory of --

Wilberforce Arnold, M.D., M.R.C.S.E.,
The founder of the Presbyterian Orphan Society
in November, 1865.

In neighbouring plots may be found the graves of Charles M'Dougall, LL.D., 28 years Professor of Greek in Queen's College, Belfast, and the better-known

Professor John Frederick Hodges,
M.D., J.P.,
Upwards of fifty years Professor of
Agricultural Chemistry and Lecturer on Medical
Jurisprudence in Queen's College.

Here is a memorial which will bring up tender recollection of troublous times -

In memory
Alexander Moncrieff
19th Feby., 1864,
aged 68 years.
also of his son,
The Rev. E. T. R. Moncrieff, LL.D.,
Chaplain in the H.E.I. Co's service,
who with his wife and child
were murdered at Cawnpore
during the Mutiny,
June, 1857.

Space would not permit of anything like a complete list of the notabilities of the church gathered together here in a final rest.

We may notice a slab which brings back to our memories the peculiar monument in Clifton Street, "Young moulders here." A family of the same name used the same description for a trio of ladies who died at an early age, and it is supplemented with --

"Then are they glad because they are at rest."

In the earlier days of the cemetery's history the poet has had a large share in the shaping of the epitaphs, but it must be said that excellent taste is exhibited in most cases in the selection of the lines. Here is one:-

"Where the grassy hillock rises
There my lovely daughter sleeps;
Nothing now can hurt or harm her;
Jesus safe her spirit keeps.

Shall I grieve because she's happy?
Shall I wish her back to weep?
No; I'll joy because my Saviour's
Placed my lamb among his sheep."

Another verse reads:--

"Tis no long parting, though they barque
Hath earlier gained the port of rest,
Its silver wake my course shall mark
And draw me towards a shining west."

Beneath the details of the death of

Jas. B. McGregor, M.R.C.S.E.,

there is inscribed --

"Affection weeps when Heaven rejoices."

and in another case we have the trite line --

"Verily every man living is altogether vanity."

There are quite a number of Belfast men who died while engaged in the Indian Civil Service; indeed, inscriptions wherein the name is used are so frequent as to be particularly noticeable.

The Army is well represented. There is a memorial to Colonel Hampden Clement Blamire Moody, of the Royal Engineers, who served in Canada, the Cape, and China Wars, while in another plot there are two monuments -- one to Humphrey Frederick May, captain Queen's Royal Antrim Rifles, son of the late Sir Stephen May, of Belfast. The second is to another son. On one side of the column is the single word, "Sabastopol," and on the opposite side "Moodkee, Ferozeshah, Aliwal," while on the third we read --

In memory
Stephen Brinsley May,
late Lieutenant
48th Bengal Native Infantry.

Among notable citizens may be found "Wm. Hamilton, for many years senior Alderman of Belfast," William Dobbin, J.P.; William Strain, and many others. The verse on the beautiful Strain memorial is so rare that I know I will be pardoned for giving it to many who may never have an opportunity to read it otherwise:-

"The form we used to see
Was but the raiment that she used to wear,
The grave that now doth press
Upon that cast-off dress.
Is but that wardrobe locked. She is not there."

Two small stones bear the following:-

Memory of
G. Gerald Bingham, J.P.
Companion Brazilian Imperial Order of the Rose.
Lucan Bingham, C.I. R.I.C.
Spencer Lucan Bingham,
Lieut. 1st Batalion Cheshire Regt. 22nd.

Even this liberal selection does not but by any means exhaust the interest in Balmoral, and though the little burying-ground was only opened about half a century ago, it has claimed some of the most prominent personalities of that period, as far as Belfast is concerned. To those who are well acquainted with local history, a walk through its crowded avenues will indeed be interesting. Many of the dwellers in this portion of God's acre, and many of the incidents mentioned, have furnished material for long biographies, but there is not room here for even reference to these works. If the reader is only induced to study the matter arising out of them, much will have been gained.

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