16 January 2006

Shining a light on Belfast’s past


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Brimming trips down memory lane, fascinating tales and ghost stories, Belfast’s oldest historical magazine, Rushlight, continues to celebrate the characters and events of the past.
The brainchild of Andersonstown seanachie Joe Graham, the magazine is ever popular, attracting readers of all ages to its fascinating articles.
Reading the magazine you become immersed in bygone days, getting to know the characters from the community and areas, many of which are no longer there, or have changed greatly.
A fiery street orator Arthur Trew, who is regarded as a forerunner to Ian Paisley, is covered in great detail in January’s edition. The controversial figure, who died in the 1940s, became the best known of the speakers who gathered to give speeches at the steps of Custom House, Belfast’s Speakers’ Corner.
Such was his popularity amongst unionists that when he lived in Dublin for a period a collection was made to pay for his train fare north to continue to give Custom House speeches.
He flirted with more than just vitriolic speeches, when in 1901 he ended up in court charged with disorderly behaviour. He had obstructed a Corpus Christi march making its way to St Malachy’s College on the Antrim Road from St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street which led to disturbances in the area. He received a 12 month prison sentence.
Other Rushlight stories include the sad death of a mill worker crushed by machinery, and a daring escape from the Crumlin Road Jail in 1927.
There is, as always, a great selection of photographs showing parts of Belfast at the turn of the century and some interesting pictures of the opening of St Kevin’s School on the Falls Road.
The people in the magazine are always very interesting but it is for the little gems along the way that many buy it.
For instance we learn in the article about Arthur Trew that the deeds of Joe Graham’s own house in Elswick Street contained a clause to the effect of, “This property may never fall into papist hands”.
The secret of Joe’s successful approach to history is his reluctance to rely solely on desk-based research.
Joe is a people person and often uncovers fascinating details from speaking to elderly people and obtaining oral accounts passed down through generations.
Joe’s love for West Belfast shines through the magazine and makes it a must buy for anyone in the community who enjoys a lively read.

Journalist:: Damien McCarney

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