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Opening of Assembly’s College, Belfast

assemblys-college-belfastAssembly’s College, Belfast, opens for the training of Presbyterian clergy on December 5, 1853.

The Renaissance Revival style building with its grand Doric porch and Baroque attic is designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, the architect of the main building at Queen’s University Belfast and built with Scrabo stone at a cost of £5,000. Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné of Geneva participates in the opening ceremony alongside Henry Cooke, President of the Faculty. The five other professors in the new college are John Edgar, Robert Wilson, William Dool Killen, James G. Murphy and William Gibson.

There is a large influx of students in the wake of the 1859 Ulster revival and the south wing with its dining hall and student accommodations is added in 1869. Princeton Theological Seminary has an important influence in the shaping of the ethos of the College during this period as the Reverend Roberts Watts, who is appointed Professor of Systematic Theology in 1866, hopes to make “Belfast another Princeton.” The north wing with its wood-panelled chapel is designed by John Lanyon, son of original architect, and completed in 1881. The first degrees under the Royal Charter are conferred in 1883. However, the death of Watts in 1895 marks the beginning of the end of the Princetonian influence. A partial union takes place between the faculties in Belfast and Magee in 1922.

The newly formed Parliament of Northern Ireland meets in Assembly’s College from 1921 until 1932 while Stormont is being built with the House of Commons meeting in the Gamble Library and the Senate in the College chapel. During this period the College conducts classes in a house and provides library resources in a house on University Square. In 1926 the College becomes a Recognised College of Queen’s University. During this period the College comes under criticism for its embrace of theological liberalism. This culminates in a charge of heresy being brought against Professor James Ernest Davey in 1926-27. The College officially reopens in October 1932 and the inaugural lecture is delivered by the Scottish Historian Robert Rait.

Between 1941 and 1948 the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the city police, use the College as its own headquarters are bombed in the Belfast Blitz. In 1953, to mark the College’s centenary year, Prof. Davey is elected Moderator of the General Assembly.

In 1976 theological teaching at Magee College in Derry, County Londonderry, ceases and the two colleges amalgamate in 1978. The new college, constituted by an Act of Parliament, is named Union Theological College.

Today Union Theological College offers a full range of courses in Theology. The professors of the College constitute the Presbyterian Theological Faculty Ireland (PTFI) which was granted a Royal Charter in 1881 to confer academic degrees. The PTFI still awards degrees, diplomas and certificates. The majority of students are enrolled for degrees and diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate, through the Institute of Theology of the Queen’s University of Belfast, in particular the BTh, BD, MTh and PhD.

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German Bombing of North Strand, Dublin

north-strand-bombingFour German bombs are dropped on north Dublin at approximately 2:00 AM on May 31, 1941. One bomb falls in the Ballybough area, demolishing the two houses at 43 and 44 Summerhill Park, injuring many but with no loss of life. A second bomb falls at the Dog Pond pumping works near the zoo in Phoenix Park, again with no casualties but damaging Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the Irish President. A third bomb makes a large crater in the North Circular Road near Summerhill, again causing no injuries. A fourth bomb falls in North Strand destroying seventeen houses and severely damaging about fifty others, the worst damage occurring in the area between Seville Place and Newcomen Bridge. The raid claims the lives of 28 people, injures 90, destroys or damages approximately 300 houses, and leaves 400 people homeless.

The first bombing of Dublin during World War II occurs early on the morning of January 2, 1941, when German bombs are dropped on the Terenure area of south Dublin. This is followed, early on the following morning of January 3, 1941, by further German bombing of houses on Donore Terrace in the South Circular Road area of south Dublin. A number of people are injured, but no one is killed in these bombings.

After the war, what becomes West Germany accepts responsibility for the raid, and by 1958 it has paid compensation of £327,000. Over 2,000 claims for compensation are processed by the Irish government, eventually costing £344,000. East Germany and Austria, which are both part of Nazi Germany in 1941, make no contribution. The amounts are fixed after the 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts, allowing maximum compensation.

Several reasons for the raid have been asserted over time. German Radio, operated by the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, broadcasts that “it is impossible that the Germans bombed Dublin intentionally.” Irish airspace has been violated repeatedly, and both Allied and German airmen are being interned at the Curragh Camp. A possible cause is a navigational error or a mistaken target, as one of the pathfinders on the raid later recounts. Numerous large cities in the United Kingdom are targeted for bombing, including Belfast, which like Dublin, is across the Irish Sea from Great Britain. War-time Germany’s acceptance of responsibility and post-war Germany’s payment of compensation are cited as further indications that the causation is error on the part of the Luftwaffe pilots.

Another possible reason is that in April 1941, Germany has launched the Belfast blitz, which results in Belfast being heavily bombed. In response, Ireland sends rescue, fire, and emergency personnel to Belfast to assist the city. Éamon de Valera, the Taoiseach, formally protests the bombing to the German government, as well as making his famous “they are our people” speech. Some contend that the raid serves as a warning to Ireland to keep out of the war. This contention is given added credibility when Colonel Edward Flynn, second cousin of Ireland’s Minister for Coordination of Defensive Measures, recalls that Lord Haw Haw has warned Ireland that Dublin’s Amiens Street Railway Station, where a stream of refugees from Belfast is arriving, will be bombed. The station, now called Connolly Station, stands a few hundred metres from North Strand Road, where the bombing damage is heaviest. Flynn similarly contends that the German bombing of Dundalk on July 4 is also a pre-warning by Lord Haw Haw as a punishment for Dundalk being the point of shipment of Irish cattle sold to the United Kingdom.