Samuel Shannon Millin (1864 - 1947):
Samuel Millin was born on 8 September 1864, fourth of the five children (all boys, two of whom died in infancy) of John Millin (who at the time spelt his name as Millen), a flax seed and salt merchant from Prince’s Street, Belfast, and his cousin Jane (née Shannon), a farmer’s daughter from Drumhirk townland near Newtownards, County Down. Samuel entered the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI) in November 1874 but left after one academic session though he enrolled again in November 1877 and matriculated at Queen’s College Belfast (QCB) in 1881. After further irregular enrolments dictated seemingly by assisting his parents domestically and his father in business, and being active in the Belfast Second Congregation (of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church), he decided to become a lawyer and graduated BA of the Royal University of Ireland (RUI) in 1892 having already been admitted as a student at King’s Inns in Dublin (on 29 October 1891). About this time he adopted “Shannon” as a second name, presumably to add gravitas on entry to his new profession, and was called to the Irish Bar in 1894. An able student he won the Fitzgibbon Gold Medal in 1895, published a legal book (A Digest of the Reported Decisions …, Etc) in 1898, and on 28 March that year gave the first (“The Irish Harp”) of what was to become a steady, abundant and lifelong stream of public lectures, pamphlets and articles as well as often controversial correspondence in the press. In April 1887, aged only twenty-two, he joined the Linen Hall Library in Belfast (becoming a Governor in 1903), then a cultural centre for the rapidly growing educated classes in the peak of Victorian Belfast’s prosperity, and was active in its affairs on the Library Committee. He organised an Irish Harp Festival in May 1903 and other functions celebrating the Library’s move to its present premises and as a gesture towards the contemporary Gaelic Revival, and he also joined the Belfast Literary Society in 1901. In 1900 he published his first major historical work (History of the Second Congregation…) which told the history and marked the celebration of the Second Congregation’s move from the centre of Belfast to Elmwood Avenue in the developing suburbs of south Belfast. But as his cultural and historical interests waxed so his professional activities, so far as he had any, waned as his soubriquet of “Single Shilling” (for S.S.) Millin. indicates; but nevertheless he had the resources to marry Ella Catherine Morton from Stirling and move to Helen’s Bay near Belfast on the shores of Belfast Lough, to the substantial Sheridan Lodge (now No.3, Bridge Street), where his only son, Terence John, who would became a world- renowned surgeon, was born on 9 January 1903, and then to the equally substantial ‘Innisfaul’ in nearby Church Road where his only daughter Elizabeth Morton (“Betty”) was born on 12 July 1905. His developing career as a local historian and chronicler thrived also and he continued to serve assiduously the Second Congregation in just about any capacity that they requested.
Suddenly, in early 1907, Millin resigned his responsibilities in Belfast and with his family moved to Dublin (22, St. Kevin’s Road, Dartry). Why he did so is unknown: the only plausible reason advanced is that he recognised that his hearing was deteriorating (though there is no firm evidence for this) which would make legal practice difficult in Belfast (though it would also do likewise in Dublin) and the reasons for his move remain a mystery.
In Dublin he at once joined the Unitarian Church in St. Stephen’s Green (March 1908) and the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland (SSISI) (November 1908), two organisations which would cover his main interests and meet his main needs. He became at once active in both, indeed his work on the records of the latter had much to do with his being elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy on 16 March 1921(for details of MIllin’s involvement with the Unitarian Church and the SSISI see Froggatt, 2012; 2013). His involvements had a common pattern: intense, constructive and fastidious over a few years (four, in the case of the Unitarian Church; eleven, in the case of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland) followed by abrupt resignation from all offices and committees citing some often trivial or obscure point of principle and/or the impugning of his good faith. His other activities continued: he visited Belfast frequently in the interests of his church, All Souls, of which he was still a member and (until 1928) honorary secretary and (until 1931) chairman; he continued to give occasional lectures, publish pamphlets, send books to The Linen Hall Library, engage in controversial correspondence in the Belfast diurnal press, and gather information on lesser known aspects of Belfast history for future books which he was planning.
In 1928 Millin again moved residence this time to London (105, Sunderland Avenue, Maida Vale, W.9), less suddenly than the previous move to Dublin, and for reasonably conjectured reasons. He was in his 65th year, his son, the surgeon Terence, had just moved to London and very probably also his daughter, the young teacher, Betty. It was a short stay; early in 1930 Millin moved to ‘Dartry’, Wood End Road, Harpenden, ‘Dartry’ being named after the district in Dublin which he had just left. Here he wrote his two books on byways in Belfast history (Sidelights…in 1932 and Additional Sidelights….in 1938), as well as several minor works and the customary stream of pamphlets, letters and revues. By now his less good qualities as a writer were becoming evident: always fastidious his inclination to pedantry had become almost a caricature of itself in his tidying-up of loose-ends, correcting the smallest of details, and the throwing of light on frequently non-problems. In 1939, aged 75, he produced his last published work, the 63-page Catalogue of Exhibits Relating to Old Belfast, to accompany the exhibition in the Ulster Museum and Art Gallery which opened on Empire Day (24 May) 1939. In this Millin was at his best as a chronicler and descriptive writer, lucid and clinically precise, fastidious no doubt but accurate and informative. In 1946 he and his wife made their last move, this time to live with their now famous surgeon son in Roehampton where Millin died on 2 February 1947 aged 82. There were no obituaries in the national or Northern Ireland press or in church journals other than a passing report from the Dublin Unitarian Church in their journal. His wife died in 1955 in Harpenden.
|Born:||8 August 1864|
|Died:||2 February 1947|
Peter Froggatt, ‘Samuel Shannon Millin (1864-1947)’, Faith and Freedom, 65(2), 83-94 (2012); Ibid., ‘Samuel Shannon Millin, 1864-1947: local historian and chronicler, Familia: Ulster Genealogical Review, 29, 96-115 (2013); S Shannon Millin, A Digest of the Reported Decisions of the Superior Courts relating to Petty Sessions in Ireland. Dublin: Ponsonby, 1898; Ibid, History of the Second Congregation of Protestant Dissenters in Belfast, 1708-1900.: Belfast: W&G Baird; Ibid, The Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland: Historical Memoir with Portraits. Dublin: Ponsonby, 1920, pp. 68-9; Ibid.. Sidelights on Belfast History. Belfast: W& G Baird, 1932; Ibid., Additional Highlights on Belfast History. Belfast and London: W&G Baird, 1938; Ibid., Catalogue of Exhibits relating to Old Belfast. Belfast: City of Belfast Museum and Art Gallery (Publications No. 129), 1939; Barry O’Donnell. Terence Millin: A Remarkable Irish Surgeon, Dublin: A&A Farmar, 2002, passim; Millin, S.Shannon, Historical Retrospect: Belfast Exchange, 1776; Exchange and Assembly Room, 177601820; Exchange Building, 1820-1846; Belfast Bank, 1846- . Belfast and London: W&G Baird, 1937
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