Alexander Irvine

Life
1863-1941; b. 19 Jan., Pogue’s Entry [cf. infra], Antrim town; son of cobbler put out of work my factory products,and Anna (née) Gilmore [var. Gilmour], a Catholic who married his father against the wishes of her family but ‘proved a true Christian’ in her son’s estimation; and a story-teller; taken on as stableboy by local landlord; worked in Scottish mines; enlisted in marines, learned to read, and became boxing champion; served in Middle East naval campaigns; emigrated to US; worked in Bowery missions; ordained minister at Yale and held pulpit in Fifth Avenue Church of the Ascension, preaching socialist Christianity; began writing after an encounter with Jack London in America; issued From the Bottom Up (1910), autobiography; pub. My Lady of the Chimney Corner (1913), centrally concerning his mother; called upon by Lloyd George to bolster moral in WWI; God and Tommy Atkins (1918), recording his experience as an army chaplin; living at Peekshill, NY, in 1919; The Souls of Poor Folk (1921), more Antrim reminiscences; later asked to mediate in General Strike, 1929 (i.e., dissuading workers); Anna’s Wishing Chair (1937), a sequel to My Lady; focusing on conditions her hardship and religious faith; visited Belfast in 1934 and 1938, as recounted by John Hewitt [see infra]; returned to Belfast in 1938 and other occasions; d. California; bur. in Antrim parish churchyard; his birthplace purchased as a museum in [?]1943. DIW DIB DIL DUB OCIL IF

[ top ]

Works
From The Bottom Up
([1910] London: Eveleigh Nash 1914); The Magyr, A Story of the Social Revolution (Socialist Publ. Co. [1911]), 277pp.; My Lady of the Chimney Corner (NY: Century/London: Collins 1913) [orig. priv. by the author] 224pp.; Do., another edn. (London: Eveleigh Nash [1913]), 224pp.; Do., another edn. (NY: Century 1940); Do., another edn., intro. G. F. Maine (London: Collins [1954]), 156pp.; Do., another edn. (London: Collins [n.d.]), 255pp., with roadmap of N. Ireland, pls. and port.; Do., another edn., intro. Alastair Smyth (Belfast: Appletree 1980), 142pp.; God and Tommy Atkins [by Alexander Fitzgerald Irvine]; (1918; 4th ed. 1918), 127pp.; The Souls of Poor Folk (London: Collins [1st June] 1921; [2nd Apr.] 1927), 260pp.; Anna’s Wishing Chair and Other Chimney Corner Stories (Belfast: Ouden Press [Quota] 1937), 133pp., plates incl. port.; pref. Lady Aberdeen; The Man from the World’s End, and Other Stories (1926); A Fighting Parson [autobiography] (Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1930); Do., another edn. (London: William & Norgate 1930 [‘printed in USA’]), 188pp., front. port.; joint edn., My Lady of the Chimney Corner and The Souls of Poor Folk [1939]; My Cathedral, A Vision of Friendship [3rd edn.] (Belfast: Carter Publ. [1950]), 46pp. [sermon] [cf. IF infra]; Chimney Corner Revisited (Belfast: Appletree 1984), 127pp.; also Die heilige in’haar hoekje Rinhem? (n.d.), 208pp. Also ‘Alexander Irvine’, foreword to Hubert Quinn, Dear Were the Days (Dublin: Talbot 1934):‘his people and my people of the glens of Antrim’. COMM, Alastair Smyth’s introduction to My Lady of the Chimney Corner (1980).

[ top ]

Commentary
John Hewitt, ‘Alec of the Chimney Corner’, Threshold 35 (winter 1984/85), pp.34-39; [later rep. in Tom Clyde, ed., Ancestral Voices, 1987], Irvine, b. Scott’s Entry [sic], Antrim; Hewitt chiefly recounts his unwilling attendance at sermon by Irvine in suburban Presbyterian church [Belfast], ‘Irvine’s sermon was on sin; sin in its Greek connotations, meaning missing the mark, the target. It was certainly the best sermon I had ever heard, shapely, of fine texture, logical. I realised that I was experiencing a major performer in action, an artist in the presentation of the word.’ Hewitt is inspired to write and send to Irvine two sonnets, which the latter calls the finest written in Ulster this century when they meet in the Labour Hall, where Irvine next speaks; on his return to Belfast in 1938, staying with Hewitt’s sister and brother-in-law, Irvine recounts for him the fracas following his address to socialists, and the termination of his tour of 1934 due to objections from the YMCA; mimics the behaviour of those worthies at his funeral; foregoing events inspired a Hewitt story, ‘The Laying on of Hands’ (pub. in The Bell, q.d.); Irvine’s protest against chain gangs in Southern States anthologised by Sinclair Upton (Cry for Justice); of the Church, Irvine said in the Labour Hall, ‘she fell on her knees before the Emperor, and she has been on her knees ever since’; Hewitt notes inconsistencies in his autobiographical writings regarding his early life, especially in the inflated account of his last words to his father on departure (‘thousands call me to speak to them’ – after St. Patrick); but characterises him as being ‘among the greatest men I have ever known’; recorded an account of the Labour Hall meeting for W R Rodgers in his radio Literary Portraits series, but this was severely reduced in editing.

[ top ]

 

Quotations
From the Bottom Up
: A Life Story
(London: Eveleigh Nash 1914) [328pp.], NOTE, ‘When recounting the experiences of my youth I gave them in the Irish dialect. When I carried them along with me into a larger world, I used the best English at my command. I could never understand the point of view of men who imagined they have to use crude and brutal language in order to make a hit with soldiers’ (p.146); end chp., ‘My Socialism and my Religion’; also deals with acquaintance with Jack London; book written at the suggestion of Walter H. Page, the American ambassador to Great Britain; ded. to Maude Hazen Irwine [sic]; another copy, with shamrock pattern on cover.

A Fighting Parson: The Autobiography of Alexander Irvine (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co. 1930); Do., another edn. (London: Williams & Norgate 1930), 289pp.; recounts how, in addressing the new during the war after a gruesome battle, his ‘voice ceased’ and how the men ‘laughed, but when they saw tears streaming down my cheeks they broke into cheers, and I could hear them still cheering when I was on my way towards the Fourth Army Medical Corops.’ [163] Ded. Percy Stickney Grant … greatest churchman of his age; foreword by Ellery Sedgwick [Atlantic Office 1930]; Contents; Antrim; The Education of a Royal Marine; New York and Worse; A Missionary at Large; A Christian Socialist; The Church Forum; Books and Soap Boxes; Acting and Teaching; The War: IN England and in France; Mind-sweeping at the Front; Talking to Keep up Courage; Courage after Peace; Ireland in Arms; Home and to Bed; Crises Abroad: England and Germany; Peregrinations; The Life of Christ; The Passion for Truth; Retrospect. Invokes term ‘God-consciousness’ ‘When the Irish were copying Cromwell’s methods of wholesale murder, when rebellin, arson, terror, and bloodshed were at their worsst, I was invited by General Wood - with whom I had served in France - to visit the men under his command, the Auxiliary Force in Ireland. Wood was second in command to a man who hated the Irish, and the Irish attitude towards the latter may be judged from the fact that he went to the golf links in an armored car! That he didn’t join the “hole in one club”, wasn’t the fault of the Irish sharpshooters!; Some of them told me, when peace came, that they never thought of him as a soldier - they looked upon him as a rat, and would have shot him as one if they ever had the chance. / What could I do in Ireland […]. I could give these men some idea of Irish psychology - something the British had been shy of for seven centuries. I could tell them that they were not there to fight the Irish, but to preserve the peace. Theirs was a thankless, dangerous job, and every man engaged in it would have thrown it aside instantly if he could have got anything else to do.’ [196]; further cites a three thousand word article exceptionally published in the Evening News on his return, and ending with the words, ‘guns cannot kill the spirit of the people’ [200]; commends Lady Aberdeen’s work with the poor, than which ‘I know of no greater by a single person in any city of the world.’ [201].

[ top ]

My Lady of the Chimney Corner [1913] , with Introduction by Alastair Smyth (Belfast: Appletree 1980); Author’s Note, ‘This book is the torn manuscript of the most beautiful life I ever knew. I have merely pierced and patched it together, and have not even changed or disguised the names of the little groups of neighbours who lived with us, at ‘the bottom of the world’; cover material quotes Ben[edict] Kiely, ‘He is remembered, as I think he would like to be remembered, by one simple, transcendent book’ (Irish Times); cover picture by William Conor; Smyth’s introduction features a long quotation, presum. from Cathedral, ‘I made me see through war to peace. I made of death a little thing and of life a great adventure. I kept my own body fit and efficient and when surfeited with slaughter of war and tired of soul I used it to keep my inner candle burning ... //On the Somme I used to look toward Amiens every morning to see if the cathedral was still standing. ... Two thousand years of teaching thrown to the winds, a denial of God and rejection of love. ... “After all”, I meditated, “these heart-rending things are facts, but they are not realities. They are transitory. It is the unseen things that are real and eternal”. Then the “fact” cathedral vanished in gray mist and a new cathedral took its place. Spectral old figures of far away and long ago began to fill the stalls, the aisles and the chapels. Saints stepped down from the pedestals and my spirit friends took their places. They had come from the ends of the earth, from gardens in the skies, from graves in Picardy, and from the palaces of the rich and the hovels of the poor. My new cathedral was a cathedral of fields ... before me a second time passed my astral friends in a pageant of peace ... this image-making faculty could be used anywhere and under all circumstances’ (p.13).

The Souls of Poor Folk (London: Collins [1st June] 1921; [2nd Apr.] 1927), 260pp.; chp. 1: Over the Hills and Far Away’, under epigram from W. B. Yeats (‘But, being poor, ... [&c.]), commences, ‘Nobody but an Ulsterman can understand the Ulster mind and an Ulsterman is never more than half convinced that he knows himself. The farther we get the closer and more accurate the judgement.’; also by Irvine is here listed The Life of Christ.

[ top ]

References
Library of Herbert Bell, Belfast, holds, Anna’s Wishing Chair & Other Chimney Corner Stories [n.d.]; My Cathedral [?]; From The Bottom Up (London 1914); The Fighting Parson (London 1930); My Lady of the Chimney Corner (London n.d.) [signed copy]. UUC LIB holds My Lady; World’s End; Bottom Up, all PR6017.

Books in Print (1994): My Lady of the Chimney Corner NY: Century/London: Collins 1913; n. e. London: Eveleigh Nash 1914; rep., intro. G F Maine Collins: Fontana 1954; rep. intro. Alastair Smyth Belfast: Appletree 1980, 1993 [0 86281 464 2]

Whelan Cat. (No. 32) lists My Lady of the Chimney Corner and The Souls of Poor Folk (Collins [n.d.])

Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919); b. [no date] in Antrim; autobiog, From the Bottom Up (Heinemann 1910); addresses entitled God and Tommy Atkins (1918) [addresses]; My Lady [ ...&c.] (8th ed., 1914) [‘a story of love and poverty in Irish peasant life’]; strongly evangelical atmosphere; note that Brown considers My Lady to be set in Famine times, and remarks references to Fenians, which seems to mean ‘Catholic’; better understood by reading the author’s autobiography (From the Bottom Up, 1910).

[ top ]

Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore [Pt. 2] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985); (solely under Irving; 1863-1914 err.), Irish novelist, preacher and lecturer, chosen by Lloyd George as one of the world’s six great speakers; cottage bought by publication subscription as memorial in 1934 [?err. for 1943]; d. New York [err.]; Anna’s Wishing Chair (Belfast: Quota 1937); Souls of Poor Folk (London: Collins 1921); and an autobiography, Fighting Parson [n.d.]. IF2 lists My Cathedral, A Vision of Friendship (Belfast, n.d.) [‘not strictly of Irish interest ... novel (sic) ... friendships, loyalties, intimate thoughts and tastes in literature; very charmingly written’]; The Souls of Poor Folk (Lon 1921) [sequal to My Lady; incl. quote, ‘Catholics and Protestants had no dealings with each other. They were farther apart than the Jews and Samaritans were. And yet, my dearest chum was a Roman Catholic’]; Anna’s Wishing Chair and other Chimney Corner Stories (Belfast 1937), preface by Lady Aberdeen.

[ top ]

Notes
Reference and quotation in P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland (John Murray 1994), p.11, giving b. date as 1863. NOTE that IF2 gives his death date as 1914, and DIW as c.1926, and that Hewitt (infra) gives Scott’s Entry as his place of birth, instead of the more freq. cited Pogue’s Entry.

[ top ]