Belfast Telegraph

Home Life

A magnificent miscellany of the strange, cruel and unusual

By Staff Reporter

Weird Belfast by Reggie Chamberlain-King is a compendium, almanac and listography of life in the city through the centuries and is proving one of the most popular local Christmas gifts. So sit back and be astounded by this selection from a truly amazing book.

A selection of theatres, halls and palaces:

  • The Grand Opera House (also known as the Palace of Varieties from 1904-9), Glengall Street
  • The Ulster Hall, Bedford Street
  • The Royal Hippodrome, Victoria Street
  • The Alhambra Theatre, North Street
  • The Coliseum (later the Alexandra Music Hall, later the Palladium), Grosvenor Road
  • The Theatre Royal, Arthur Street
  • The Empire Theatre of Varieties (formerly the Imperial Colosseum, Travers' Musical Lounge, New Colosseum, and Buffalo Music Hall), Victoria Square

Girl a Prisoner: A startling tale of an Irish sect

A strange story comes from Belfast. A young Englishwoman, possessed of means, has been induced to leave her home in Suffolk and go to Belfast, where she is now not only acting as servant in the house of a member of the Cooneyite sect, but is actually to all intents and purposes a prisoner in the establishment.

A year or two ago, the new sect of the Cooneyites was started in the county of Fermanagh. Among their chief tenets of belief are baptism by immersion and a return to apostolic methods of having all things in common.

Some time ago, they conducted a mission in the county of Suffolk and among others who attended the meetings was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, who has a considerable sum of money in her own right and has expectations of more. She became a convert to the sect and left her father's house.

The old man was almost distracted and spared no expense to discover the whereabouts of his daughter. Eventually, he traced her to Belfast and proceeded there with the object of taking her home. She had been placed in the house of a leading member of the sect in the northern district and so closely guarded was she that, at first, it was impossible for the girl's father to obtain an interview with her.

He appealed to the police and to some of the local magistrates, but, the girl being over age, they were powerless to help him in the matter. A private detective was employed, but when this man presented himself at the house, he was ordered outside by the owner. A young woman employed in one of the newspaper offices was more successful and she obtained admission to the house. What was her surprise to find the door opened by the girl herself, dressed in servant's costume! The young lady visitor entered into conversation with her and, while attempting to persuade her to return home to her parents' house, the girl expressed her willingness to do so, but stated she was in terror of the people with whom she is at present residing and dare not move, so great was the power over her. In the middle of the conversation, the tenant of the house, who had evidently had his ear to the keyhole outside, burst into the room and abruptly terminated the interview.

(Lloyd's Weekly News, London December 9th, 1906)

Baby farmers in Belfast: A Heartless Swindle

A sensational case of baby farming was, when the last English mail left, engaging the attention of the Belfast police authorities. Some time ago an advertisement was inserted in a number of newspapers to the effect that a lady without children desired to adopt a baby. Entire surrender was a strict stipulation and a good, comfortable home was guaranteed on payment of a premium of £15. Interested parties were requested to address communications to a house in a well-known west of England town and, in response to the advertisement, certain parties hailing from Lurgan, a market town in the vicinity of Belfast, entered into correspondence with her. An interview was arranged at the general post office in Belfast and at the prearranged time the various parties met, recognising each other by a certain signal.

The Lurgan party, it is understood, consisted of several women one of whom carried an infant. The female advertiser was fashionably attired and was attended by a smart looking male accomplice. The parties from Lurgan informed the advertiser that they could only give £10 and, after pretending to demur, the English gentleman remarked that he would have to be satisfied with that amount.

The money was accordingly handed over, but no sooner was it pocketed than the gentleman raised several fastidious queries about the child's clothing. The Lurgan women maintained that the baby was beautifully attired, but the gentleman insisted that he could not take a child whose clothes would disgrace him. Further argument was followed by a request on the part of the Lurgan girls that the money should be refunded. The request at once revealed the nature of the English couple. The Englishman remarked that he could not think of doing such a thing, adding that it would take every penny of the £10 to pay expenses. With that he and his blonde accomplice turned on their heels along the Royal Avenue and vanished.

The consternation of the girls was intense and they made appeal to a constable at headquarters and, on investigations being made by one of the detectives of the Criminal Investigation Department, it was ascertained that Belfast was merely the latest scene of a series of similar frauds which had been practiced with equal success in several cross-channel cities. The difficulty under which the police authorities are working is the failure, for palpable reasons, to institute a bona fide charge, the dupes in every case refusing to allow publicity. It is believed that several children have been handed over to the clever pair and the strictest watch will be kept by the police for their reappearance.

A prevalent offence

Two well-dressed young men named John M'Creedy and Arthur Hill were charged with indecent behaviour. Mr. Donnelly, who prosecuted, said that the offence the prisoners were charged with took the form of an indecent behaviour which was getting rather prevalent in the city. The accused were walking on the footpath of the principal thoroughfare, and assaulted respectable women by catching them and pushing up against them as if they were women of loose character. That usually took place when people were coming from church, and he was instructed to press for a heavy penalty. Evidence having been given as to the prisoners pushing up against ladies who were coming out of the Crescent Church yesterday evening, the Court fined the accused 40s and costs.

(Belfast Evening Telegraph August 19th, 1895)

Raining fish

Not long ago it rained more than water near Belfast. It rained fishes! During a thunderstorm, dozens of small red-brown fish about two inches long fell on the roof of a bungalow. The nearest important piece of water is Strangford Lough, two miles distant, and there is no river in the neighbourhood.

A professor of Queen's University, Belfast, states that as far as he knows this is Ireland's first fish shower, but it is not the first that has occurred in Great Britain.

In the past, people have attributed these showers to witchcraft, but the truth is, of course, that the wind was at the bottom of the mischief. Travelling with a circular motion, the wind will sweep up light objects like a gigantic vacuum cleaner and bear them for miles through the air. In every case recorded these strange showers have been accompanied by extraordinary weather; waterspouts, whirlwinds, or tremendous thunderstorms. Whole hedges were blackened in the Irish storm.

(Evening Post, London, November 6th, 1931)

Derriaghy cemetery

There are some very grim tales told in connection with Derriaghy, and one is in connection with a past vicar of the parish, although I am not prepared to vouch for the authenticity of the story. It is related that the clergyman was very much disturbed in his mind by a peculiar dream in which the graveyard predominated. He dreamt the same dream on three consecutive nights and, unable to stand the strain any longer, he got up, dressed, and went to the church, which is situated in the middle of the burial ground and there, sure enough, he found a young girl standing at the door. She explained she had come to keep an appointment with her lover. Upon going further the vicar found this man in a secluded part of the grounds busily engaged in digging a grave for his faithful sweetheart, of whom he was anxious to be rid. History does not relate what punishment was inflicted on the would-be murderer, but, if the story be true, it should form a strong argument for those who believe in dream warnings.

('The Silent Land', Belfast Evening Telegraph, April 13th, 1907)

Child-stripping incidents in Belfast

Ship Street, November 1846:

A notorious practice has been reported in Belfast, the much-spoken-of child-stripping. A warning has been delivered to parents, guardians, and watchful adults, as a gang is currently at large, distracting children with toys, whatnots, and doodads, before stripping the children of their clothes and sending them home without. Two little girls were taken from Ship Street and were lightened of their cloaks.

Alfred Street, December 1846:

More child-stripping in Belfast, as Eliza Scott is charged with stripping a child named McMullan in May's Field, a respectable field beside St. Malachy's Church. The monstrous criminal was sentenced to two months imprisonment.

Blackstaff, East Bridge Street, December 1846:

Child-stripping continues its nefarious rise, as The Falstaff Gang deprive another child of his finest clothes. The good, young fellow was taken from Alfred Street to a field by The Blackstaff, where he was strongly coerced into dishabille.

42 Hamilton Street, October 1857:

In another incident of child-stripping, both shoes and socks were taken from a three-year-old child while the mother was distracted by tomfoolery.

155 Northumberland Street, May 1858:

Another McMullan child is stripped bare by a bad woman, only twelve years after the last incident. Jane Meneely defrocked young Hannah McMullan, of her shawl solely, on Northumberland Street and she has been charged.

History and natural history of revivals

We are told by Archdeacon Stopford that "every girl now struck in Belfast has visions and would think the work only half done if she had not". In these visions, Christ appears in divine splendour. To one fair ecstatic he gives a Gown of Glory; to another, he brings a Suit of Righteousness. Some are struck dumb: one girl is said to have remained speechless for three weeks; another had seventy paralytic seizures in one day. Blindness too is an allotted accompaniment of this epidemic affection. It is instructive to learn that "the friends and bystanders are so persuaded of the miraculous nature of these concomitants that they would resent any attempt to test them".

(Spectator, London December 31st, 1859)

A bibliography of speculative fiction written by authors lost on the Titanic

John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912): A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future (1894)

Jacques Futrelle (1875-1912): The Thinking Machine (1907), The Diamond Master (1909), The Flying Eye (1912)

F.D. Millet (1846-1912): Capillary Crime and Other Stories (1892)

W.T. Stead (1849-1912): If Christ Came to Chicago (1894), Blastus, the King's Chamberlain: A Political Romance (1898), The Despised Sex (1903).

Belfast's turn to be hoaxed

The Belfast Evening Telegraph, yesterday afternoon, published the following letter which it received by that afternoon's post:

"Dear Boss, I have arrived in your city, as London is too warm for me just now, so that Belfast had better look out, for I intend to commence operations on Saturday night. I have spotted some nice fat ones who will cut up well. I am longing to begin, for I love my work.

Yours, &c., Jack the Ripper."

The communication, which is written in red ink and bears several blotches, evidently made in imitation of blood, is stamped with the Belfast postmark.

(Evening News, London, October 12th, 1888)

An arrest in Belfast

Belfast, Thursday Night - Tonight, shortly before eleven o'clock, a man giving the name of John Foster, aged about 30, and described as a gentleman of no settled place of abode, was arrested by Constable Edward Carland, at 11 Memel Street, Ballymacarrett, on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer. At the time of his arrest he had in his possession a bag containing a large clasp knife and three razors, one of the latter being stained with blood. He was not able to give any satisfactory account of himself, and was then taken into custody. In addition to the articles above mentioned, he had on his person the sum of £19 to 5d, a watch and chain, and a lady's necklace. The prisoner is a man of about five feet eight inches in height, fair hair and complexion, slight build, and rather shabby dress. When arrested, he stated that he had been in Belfast since Sunday night last, and previously had been two days in Glasgow and two in Edinburgh. He declined to give any further information about himself or his movements. The arrest occasioned considerable excitement, partly owing to the fact that one of the evening papers had to-day published a letter purporting to be written by "Jack the Ripper", and threatening to "begin operations in Belfast."

(Freeman's Journal, Dublin, October 12th, 1888)

  • Weird Belfast by Reggi Chamberlain-King, Blackstaff, £14.99

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