>From the march issue of the Ulster-Scot, given away as a supplement in the News Letter
You can receive a copy free via the mail if you live outside Northern Ireland by emailing [email protected] with your name and address.
A BREED APART: SIR EDWARD COEY
by Steven Moore
Sir Edward Coey was a man with a knack for making money - and a generosity of spirit which allowed him to give much of it back to the less well off in society.
His business flare was matched by his political ambitions, yet he allowed neither to overshadow his ingrained sense of civic duty.
The Coey family was long established in Co Antrim - having arrived from Scotland - by the time the future Sir Edward arrived in 1805.
The family home was then in Larne and he main-tained his links with the town all his life with his legacy still to be found today.
The 19th century was a time of tremendous pros-perity for the Province and particularly Belfast and Sir Edward was determined to play his part. Although only an apprentice butcher, he was already scheming and while only in his 20s had established what was to prove an enormously suc-cessful business - the Northern Shoe and Boot House - in partnership with his brother James.
His heart, however, wasnâ€™t in it and his own feet -undoubtedly well shod from his own shop - were restless so he sold up and moved to America to seek his fortune.
And it was in the United States that he was smitten by the potential of cured ham and bacon and, by 1841, was back home to establish his own provision and curing business.
Coey & Co, based in the Docklands area of Belfast, immediately took off and within five years he was looking for bigger premises to allow for expansion.
His success allowed Sir Edward, who was still in his forties, to invest in other interests and soon he could lay claim to a number of business concerns and ownership of numerous properties across Britain and the United States.
Like many of Belfastâ€™s top businessmen, he moved into politics, representing St Georgeâ€™s Ward on the city council and in 1861 he was elected Mayor - the first, and as it subsequently proved, only member of the Liberal Party to hold the position.
It was while serving as Mayor of the city that he was awarded his knighthood in recognition of his public works and contribution to charities through-out the town.
Many of these were Church-inspired, such as his support for the Presbyterian Orphan Society, Presbyterian Sabbath School and Malone Protestant Reformatory. He was also involved with the Belfast Sailorsâ€™ Home, Belfast Charitable Society and the city workhouse through the Belfast Poor Law Union.
His charitable work included a large number of agencies and concerns working with the sick, such as Belfast Royal Hospital, the Belfast District Hospital for the Insane Poor and the Belfast Ophthalmic Hospital. And his concerns did not stop with his fellow man but included the Belfast Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Sir Edward sat on a number of influential bodies in the city, including the Grand Jury and Belfast Harbour Commissioners, the latter contributing much in terms of dock improvements to allow Belfast to become a world leader in a number of industries.
Further Royal approval came in 1867 when he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Co Antrim.
A unionist at heart who firmly believed that the maintenance of the Union was best for Ireland both politically and economically, he clashed with his party leader and Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstoneâ€™s ambitions to grant Home Rule.
Among his legacies is the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, of which he was a founding member in 1869, and Larne Grammar School which, in part-nership with John Crawford, he co-founded in 1886.
In November past a Blue Plaque was erected by the Ulster History Circle at Merville House, Newtownabbey, Sir Edwardâ€™s home from 1855 until his death there in June, 1887. It remained within the family until the middle of the last century.
* Steven Moore is a News Letter journalist
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