Dr. Alexander Irvine and the Crumlin link
The Digger recalls the humble beginnings of a world renowned author
“No bonnet, long dress, coat, boots, no stockings, fairly clean legs and nice hair – flowing freely …”
These were the hand written instructions pencilled into a script for a play titled “Love is Enough” written in 1977 by Alastair J. Smyth, the then head of Antrim Grammar School’s English Department.
A copy of the script, complete with cast notes, entrance ticket and other associated memorabilia is still in the possession of a former pupil at that school, Frances Wilson, who hailed from the Crumlin area of County Antrim. The instructions on the script would guide Frances as she performed one of the leading roles in the play, and assist in recreating the scene which was set in July 1841. The play was of course a dramatisation of Dr. Alexander Irvine’s book “My Lady of the Chimney Corner”. The book was described as “a story of love and poverty in Irish peasant life.”
Read more of this story at Dr Alexander Irvine and the Crumlin Link.
Diaries of Dr Alexander Irvine
The Digger uncovers memories of Downing Street visit in diary
The grave of Dr. Alexander Irvine and his parents James and Anna who were from the Crumlin area. The words “My Lady of the Chimney Corner” and “Love is Enough” are to be found in the inscription on the memorial stone. 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.
Read more of this story at ‘A Valuable Insight’ is provided in the Dr Diaries of Alexander Irvine.
Local Newspaper Articles
Over the years there have been many articles penned and published in local newspapers highlighting one of Ulster’s famous sons – Alexander Irvine. The Belfast Telegraph recently published an article on Saturday January 8th 2011 showing three photographs of the cottage at Pogues Entry, Antrim taken in May 1934, September 1953 and September 1956. An article appeared in the Belfast Newsletter dated Friday, July 2, 2004 about Pogue’s Entry.
Records in Northern Ireland records the deaths of the parents of Alexander Irvine.
Anna Irvine died on 12th July 1889 in Antrim aged 65 years. She was the wife of James, a shoemaker. The informant of the death was Ellen Carleton, Church Street, Antrim. The cause of her death is recorded as “Disease of the liver” certified for one year.
James Irvine died on the 17th February 1904 at The Union Workhouse, Antrim aged 73 years. He was a widower and shoemaker. The informant of the death was Nathaniel Simpson. The cause of his death was “apoplexy” and was certified for 7 months. Nathaniel Simpson was the workhouse manager.
Antrim Council have some information on their website about Pogues Entry, Antrim. Go to: Antrim Borough Council – Pogue’s Entry Historical Cottage.
I have also found a fantastic TV clip from Northern Ireland made about 1960. The BBC have put it online: BBC Archive – Pogues Entry.
If you go to Google maps and type in “Pogues Entry” it will take you there and you will be able to see the front entrance. As you stand front on to the entrance you will see a white 2 storey building on the left behind the entrance wall. The actual cottage is opposite – you can see a little of the white front with flowers.
The following article is from The Belfast Telegraph, Monday October 18th 1926 and appears with permission of the Belfast Telegraph.
Wee Jimmie Irvine’s Rise to fame.
Story he told at Antrim.
The Pluck of a girl emigrant
One cold winter evening about the year 1860 wee Jimmie Irvine, who was only ten years old then, could not get his papers sold in the streets of Antrim. What should he do? In Pogue’s Entry, where the shoemaker’s family lived, there were a lot of kiddies, and some of them were crying because they had had no tea, there was very little fire, there were no proper beds for the children to sleep on, but Jimmie was one on whom his mother could rely generally to help her out of her difficulties.
He went down the street, his papers under one arm, his free hand in his ragged pocket to keep it warm. He stopped in front of a doorstep, lifted the knocker, then let it drop gently without sound. Again he lifted it and gave it such a thump he nearly ran away in fright himself.
His Glimpse of Paradise
The door was opened. Inside was a nice brightly-lit hall with a door open at the end, through which Jimmie could get a peep of a nice table laid for tea, kiddies sitting round, and, best of all, he got the loveliest smell of fried bacon and eggs, ham, home-made bread, butter, jam – everything in the world that’s nice for a tea.
“Please , sir, will you buy a paper?”
“What do you mean by knocking at my door like this? No; I will not buy a paper. Be off with you out of this!”
The gentleman (Jimmie was sure he was a gentleman, because he wore good clothes and was going to have a nice tea) gave the newsboy such a shove that he fell on the pavement and all the papers were scattered and dirty. Jimmie went to sleep that night still hungry.
Forty Years On
Nearly forty years later Dr. Irwin told that story as he lectured in Antrim town. He was a clergyman, an author, everybody had a good word for his, was proud to shake hands with him, and told him how welcome he was in his native town. One old man was very indignant when he heard the story. What would he, the old gentleman, not have doe to that cruel man!
“Well” said the man who had once been a ragged newsboy, “it was not really worth remembering, and I had forgotten it till I saw you here to-night. I knew we had met before, and that was how we met. You have completely forgotten me, but I’m glad to meet an old friend.”
That is one of the nicest things about Dr. Irvine’s books and about himself; he never tells any story with spite, even when it is not a nice picture of what the world is like.
Whistling Gooseberry Picker
In one of his books he tells how a farmer paid him to pick the gooseberries in his garden on condition he kept whistling all the time – you can’t eat many gooseberries but the moment Jimmie stopped whistling the farmer’s wife came out and asked him for another tune. Those gooseberries were very hard to pick.
Jimmie meant to get on. He had no time to remember about how the farmer grudged him a few gooseberries and the rich man grudged him a copper. He meant to get on, and he got on, by enlisting because he would be taught to read and write in the Army, by learning Greek while he distributed milk, and so he took the entrance examination to Oxford, his degree in Yale University, and came home to lecture in his native town of Antrim. Money really matters so very little to those who mean to get on.
The Sad Case of Mary.
Girls are quite as well able to get on as boys and here is a true story of what happened in Belfast within the last few years. One of the clergymen of the city told a lady about a little girl whom we will call Mary, so many Irish girls are called Mary. Mary had no parents, no friends; she lived in the house of a bad woman who made her nothing but a slave, gave her no wages for working all day except her food and a few poor clothes, would not let her go to school and told lies when the school inspector came to make inquires. The lady said she would give Mary a chance and took her into her own house, calling her a servant, but really in order to get her away from her wicked surroundings. Mary was sent to school too.
Three months later the clergyman went to see Mary and her friend. “I can’t keep her,” the lady said, “she has never been taught anything and I can’t teach her now. She steals my things and does not know it is wrong, she uses dreadful language and she does not know it is bad. She is so ignorant I can’t help or train her.”
Post to Post – But always better.
“But,” said he, “what will become of Mary if you send her away?” So rather than let Mary go back to slavery the lady kept her – till she found Mary could learn, and that she had a good and faithful little servant.
Later on the clergyman got Mary a post in a fruit shop, which does not mean she got much wages. She went on from one post to another, bettering herself each time. A year ago she came to see her friend.
“I want to go to Australia. Will you please help me to get an assisted passage, sir.”
“But Mary, you can’t go to Australia without friends or money. You might be out of work there, or ill.”
“Will £100 be enough to bring with me?” And Mary showed her Post Office Savings Bank book in which she had £92 to her credit, before she left for Australia she had completed that £100. She is now getting on in Australia as Dr. Alexander Irvine, of Antrim, got on in America.
The following article is from The Northern Whig and Belfast Post dated Saturday July 20, 1929.
Alexander Irvine – Striking personality of Famous Ulsterman
It is nearly a quarter of a century ago since I knew Alexander Irvine through his writings. I well remember with what zest I read “From the Bottom Up” as it came out in serial form. I was impressed with the personality of the man even on the printed page, and this was enhanced by the fact that he was an Ulsterman. For over twenty years it has been my strong desire to see and hear him. I hardly expected that desire to be fulfilled, but I am glad to say it has. A wise man has said you are not obliged to shake hands with anyone, but never offer a man your paw. Well, Alexander Irvine won’t offer you his paw. He is not built that way.
I have always thought “From the Bottom Up” did not get the reception in Ulster that it deserved. “My Lady of the Chimney Corner” did better. Good as the latter is, beautiful as it is, tender with an exquisite tenderness as in some passages it certainly is, it does not much surpass “From the Bottom Up.” That is a wonderful record of an heroic soul facing fearful odds, over-coming great obstacles, and dedicating his life to great purpose.
In any calling Alexander Irvine had chosen he would have had a great career: much greater from a worldly standpoint than he has achieved. This is fairly evident from side-lights in “From the Bottom Up.” They are there in embryo. Take the services in which he had made a good beginning. Barring accident he would have risen high. He was cool, courageous, adventurous. Possessed of a lovable and noble nature, he could win the trust and affection of men. He would surely have taken his stand with the band of illustrious soldiers Ulster has produced. Take the business world; he had the qualities which in time would have made him one of the great captains of industry. The dictionary episode in “From the Bottom Up” is proof of that. If he had had control of Belfast civic affairs – well, things would have been different. Then if he had embraced politics when he met Keir Hardie or any time afterwards he could easily have been in the Labour Cabinet to-day, possibly –nay, probably – Prime Minister. I also think he has the hand, the beautifully-formed hand and the inspiring personality, which would have made him a great surgeon. Lastly, he would have cut no mean figure in the ring. In his great fight on board the man-of-war to vindicate the honour of his beloved mother he speaks of his body as being as “lythe as a panther.” Even today one cannot fail to be struck by the length of his arms and by his agility of body. These were reinforced by a fine intellect, the combination of which things made him a formidable antagonist.
Well, what about the reward? From some points of view a splendid failure; great opportunities missed, rare gifts wasted. But that’s not it all. From another and higher standpoint he is a glorious success, a friend to the friendless, a helper of the helpers, a bringer of hope to the hopeless. Alexander Irvine, a boy from the gutter, illiterate, of no account; now beloved, honoured, esteemed wherever the English language is spoken. So far as I know he has spoken harshly of no-one, trampled on the rights of no-one; but on the contrary, has dedicated his life and his first-rate talents to the uplifting of humanity.
Pogue’s Entry Face Lift
The following extract is from the Ulster Star dated 29th May 1965 and appears with permission of The Ulster Star.
The famous cottage in Pogue’s Entry, Antrim where the great classic writer, Dr. Alexander Irvine was born has been given a face lift and a residence has been provided for the caretaker, Mr. David Laughlin, who is a grand-nephew of Dr. Irvine. There is to be a public opening in July and the cottage is at present open to the public.