William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie

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William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie
Bust of Pirrie in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.
"Harland and Wolff". Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1903.

William James Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, KP, PC (Ire) (31 May 1847 – 7 June 1924) was a leading Irish shipbuilder and businessman. He was chairman of Harland and Wolff, shipbuilders, between 1895 and 1924, and also served as Lord Mayor of Belfast between 1896 and 1898. He was ennobled as Baron Pirrie in 1906, appointed a Knight of the Order of St Patrick in 1908 and made Viscount Pirrie in 1921.

Background[edit]

Pirrie was born in Quebec City, Canada East, the son of James Alexander Pirrie and Eliza Swan (Montgomery) Pirrie, who were both Irish.[1] He was taken back to Ireland when he was two years old and spent his childhood at Conlig, County Down.[citation needed] Belonging to a prominent family, his nephews included Prime Minister John Miller Andrews, Thomas Andrews, builder of the RMS Titanic, and Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.[1][2]

Career[edit]

Pirrie was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution before entering Harland and Wolff shipyard as a gentleman apprentice in 1862. Twelve years later he was made a partner in the firm, and on the death of Sir Edward Harland in 1895 he became its chairman, a position he was to hold until his death. As well as overseeing the world's largest shipyard, Pirrie was elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1896, and was re-elected to the office as well as made an Irish Privy Counsellor the following year. He became Belfast's first honorary freeman in 1898, and served in the same year as High Sheriff of Antrim[3] and subsequently of County Down. He helped finance the Liberals in Ulster in the 1906 general election, and that same year, at the height of Harland and Wolff's success, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Pirrie, of the City of Belfast.[4] The following year he was appointed Comptroller of the Household to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and in 1908 he was appointed Knight of St Patrick (KP).

Lord Pirrie was jeered in the streets after chairing a famous meeting of the Ulster Liberal Association addressed by Winston Churchill. That same year he was to travel aboard the Titanic, but illness prevented him from joining the ill-fated passage. Pro-Chancellor of the Queen's University, Belfast from 1908 to 1914, Lord Pirrie was also in the years before the First World War a member of the Committee on Irish Finance as well as Lieutenant for the City of Belfast (both 1911). During the war he was a member of the War Office Supply Board, and in 1918 became Comptroller-General of Merchant Shipbuilding, organising British production of merchant ships.

In 1921 Pirrie was elected to the Northern Ireland Senate, and that same year was created Viscount Pirrie, of the City of Belfast, in the honours for the opening of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in July 1921, for his war work and charity work.[5][6]

Personal life[edit]

Lord Pirrie married Margaret Montgomery Carlisle, daughter of John Carlisle, M.A., of Belfast, on 17 April 1879. In the 1900s, he built the Temple of the Four Winds near the Devil's Punchbowl, Hindhead. The octagonal plinth still remains.[7] In 1909, Lord Pirrie bought Witley Park, formerly the residence of Whitaker Wright.[8] He died on 7 June 1924, at the age of 77 of bronchial pneumonia, at sea off Cuba, whilst on a business trip to South America.[1][9] His body was brought from New York on the White Star Line's RMS Olympic[10] and was buried in Belfast City Cemetery.[11] The barony and viscountcy died with him. Lady Pirrie died on 19 June 1935.[1] A memorial to Pirrie was unveiled in the grounds of Belfast City Hall in 2006.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d thepeerage.com William James Pirrie, 1st and last Viscount Pirrie
  2. ^ Lord William James Pirrie
  3. ^ Whitaker's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companioage. J. Whitaker & Sons. 1923. p. 460. 
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27933. p. 4973. 20 July 1906.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 32387. p. 5553. 12 July 1921.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 32391. p. 5637. 15 July 1921.
  7. ^ Heather Hills & Wooded Vales Walk
  8. ^ Underwater billiards and burning
  9. ^ The Irish Times, "DEATH OF LORD PIRRIE: GREAT CAPTAIN OF INDUSTRY GROWTH OF SHIPBUILDING CONCERNS SERVICES TO BELFAST," 9 June 1924, pg. 5
  10. ^ The Irish Times, "THE LATE LORD PIRRIE: FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS IN BELFAST," 21 June 1924, pg. 7
  11. ^ The Irish Times, "THE LATE LORD PIRRIE: FUNERAL IN BELFAST TO-DAY LONDON TRIBUTES," 24 June 1924, pg. 4

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
William McCammond
Lord Mayor of Belfast
1896–1898
Succeeded by
James Henderson
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Earl of Shaftesbury
Lord Lieutenant of Belfast
1911–1924
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Dixon, Bt
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Pirrie
1921–1924
Extinct
Baron Pirrie
1906–1924