“The Collegiad” or Will of Widow Magee

An article in The Bulletin of the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland (Vol 43) 2019 at page 1 ‘No Surrender! The Magee College Controversy’ by Eugene Dunphy refers to an epic poem "The Collegiad", documenting the story of the foundation of Magee College, by the Rev James Fleming.

It is here reproduced in full with short biographical notes at the end of those mentioned in the poem.

"The Collegiad"
Will of Widow Magee

There, take inventory of all I have,
To the last penny ... my robe
And my integrity to Heaven are all
I dare now call my own.

Though doubts oft perplex us, one thing is plain,
Our life-scene is chequered with pleasure and pain,
With shadows and sunshine, with sorrow and joy –
With much to console us and much to annoy.
For when grief dims the eye, and the heart melts with fears,
Then the rainbow of hope has its birth in our tears.
’Tis pleasant, said one, while we stand on the shore,
To see the deep boiling, to hear the winds roar –
To see the lark reeling when breakers are nigh
And to hear o’er the tempest the mariner’s cry;
But to me its no pleasure – ah, who can feel joy
To see the gulf yawn for the poor sailor boy.
’Tis painful to dwell on such pleasures as these,
Let us turn then to something which always must please,
And as long introductions are apt to offend,
I mean, when we hear of the death of friend —

A rich one, of course, without many relations,
Who led us in life to have great expectations.
And, oh, there is something more exquisite still,
To hear our name audibly read from the Will.
Connected with thousands, then who can deny,
That for joy at such news we’re entitled to cry.
But enough, you will say, of this trite moralising,
That you don’t care about it, I don’t think surprising.

Then I’ll tell you a story – you’ll like it, I know –
Of a Will that was made not a long time ago,
In the North of our island, sweet Ireland machree,
There lived an old lady called Widow Magee.
Her husband, a clergyman, sect Presbyterian,
Of the orthodox school, without anything Arian –
Lived poor, died the same, he departed this life,
And left without wealth his disconsolate wife.

But the Widow had friends, who a long time before
Had gone to the diggins - some place near Lahore;
Gathered gold in abundance, rupees by the lac –
How they got it I know not, the thing is a fact.
But they died and an iron-winged Pegasus flies
From the far distant shores of those hot burning skies,
And the news, brought delightful o’er ocean and sea,
Bequeathed all their wealth to dear Widow Magee.

She used her wealth wisely, no folly, no pride,
And in peace and tranquility lived till she died.
But time quickly passes and death’s sickle gathers,
The good and the bad to repose with their fathers:
So Widow Magee saw her time drawing nigh,
And she thought on her wealth, I don’t say with a sigh.
And how to bequeath it to do all the good
To her friends left behind her she possibly could.

So she looked for a lawyer and found her next neighbour,
A man to her mind and quite willing to labour
As all lawyers are at preparing a Will,
And she got to assist him a man they called Dill.
So they thought o’er the subject, arranged the affair,
With sound legal wisdom and clerical care.
Though some persons blame her for asking advice,
I think she was right in a matter so nice.
And on those whom she chose she could firmly depend
For each of the two was a very ‘dear friend’.

The clergy and lawyers should always unite –
If the one should go wrong, then the other goes right,
Like gridiron pendulums nicely adjusted,
In all kinds of weather may always be trusted.
I’ll stand up for the clergy, I hope not in vain,
The infidels say they are greedy of gain;
And this Will-making lawyer, deny it who can,
He’s both upright and downright as honest a man
Ever fixed his abode near the banks of the Bann.

And now, con amore, the task was jucundum,
The Will was sketched neatly out artem secundum,
From ‘I leave and bequeath’ to this church and that friend,
So in less than no time it was brought to an end.
Her relations got little, because she allowed,
It would be a great sin to make poor people proud:
But her dear loving friends, Messrs. Greer and Dill,
Had ‘five thousand pounds’ each written down in the Will.

Other legacies paid, it was stated quite plain,
They might lawfully pocket whate’er might remain,
Do you think they were wrong for accepting the pelf?
No, not in the least - you would do it yourself.
I do not intend every item to mention,
However, there’s one that demands our attention:
She knew that the clergy had much need of knowledge,
So she left twenty thousand to build them a College.

To some General Assembly the money was granted,
But the Will did not say what Assembly she wanted,
In reviewing the Will some thought it looked queer,
All was ‘right, no mistake’; as to Dill and to Greer,
The sums written fully, so plainly indeed,
That a blind boy might feel them, a runner might read:
But concerning the Church, it was thought it might do,
To mark down four zeros and the figure of 2.
But its scarcely worthwhile on such matters to speak
For everyone knows it’s the same in the Greek.

But I’m running too fast - when the good Widow died,
And the legatees all had respectfully cried,
The Will opened and read, expectations at rest,
Doubts were seen to hang over the Church’s bequest.
Doubt first, what Assembly? Doubt second, what to do
With the money when got; and the third doubt, who
Had a right to the money, a power to control,
To settle, arrange and manage the whole?
Several parties came forward and put forth their claims –
If you wait for a while, I will tell you their names.

Where everyone’s right and nobody’s wrong,
The contest becomes inconveniently long;
So they wisely agreed to what seemed the best plan,
To submit the whole case to a Chancery man;
And they chose a first-rate one, the famed Master Brooke,
Who cudgelled his brains and consulted his book:
In a short time, how strange, he unravelled the Will,
And decides that to Gibson, John Brown, and Dick Dill
Right to manage belonged – being legal trustees –
And to build when and where, and whatever might please.

But to some this decision gave mortal offence,
And now the great war may be said to commence;
So minding my promise, I think it is right
To tell you of some who engaged in the fight.
First came the Trustees with authority arm’d:
There was Gibson the lawyer whom nobody harm’d,
There was Dick Dill of Dublin, none like him so brave,
He seldom asked quarter and seldom he gave;
By a certain attorney called Neilson, defamed,
But Dick was triumphant and Neilson was shamed.

And next comes John Brown, who we all must respect,
For business he ne’r has been known to neglect;
Though not very young, without glasses can see
All subjects connected with £, s and d.
He lives in a cottage called Bachelor’s Hall,
No helpmate to scold him, no children to squall;
Yet John, like us all, is a true Irishman –
He loves all that’s lovely, loves all that he can;
For though far advanced on the downhill of life,
He admires with devotion another man’s wife;
Her dear-belov’d image he wears next his heart –
They are wedded for life until death them do part:
Don’t think I speak scandal, the image I mean
Is a lovely medallion - the head of our Queen.

Many joined to assist them, three only I name –
You will find them enroll’d in the annals of fame,
These are Goudy, the doctor, John Rogers and Bell –
I need not say more for you know all them well –
Those Tenant-Right leaguers who oft make us merry,
While they laud the achievements of Lord Londonderry!

Next, attend if you please while I pass in review,
Of the large and the strong opposition, the few,
There was Stewart pacific, alas he is ill,
His place but few others are able to fill;
He feared not the fight but he wished it to cease,
So we grant him a niche in the temple of peace.
And next Doctor Dobbin, I’m sorry to tell,
But it can’t be concealed, he is also unwell:
More hasty than Stewart, more eloquent too,
But not just so steady when work is to do;
In contests unseemly he takes no delight,
And if e’er he goes wrong he still thinks he goes right,
There was Edgar, a doctor, who looks rather gruff,
Whose appearance proclaims, ‘I’m contentious enough’.

And Wilson, you know him, the Biblical parson,
Who wrote a good book ’gainst the late Doctor Carson.
There comes Doctor Morgan along with the rest,
As mild as a moonbeam on ocean’s still breast,
As calm as a child on the breast of its mother,
You may look long around and not see such another;
Yet his spirit Mosaic, for once in his life,
To anger was roused at these waters of strife.
But we cancel the fault, for such great provocation
Would make a saint manifest just indignation.

Now Homer, you whisper, is napping at last,
For the best of them all with neglect has been passed.
Take time – who forgets the great merit and worth
Of the noblest of warriors, the Cock of the North?
You had better beware when he crows in his might,
With his spars newly sharpened, prepared for the fight;
One blow from his beak or his heels is no fun,
All is up with you then – my dear fellow, you’re done.
But who is this Game Cock, perhaps you will say,
If so addle-headed, my time’s thrown away;
But as I’m good-natured and love perspicuity,
I’ll more fully explain, though it be superfluity:
He’s a man, should you e’er chance to meet in a fight,
With one lunge lets through the clearest daylight;
He wrote to the Lord some fine things about Martin,
With a kind word or two of friend Rogers at partin’ –
He who, not long since, at a great lordly dinner,
Beslavered Montgomery, as I am a sinner!
You may think as you please, but I don’t like such flummery,
Such billing and cooing of Cooke and Montgomery.

Now armies are gathering, and war is declared,
Each girds on his sword, for the contest prepared;
And should not all matters be settled aright,
The thing is determined, the forces must fight.
So during the calm, let us stop to inquire
The subjects of contest, the cause of such ire;
Let us hear how they reason, what logical skill
The leaders exhibit about this same Will.

Some say there’s no use for a college at all,
We want but a good Theological Hall;
Though the Will names a college, we easily might
Say the Hall was a college, then all would be right.
And there stands Queen’s College – how can you oppose
Whatever Lord John and the Queen may propose?
She endows us with bounties, munificent, royal,
And to set up a rival would prove us disloyal:
So take heed of your conduct, for fear you estrange her –
Such acts, you must know, puts the Donum in danger,
This kind nursing-mother minds all our affairs,
She has richly endowed Theological Chairs –
Two old, and four new ones maintained by her treasure,
So be wise, don’t awaken the royal displeasure.

Now the argument pauses, so let us review
Those Chairs Theologic, the old and the new –
Of the two that are old we have little to say,
They are useful enough and well made in their day;
They are plain, nothing strange, for attracting the eye –
Quite easy to sit in, so let them pass by.
See, here are the new ones, the old ones are past,
The workmen who made them reside in Belfast.
In all our Art-Unions there’s nothing so fine,
I’m sure they were sketched at some school of design.
How showy, how curious, the carvings how nice,
Like some lovely idol by artist’s device!
The most cunning workmanship made by the hand –
The very best job ever done in our land.
To speak of their value, oh how I delight –
Like pearls from the deep, like a ‘mountain of light’;
Put them up in the market, bid Hyndman to cry,
‘The chairs are for sale, here’s a bargain, who’ll buy?’

The news flies –
and from Dan to Beersheba they gather –
How they race, how they chase, how they elbow each other.
But the chairs are a gift, so they cannot be sold,
They are worth to their owners much silver and gold;
For they only need show them six months in a year,
And they bring their possessors one thousand pounds clear.
I have often thought we were much in the dark,
Not to take them all over to show in Hyde Park;
The design and the work, and the value and size,
No doubt would have gained them the very first prize.

Their names, if I could I would willingly mention,
Oh Paddy’s the boys of all boys for invention!
Well, if you permit me, I’ll try for a time
But as some things are both without reason and rhyme,
Should you now find me halting and hobbling, you know it,
’Tis the fault of the subject and not of the poet.
The first one is called ‘Ecclesiastical Greek’,
Some kind of language the Church ought to speak.
‘Sacred Rhetoric’ next, do you bid me explain?
I am puzzled myself so you ask me in vain.
And then ‘Christian Ethics’ which means, I surmise,
Some duties which Christians alone should prac-tise.
‘Church History’ next – needs no explanation
For we know what it means without much botheration.
Now the chairs have been seen, well I think I am bound
To show their possessors with dignity crowned.

Those learned professors, those eminent sages!
Dispensing around them the wisdom of ages.
Behold in his chair the Great Masson reposing;
Do not think it strange – the Professor is dozing:
He sits on Greek Fathers that never are read,
And a musty old Septuagint pillows his head!
Sleep on, take your rest; you are right, without doubt –
You have nothing to do for the boys are gone out.
See next in his chair the renowned Doctor Cooke,
Like the angel, he holds in his hand a small book;
It contains a few pages, each page a few lines,
It was made long ago by Westminster Divines:
And without contradiction, at least in my mind,
’Tis the best, yes, the very best book of its kind.
The class gathers round – to the dux in the van
He says, ‘Now my boy, what’s the chief end of man?’
So with question and answer and verbal additions,
He gallops away and gets through the petitions;
And the class jumped for joy when he rose up to say
‘The lecture is ended, be off boys and play’.

Such scenes I do love, for in life’s early morn,
On the green grassy carpet beneath the white thorn,
I have sat with delight on a warm summer day,
I read in the Bible no statesman said nay;
I rhymed o’er my questions as well as I could,
Not always correct and not well understood.
You may laugh at such scenes, yet in truth I avow,
That the times and the teaching were better than now.
Move on. Gibson next! He is sketching a plan
From a text-book, its name, ‘The Whole Duty of Man’;
He is tracing the lines between meum and tuum,
The duties we owe and the way we should do ’em –
The duties of people, the duties of kings,
Of husbands, of wives, and such kind of things;
But the students are gone so we need not delay,
We must wait for the lecture on some other day.

And now we come to the fourth and the last,
See Killen look back on the days of the past,
How he pours o’er his books, Mosheim, Milner and Knox,
And an old book of Martyrs with wood-cuts by Foxe.
I would like very well a few sessions to pass,
To list to the lectures he gives in his class,
To hear how the Church with her banner unfurl’d,
Though opposed, still goes forward to conquer the world;
How the time shall arrive when her warfare shall cease,
Each clime be arch’d o’er by the rainbow of peace,
Delightful such themes, but on them I can’t dwell,
So I wish him success and I bid him farewell.

Now, from this long digression, turn if you please
To hear the reply of the legal trustees:
They said the Will bound them and should they not dread,
By breaking their trust to dishonour the dead.
Should they act in this manner, perhaps they might see
In her winding-sheet frowning, old Widow Magee.

No choice then was left them, the terms of the Will
In building a College they meant to fulfil.
Thus far all seem’d right, no evasion, no tricks,
But withal the Trustees had got into a fix;
For some time before they declared themselves willing
To give up their trust and hand over each shilling
To the General Assembly, but mark what takes place,
They change, and like soldiers, turn right-about face.

This double-faced dealing, so strange, unaccountable,
A poser to savants, I think, unsurmountable.
But the bard often sees in the visions of night
A kind of clairvoyance, it’s called second sight.
What from wise men are hidden – so wait for a little,
And I’ll tell how the change came, each fact to a tittle.
One night the Trustees, after long consultation,
Retired to their pillows to ease their vexation;
They slept and of Widows and Wills fell a dreaming,
And a spirit arose, the spirit of scheming.
It stood near the bed where John Brown was reclining,
The shutters were open, the moonbeams were shining,
And it said, ‘John, awaken! Arise! I intend
In this difficult business to show I’m a friend.

Now be guided by me, do not give up your trust,
When you hear what I say you will think it unjust.
Let Belfast get the College? Be off then at once!
And live till you die, all alone in the manse.
A place in that College you ne’er would attain,
No matter what honour, no matter what gain.
To doubt on this subject I think is surprising,
Belfast is the Athens of monopolising.

Build the College in Derry; ’tis useless to heed
Those who say that the place is the back of God speed.
Never mind the poor students how far they may travel,
O’er macadamised roads, badly covered with gravel;
The way may be long, but they’ll go with delight
To get a near view of this new Northern light.
You’ll have plenty of students, they’ll come one and all
From poteen Innisowen and sweet Donegal,
And like wild geese migrating, whole torrents will flow
From the mountains of Galway and bogs of Mayo.
To get fit Professors, you’ll find no great task,
You need only look round you, first choose and then ask.

There’s McKnight, we all know he’s first-rate at Ontology,
And Dill is the same at Dogmatic Theology;
Then the Great Isaac Nelson whose tongue runs so pat in
Construing new Greek and reading old Latin.
So gentle, so kind, with such looks of urbanity
That you can’t find a better for teaching Humanity.

And Goudy will suit, for you know the affinity,
’Tween him and the Chair of Polemic Divinity.
Your staff of Professors, I don’t care how ample,
Can soon be filled up, I’ve given you a sample,
A Principal also must rule o’er this College,
A man of great prudence and competent knowledge,
Of good business habits, thus fit to preside,
Over money and morals, and all things beside;
He must be a meek Christian, resenting no buffets,
And who firmly believes in the Law and the Profits.
I have looked long around me, at last I see one,
And I say, as the prophet said, Thou art the the man’.

John’s countenance brightened, he smiled approbation,
No traces appeared now of grief or vexation;
So he thanked his good genius and said, ‘I’m three score,
But I never heard reasoning so perfect before;
And to show I am grateful, you’ve cured me like magic,
Accept of your place, you’re Professor of Logic.
I will take your advice without fail’ and then John
Stretched out his right hand but the spirit was gone.

The Trustees determined they never would yield,
And declared that a College they would surely build.
This point being settled, another cross case,
Arose to be argued respecting the place
Where the temple of wisdom should rise in our land,
Where in groves academic the College should stand.

Seven cities contended for which gave them birth,
When the blind beggar Homer returned to his earth,
But the warfare thus waged o’er Homeric clay
Was nought to the war carried on in our day.
About this same College, sufficient to keep
Old Widow Magee from enjoying her sleep:
Of the places contending, we only name three,
Who fought hard for the College of Widow Magee.
Belfast first steps forward and puts forth her claims,
Her wealth, her improvements, her numbers, her names,
Her energy, commerce, her wisdom, her teachers,
Her doctors, her reverends, professors, and preachers;
Queen’s College, the old Institution, grown gray,
A royal concern, very good in its day.

A workhouse, a poorhouse, a place for the blind,
Museums, asylums, before and behind;
Churches, chapels, and so forth, at each turn you meet,
And a very fine arch at the foot of High Street.
There the dark winding Lagan steals lisping along,
Inspiring friend Davis to sing us a song;
There steam-boats and sail-boats, and tall vessels ride,
And the wealth of all nations floats in with the tide.
No place for a College like this in our land,
Whatever you want, you can get it at hand;
And the ‘Lodgings To Let’ are both plenty and good,
Regulated by law as such places should.
Deans of Residence also, to keep watch o’er the boys,
To teach them good manners and keep them from noise.

To see them turn out for a decent display
In some thinly-filled church on a cold Sabbath day:
And then, there are plenty of ladies, I’m told,
Who have parties of pleasure for young and for old,
Mrs Smyth, for example, whose only vocation
Is to strive to make happy all men in the nation.
They have sleeping apartments, you’re welcome to stay
From the dusk of the eve till the break of the day.
Thus in thy praise, dear Belfast, I could run,
From the dawn of the morn till the set of the sun;
Fight well for the College, but get it who will,
You’re a rich shining gem at the foot of Cave Hill.
To attempt to unfold all thy merits is vain,
Farewell for a while, I’m off to Coleraine.

Arriving at night, I got up with the morn,
The lark sung, the dew drops bespangled the thorn;
Each street I examine, each alley survey,
While I breathe the pure air of the sweet month of May.
I stand in the Diamond, around me I gaze,
And I see the old landmarks of life’s early days,
The church and the court-house, the bridge and the river,
But dear friends I loved, ah they’re gone now forever.
I stroll to the suburbs, how pleasant to rove,
By pathway, by hedgerow, by meadow and grove.
To stand on some time-hallowed knoll and look down,
On the beautiful Bann as it flows by the town
Like silver dissolved rolling onward between
Two rich velvet borders of emerald green.

I return, for the sun is now high in the sky,
All classes their business with diligence ply;
No jarring, all peaceful through streets, courts and lanes,
For here virtue dwells and tranquility reigns.
‘Eureka!’, I cried, sure there cannot be found
Such a spot for a College, search Ulster all round,
As the town of Coleraine, so I hope they’ll agree,
To erect here the College of Widow Magee.

Now Derry, my darling, I’m with you at last,
The steep rocky shores of Magilligan passed.
We steamed up the Foyle like a reindeer at play,
No boom of a tyrant obstructing the way;
We land and with joy I set foot on the soil
Of the shores that are washed by the waters of Foyle;
For I love the land better than Araby blest,
Where the foot of a tyrant has never found rest.

I enter, but care not for banqueting halls,
Like a Peripatetic I march round the walls;
Each part I examine, time-honoured and hoary,
For age after age only adds to thy glory;
So pure, uncorroded, untarnished thy fame,
That years rolling onward but brighten thy name.
May thy arm still be strong, may thy cause still be right,
May thy sons when contending be valiant in fight,
May they still, like their sires, be with victory crowned,
And their brows with the unfading laurel be bound;
May thy walls, when assailed, never want a defender,
And thy watchword of freedom be still ‘No Surrender’.

Belfast may fight fiercely, unwilling to yield
To others the glory and spoils of the field;
Coleraine may deserve well, but what can she do?
Her opponents are many, her men are but few.
But why should they struggle when Derry displays
The flag of her triumph in Third William’s days?
She enters the lists and the contest is done –
Her foes slink away, Castle Wisdom is won.

So in Derry, next summer, we hope to see rise
A College with towers point straight to the skies.
The Assembly will be delighted to see
A College whose Christian name’s that of ‘Magee’;
And this appellation must add to its fame
For few in our land have a Christian name.
Now Derry, I leave you alone in thy glory -
A scene or two more and I’ll finish my story.

When Moses was dead, a great contest arose;
The Devil and Michael at once came to blows.
The story’s a strange one, but in our own time
Events not unlike it, but still more sublime
Have happened among us, not many days past,
The subject, the Will – where they happened?, Belfast.
Now first take a view of this fine Music Hall,
Where the Trustees were nearly upset in a squall;
Look in, see Apollo and round in a ring,
While he plays on his clairseach, the nine muses sing.
Look again, all have vanished; behold a dense crowd,
In their midst an old lady laid out in her shroud.
You ask why this meeting? The riddle’s soon read:
’Tis to fight for the Will, for the Widow is dead.

See first on the platform Dill, Gibson, and Brown –
I mean Gibson the lawyer who lives in this town.
They had met at this time, as they said, to discharge
A duty they owed to the public at large.
And there close behind him sits Doctor McKnight –
Behold on his Banner the words ‘Tenant-Right’.
And near him sits Goudy, a go-ahead man,
Who when sent for, cut stick and came up from Strabane.
And Nelson, whose brow was deep marked with a scar
From a wound he received in the Massonic War.
A Chairman appointed, long speeches were made,
But none but the speakers could tell what was said;
There was spouting and shouting, confusion of tongues,
There was bawling, cat-calling, and bursting of lungs;
Such a riot and rout never happened before,
Nor I hope will again, until time be no more.

At length the dire tempest began to subside,
As the foam-crested billows recede with the tide;
So they struck up a song and they chorussed away,
‘O we will not go home till the break of the day’.
Then at last, with fun, folly, and frolicking tired,
The lights were put out and the parties retired,
Went home, went to bed, to dream o’er with delight
The mirth and the madness of that stormy night.

Again the scene changes: the sun flames on high,
The green corn is waving, the month is July.
Great numbers are gathering, even some from afar,
For the trumpet has blown – there are rumours of war.
In May Street the meeting – a hallowed spot there,
A house of devotion, a temple of prayer.
The Assembly is met; look into the place –
How solemn, how grave, how anxious each face!
Hark, they sing praises, and when the songs cease,
A prayer is put up for Jerusalem’s peace;
And peace now prevails but this peace cannot last,
The clouds are but gathering, the thunder not past;
And the wild shout of battle will shortly be heard,
Look around on each side, you will see them prepared.

Those armed, dressed in black who are mixed with the throng,
Are our moral police, you may see they belong
To a militant church, and the rest are met here
To witness the fight and their champions to cheer.
Their armour is various, Cooke enters the fray
With an old rusty rapier found near Dolly’s Brae:
Let the rust be removed, you immediately view
It’s high orange temper commingled with blue;
And the College Committee, intending to kill
At the very first volley Brown, Gibson, and Dill
Had all Colt revolvers – a dangerous band
To meet in close combat, such weapons in hand.

See! There’s Doctor Goudy whose pluck we admire
With a knotty old crab-stick that never missed fire;
And beside him John Brown, economical man,
With a blunderbuss forged in the reign of Queen Anne;
Dill stands at his side, in his left hand the Will,
Firmly grasped in the other, a Chancery Bill.
Thus armed for the battle by flood or by field,
His motto ‘I conquer or die, but not yield’.

Some lawyers were there, armed with Hook and with Crook,
And some arms lately purchased from one Master Brooke.
But no more – the cloud’s bursting – what next? Mark it well,
Hurrah for the fight, they are at it pell-mell.
Behold how in turn they advance and retire,
How they charge and discharge with their eyes flashing fire!
See how some, tooth and nail, their opponents are tearing,
And some, no less cruel, like troopers so daring,
Like Hottentots, Kaffirs, and cannibals raging,
Or Satan in Heaven when war he was staging.
Talk of Austerlitz, Wagram, and famed Waterloo,
Compare them with us, there will none of them do.

Only one may compare but you can’t find another,
And that was the contest when Cain killed his brother.
See mercy retreating, compassion has fled,
Rage laughs at the dying and tramps on the dead;
Religion has vanished, for why should she stain
Her unspotted robe with the blood of the slain.
Mammon smiles at the carnage, delighted to see
The fruits of the Will of Widow Magee.

Thus during eight days they continued the fight,
Nor ceased to contend when the curtains of night
Were drawn round the world, thus inviting rest;
For the Demon of Discord kept watch in each breast.
But I’m sick of the subject, perhaps so are you,
So now, for the present, dear reader, adieu. [ii]

[i] Rev. James Fleming, ‘The Collegiad’, The Ballymena Observer, 3.3.1888, p. 9.

[ii] Ibid., 10.3.1888, p. 9.

Brief biographies relating to The Collegiad, prepared by Eugene Dunphy
(in alphabetical order)

Bell, David Born Mosside, County Antrim. Supported the Fenian movement which later amalgamated into the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Died 1890 in New York.

Brooke, William (1796 –19.8.1881) – Son of Dublin physician William Brooke. Entered Trinity College Dublin aged 13. Appointed Queen’s counsel 1835 and Master of the Court of Chancery 1846. Twice married. Died at his residence, Taney Hill, Dundrum, Dublin.

Brown, John (1786 – 28.3.1873) – Attended Edinburgh University. Licensed by the Route Presbytery in 1811. Ordained in 1813 as minister to Aghadowey, County Londonderry, where he ministered for over fifty years. Died in Aghadowey.

Bryce, James (1767 – 24.4.1857) – Born in Airdrie. Accomplished linguist. Studied for the ministry at Glasgow College where he befriended Glaswegian poet, Thomas Campbell, later Principal of Glasgow College. Settled in County Antrim in 1803.

Carson, Alexander (1776 – 28.8.1844) – Born in Stewartstown, County Tyrone. Studied for the ministry at Glasgow College. Scholar of Greek and Philology. Died of injuries sustained by an accidental fall from a jetty at Liverpool docks.

Cooke, Henry (11.5.1788 – 13.12.1868) – Born in Grillagh near Maghera, County Londonderry. Moderator in 1841 and in 1862. A statue of Cooke was erected in central Belfast a few years after his death.

Dill, Richard (1806 – 8.12.1858) – Son of Rev Richard Dill (1770 – 1850), formerly minister of Knowhead, Donegal. Entered Glasgow College in 1821. Licenced to preach in 1827. In 1829, he took pastoral charge of a church in Tandragee, County Armagh. His brother Rev Edward Marcus Dill was minister in Fetherd, County Tipperary. Richard lived at 25 Eccles Street, Dublin. Having been informed by physicians that his heart condition of three years was incurable, he bequeathed £7,000 including his extensive library and ‘the greater portion of his estate’ to Magee College. He died in Eccles Street, his last words reputed to have been, ‘Oh that someone would rise in this Christian land bold enough to do a great work for Christ’. Rev John James Black succeeded him as minister to Ormond Street Church. In November 1860, the builder of Magee college, Matthew M’Clelland, presented the College with ‘a striking and well executed portrait’ of Dill.

Dobbin, Henry Jackson (1809 – 15.4.1853) – Doctor of Divinity. Son of Rev Hamilton Dobbin of Lurgan, County Armagh. Educated at Royal Academical Institution, Belfast. Licensed to preach in 1832. Ordained as pastor 18 September 1833 in Hillsborough, County Down. Installed 20 June 1837 as pastor of Ballymena First Presbyterian. Moderator in 1848. Died in Ballymena. Rev Henry Cooke officiated at his funeral.

Edgar, John (1797 – 26.8.1866) – Born in Ballynahinch, County Down. Educated in Belfast. Professor of Theology at the Assembly College, Belfast. Moderator in 1842. Closely associated with Temperance movement. Campaigned for the abolition of slavery in West India. Did much to alleviate the suffering of the poor during the Irish Famine. Died in Dublin.

Fleming, James (1789 – 22.3.1870) – Member of the Original Secession Presbytery of Ireland, an Antiburgher sect otherwise known as Primitive Seceders. Like all of its ministers, Fleming subscribed to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Ordained in 1934 by Rev Hugh Smythe, Craigmore, who recited a passage from Isaiah (‘I have set watchmen upon thy walls ...’) and drew parallels between a watchman and a Christian minister. Also present, Rev James Bryce and Rev Hugh McIntyre, Loanends near Templepatrick. By March 1835, the Presbytery had five ministers, two vacancies and an aggregate membership of 802. In May 1858, following years of discussion, the Presbytery formed an incorporated union with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland and became officially known as The United Associate Presbytery of Ireland. ‘By this union’, a Ballymena presbyter declared in June of that year, ‘the Presbytery sacrifices no principle, both parties being the same in doctrine and discipline’. For a history of the Presbytery see Irish Regium Donum Inconsistent with the Kingly Rights of Christ, and the Freedom of His Church (1843).

Fleming was a member of the Ballymena Sacred Music Society, a group of 40 people who met regularly to sing hymns and psalms. In November 1938, he presented two ancient copper coins to the son of Rev James Bryce, also James, Master of Mathematics at the Belfast Academical Institution (BAI) and member of the Belfast Natural History Society. In November 1845, he also presented to Bryce a piece of ancient tallow found ten feet beneath the surface of a peat bog in Ballymena. The finds were welcomed by Bryce and members of the BAI Juvenile Natural Society. In July 1852, Fleming and Rev John Rogers attended a Tenant Right meeting at Knockan Hill, about a mile from Broughshane. Although there was a heavy police presence, the meeting passed off without incident.[ii] Before Fleming’s son Richard left for America in September 1857, a farewell dinner was held in his honour at Kennedy’s Hotel, Ballymena. Richard’s brother, William, worked at the Northern Bank, Belfast. On 24 March 1857 William married Agnes Matilda White, daughter of George White, editor of The Ballymena Observer and Registrar of Marriages for Ballymena and district. Rev Fleming co-officiated at the wedding ceremony.[ii] Shortly after William’s untimely death at the age of 34, Fleming family friend David Herbison, the Bard of Dunclug, composed An Elegy On The Death Of Mr William Fleming, Late Of Ballymena. Rev Fleming was president of the Ballymena Total Abstinence Society. Together with Revs Henry Jackson Dobbin and Alexander Patterson, he presented a series of talks to Society members based in Cullybackey, Clough, Broughshane and Laymore. Herbison later dedicated a poem to Rev Patterson. In October 1859, Fleming published Baptism: its Nature, Mode and Subjects. Priced at one penny, the tract explored the significance of baptism to early Christians and explained its contemporary relevance.

Fleming was critical of the religious fervour and intense forms of worship that accompanied the arrival in 1859 of the Ulster Revival. Noticing that some neighbouring congregations had embraced this new evangelical movement, he remained sceptical of people who claimed that they had been overcome by spiritual rapture or debilitated by physical seizure while praying. ‘This affection’, he maintained, ‘may be called a disease, but none of the medical or metaphysical savants have yet been able to classify it’. But he also noticed that more people were attending Church – ‘If no other good had attended the Revival than the establishment of the many societies of prayer ... particularly by the young persons of the community, we should be thankful for it’.[ii] It’s interesting to note that at the height of the Revival an English travelling magician, William Colles of Harrogate, briefly stayed with the Flemings at Albert Place. Apart from performing parlour tricks and being expert at sleight of hand stage conjuring, Colles was a notorious necromancer – a person who communicates with the dead.[ii]

Other poems by Rev James Fleming include Lines To The Memory Of The Rev James Bryce (1857); 28th Greek Ode of Anacreon (1858); A Christmas Ode (1858); The Ways Of Providence (1861); The Bicentenary. Bartholomew’s Day, 1662 – 1862 (1862); Slave’s Story (1863); Shakespeare Crowned (1864); The Power Of Love (1865); Joy and Sorrow (1865); Courage, Fear, Compassion (1865); The Poet’s Three Best Friends (1867); The Seasons (1867).

In April 1864, to mark the tricentenary of the birth of Shakespeare, Fleming recited his poem Shakespeare Crowned when he shared the stage with David Herbison at the Ballymena Town Hall. Herbison also recited an original poem, Shakespeare. Additionally, the gathering heard poems composed by Tennyson, Byron, Rabbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott.[ii] Six days after Fleming’s death, Herbison wrote A Pastoral Elegy on the Death of Rev James Fleming. Fleming was buried in the old Methodist Church graveyard in Cullybackey, the headstone erected by the United Presbyterian congregation. The burial plot also contains the remains of children James (11.12.1823 – 6.10.1828); Jessie (8.7.1825 – 13.9.1828); William (8.5.1827 – 13.5.1861); James (23.4.1829 – 13.12.1870, died in Kingston, New York); John (1.7.1832 – 30.4.1854, died of consumption) and Richard (26.1.1835 – 26.2.1861). Rev Robert Gray of Tarbolton in South Ayrshire, Scotland, became Rev Fleming’s successor as Minister of Cullybackey. In 1876, Mary Fleming auctioned all of the furniture in Albert Place, sold the family home and moved to a smaller house in Mill Street, Ballymena. She died aged 86 on 31 October 1883 and was buried in the family plot.

Fleming, James (of Lurgan) – Tenant Right League supporter. In late March 1836, acted as agent for the sale of a house and three acres of land owned by Martha Magee in the townland of Drumnaconnell, Saintfield, County Down. Three years after her decease he wrote, ‘Poor Mrs Magee had always a horror of the law and lawyers and, in particular, of her Will being contested and her property wasted which is apparently, unfortunately, too probable’.[ii] Writing in 1851, he said that his sister Eliza was the first to introduce Richard Dill to Mrs Magee and expressed his disappointment that the Trustees had dissuaded her from carrying out her original intention which was to bequeath a substantial amount of her wealth to Rev Henry Jackson Dobbin for use with the Widows’ Fund, a benevolent Presbyterian group which sustained her for so long after the death in August 1800 of her husband William. Scathing in his criticism of Samuel M’Curdy Greer for implying that he and his sister Eliza were in dire need of Mrs Magees’s munificence, he reminded Greer that he had frequently loaned money to Mrs Magee when she lived in Lurgan. On one occasion, he lent her £500 to send her son to India because her brothers had refused to fund his passage.[ii]

Gibson, James (1804 – 5.2.1880) – Born in Belfast. Educated at Royal Academical Institution, Belfast. Called to the Bar in 1828. Lived in Hardwicke Street, Dublin. Served for a time as Commissioner of Irish National Education.

Gibson, William (1808 – 7.6.1867) – Born in Ballymena, County Antrim. Minister at Rosemary Street Church, Belfast. Moderator in 1859. Wrote The Year of Grace, a book on the Revival. Died suddenly in Dublin.

Goudy, Alexander Porter (1809 – 1858) – Grandson of Rev James Porter of Greyabbey who was executed in 1798 for allegedly aligning himself to the United Irishmen. In November 1859, a ten foot high monument to Goudy’s memory was erected in Strabane Churchyard. Made from Culdaff stone and Carrara marble, the monument was fashioned by stone mason Robert Kell of Foyle Street, Derry, and bore the inscription, ‘In memory of the Reverend Alexander Porter Goudy, D.D., Minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Strabane, for twenty-six years. Born 4th February 1809. Died 14th December 1858. Erected by the members of the Congregation, 1859’.

Greer, Samuel M’Curdy (1808 – 23.11.1880) – Son of Rev Thomas Greer, minister of Dunboe, County Londonderry. Was for a time Secretary of Coleraine Tenant Right League. In August 1845, married Marion Fletcher McCrone of Douglas, the Isle of Man, in Edinburgh. Later became County Court Judge. Died in Dublin. Buried in Downhill Churchyard, Dunboe.

Hyndman, George Crawford (1796 – 18.12.1867) – Inherited father’s auctioneering business in 1825. Keen geologist, conchologist and botanist. Founder member of Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society.

Killen, William Dool (16.4.1806 – 10.1.1902) – Born Ballymena, County Antrim. Ordained in 1829 as Minister of Raphoe, County Donegal. Wrote a number of historical works on aspects of Presbyterianism. Died in Belfast. A monument marks his resting place in Balmoral Cemetery.

Magee, Martha Maria (c. 1755 – 22.6.1846) – Born Martha Maria Stewart in Lurgan, County Armagh. Descended from Scottish royalist Stuart family who in the early 1700s had to forfeit their estate in Scotland. In 1780, she married twenty-six-year-old Rev William Magee of Lurgan. The couple had two children, both of whom joined the army. Rev William Magee died 9 August 1800 and was buried in Shankill graveyard, Lurgan. The eldest Magee son, James, became an army surgeon. He died in Bengal from rabies caused by a dog bite. The other son became an army ensign and died as the result of ‘a fall’. Martha Magee had three brothers. One brother Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Stewart returned from India to Lurgan in July 1822 having served almost forty years without leave with East India Company, Bengal. He died 25 October 1829 in Lurgan. Her eldest brother Major General Robert Stewart served for a time with the Royal Irish Artillery. In December 1829, he donated one hundred guineas to the Lurgan Philanthropic Society. According to the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, the bequest was left to the Society ‘by his brother, the late Lieut-Colonel Benjamin Stewart, for the use of the poor’. Robert Stewart died 25 June 1837 in Lurgan. Following his death, a journalist commented on a rumour which had circulated around Lurgan, namely, that Robert ‘had made a Will disposing of his property in some other manner’. This, he added, was mere ‘gossip’.[ii] Little is known of the third Stewart brother. In July 1849, an elaborate monument of Portland stone and Italian statuary marble was placed over Martha Magee’s grave at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. The structure was that of a eight foot square pedestal on which was mounted an eighteen feet high Doric temple with a statue of a mother and child to represent Charity and Piety. The statue, fashioned in Italy, was put in situ in Mount Jerome by Mr Stirling.

Martin, James – Born near Rathfriland, County Down. Became Minister of Eglinton Street Church, Belfast. Brother of Rev Todd Martin, Professor of Christian Ethics, Assembly’s College, Belfast. Died Belfast 28.9.1894.

Masson, Edward (1800 – 7.7.1873) – Born in Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire, Scotland. In his younger days, he was known to dress in traditional Hellenic costume while presenting lectures on ancient Greek literature. Was for a time Attorney-General of Morea (or Peloponnese) in southern Greece; a Judge in the Supreme Court of the Areopagus and a professor at the University of Athens. Died in Athens.

McKnight, James (1801 – 8.6.1876) – Born in Rathfriland, County Down. Editor of The Belfast Newsletter, The Derry Standard and The Banner of Ulster, the latter of which carried the heading ‘Arden sed Virens’ in reference to Old Testament’s ‘burning bush’.

Montgomery, Henry (1787 – 18.12.1865) – Born Killead, County Antrim. Ordained 1809. Died at his residence in Dunmurry.

Morgan, James (1799 – 5.8.1873) – Born Cookstown, County Tyrone. Educated at Royal Academical Institution, Belfast. Ministered in Carlow, Lisburn and Belfast. Died at his residence, Windsor Avenue, Belfast.

Murphy, James Gracey (12.1.1808 - 19.4.1896) – Born in Ballymaleddy near Comber, County Down. Son of Hugh Murphy and Isabella Gracey. Educated at Royal Academical Institution, Trinity College and University of Dublin. Died at his residence, College Park, Belfast.

Neilson, William (1803 – 10.3.1856) – Lived in Belgrave Avenue, Rathmines, Dublin. Owned a law firm in Abbey Street, Dublin. Died in Mallow, County Cork.

Nelson, Isaac (1802 – 8.3.1888) – Born Ballywalter, County Down. Outspoken anti-slavery campaigner who held many abolitionist meetings at Donegall Street Presbyterian Church, Belfast. Entered politics. In 1880 was returned to Parliament for County Mayo. Died at his residence, Sugarfield House, Shankhill Road, Belfast. Rev Henry Cooke said of him, ‘I could fight with Nelson when necessary and I could walk ten miles to hear him pray’.

Rogers, John (12.5.1812 – 4.7.1886) – Born in Aghadowey, County Londonderry. Received formative education at Killaig School, Coleraine, under the tutorship of Rev James Bryce, Rev James Fleming’s former teacher. Professor of Rhetoric and Catechetics at the Assembly College, Belfast. Close friend of Tenant Right activist William Sharman Crawford. Died in Portrush.

Stewart, Robert (1783 – 26.9.1852) – Born Clough, County Antrim. Ordained May 1809. Died in Bushyfield near Broughshane, County Antrim.

White, George (died 29.4.1876) – Born in Belfast. Moved to Ballymena in 1826. Established The Ballymena Observer, the first edition of which was published on Saturday 27 July 1855. His wife Ida White, an ardent campaigner for women’s rights, published books of poetry, most notably The Three Banquets. Between 1856 and 1858, George White wrote and published in the Observer ‘Walks About Ballymena’, a series of detailed historical articles on his adopted town.

Wier, John (1846 – 2.2.1927) – Born Ahoghill, County Antrim. Apprenticed as a hand-loom weaver, later a trader in linen. Member of First Ballymena Presbyterian Church. Married Miss Wood, daughter of James Wood, Cullybackey. Succeeded George White as proprietor and editor of The Ballymena Observer. Wrote under the pen-name ‘Bab M’Keen’ in a series of Observer stories written in the north Antrim vernacular, his most infamous being ‘Bab M’Keen’s Wee Shap’. Also wrote the regular columns under such titles as ‘Between Oorsels’, ‘Threads and Thrums’ and ‘Predictions of the Year’. Subsequently appointed Justice of the Peace for Ballymena. Staunch Unionist associated with the Ballymena Masonic Order. Died at his residence in Liscoom, Ballymena.

Wilson, Robert (1806 – 12.10.1859) – Son of Rev James Wilson, Crossgar. Linguist and mathematician. Died at his residence, The Crescent, Belfast.

"The Collegiad"