James Young

Actor and Comedian

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Young was born in Ballymoney, but the family moved to south Belfast when he was six months old; his father looked after the horses of the Ormeau Bakery. An amateur actor from his teens, James soon turned professional and shared in the great success of the Ulster Group Theatre in the 1940’s and 1950’s. His association with Joseph Tomelty was particularly fruitful; his performances in Right Again, Barnum and as Derek the window-cleaner in the radio series The McCooeys are still remembered.

His greatest popular success was however as a variety entertainer, along with his lifelong partner Jack Hudson (whom he had met while on tour in the Middle East). He performed his sketches – featuring characters like Ernie the Shipyard Worker and Orange Lil – in theatre and on TV, in Ireland, Canada and the United States. He also sold some quarter million of records. Catch phrases like “Aw now” and “Och, go on” entered the popular consciousness. Purists may however regret his defection from the serious theatre; performances like that of the salesman in George Shiels’ The Passing Day (Northern Ireland Festival Theatre Company, 1951) had no successors.

James Young died, basically of overwork, in 1974.

Location of plaque

Date of Unveiling: 25 October 1996

The family home, 26 Fernwood Street, off Blackwood Street, Ormeau Road, Belfast.

John B. Yeats

Artist and Writer

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Yeats, father of Willian B and Jack B. Yeats, was brought up at Tullylish in Co. Down, where his father was the “red headed” Rector. His early days were happy except for the horrors of a private school in the Isle of Man, where George Pollexfen was a school fellow. He entered Trinity College in 1857, reading Classics, and, afterwards, Law. When he married Susan Pollexfen at Sligo in 1863 the Pollexfens were pleased. Their hopes were dashed. Having been called to the Bar in 1866, J.B. decided not to practice, but to train to be an artist in London. He painted many portraits of leaders in the Irish Literary and Political life. In December 1907 he went to New York with his daughter Lily, and thereafter refused to return to Ireland. He died in New York in 1922 and is buried in the Chestertown Rural Cemetery near Lake George in upstate New York.

On the house (23 Fitzroy Road, NW1), where the family stayed in London between 1867 and 1873, is a Blue Plaque in honour of his illustrious son William Butler.

Location of plaque: Vicarage Farm, Tullylish, Co. Down

Date Unveiled: 4 June 2004

Report of Plaque unveiling available HERE.

Gustav Wilhelm Wolff

1834 – 1913

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Gustav Wilhelm Wolff was born on 14 November 1834 in Hamburg to Moritz Wolff, a merchant and his wife, Fanny Schwabe. In 1849 he left Hamburg to live in Liverpool with his uncle, Gustav Christian Schwabe, a financier where he was educated at Liverpool College. He served an apprenticeship at the engineers Joseph Whitworth and Company, in Manchester. The firm considered Wolff so able, that he was chosen to represent the company at the 1855 Paris Exhibition. After serving his apprenticeship, Wolff was employed by the B. Goodfellow Ltd., a firm based in Hyde, Greater Manchester as a draughtsman. In 1857, due to the intervention of his uncle, Wolff was employed as Edward Harland’s personal assistant at Robert Hickson’s shipyard at Queen’s Island, Belfast. In 1860, Harland recruited Wolff as his business partner and Harland and Wolff was formed.

Wolff’s early role at Harland and Wolff involved his engineering and managing the yard. Due to his German Jewish descent, he had links with the Jewish community in Hamburg and in Britain, and was able to attract business to the shipyard. Wolff worked extensively at the yard, and was partly responsible for building of the engine works at Harland and Wolff in 1880. After the conversion of Harland and Wolff to limited company status in 1888, Wolff was appointed as a director. Wolff was able to secure a good relationship with the Hamburg America Line.

Wolff officially retired from Harland and Wolff in 1906, although he had not been an active in the business for years beforehand. William James Pirrie who became a partner in 1874 was now the most active. Wolff claimed of the business relationship at Harland and Wolff: “Sir Edward [Harland] builds the ships, Mr Pirrie makes the speeches, and, as for me, I smoke the cigars.”

Wolff’s other business interests included the Belfast Ropeworks, which he founded in the early 1870s with W.H. Smiles. With Wolff as chairman, the firm became one of the largest ropeworks in the world. Wolff also bought shares in the Union Steamship Company, and became a director where, with his influence, he ensured Harland and Wolff received regular orders from the Union Steamship Company. After Wolff’s negotiation, the Union Steamship Company merged in 1900 with the Castle Line, owned by Donald Currie; to become the Union-Castle Line.

Gustav Wolff served as a Belfast harbour commissioner from 1887 to 1893. He served as a Member of Parliament for the Conservative and Unionist Party from 1892 to 1910. He and Edward Harland, also an MP were known in the House of Commons as “Majestic” and “Teutonic”, the names of two ships that the company built. The Belfast Corporation made Wolff a freeman of Belfast. In Parliament, Wolff strongly opposed the Irish Home Rule bills. Despite his Jewish heritage, Wolff was a member of the Church of Ireland. He also gave money to local causes, including the Ulster Hospital and the Orange Order. He was a member of many different clubs, including the Carlton Club and the Garrick Club.

After his retirement from Parliament Wolff lived almost exclusively in London, where he died on 17 April 1913 at his home, 42 Park Street.

Location of plaque: 6 Station Road, Belfast

Date of unveiling: 17 April 2013

Report of Plaque unveiling available HERE

Guy Wilson

Daffodil Breeder
1886 to 1962

Wilson was born in Broughshane and started his working life in the woollen mill there. However daffodils were his consuming interest and in 1912 his first crop of seedlings flowered. The following year he had great success with “White Dame”, and was subsequently known as a grower of white daffodils. He registered seventy-eight cultivars of these, but also produced coloured ones, such as the pink “Irish Rose.” His last crop of seedlings flowered in 1967, five years after his death.

Guy Wilson became known all over the world for his work in improving the quality of garden daffodils; it was mainly for this that he received the Victoria Medal of Honour, the Royal Horticultural Society’s highest honour.

NOTE: There is a daffodil garden planted in his memory at the University of Ulster, Coleraine.

Location of plaque: Broughshane

Oscar Wilde

Writer and Wit
1854 to 1900

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Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin on 16 October 1854. His father, Sir William Wilde, was an eminent Dublin surgeon and his mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, agitated for Irish Independence and wrote revolutionary poems under the pseudonym “Speranza”.

In 1864 Wilde went to the Portora Royal School where he excelled in the classics, taking top prizes. He was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to Trinity College in Dublin where he earned a Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, he won the college’s Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford. There Wilde was awarded the Newdigate prize for his poem, Ravenna, and a First Class in both his “Mods” and “Greats. After graduation, he moved to London. In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry, Poems, which received mixed reviews by critics.

In 1881 and 1882 Wilde travelled across the United States giving over 140 lectures in 260 days. He spent the next couple of years in Britain and France, championing ‘Art Nouveau’-essentially the Aesthetic, art for art’s sake movement. In 1884, he married Constance Lloyd. They had two sons, Cyril in 1885 and Vyvyan in 1886. He worked on The Woman’s World magazine in 1887-1889. In the following six years he published two collections of childrens stories, The Happy Prince And Other Tales (1888), and The House Of Pomegranates (1892). His first and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was considered very immoral by the Victorians. The first of his witty and scandalous plays, Lady Windermere’s Fan, opened in February 1892 to critical acclaim. His subsequent plays included A Woman Of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband.(1895), and The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895).

His friendship with Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, the third son of the Marquis of Queensberry, was to prove his undoing. In 1895, Wilde sued Bosie’s father for libel as the Marquis had accused him of homosexuality. Although he withdrew the case he was himself arrested, convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labour. His long, poignant and revealing letter, now known as De Profundus, written from prison to Alfred Douglas, was not published in full until 1962.

On his release, he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a response to the agony he experienced in prison. He spent the last three years of his life wandering Europe. He died of meningitis on November 30, 1900 and was buried in Bagneux. His remains were later transferred to the National Cemetery of Pere Lachaise in Paris, where, on the back of the ornate Epstein Tomb, is carved part of a verse from his last work.

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn
For his mourners will be outcast men
And outcasts always mourn.

Location of plaque: Portora Royal School, Enniskillen.

Date unveiled: 13 February 2003

Sir William Whitla

Physician and Philanthropist

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William Whitla was born on 13 September 1851 in Monaghan. He was educated at the Model School there, and, after a brief spell working for his chemist brother James, in Monaghan, he moved to Belfast to the work in Messers Wheeler and Whittaker, dispensing chemists, at 37 High Street. He studied medicine at Queen’s College Belfast and in Dublin and Edinburgh, after which he joined the staff of the Belfast General Hospital, Frederick Street, Belfast (which received the Royal Charter in 1875) as Resident Medical Officer, for one year. He spent some time in St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, where in 1876 he married Miss Ada Bourne. Between 1877 and 1882, when he became a consultant physician, he was Assistant Physician to the Belfast Charitable Society. About this time he was accepted an honorary appointment to the Belfast Hospital for Women and Children.

In 1882 he was appointed Physician to the Belfast Royal Hospital in Frederick Street where he was to remain a visiting members of the staff, and later of the Royal Victoria Hospital, until 1918.

In 1890 Whitla was appointed Professor of Materia Medica at Queen’s College, Belfast. He built an international reputation on several remarkably successful textbooks, e.g Elements of Pharmacy, Materia Medica and Treatment (1882) and A Dictionary of Treatment (1892), which were translated into many languages, including Chinese. The income from these, from his private practice and from private sources made him in his time probably one of the wealthiest professors on the staff and much of his wealth eventually was left to Queen’s. He was twice president of the Ulster Medical Society (1886-7, 1901-2) and in 1909 was elected President of the British Medical Association. As Pro-Chancellor of Queen’s he represented the University in Parliament from 1918 to 1922 having been knighted in 1902 for distinction in medicine. From 1884 to 1906 he lived and practised at 8 College Square North, moving in that year to Lennoxvale, while retaining the professional house in College Square. He was appointed honorary physician to the king in Ireland in 1919.

During his life his gifts to his profession included the Good Samaritan stained glass window in the Royal Hospital, and a building for the Ulster Medical Society. On his death he left Lennoxvale to Queen’s University as a residence for the vice-chancellor. He died at Lennoxvale on 11 December 1933.

Location of plaque:Sir William Whitla Hall, QUB

Date of Unveiling: 25 February 2009

Report of Plaque unveiling available HERE