Daffodil Days – The Diary of a Lady
(Paper presented to the Belfast Literary Society)
Dennis Kennedy, 1997.
In April 1912, a somewhat unusual and resolute young English lady recorded the following departure from
Exactly 10 days after the Titanic went down among the icebergs of the Atlantic, I sailed in the Mongolian for Newfoundland, where Sir Hugh Williams was the Governor, to spend a fortnight with him, and my aunt, Lady Williams, on my way to take up a post in Canada with the Hon Mrs Lionel Guest, to manage a little dairy farm she had on the Isle de St Gilles in the St +Lawrence. I had trained for dairy work - butter and cheese-making, and bacteriological milk-testing - and obtained two Diplomas at
That short diary extract tells us the young lady was exceptional in many ways, apart altogether from having an uncle who was Governor of Newfoundland. Not only was she setting out unaccompanied on a transatlantic voyage barely a week after 1,500 souls had perished on a similar journey, she was a lady with qualifications of a technical nature, and she was already a dedicated diarist.
The extract also tells us that she was not your ordinary diarist. The tense is the past, not the present, the entries are not written on a daily basis, and they are not internal - that is they are written for an audience, not as the inner private musings of the diarist. The writer was Lillian Dean, born at a house in Wimbledon Common in 1880, the youngest of five daughters, their father, in her own phrase, a
So by the time of that transatlantic departure in 1912, she was 31 years of age. She already had behind her a broken engagement. She had become betrothed in 1908, at the age of 27 to an Irishman with an estate in
The following May she sailed back to
Neither Wilfrid nor Lillian had any previous connection with
In 1908 he was posted to the General Staff at the War Office in
His concern led him into public and political opposition to Home Rule. He approached Conservative Central Office and embarked on a speaking tour drawing public attention to the threat Home rule would pose to the security of the Empire He accepted an invitation to stand for Parliament, but withdrew when the rules were changed to place officers on half pay if they entered Parliament. He signed the Ulster Covenant when it was opened for signature in
In 1912 he returned to
During his dispute with the Army he had sought legal advice from Sir Edward Carson, a distinguished barrister as well as leader of the Irish Unionists. This would appear to have been Spender’s first personal contact with the men who were to lead
As the Great War approached, Spender, as a retired officer, was told to hold himself ready to take up an appointment with the Eastern Command in
In 1920 he was approached by Carson and Craig and asked to return to Belfast to help re-organise the Ulster Volunteer Force, an action deemed necessary by the Unionist leadership to preserve law and order in the north of Ireland in the run-up to the creation of Northern Ireland, now inevitable under the terms of the Better Government of Ireland Bill published in February 1920. He agreed immediately, and took extended leave from the Ministry, seeing the move as temporary, and his own long-term future in business in
These constitute a remarkable record of life, mostly in
Music was already dominating, as it was to dominate her whole life. She was an accomplished singer and instrumentalist. There are occasional references to non-musical and non-family events. Thus in 1908 she notes ‘Campbell Bannerman is dead’, and in April of that year records ‘Saw notice of W Churchill’s defeat at
I first came across Lady Spender when I was completing a PhD in the early 1980s.But these are not political diaries, and while I did use some material from them, they offer only an occasional sidelight on politics, rather than a rich vein of political material. Lillian Spender was far more interested in singing, in gardening, in dogs and in people than she was in politics, and as a result, her diaries are that much more interesting. At that time I promised myself I would come back to them, and read them for sheer enjoyment.
In addressing her diaries to her family in
As I have said, the couple were and married on September 9th, 1913. After a honeymoon on the Norfolk Broads they began their married life in
By February 1914, they were living in a house in
19th March, 1914: In the afternoon I went to Mrs Crawford’s At Home, sang a little. Most of the people were very unattractive, but there were two or three really musical ones who also performed and with whom I foregathered; one of them is coming to see me. I am beginning to see that there does exist a small musical set here, chiefly among the Presbyterians, whom one practically never meets. It is a great nuisance, for if I do get to know them, they’ll never mix with my other friends and acquaintances, and yet in many ways they are much more interesting, more worth knowing than the wealthier set, with a few exceptions.
Music was Lillian’s passion. The first diary entry we have, for Boxing Day 1898, records that she had just been having a splendid afternoon of duettes, ‘turning’ for other members of the family, and being complimented on her reading. She also resolves to learn the fiddle. And music continued to be a major feature of her life in
In that same month, March 1914, she went to stay with a Mrs Barton at Carnmoney - one hour by train - and climbed Carnmoney Hill.
It was a perfect evening, and the view is lovely from there; to the east, Belfast Lough and the hills beyond it; to the west, a corner of Lough Neagh, blue mountains close by; to the North, the open sea, two hills with one upstanding one, Slieve Slamish, or St Patrick’s Hill; southwards Belfast, muffled in smoke, the wild outline of the Mourne Mountains beyond. Larks were singing and the scene was peace itself, save for two things: - the warships, grim and black in the smiling lough, and at my feet a stone with No Pope Here scribbled on it in pencil.
Spring and summer 1914 were dominated by the mounting
W. and I were invited by Mr Torrens, Lord Shaftesbury’s agent - in the absence of the latter - to luncheon at the Castle. I had to take my nurse’s uniform with me, as we were all to be inspected, as we thought, by Sir Edward Carson during the afternoon. You’ll probably see in the papers who were at luncheon. Among them were Sir EC, both the Craigs, their wives, Lady Londonderry, Lord Charles Beresford, Lord and Lady Middleton (fancy the ex-Minister for War being there) and various other Lords and Ladies. Lady Annesley is marvellous, so handsome still and so wonderfully young-looking
The nurses were not, in the event, inspected, but the diary continues:
...we saw the march-past very well, and oh I wish I could make you see the scene. It was a perfect summer day, cloudless sky, no wind, and the Castle stands on the side of Cave Hill, with its fir-clad slopes as a background, and the wild, perpendicular crags rising sheer above it, cut clear against the deep blue sky. In front, the ground drops to the lough, which stretched calm and misty blue, away to the open sea. No one who wasn’t there can realise the feeling it gave one to see those thousands of men, with their heads bared while the prayers were offered up; to join in ‘Oh God our Help in Ages Past’ and to see them marching past, old men, boys, rich men and poor men side by side, all cheerfully ready to sacrifice themselves for the cause they hold so dear. I longed to be marching with them. I could scarcely stand still.
They say that what a proposal is to a man, her first dinner party is to a woman. I believe it. However my tremors were all beforehand, and I thoroughly enjoyed it when it came to the point.
Not all dinners were so enjoyable. A week later she was dining at the Dean of Belfast’s:-
Mr Ewart, who took me in, is a pompous old thing, who will, I suppose, be a member of the Provisional Government. Perhaps he will shine there more than he does in conversation. He defied my best efforts.
July 30, 1914. Kilwarlin House, Hillsborough. (where she is staying with Mr and Mrs Sclater)
Today it is streaming wet. We are going over in a few minutes to see old Mr Harty - Hamilton Harty’s father - who is organist at the church here, and Mrs Sclater is going to try to persuade him to play the organ to me tomorrow morning.
Already the names are becoming familiar to us, though sometimes new light is thrown on their owners:
August 4, 1914. (Still at Hillsborough)
After church we strolled to the lake with ...Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon - very nouveaux riches, who live in Hillsborough Castle, Lord Downshire’s Place.
On that very day that Lillian was commenting on the upwardly mobile tendencies of the tenants of Hillsborough Castle, Europe was plunging itself into war, a war which rapidly took the Spenders away from Belfast and back to England. The diaries are sparse during the war, but one entry, from September 30, 1915, written from near
The King came down to review the Ulster Division, and the day before Sir George Richardson, who commanded the original Ulster Volunteers, and still commands what is left of them, came to stay with us for it.
We got splendid places exactly at the point where the King and his suite rode onto the ground and I could have stroked his horse, he pranced so close to where I stood. He looked v. well and extremely cheerful, v. different from when I saw him at
It was the best march-past I have ever seen, not one check and not one gap...
During the march-past the King sent for Sir George and had quite a long talk with him. He said the Division was splendid, and that he was delighted with them. I was so delighted that the King sent for him, and it was most edifying to see His Majesty and the ‘rebel Chief’ gravely conversing together. Everyone who talked to the King said he seemed extraordinarily cheerful about the war, and appears to think that the Germans are pretty nearly ready to ask for peace, and that their men won’t face another winter campaign. I wonder.
In the course of 1919 the Spenders acquired a house near
More pressing than reading-matter was finding a place to live, a subject which much occupied the diarist over the next few years, and on which she had strong views.
How we are ever to find an unfurnished house here I cannot imagine. The housing question has not eased up over here as it has in
(She was later to describe
They did manage to find something suitable at Cultra (‘pronounced Cultraw’) where Miss Kennedy, sister of Sir Robert Kennedy ‘the big man down there’ agreed, in September 1920, to rent them St Catherine’s, which, Lillian noted, was their 17th abode since their marriage in 1913. It was, she said, so ridiculously near the station that she could stroll down hatless with her knitting and see W off, or meet any train. She also noted that Miss Kennedy had had to give up trying to have the name of her home - St Catherine - up on the gate, as people persisted in removing or obliterating the ‘St’. ‘Who but an Orangeman would have thought of that?’
(The name, incidentally, adorns the gate of the same house today, with no interference from Orangemen or others. The house is the home of Robert McCartney MP QC.)
Along with St Catherine’s, the Spenders acquired a retriever pup named Nigger, left to them by Miss Kennedy, and who was to become a star of the diaries for years ahead. They were both dog people, and their house rapidly became a dogs’ home. Lillian noted the local custom of giving a dog its owner’s surname in addition to its own handle - thus Nigger became Nigger Spender, while a similarly named pooch belonging to Sir Robert Kennedy became Big Nigger Kennedy; the cast also includes Gypsy Herdman, Puff Bland, Jock Girvan, Puppy McCullough, and Bedad Craig, a Kerry Blue deposited on loan by Sir James and Lady Craig. A perfectly idiotic name, the diary notes.
St Catherine’s was on a short lease only, and they were soon on the search again.
March 13, 1921: Looked at Dawson Bates’ home in Holywood, but very shabby and old-fashioned and not very convenient, and I detest the Holywood neighbourhood. It is, however, an extremely small rent...
Next was a house in Comber:
Comber - pronounced CUMBER - really isn’t a bad little place; inland from here, but close to Strangford Lough; less hideous than most Irish towns, for it’s very old, and has a big square with some fine old Queen Anne houses which lend quite a dignity to the place. The population too, is practically all loyal, which is a great matter. And its only 15 minutes by train from
But one week later:
We are definitely off the Comber house. W and I interviewed the agent on Monday morning and came to the conclusion that it was too expensive and too far away. Also, I’m told Comber isn’t healthy.
In the event they were able to rent the house next door to St Catherine’s - Kenvarra, though now the address is Craigavad. It was not ideal:-
The house is certainly extraordinarily inconvenient. But the garden’s quite nice, the views delightful; and we are only too thankful to be in such a friendly neighbourhood.
Inconvenient as it was, they stayed there for another 18 months, until they moved into semi-permanent residence at Beechcroft,
...is a beautiful place on quite a baronial scale standing in a splendid park. The house is as nearly as possible on the sea - just the width of the drive, then a bare green slope of a few yards, and then the sandy beach and low rocks, and then -
Langford Lodge, home of Colonel Pakenham, is also ‘a beautiful place’. Indeed it is
A wonderful place, standing on a promontory with the lake on three sides of it. Lough Neagh is 30 miles long and 20 miles wide, so one can’t see the other side except on clear days. The gardens are lovely and must be a paradise in spring. Even now (Nov, 1920) they are gay with rhododendrons, hydrangeas and masses of cotoneaster trees completely covered with their lovely crimson berries. The place is so terribly lonely and cut off, but I should simply adore it if it were mine...
Oakfield, the McFerran home near Carrickfergus, won approval in September 1920, when Lillian went there for lunch, by train to Carrick, then by foot the mile and a half to the house.
Such a lovely day, and such a lovely place, with a tiny lake, and an enchanting rose-garden in a deep hollow, with huge old Irish yews as a background, and a trout stream rippling close-by. How I am ever to return all this hospitality without a proper cook I can’t conceive.’
Mountstewart,, where the Spenders became regular guests of the Londonderrys, was simply ‘quite the most palatial house I have ever stayed in.’ But it was the company more than the architecture that charmed her. She records a house party there in late August 1922.
(It was) most free and easy. Nobody entertains any body - you all go your own way, just as in a hotel, and do whatever you feel inclined. Lady L. is charming; Lady Maureen I couldn’t bear - a tiny edition of her father, a typically modern young woman - hair pulled back unbecomingly from her forehead, tired rather dissipated eyes, and a bored manner - no manners at all that I could discern. But she looks pretty sometimes.
The person I really liked best was Lord Castlereagh, a dreamy sweet-tempered looking boy of 21, with charming manners, plenty of ideas and most sensible views of life. I sat next to him both nights at dinner and we had lots of talk and laughter.
Lord Cameron played to us, by ear, very badly. I longed to sing, but they didn’t know I sang, and I have yet to discover a graceful and satisfactory method of announcing the fact.
She also records that on the pillows in their bedroom they found notes to each of them stating that no gratuities should be given to staff. Other house parties are described in some detail:
Thursday November 25, 1920; Saturday W and I went for the weekend to Col Pakenham’s, who has a beautiful place, Langford Lodge, on Lough Neagh. Mr and Mrs John Bristowe and Joan were there too, and Lady Mabel Annesley and her 16 year old son Gerald.....It’s a puzzling household altogether, as Mrs Pakenham lives in Australia, and Col P’s sister in law keeps house for him, but her name is Molloy, as she married again...We had music in the evenings, Joan and I singing a lot, and then we discovered the Plantation Songs and all sang them lustily. Joan played ragtime too for Col P and Lady Mabel who danced wildly in an out of the furniture. I didn’t take too much to Lady Mabel, but Col P is delightful and so is Mrs Molloy, both so gay and merry, tho they have had much more than their share of trouble. On Sunday we all went to church at the little church old General Pakenham built in the grounds and sat in the family pew - a little room with a cushioned seat all round it and a fireplace with flowers on the mantelpiece. After lunch the others played golf again and W. and I had another lovely walk along the Lough thro the woods. Then more music, and after dinner a hilarious game of ‘3 Lines’ with letters, which I’m proud to say I won, though W. won great applause for the word ‘hippodromatic’ which he invented in a vain attempt to save one of his lines....Monday was a glorious morning with a hard frost. We got a shock at breakfast when Col P. opened the paper, and read out about the
That was the weekend of November 21st, 1920, Bloody Sunday, when almost 30 people had died in violence in
Larchfield, five miles from Lisburn and the home of the Ogilvie Grahams was another ‘charming place’. While staying there in 1922 they were invited by another guest, Mr Armytage Moore, over to see his wonderful garden at Saintfield. (Now the National Trust’s
In the afternoon we motored over to Saintfield to see Mr Moore’s garden which certainly is quite wonderful. He has quantities of natural rock in the grounds, and keeps on tackling a fresh piece of wilderness and turning it into a fairy land of colour. There is a whole series of rock-gardens, and one especially lovely one - a miniature mountain range clothed in every colour of the rainbow. One of the loveliest bits confronts you unexpectedly as you turn a corner in a gloomy wood - a sea of heavenly blue lithospernum, backed by sunset pink azaleas...But Mr Moore’s main hobby is rhododendrons. I have never seen such enormous and such perfect heads of bloom,. All the same, they don’t appeal to me a bit. We were perished with cold by tea-time - oh what a climate.
House parties were exciting events. At Langford Lodge Lillian had her first attempt at roulette, and won four and three pence. At Mountstewart, she almost heard her first wireless broadcast. Unfortunately the broadcasting set in the library ‘refused to act’ to her disappointment as she had never yet ‘listened in’. At Drumcairne, while staying with Lord and Lady Charlemont in the summer of 1923 she saw her first badger.
Presently we heard an odd sound, between a cry and a call, high and rather musical...and the next minute, a few yards ahead of us, an odd looking animal about the size of an Airedale, loped across our path and disappeared among the rhododendrons. It was a badger and the cry we heard was his. He was a little shorter in the leg than an Airedale - brown and white, with black markings and a queer tapering muzzle. Lord C. knew there were one or two (badgers) on his estate, but had never seen one before. Very few people do see them.
It was not just the badger who was musical. Lord Charlemont, the diary records, was ‘genuinely musical, and plays charmingly by ear, mostly Irish folk-tunes which he adores’. Music, in drawing rooms and concert halls, fills the diaries. Lillian Spender was clearly not just highly informed musically, but was, it would seem, a singer of professional standard. Part of her correspondence in the PRONI is with Hamilton Harty, who was offering his assistance in her efforts to buy a baby Steinway in
Friday, Feb 11, 1921: Last Sunday, Blackmore to lunch. (Charles Blackmore, then Craig’s secretary, later secretary to the NI cabinet.) Mr Blackmore ....has, we discovered, an extremely fine baritone voice and sings delightfully. He studied with John Acton - who taught Agnes Nicholls and so many other of our stars - and isn’t the least amateurish. He had to leave by the 2.30 train so we only had time for one or two songs, but we were both so thrilled he nearly missed the train. His singing will be a delight if we really settle here...
Friday Feb 19, 1921: Arranging a Café Chantant at
The friendship with Blackmore flourished on foot of his fine baritone voice, and in August 1921 the Spenders dined with him and ‘the two middle-aged ladies’ who kept house for him. Also in the company were Sir Dawson and Lady Bates. After dinner, according to the dairy, Sir Dawson contrived to upset a glass of water into the piano so that when Lillian played a song for Mr Blackmore, half the notes were dumb. As a result the company decamped at 10 o’clock to the Spenders’, where music continued to nearly midnight. The diary again notes that Mr Blackmore really has a beautiful voice, but adds that ‘his taste in songs is deplorable. And there are certain things about his singing that I don’t like.’ Even so, Mr Blackmore continues to sing his way through the diaries, and within a few months has become Charles, not Mr Blackmore, and is performing Stanford’s Sea Songs at one of Lillian’s concerts.
Lillian also sings her own way through these pages, though she rarely indicates what it was she sang, either at cafés chantants, concerts or anywhere else. However she does tell us that she sang at two concerts in the drawing room of Drumcairne at a fete organised by the Charlemonts in the summer of 1923, and that ‘As usual I found ‘No. John’ my most popular song. It never fails to win an encore’.
On the other hand she does tell us a lot about the performances of others, and about the musical fare available in
A Mrs Warnock (pianist with a visiting quintet) played the Brahams G Minor rhapsody extremely well. Mrs Seeds sang deliciously...The beautiful purity of her tone fills me with delight and rage - rage at my own shortcomings in that respect and in many other respects.
In October 1922 Fritz Kriesler came to
A feast of delight from start to finish. Our seats were in the front row of the stalls, and it was a joy to be so near to miss nothing of his perfect playing. Such a programme too, including the Kreutzer Sonata and some Bach, a thing of Paganinni’s, two of his own, some Corelli, one of the adorable Brahams waltzes arranged by Hochstein - Olive must get it for viola - its this one (and here the diary gives the precise notation) He played it absolutely perfectly. I don’t know when I’ve been more completely happy. This kind of thing is the rain after a long drought.
A year later it was the German pianist Walter Rummel who was making it all worth while, with a programme of Bach, Chopin and Liszt (though Lillian could have done without the Liszt):
Rummel’s playing is marvellous - I never heard such limpid purity of tone, on a Chappell piano too. It was to have been a Pleyel, which he had been playing on in
A Carl Rosa Opera performance of Faust in March 1921 was less inspiring:
The singing and acting were really rather good, in spite of drawbacks - Marguerite was a quite unmistakable 60, Faust was excessively plain, and Siebel was fat and forty. But the old nurse was quite charming, and obviously young and thin. Such are touring companies.
In September 1923 she found the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, under Roberton, ‘as nearly perfect as any choir I have heard - they keep the pitch immaculately and their voices are mellifluously sweet’.
There is little mention of theatre or amateur dramatics in these post Great War years, but in November 1923 the Spenders turned up to see the first play presented by the new Northern Drama League (they had subscribed to the season some months earlier). The play was Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, and it was put on at Queen’s University.
I found it extremely interesting, in spite of a decidedly amateurish performance. The homely appearance of the players fitted the piece perfectly, and even the colossal
Nor is there much mention of art, though the diary records Mrs Theo Richardson taking Lillian to see some pictures in Belfast in late 1920 ‘...mostly local artists, but two or three Lavery portraits (he’s local too, I find) and two of Jack B Yeats which I liked immensely’. On a later visit to
I made Mr Phillips show me the one Rex had bought. He - Mr Phillips - says that it is quite unique, and I can see that it is wonderful, but am not educated enough to desire it, or to get pleasure from it. I wish I were. One or two of the pictures I loved, but they were no doubt the more obvious and less subtle ones.
Lillian was a voracious reader, and regularly recommended new discoveries to her diary readers. In January 1921 she was reading ‘Jusserand’s fascinating book, English Wayfaring Life in the 14th Century, packed with things not generally known, as the Dean family used to say dear Father’s mind was’. In February she was enjoying Mrs Arthur Webster’s new History of the French Revolution, which ‘completely overturns all our previous ideas on the subject...and is certainly convincing’. Dr Grenfell’s A
Towards the end of the year she was apparently reading in French - first Romaine Rolland’s Vie de Michel Ange, and then Tolstoy’s La Guerre et La Paix ‘what a marvellous book’, though she had some difficulty with the latter as it was in three volumes and the library sent her vol three to start with. Other reading matter included Princess Blucher’s An English Wife in Berlin ‘extremely interesting’, John Buchan’s Francis and Riversdale Grenfell ‘quite charming’, W H Mallock’s Memoirs of Life and Literature ‘well worth reading’, and Lord Frederick Hamilton’s The Vanished Pomp of Yesterday ‘extremely interesting and amusing’..
Earlier, in 1920, she confessed to getting rather bored with Harold Cox’s book (no title given) because he was ‘mad on Free Trade’ and she didn’t find his arguments at all convincing.
The luminaries of
Miss Kennedy, sister of Sir Robert, and the Spender’s landlady when they lived in St Catherine’s, was ‘a dear old thing, but concentration is not her strong point’. It was to prove strong enough, however, for her to raise the rent at the end of six months, forcing the Spenders to move (St Catherine’s turned out to be, in Lillian’s phrase, a Naboth’s Vineyard to a lot of people, far more convenient and attractive than most’ and therefore much coveted. Miss Kennedy’s brother, Sir Robert, we learn, ‘...is quite amusing when you get to know him. I don’t know why he is so desperately unpopular in the neighbourhood.’ Mrs Sharman Crawford ‘is a distinctly fascinating person, in spite of her sharp tongue’, while Lord Londonderry apes his ancestor, the great Lord Castlereagh, and wears a high black stock over his collar, and a very tightly-fitting frock coat, and doesn’t look as if he belonged to this century at all. In manners he is a little bit the Lord Curzon type, and stands very much on his dignity, but W. likes him, and thinks him a fine man.’
The diary offers vignettes of both major and minor figures in Irish politics of the day. Major Hugh O’Neill, Speaker of the new NI House of Commons, ‘is very legal and precise, but quite nice. Why is it so impossible to conceal the fact that you are, or have been, a lawyer? Not that there is any reason why you should, but what I mean is that it comes out always and unmistakably in your conversation and manner. I hadn’t talked to him five minutes before I knew it.’ J. M Andrews she found ‘...so straight and simple and kindly. I like him exceedingly. Mr Milne Barbour, ‘one of
The diary also records some impressions of the southern leaders, as conveyed to Lillian by her husband Wilfrid. Wilfrid met Michael Collins and some of his colleagues at a meeting with Craig in
(Collins) was in very triumphant and boastful mood, and did not attempt to deny responsibility for outrages in
Incidentally the diary also includes an indirect account of the meeting between De Valera and Lloyd George in
L.G. showed Dev a map of the British Empire, and the minuteness of Ireland in it, and said it couldn’t possibly be allowed to go on taking up so much of his time and thought. He also told him that there was no such word as ‘Republic’ in Irish, and when Dev pronounced one, L G pooh poohed it, and said it didn’t mean ‘Republic’ at all, but ‘the people’, and when Dev produced another he said it was no use trying to pass off a word like that on him a Celt as it wasn’t a Celtic word at all, but a hybrid. All of which was perfectly true and seemed to disconcert Dev quite a lot. The latter apparently talked a lot of windy, rhetorical stuff about ‘
Some of the gossip was much less than second-hand. In January 1922 the unionists in
By the way, Enid Kennedy came to see me one morning last week, and told me something which I think should be widely known. It seems that the Duke of Argyll told Lord Lee, who told Mrs Ward, who told her niece, Enid K., that the King knew nothing whatever about that telegram which was published as being sent by him to Lloyd George. Congratulations, I mean, on the signing of the Treaty !! It seems almost incredible that even L G could do such a thing, but I think the authority I have quoted above is good enough to go on. Lord Lee is thinking of bringing the matter up in the House of Lords, and I earnestly hope he will. Why the King has let it pass I can’t imagine, except that he is so terrified of being ‘unconstitutional’. Imagine his father, or grandfather, sitting down under such treatment.
Weak and pliable King George may have been on matters constitutional, but not so at home. A month later the diary returns to the subject of the Royal family, with the announcement of the engagement of Princess Mary. It seems, Lillian records, that ‘the King is the real tyrant of the family, not the Queen as I always imagined. It is even his doing that the poor queen wears long skirts and absurd hats’.
The diary contains lively and detailed accounts of major public occasions, such as the formal opening of the Northern Parliament, and the King’s visit to
We had a good deal of difficulty getting thro the crowds round the City Hall, but they were perfectly good-humoured, and we got to our seats in excellent time...I sat between Lady Clarke (Sec for Ulster’s wife) and the bishop of Down so had plenty of conversation, and had a perfect seat about half way down the room in front....It (the ceremony) was intensely interesting. First prayers by the Primate, then the Proclamation by the Clerk of the House, in his wig, then the entry of His Ex. who read his speech and afterwards the election of the Speaker, Major Hugh O’Neill. His wife used to help me at Lady Carson’s Depot and is very charming, and he makes a perfect Speaker outwardly, as he is very grave and impressive and has a beautiful voice. I loved all the ceremonies of his election - much bowing and solemn words, and a very nice speech from him, and then he disappeared, to enter again in wig and bands, escorted by the Sergeant at Arms, General Young - brother of Uncle Pat, Julie - with the Mace.
He, the Sergeant at Arms, is extremely handsome - a typical soldier, so it looked delightful. Then the Speaker took his seat in the chair and the Members were sworn in, 40 of them, the 12 S Fs and Nationalists being absent of course. The swearing in was rather a mixed performance, as Presbyterians and non conformists don’t kiss the book or swear, but hold up their right hands and ‘affirm’, and some of them got rather tied up....Afterwards we all trooped down to the luncheon where I sate between Mr Blackmore (Sir James’ Pte Sec) and H E’s Pte Sec Mr Tallents, and enjoyed myself hugely....Mr Tallents proved very interesting. This is the 4th constitution at whose birth he has assisted: two of the others being
The day, it seems, passed off perfectly, except for an extraordinary faux pas by a certain Capt Wyndham Quin, ADC to HE, who was sitting beside Wilfrid at the top table, and who started smoking before the King’s toast, and one or two others followed suit. As the diary records, the day was saved by Sir James, who ‘hastily announced the Viceroy’s permission to smoke. Capt Wyndham Quin looked very guilty, and I hear he got a severe dressing down afterwards’.
The diary’s account of the Royal visit begins the day before it began, with Lillian going into
The whole city was seething and bubbling with excitement. The streets were thronged with people looking at the decorations, and the shops were a mass of bunting, and all swept and garnished for the crowds that would fill their windows next day, and no one could talk or think of anything else at all but the Royal visit. And yet underneath it all was the black dread of what the enemy in our midst might try to do. It was that medley of emotions that made the next day so exhausting.........Next morning we saw the Royal yacht and some of the escort anchored just below us, and after a while they set off for the docks. A car came for W who - was ‘in attendance’ on Sir James all day - at 9, and at 10 Sir Ernest, gorgeous in his gold lace, and Lady Clarke called for me in their car, most kindly and took me to the City Hall for the opening of Parliament, which I had a seat for in the Council Chamber. By the greatest luck I was near a window, and was able to lean out and command a perfect view of the street approaching the City Hall, so saw the procession arrive, and heard the roar of cheers that greeted the King and Queen. I’ve seen many a Royal procession in
The Mr Tallents that Lillian had found such engaging company at the first of those two occasions returned to the pages of the diary subsequently when he had become Imperial Secretary for
Monday 25th June 1923: Last Sunday Mr Tallents...came to tea - I like him so much. I believe has a charming wife, but she is in England with the children...Before he left he invited W and me to accompany him on a tour he has to take over a great part of Ulster the next week. He would be inspecting a lot of the Border so it was a great chance for me as I knew nothing of
So on Saturday morning Mr Tallents car - a roomy Crossley - picked them up and took them to Coleraine where, they met up with their host, who had already embarked on his tour. They travelled to
We had time for a walk in
Next morning, which was still dull and cold, we set off soon after 9 for our tour of the Border, and presently picked up a car containing two ‘A’ Special officers who were to act as our guides. It doesn’t do to risk going astray so near the Border as you may run into the
Our next stopping place was Clady - here again the boundary was an imaginary line across the middle of the river bridge. There had been trouble at Clady the previous week, two men ‘shooting up’ two houses in the village belonging to Republicans. As usual it was blamed on the B Specials, but enquiry proved the criminals to be two Free Staters who lived over the Border. We saw the bullet holes in the windows. The inhabitants were so scared that they have begged for further protection, and a permanent post of Specials is being established there with wireless etc.
After that our route corkscrewed about in a most bewildering manner through innumerable by-roads in order to avoid crossing the border, or rather crashing into a trench, as we have cut trenches in that neighbourhood wherever the roads cross the border. We visited several of these trenches. The first was not very far from the Duke of Abercorn’s place - about 15 feet deep and 4 or 5 feet wide - guarded by two very youthful A Specials. The next was much shallower and had no sentries. The Captain explained that these sentries go the round of the trenches, staying 20 minutes or so by each. It sounds very inadequate but is not so really, because in these dangerous parts at least one inhabitant in every farm and cottage is a B Special, and the A’s have only to give the alarm to get as many as they want on the spot in a very short time. The other side know this very well, and it helps more than anything else to keep the peace. This (is) what Sir Basil Brooke meant when he said he could close 35 miles of Border in Co Fermanagh in half an hour, and this was what W foresaw when he first inaugurated the Specials. All this part is beautiful wild country, mostly peat bog, but freely dotted with little white farms. It is far more thickly populated than such country would be in
Armed robbers give a lot of trouble there, and I was shown several cottages on the
Our next stop was at the Headquarters of a platoon of Specials in a deserted manse. It was pouring with rain by now and bitterly cold, and I stayed in the car while W and Mr T went round and inspected. Then we drive on to Pettigo, where the battle was last year, eating lunch on the way. Pettigo is in. the unhappy condition of being cut clean in half by the Border which goes straight through the middle of the village, with block houses, sandbags, barbed wire, Customs huts etc. W Said that the whole of that part of the country reminded him more than anything of just behind the front line in
We reached Beleek about teatime - such a picturesque place, about 6 miles from the West coast where Donegal and Leitrim meet, with the beautiful Erne rushing through the village, and the Beleek China factory on its banks - still working full time we were told. There is a fort there of Cromwell’s time, right on the Border, and now occupied by a detachment of infantry - imperial troops. We came across the Captain in command after tea, and he volunteered to take us for a walk down the river through the woods along its banks it is said to have the finest salmon fishing in
After Enniskillen they went to Garrison, and then back up the Clogher Valley and home to Belfast, and at the end of the account of the trip, Lillian adds the small detail that one result of the divided country at Pettigo is that ‘there have to be two post offices, one on each side of the Border, and the Free Staters all come to post their letters on our side because their postage is ½d more than ours. So the
As I said, I have been reading these diaries for pleasure, not great academic or historical insight. But they do., of course, prompt many questions and observations. There is, for example, the entire absence of Catholics from the social circle, including the musical one. At the same time there is, as far as I can see, not one word indicating anti-Catholicism, or indeed any sympathy with
It really was very interesting, but I was distressed to see what unhealthy conditions are necessary. The room where the actual spinning is done has to be kept artificially damp, and the warm steaming atmosphere was almost unbearable even for a few minutes. It always affects the workers injuriously in the long run, and only the very poorest class - RCs of course - will work in that room. Something is wrong there, but it is difficult to see the remedy.
Also interesting is that in my reading of the diaries I have come across no account of an
Finally, and this is a question for social historians, there is a singular absence of horses. When the Spenders lived in
On March 17th 1923, the Spenders’ first and only child arrived. Patricia Daffodil Cleather Spender was born. Lillian was three months short of her 43rd birthday. Everyone was delighted, including particularly, the Government of Northern Ireland. J M Andrews phoned Wilfrid, obviously in a state of high excitement.
You ought to give her a flower name, then we’ll make that the national flower of
Daffodil was vaccinated on Ascension Day, and started teething at six weeks – events faithfully recorded in the diary.
* Lady Spender’s Diaries. PRONI D1633/2. The diaries run to 64 volumes, covering the years 1899-1966, with gaps.