Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Lisburn bag boy became one of US' richest men

Alexander Turney Stewart (1803-1876)
Golden girl: but Bouchard faces a new tennis legend in Kvitova

You've probably never heard of Alexander Turney Stewart (1803-1876), a native of Lisburn who became the eighth richest man in America, never mind being left behind by his mother and a lowly beginning to his working career – as a bag boy.

His fairytale success story got off to a terrible start when his widowed mother remarried and followed her new husband to America leaving the young Alex to be raised by a grandfather and an Irish Quaker called Thomas Lamb.

Leaving Belfast Royal Academy at 15, Stewart (right) grew restless and headed for the Big Apple to join his mum, taking up a position as a tutor at Bragg's Academy for the wealthy, earning $300 a year.

A massive change came when he met his future wife Coralie at an Episcopalian church service. She was the daughter of Jacob Clinch, director of the New York Custom House.

And then as he was proving his worth across the ocean another major turning point in this young man's life came when in 1822 he returned home to Lisburn and bought a stock of Belfast laces with money left to him by his grandfather.

And with the Belfast laces on display Alexander opened a shop on Broadway in 1825 to launch a dry goods business which was a mighty success.

"Stewart was a genius in business," says Dr Beatty Crawford who has made a study of his life and times.

In 1862 he put up the largest retail store in the world, employing 2,000.

He now had two stores with a turnover of $203m and branches all over the world, also owning mills and factories.

It is a fact that during the Irish famine Stewart sent a shipload of provisions to his homeland and gave free passage to emigrants wishing to settle across the Atlantic on the return trip.

Stewart became the eighth richest man in the US with his wealth valued at today's equivalent of $100bn. His palatial marble home today on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street is looked on as one of the finest in New York.

Menace of tennis

All the talk in tennis circles is that stunning Eugenie Bouchard is going to make pots of money in her sporting career. So making cash is now more important it seems than winning championships. Alas, tennis seems to be going the same way as football.

Here's a prediction: Eugenie at 20 will never win the ladies singles at Wimbledon while Petra Kvitova, who is only 24 is around. The girl from the Czech Republic wiped Eugenie off the centre court in last Saturday's final. It was quite pathetic to watch. Except that you have to forgive the Canadian twin a lot for just looking so good.

Trouble is Petra is a class performer and could be coming back to defend that title year after year.

Scallion is champ of all onions

Irene was cooking good old fashioned champ – the local delicacy I introduced Garth Brooks to a few years ago when we shared a dinner table on his visit to Belfast.

But I'm getting away from the current action. I was dispatched to Tesco to pick up a bunch of scallions, an essential ingredient of the meal, as I explained to Garth at our table in the Wellington Park way back.

After a frustrating 10 minutes parading up and down the vegetable shelves all I could find were salad onions and spring onions.

Eventually a nice young attendant explained that scallions aren't called scallions any more. That's right – they are now salad onions or spring onions.

But why, I demanded as I picked up a bunch? Even in New York last time I was there this veg was known as scallion even though nobody in the Big Apple can cook champ.

Here's the recipe that Brooks fell in love with and still enjoys: boil slowly, and gently a pot of floury potatoes until they are ready to be mashed. Add a little fresh milk and butter to taste and then sprinkle in the scallions whose stalks have been clipped down to size.

Share the champ out on to dinner plates – and then take a fork and make a hole down the middle of each meal.

And here's the important bit – ease a quarter pound of real butter into each hole and start eating with a fork as the butter melts and trickles in among the spuds and gives the scallions a rosy glow.

What are scallions? I hear some among you who have just arrived in Northern Ireland and know nothing of our traditions, ask. The scallion is really a young onion with a thin base and long straight green stalks that look a bit like giant chives.

Finally, if I've tempted you into making champ tonight. It tastes even nicer washed down with a pint of buttermilk.

Triangle above par thanks to Mike

Michael McAdam, the Moviehouse chain owner, opened his first cinema more than 30 years ago.

He picked the northwest Triangle in which to launch his entertainment business because as a teenager he spent his summers playing Portstewart's crazy golf links.

Michael fell in love with the coast and as an adult restored the old cinema in Portrush. So when the Crazy Golf vanished he was disappointed.

Not any more – he has just opened an ultra-modern 18-hole mini-golf course at the Jet Centre in Coleraine and it is already proving to be one of the summer attractions up in the Triangle.

Walter's in Love with the Twelfth

They should make Walter Love an honorary Orangeman.

The veteran broadcaster has talked viewers through more Twelfths than even he cares to remember.

And Love will be out there with his mike again today in Belfast from 11am describing the procession to BBC1 viewers, aided and abetted by Jonathan Bardon.

Later in the evening Helen Mark will present a round-up of all the parades from right across the province (BBC1 9.40pm), with assistance coming from Ralph McLean and Claire McCollum.

How Hitler left me a proper Charlie

My reference to Adolf Hitler a couple of weeks ago reminded old soldier Willie Graham of a story he came across in Berlin years ago about the resemblance between the evil one and Charlie Chaplin, the funniest man in the world at the time.

The Fuhrer's henchmen were so concerned about the lookalike that they had the star's portrait removed from an exhibition of degenerate art.

I'd have nightmares about Hitler. I was convinced he didn't die in that bunker, but was alive and hiding on Carnmoney Hill.

In fact I used to spot him in the distance and would run home like mad. Now when I think calmly and logically about it I realise it was Charlie Chaplin all the time.

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