Pirrie Honoured for Service as Lord Mayor

The Times

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To-night a banquet was given to the Right Hon. W. J. Pirrie, J.P., Lord Mayor of Belfast, and Mrs. Pirrie by the citizens on the occasion of the approaching termination of the second year of Mr. Pirrie's mayoralty. There was a large and brilliant gathering, representative of the city and the north of Ireland generally, and amongst the speakers were the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, Sir William Ewart, the Rev. Dr. Hamilton, president of the Queen's College, Professor Cuming, and others. In proposing the toast of the evening, the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava said he had to express his deep obligations to the organizers of the banquet for the privilege of presiding on so memorable an occasion. They had known the Lord Mayor from his earliest manhood. It would, therefore, be superfluous for him to insist upon the large share he had had in constituting Belfast the third greatest commercial city in the United Kingdom (cheers), or to remind them that, whereas 20 years ago the shipbuilding industry which his predecessors originally founded only occupied eight acres and only employed 800 men, it now required, thanks to the skill and energy with which it had been stimulated and developed by Mr. Pirrie and his associates, 80 acres for its accommodation and paid away £13,000 a week to something like 10,000 artizans and artificers. (Cheers.) Their district was without coal and without iron, yet Mr. Pirrie and his partners had forced it, by dint of their perseverance and organizing power, to become the birthplace of the fleetest and most gigantic steam vessels that sailed the sea. (Cheers.) Having referred in warmly eulogistic terms to Mr. Pirrie's personal qualities, the noble marquis, continuing, said :---There was one quality, or rather combination of qualities, in Mr. Pirrie and in men of his calibre upon which he should venture to dilate, as it was upon its presence and exercise that the very existence of their country had to depend. (Hear, hear.) Let them think for the moment what this England, Ireland, and Scotland of theirs really was. Two small and insignificant-looking islands anchored in a capricious and cloudy climate on the outer skirts of Europe, and yet inhabited by a dense population of nearly 40 million souls. These multitudes were in their turn dependent for the larger portion of their daily food, and for many other necessaries of life, upon what they could purchase from the foreigner with the product of their own industries---in other words, upon their commerce and manufactures. If either failed they perished. But a man must be indeed purblind to the march of events who could not be made to understand that the expanding competition of rival nations, aided by the equalizating influences of science, education, steam facilities of communication, and similar causes were threatening their former unchallenged supremacy in both directions, and that the commodities produced in different countries were acquiring, under the strain of competition, such a tendency to uniformity of price, as to admit of a trifling, nay, almost an imperceptible circumstance turning the scale in their favour or against them in the markets of the globe. In the presence of so critical a situation, the mere blind industry of their masses would prove of slight avail. They did not possess, they could not acquire an adequate comprehension of the complicated forces which were acting and reacting amid the whirling tides and cross currents of the world's commercial movements and relations. To secure them the remuneration which was their due their interests must be fostered and safeguarded, their efforts guided and directed to profitable results by those great captains of their national activities who not only possessed the requisite information and experience, but were also endowed with the coup d'oeil, the intuition, the nerve---in other words, with that rarest of all qualities, the true genius of creative industrial enterprise. (Cheers.) As the victor in a battle alone knows what risks to run and sees with eagle eye when and where to strike, so it is upon these men to whom he was alluding that they must depend for the prompt and effective application of the nation's producing energies, for the wisedisposal of its capital, and, as a consequence for the maintenance of its commercial supremacy in the bitter struggle which awaited them. It was as one of these exceptionally gifted men, as a successful organizer of labour, as a sagacious pilot of their industrial opportunities, as the creator of hundreds of peaceful and contented homes, and as a principal benefactor of that great city which he was pleased to say was about to recognize his services by conferring upon him the signal honour of its honorary freedom, that they hailed the name of Mr. Pirrie with gratitude and admiration. (Cheers.)

The toast having been drunk with enthusiasm, The Lord Mayor, in response, referring to the great struggle which was still going on in the engineers' trade, said he would like at least to define his position in regard to the unfortunate dispute. In the first place, he desired to say frankly that he extremely regretted his inability to take the same view as the majority of his fellow employers. Indeed, so widely had he found himself to differ from many employers of labour during the last ten years that he had sometimes wondered whether he was right in keeping to his progressive and advanced policy, and whether the idea that so many had as to the means by which the industries of this country could be successfully continued was not, after all, the right one---so strong were the representations that were made to him by his friends, some of them amongst the most eminent in their profession---and he had taken the greatest pains to study the matter in all its bearings with a view to working in harmony with his fellow employers, if at all possible. But a comprehensive view of the situation, in the light of the experience gained in the working of his own establishment and a careful study of the problems presented by the industrial conditions of the present day, confirmed the strong opinion he held regarding the impossibility of satisfactorily and permanently adjusting matters by the recourse to measures that might have been well enough 50 years ago but were utterly impracticable at the end of the 19th century. They must get free from old prejudices and class hatreds. Why should employers on the one hand or workmen on the other regard each other with suspicion and enmity? Were not capital and labour mutually dependent upon each other? Why, then, should there be so much difficulty in their working harmoniously together to their mutual advantage and the good of the whole country? He thought it would be extremely unfortunate if employers should cease to interest themselves in their workmen and if the latter should cease to take a pride in their work. His opinion was that they needed the most highly skilled workmen in their industrial establishments, and that therefore every encouragement should be given to those organizations that had done, and still did, so much to raise the standard of competency amongst workmen. Having the most competent workmen, as they undoubtedly had in this country, they should have also the very best and latest machinery and plant to insure economical production, and generally speaking, for the proper conduct of their business, they required the most intelligent and capable staff of officials; but if they lacked these essentials they might he quite sure that nothing else could possibly save them their trade. Personally, he was not so much alarmed as some people seemed to be by the increasing competition of other countries. He believed it would only stimulate their energies, and it was part of their business to find out for themselves the best means of meeting such competition. The shipbuilding industry of Belfast owed much of its great development to the keen competition that they knew they must always expect from the other side of the Channel, where many of the shipyards had coal and iron works almost adjoining them. The knowledge of this had, as far as his own firm was concerned, caused them to expend from time to time a great deal of capital in furnishing their yard with the most complete equipment of machinery, and in providing every mechanical contrivance suitable to the work, so that they might be in the very best position in this respect for competing with others. His contention was that they must adopt the same means to preserve their national industries as they did to maintain their local trade. These were his views briefly stated, and these were the reasons why his firm had had nothing to do with the unfortunate dispute in the engineering trade, which he was sure every one would join with him in hoping might now very speedily be terminated. (Hear, hear.)

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William James Pirrie

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Belfast, Ireland
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Mark Baber


Encyclopedia Titanica (2008) Pirrie Honoured for Service as Lord Mayor (The Times, Wednesday 15th December 1897, ref: #7874, published 31 July 2008, generated 21st September 2021 06:40:17 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/pirrie-honoured-service-lord-mayor.html