Sunday, 21 March 2010

James Spence McIlhagga

John and Adelaide McIlhagga's Wedding

James Spence McIlhagga, son of William McIlhagga and Mary Spence of Tullygarley, was born on 12th September 1884. On 13th December 1905 he married Elizabeth ('Bessie') McGrillis at Wellington Street Presbyterian Church, Ballymena, County Antrim. Although he was only 21 years old his marriage record says that he was a widower. It would appear from the Ulster Civil Marriage Records that James had first married an Agnes Wilson when he was only eighteen. They married on 28th January 1903 at Ballymena First Presbyterian Church, Kirkinriola. We must presume that Agnes died tragically, perhaps in childbirth.

We have seen previously that when he married in 1905 James was a Locomotive Fireman, but as we will discover James appears to have had a major career change, though at what stage in his life this happened we do not know. It is highly probable that it came about through his involvement in local Community Politics. In the middle of the 19th Century when the population of Ballymena was only about 5000, the oversight of town affairs was in the hands of Town Commissioners. Lists of them still exist for 1854-1899 in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Thirty or forty years later there were elected people who were called Councillors and from 1940 the town's several Wards each had an Alderman. 'Aldermen' constituted a kind of 'upper house' of local government, often elected by the Councillors, though usually not acting separately from them.

The Belfast and Northern Ireland Directory for 1939 shows James McIlhagga elected Councillor for Harryville Ward, an area that was to gain a 'wild' reputation. In the following year James is listed again, but with the title 'Alderman', the first time this title had appeared. So it looks as if the town had created 'Aldermen' in 1940 when James S. McIlhagga became one of its first. James remained an Alderman for eighteen years until 1958. The town records show that the position for Harryville Ward was vacant the following year and was not refilled until 1960.

In the Directory for 1940 James is listed as working at the Belfast Savings Bank. We know from the existence of a McIlhagger Will in which he is named as an executor that by 1948 he had become a Bank Manager. From Railways to Banking was a big career change, but it appears to have occurred through his involvement in serving the Community in local politics. James died on 11th November 1959 in Ballymena. The photograph at the head of this blog was taken at the marriage of James' younger brother John (Jack) to Adelaide in Dublin. James Spence is the fourth person from the right, standing on the bride's left.

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