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Sir Crawford McCullagh (1868 - 1948):
Lord Mayor

Crawford McCullagh was a long-serving Lord Mayor of Belfast, amongst other offices, who initiated the two-minute silence in honour of war dead.

He was born on 14 December 1868 in Aghalee, Co. Armagh into a prosperous farming family. His father had aspirations for his son to become a Presbyterian Minister or failing that take over the running of the farm, Crawford had other ideas and at the age of 14 he ran away from home and with the help of his brother obtained an apprenticeship in the Bank Buildings a well known department store in Castle Place.  He supplemented his income selling newspapers outside the Great Northern Railway Station in Great Victoria Street and outside William Gibson's jewellery shop on the corner of Castle Place. With the help of William Gibson who became his mentor he was able to open his first shop, this in turn led him to becoming a very wealthy businessman and transforming Castle Place by building his own department store Castle Buildings in 1905 which he ran for many years.  Indeed he became so wealthy that he was for some years one of the largest ratepayers in Belfast. In addition he became director of several other businesses in Belfast, including Maguire and Patterson, Vespa matches, and the Classic Cinema which he built in 1926.  In 1905 he entered Belfast City Council, was elected Lord Mayor and served through the First World War (1914-1917) he subsequently was to be elected a further 14 times becoming the longest serving Lord Mayor in the British Isles.  He was the first person to call for a silent tribute to men who had lost their lives in battle. Indeed he was the pioneer of the two minute silence, calling for a five minute silence on 12 July 1916 to honour the fallen at the Battle of the Somme.

A unionist and a member of the Orange Order, Crawford McCullagh sat for 40 years on Belfast City Council (1906-1946) and in 1911 he was elected High Sheriff of Belfast. McCullagh was knighted in 1915 and created a Baronet in 1935.  He sat in both houses of the Northern Ireland Parliament and was a member of the House of Commons from 1921 to 1925 and as Lord Mayor of Belfast was ex-officio a member of the Senate of Northern Ireland from 1931 to 1942 and 1943 to 1946. He served as Deputy Speaker of the Senate from 1939 to 1941. In 1917, the British government established an all-party Convention in order to attempt to solve the Irish Question, by bringing together all Irish political parties, both unionist and nationalist and Lord Mayor McCullagh attended as a representative of Belfast Corporation. In the 1930's McCullagh built up and presided over a well organised political party known as the "City Hall Party" which dominated Belfast Corporation for a decade and a half. In 1938 he negotiated with Lord Shaftesbury to the City of Belfast for Belfast Castle and 200 acres, This eventually led to the development of Belfast Zoo and the Floral Hall. 

Crawford McCullagh's career was not free from controversy and he was involved in two Corporation scandals, The Housing Committee Enquiry of 1926 and The Whiteabbey Sanitorium Enquiry in 1941. He was Chairman of both committees and so came in for strong criticism, however it had no long term effects on his political career and in fact became a sworn member of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland in 1942.  When Sir Crawford McCullagh was re-elected Lord Mayor in 1935 the Prime Minister Lord Craigavon wrote him a personal hand-written letter of congratulations and I quote: 'It is with very special pleasure that, on the one hand, I congratulate you on your re-election as Lord Mayor for the eighth time , and on the other, thank you again for shouldering the heavy burden of responsibility ...I can only add that I feel quite sure that the Council have done the right thing, Yours sincerely, Craigavon.”

Nothwithstanding these controversies, Crawford was a success in the ceremonial aspects of his role as Lord Mayor. He was affable and dignified and above all he possessed the wealth to finance his position successfully, as no salary or expenses were then paid to the Lord Mayor of Belfast. He entertained at City Hall George VI, the Queen Motherand their daughter Queen Elizabeth II. He had a special dinner at his home Lismara in Whiteabbey, for US General Dwight D Eisenhower who stayed the night. Others included General Sir Bernard Montgomery, Sir Harold Alexander and Sir Alan Brooke. He and his wife Lady Margaret received the Freedom of the City and there are two magnificent stained glass windows in City Hall dedicated to their work for the people of Belfast during both world wars.

Sir Crawford McCullagh retired from his duties in Belfast Corporation due to ill health in 1946. He died on 13 April 1948, aged seventy-nine at Lismara, Newtownabbey.


Born: 14 December 1868
Died: 13 April 1948
Ulster History Circle

Text: Susan Cunningham