The Digger uncovers memories of Downing Street visit in diary
ON July 1, 1916 Alexander Irvine arrived in Liverpool. He had been appointed a Chief Morale Officer of the Allies at the Front during World War One at the request of Lloyd George.
Eventually he found his way back to America, but would return again to England and Ireland. His books were extremely popular and reprint followed reprint. Some of his personal inscriptions inside the books provide a further insight into the date and localities he visited. 'February 1920 - Nice'. 'April 1926 - San Francisco'.
Located in the archives of the Central Library, Belfast is one of the most fascinating insights into the everyday life of Alexander Irvine. In 1966 the library acquired some of his typescripts, photographs, postcards and diaries.
The first entry in a diary dated Saturday January 1, 1921 states "Good Morning 1921! This is to be my greatest year so far " A valuable insight into his associates and acquaintances reveal themselves to the reader of the diary.
On Tuesday January 25, 1921 he called at 10 Downing Street with the Prime Minister's secretary, E.R. Davies, who invited Dr. Irvine to spend a weekend with him.
On Sunday April 24, 1921 we read that he had arrived in Dublin at 8am during a period of great upheaval.
"Thursday April 28, 1921....shooting going on all day and in the night." The following day he records that he had "a talk with Sinn Feiners" about the situation. He records his meeting with Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats. He is evidently not enamoured with Yeats. "Met W.B. Yeats, - like Shaw one would have to live with him ten years before he could distinguish you from a goat. I told him a story. He missed the point. He is an abstraction!!..."
A week later he records the fact that he heard a lecture on America by St. John Ervine. "It was the most awful piffle that I have ever heard on that topic." He adds in his diary that he made Ervine aware of that fact.
On June 4, 1921 he left for America on a six day sea journey from England.
Another visit to England is recorded in a later diary in June 1935 and on August 4 of that year he states "Glorious sunshine on Belfast Lough" as he prepares to set foot on home soil again. Over the next month he commuted between Scotland and Ireland and on August 22 he was in Antrim again, returning to New York again on the 10th September.
In the daily reminder diary in 1936 he records "During the last week I have read (1) Gone with the wind, (2) Inside Burgess, (3) Lust for Life." He comments that "(1) was a waste of time, (2) good information, (3) an inspiration."
He makes an entry on Monday January 20, 1936 about the death of King George V and the fact that he had met him whilst in France.
There would be no limits to his fame as a preacher, public speaker, author and social reformer.
During his life he had been married twice. He died in Hollywood, California on March 15, 1941. His ashes were returned to Antrim and interred in the grave of his parents on Saturday July, 27 1946 after a service in his former home at Pogue's Entry, Antrim. In a tribute to his memory on that day, the Rev. WS Kerr stated in his address "Our admiration goes out to Irvine not only for the ability and determination by which he broke his birth's invidious bar, but for his faithfulness to high ideals. He did not devote himself to high ideals He gave himself to the unselfish service of man..."
In October 1933 it was reported that his family home at Pogue's Entry, Antrim had been purchased by subscription and repairs were to be carried out. In the early 1950's the little cottage was featured in the headlines of the local press for all the wrong reasons. Visitors to the province who had visited Pogue's Entry complained about the terrible state it was in and the fact that there was nothing inscribed on the headstone located at the Parish Church to indicate that Dr. Irvine's ashes were interred in the grave of his parents. Those matters were later rectified and since the mid 1960's the former Irvine home has been in the possession of Antrim Council and is open to the public.
One cannot fail to be touched by the simplicity of this little two-roomed cottage when you visit it. The half-door, whitewashed walls, open fire, wooden chairs and cobbler's implements assist in recreating the past when times were difficult and hunger was the enemy in the household. The walled garden in Pogue's Entry allows the visitor time and space for reflection in a tranquil setting. I noted that the visitor book contained entries from people who had travelled from England, Scotland, Australia and Canada - a fitting tribute to Dr. Irvine. There is a memorial park dedicated to Dr. Irvine in the vicinity of the cottage at Pogue's Entry.
The Lisburn Standard dated Friday August 4, 1939 made reference to Robert Riskin, "a brilliant scenario writer" from Hollywood, California who was on his way to Belfast. It was reported that he was trying to find suitable material for new pictures and there was speculation that there was a possibility of the creation of a film version of 'My Lady of the Chimney Corner . However, I am unaware of any film ever having been made.
The Antrim school-teacher, Alastair Smyth had the right idea in 1977 when he penned a play based on Dr. Irvine's book. Maybe it is time to open up the chapters again of this wonderful little piece of work - a masterpiece in it's own right. Life may have been somewhat simpler then compared to our lifestyle in society today, but the poverty, hunger and hardship borne by some of our ancestors in the latter half of the 19th century as described by Dr. Irvine, could be regarded today as a reality check.
There can be no disputing that Dr. Irvine's concluding three words in 'My Lady of the Chimney Corner' are a fitting tribute to both his mother and experiences of his family life in those early times. "Love is enough."
Thanks to the staff at Pogue's Entry, Antrim, the staff at the Central Library, Belfast, Alastair Smyth and the Wilson family for their assistance in providing material for this article. Please check the website www.antrim.gov.uk/poguesentry for opening times and admission to Pogue's Entry, Church Street, Antrim.
The Digger can be contacted via The Ulster Star office or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org