There is no Blue Plaque in Belfast for Viscount Castlereagh or Sir Henry Pottinger

A letter from WA Miller:

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 9:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th May 2021, 9:45 pm
Letter to the editor

The Scottish “separatist” threat recalls reading Charles Brett’s memoir ‘Long Shadows Cast Before’.

He notes the view seen from his home on the shores of Belfast Lough. The Mull of Galloway (the home of his ancestors) less than 30 miles away. The Mournes, some 40 miles away. Holywood where John, king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Earl of Anjou, stayed a night in 1210 after crossing the Lough from Carrickfergus Castle built in 1180 by the Norman, John de Courcy. The sailors who had brought the king from Bayonne, long before nation states had come into being, were tipped 60 shillings.

He notes the Castlereagh Hills without mentioning Robert Stewart at 21 a member of the Irish Parliament for Down, who when ennobled as Viscount Castlereagh took his title from the hills near his home.

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He had shown leanings towards the Belfast United Irishmen – enough for the founder, William Drennan, to see in him a young hopeful. A visit to France and what he saw of the aftermath of the French Revolution changed Stewart’s mind.

He saw the choice for the ills of the Kingdom of Ireland either a parliamentary union with Great Britain or incorporation into the French Napoleonic Empire, for French troops once landed in Ireland would never leave. An opponent of Castlereagh and the proposed Union was the Marquis of Downshire, a prominent Orangeman.

Castlereagh failed to achieve all he had hoped for in the Union (the immediate removal — it came later — of laws that with respect to Roman Catholics barred from political office, a response to the papal pronouncement against owing or abetting allegiance to ‘heretical’ monarchs). But Belfast was able to take advantage of access to new markets the Union opened and grew from some 20,000 inhabitants into an industrial city of over 400,000 a century later.

Castlereagh became British Foreign Secretary – admired today by Henry Kissinger and William Hague for diplomatic skills as a negotiator at the Congress of Vienna aimed at keeping the peace in Europe.

His home in County Down is now a National Trust property.

Alexander Stewart, Castlereagh’s grandfather was an elder in what at the time would have been Rosemary Street Meeting House, today’s Rosemary Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

His son John, the father of Castlereagh, conformed to the Church of Ireland making possible the election of his son Robert to the Irish parliament.

On a wall close by the church a Blue Plaque notes William Drennan’s birthplace and the history column in the street outside the church records his United Irishmen connection but has no note, surely somewhat odd, given the tourists, of the Stewarts, Castlereagh’s family links.

But then neither does the history notes in front of St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Donegall Street record that Castlereagh was amongst the subscribers to the building cost of the earlier chapel on the site.

It is not only Castlereagh who is forgotten by Belfast. There is no Blue Plaque above the entrance to Pottinger’s Entry off Anne Street to indicate that the first governor of Hong Kong, Sir Henry Pottinger was born there.

WA Miller, Belfast BT13

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