Belfast Telegraph

Back Then: The day the lord ascended to the Throne

The grandly-titled hospital on slopes of Cavehill cared for great and the good

By Eddie McIlwaine

The first time I came face to face with aristocratic Lord Brookeborough, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland for 20 years, he was having his blood pressure checked in the Throne Hospital, which nestled on a slope of the Cavehill once upon a time with a breathtaking view out over Belfast Lough.

Let me hasten to point out that the premier that afternoon in the summer of 1959 was in glowing good health (so far as I could judge).

He was on a tour of one of the constituencies held by his Unionist Party - probably with an election in the offing - and had diplomatically dropped into the Throne to talk to the staff and patients. I was a reporter assigned to cover the event.

The blood pressure incident was like kissing babies for politicians.

Actually, I was surprised that he agreed to have it done - he was a rather aloof individual.

But I digress.

During our informal chat - it was never really an interview - His Lordship asked me if I knew how the hospital where people came to convalesce got its name.

I had to reply in the negative, and none of the doctors or nurses had a clue either.

In fact, it is only now, half-a-century later, that I've had related to me the folksy tale surrounding that quaint name by Wilson Logan, a Larne man who has been doing a bit of research because, like me, he is intrigued by a hospital being called after a throne.

Apparently, Wilson informs me, there was once an inaugural stone on the summit of Cavehill where the mighty O'Neill clan came to give their leaders a coronation - and of course there was a throne on which they were seated for the ceremony.

But in 1896, according to this man Logan, enemies of the O'Neills vandalised the sacred site and the throne was sent careering down the hillside. And it came to rest by a stately house where the poet Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810-1886) used to have his being.

So when years later City Hall agreed to a hospital where patients could rest up after operations being built at this quiet spot, it couldn't have been given any other name but the Throne.

Is this just a fable? Or is there a little bit of truth in there too?

Here's one piece of information that is certainly true - back in the Twenties a farmer called Andrew Ramsey at Whitewell called his herd of Friesians the Throne Herd.

I only wish Lord Brookeborough could be around today so I could pass on this information about the Throne to him. He died in 1973 after serving for 33 years in various Government offices, which I believe is still a UK record. I have to tell you finally about William R Green of Doagh who, when he was a nipper in the early Fifties, spent some time in the Throne as a patient. A nurse told him of the Ferguson connection.

The poet is buried at Donegore in south Antrim.

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