William Johnston

1829-1902; b. Downpatrick, Co. Down, ed. TCD MA; joined Orange Order, 1848; Irish Bar 1872; lived in Ballykilbeg, strenuous opponent of Home Rule, and Grandmaster of the Grand Black Chapter of Ireland, 1865-1878; defied Party Processions Act of 1850, leading 10,000 Orangemen from Newtownards (nr. Belfast) to Bangor, 12 July, 1867, resulting in his imprisonment; elected Independent Orange MP for South Belfast, 1868; instrumental in repeal of Processions Act, 1870; wrote ultra-Protestant Tracts; fiercely Unionist novels incl. Nightshade (1857); Freshfield (1861), with dramatic scenes of Catholic skullduggery; Under Which King (1872) recounts the Williamite war with Orange glee at the outcome of the Boyne; supported security of tenure for tenant farmers and women’s emancipation; after his death his seat was taken by T[homas] H[enry] Sloan, trade Unionist and fndr. of Independent Orange Order (1902). ODNB IF DIH SUTH DUB OCIL

[ top ]

[incl.] Protestant Work to be Done [Ballykilbeg Prot. Tracts] (1853) 4pp.; The Nunnery Question (Ballykilbeg, Dublin 1854) 4pp.; Narmo and Aimata, a tale of the Jesuits in Tahiti (Dublin 1855) vi+119pp.; Nightshade (London: Bentley 1857), iv+393pp.; Do., pref. Rev George Gilfillian (rev. 1858); Do. (Belfast 1895); Popish Tyranny, and God-sent deliverance, or the days of William the Third, a lect. (1860); [various ...] Speeches (1869); Under Which King? [orig. serialised in Downshire Protestant] (London: Tinsley 1873); poetry in The Boyne Book of Poetry and Song, which he edited (1859) [see McClelland, infra].

[ top ]

Aitken McClelland, ‘Bibliography of William Johnston, in Irish Booklore, 3, i, 1976, p.57ff.; also a full-length study by McClelland, William Johnston of Ballkilbeg (1990). See also J. W. Foster, Forces and Themes in Ulster Fiction (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1974).

[ top ]

Roy Foster, Modern Ireland (1988), ‘dismissed from Fisheries Inspectorship for violent speeches against the Land League and Home Rule party, 1885; his novels, Nightshade (1870) [sic], denouncing ‘prowling Jesuits’ and ‘liberal Protestants’, and Under Which King (1873) reflected his political political.’

[ top ]

Dictionary of National Biography: b. Downpatrick, Co. Down, Orangeman, son of John Brett Johnston of Ballykilbeg; ed. TCD; Irish bar, 1872; deputy Grand Master of Orange Order, Ireland and sovereign Grand master of Black Order; organised march against Party Processions Act of 1850; committed for trial before Lord Killanin (then Justice Michael Morris), and served two months; triumphal procession through Ballykilbeg on his release; MP for Belfast, 1868; Inspector of Irish fisheries, appointed by Lord Beaconsfield [Disraeli]; financed Downshire Protestant; dismissed from office [fisheries] for political speeches against Home Rule; supported three Fs and leasehold tenant right bill; Irish Temperance League. One of his dgs. became a Catholic, and he drove her to Mass each Sunday on his way to church; published Nightshade, novel (1857, 1858); Ribbonism and its Remedy, A Letter (Dublin 1858); Freshfield, a novel (1859); ‘Under Which King?,’ a story (1872). DUB, b. Ballykilbeg [sic]; commenced publishing newspaper (Downshire Protestant), novels, and tracts, 1853;

Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists Nightshade (Belfast: Aicken [c.1870], many eds., 1902), port. [Charles Annandale, Ulster landlord and Oxonian, returns during agrarian agitation; agent shot by Ribbonmen previously absolved by priest; unsuccessful parliamentary candidate; draws on election experience at Downpatrick, 1857; Rev. Mr Werd (Dr. Drew of Belfast); sister of Charles betrothed is entrapped by Jesuit posing as her guardian, and immured in Paris convent, but released by lawsuit; denounces prowling Jesuits, liberal Protestants, and Puseyite traitors]; Under Which King (Tinsley 1873), 3078pp. [various events, 1688-90, Derry, the Boyne; Williamite bias.

Irish Booklore, Vol. 3, no. 1, ed. Wesley McCann (Belfast 1976); bibliography and biography of William Johnstone [sic], by Aiken McClelland. Ardent Protestant gentleman, Ballybeg, b. English St., Downpatrick, ed. TCD, BA 1852; imprisoned in 1868 under Party Processions Act; MP Belfast 1868-78, appointed Inspector of Irish Fisheries, dismissed 1885 for political activities, MP Belfast South, 1885-1902. Works incl. Protestant Work to be Done (Ballykilbeg Prot. Tracts (Belfast 1853) 4pp.; The Nunnery Question (Ballykilbeg, Dublin 1854) 4pp.; Narmo and Aimata, a tale of the Jesuits in Tahiti (Dublin 1855) vi+119pp. [frontispiece reproduced here]; Nightshade, novel (Bentley London 1857), iv+393pp.; do., pref. Rev George Gilfillian (rev. 1858); do. (Belfast, 1895); Popish Tyranny, and God-sent deliverance, or the days of William the Third, a lect. (1860); ... various Speeches (1869); Under Which King?, orig. serialised in Downshire Protestant (Tinsley, London 1873). His poetry appears in The Boyne Book of Poetry and Song, which he edited (1859), Viz. ‘Protestants, Leave Not Erin’, a Ballykilbeg broadsheet.

Jonathan Bardon, History of Ulster Belfast: Blackstaff 1992), William Johnston of Ballykilbeg, reacts to 1867 Representation of the People Act, giving votes to artisans and halving property qualification in 1870. Led great parade against advice of Orange Lodge, Newtownards to Bangor, 12 July 1867, in defiance of Party Procession Act [intro. Aug. 1823]; refused to apologise to authorities, and sentenced to short prison spell, Feb. 1868; ‘fearless’ and ‘indomitable’; rapturous applause at Indignation meeting called in Belfast on his release; he said ‘we will have an Orange Party, please God, after a while in the House of Commons; stood on his own account, rather than for the Conservatives, in 1868 general election; won seat, as did Thomas McClure, Presbyterian tobacco maker [356] Johnston did however vote for the Land Bill in February 1870, showing his difference from the Conservative, land-owning party. [358] Bardon comments, triumph of Johnston in Belfast did warn the Conservatives that they could not rely on deference where landlord influence was weak that a populist traditional loyalism might well be the way to win support of the new enfranchised artisans [356]. FURTHER, By-election in S. Belfast caused by death of William Johnston of Ballykilbeg, 1902. [416]

Belfast Public Library holds Johnston, W., A Memorial Sketch of Townsend Presbyterian Church (1880); Nightshade (n.d); The Psalms and Paraphrase (1861); Under Which King? (1873);

Library of Herbert Bell, Belfast holds The Boyne Book of Poetry & Song (Downpatrick 1859); Nightshade (Belfast new ed.; n.d.).

[ top ]

Frank Wright, Two Lands on One Soil (Gill & Macmillan 1996), includes reference to Johnston of Ballykilbeg, and his short-lived attempt to make the Orange Order a self-policing body which could maintain good relations with nationalists without outside interference. (Reviewed by Patrick Maume, in Irish Times, 27.4.1996, Wk., p.8.

Mrs Harriet Johnston [née Allen], first wife of William Johnston, Belfast MP, issued Lays of the Lost One and Other Poems (Dublin 1858).

Portrait of William Johnston of Ballykilbeg, oil, by unknown poss. John Clark, painted before the sitter grew his famous beard in 1858; see Anne Crookshank (Ulster Mus. 1965)

Family attachments?: Note that the critic Aitken McClelland shares a surname with the Belfast publisher of Johnston’s novel Nightshade.

[ top ]