Belfast Telegraph

Shoemaker's son who became a dedicated social reformer

By Eddie McIlwaine

There was another side to Alexander Irvine, the ninth child of shoemaker Jamie and his wife Anna, away from writing his classic tale of poverty and hardship in Pogue's Entry in Antrim where he was born in 1863.

Never mind the fact that he had no formal education, he became not only a best-selling author, but also a dedicated social reformer in America and in Europe where he travelled widely and was equally at home with the slum-dwellers of the Bowery in New York and soldiers at the front in WW1 as he was with Albert Einstein and WB Yeats, with whom he rubbed shoulders. His My Lady of the Chimney Corner is as popular today as it was in 1913.

Dr Irvine never forgot his roots on his travels and found the time to return to Antrim occasionally and in 1934 was in town when Pogue's Entry and his old home were opened to visitors. He died in California in 1941 and is buried beside Anna and Jamie in an Antrim cemetery.

Finally, let me recall how Anna and Jamie came to live in Antrim. They were in Crumlin and packed their few belongings and set off, eventually arriving at what is now Randox Road. Should they stick to the main road leading to Belfast, or turn towards Antrim town?

Jamie tossed a branch in the air and when it came back down, it was pointing up the Randox Road.

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