The following report was written by Wallace Harland (1888) and sent from a war-torn country to the rest of the diaspora. It is important to remember that this event took place 18 months into the Second World War, that it came after what had been the worst winter of the century, and that it was immediately prior to, only 2-3 weeks away, the terrible blitzkrieg air raids on Belfast.
Aunt Ruby records that the wedding day of her sister Elizabeth was cold and unseasonable. Half a century later similar conditions prevailed. On the way up to Bessbrook many signs of recent snow were to be seen. There was a bitter wind, and from what could be picked out of the fog-covered mountains recent heavy falls had garbed them in white. Camlough Mountain was likewise patched in white, while Slieve Gullion was in cloud. And so there was no chance of disporting ourselves on the grass or in the garden at Hillside, and even amateur photography had to be abandoned as being futile with the available cameras.
But inside the house there was the cheerful glow of fires, and best of all the “Half-Centurians” were both in grand form. Father was looking hale and hearty; albeit if his rheumatics have detracted from his former 6 ft, one and a half inches; and now he found himself overlooked by four younger bearers of the name, Robert Wallace, and his three sons. John Harford, R.W. Junior, and William Arthur. Mother was looking well, and she too had the joy of having some of her own kith and kin with her - Aunt Ruby, who had been at the wedding 50 years ago, her sisters Frances Philips and Elsie Thornton, and Robert Thornton’s wife Minnie. And saying little and carrying out a major entertainment programme with a minimum of fuss and to-do was sister Elinor. Unfortunately conditions prevented Arthur from getting across again, and so the immediate family circle was 12 in number.
The drawing room mantelpiece was brightened by an array of greetings telegrams from far and near . With her strong distaste of fuss ‘Granny’ had demurred at the idea of notices in the paper, and had had to be persuaded that such an event was unlikely to recur again during her lifetime. Thus many friends had been made aware of the happy occasion and their greetings by wire kept arriving throughout the day. Foremost was one by cable from Tom and Jack. During the afternoon Arthur’s message was delivered by a long-suffering messenger boy who must have complained of the heavy traffic on the Hillside route. A telegram especially appreciated was from our life-long friend William John Preston. Friends in Armagh, Warrenpoint, and Belfast sent their greetings by wire and many letters followed.
Such an occasion called for a special effort from the Belfast contingent. The American clan will smile when reminded that only such a special event would have warranted the use of three gallons of motor spirit to take the car to Hillside and back. The days when petrol supplies were unlimited have temporarily vanished, and the Wolseley made its first appearance at Hillside for many months past. John H had been in Dublin and had brought a “golden wedding” gift from his cousins in Kingstown, some oranges. It is literally true that such a gift represents something very much out of the ordinary. Apparently there was some such rare ad precious fruit to be purchased in Eire. No doubt our chance will come again. Picking up J.H. at “the Goragh”, we drove past THE PIT without stopping – seeing that Jack Harland of Atlanta was not one of the passengers and Andy Priestly was not present to drink our health in a porter pot of prodigious proportions. (I bet Jack can recall that special occasion of some years ago).
Later in the afternoon Margaret and Ida Foster arrived by tram from Newry, and such long-term and valued friends were especially welcome. Later on we all settled down to a war-time celebration in the dining room; and then the head of the clan addressed his friends using these words, to which he added a wish that he might yet be spared to see and to hold in his arms boys and girls of the fourth generation.
My dear one, relatives and friends,
I stand here surrounded by you all (with whose kindly judgment I hope I have never collided), you whose friendships still endure and which have enriched me in my journey, all vying to make life pleasant, with mutual appreciation and kindly feeling of which this occasion is further proof. Within call of another birthday the friends I cherish most dearly have gathered to congratulate my dear wife and myself on the half-century of life together, in which, not only as wife and mother but also as counsellor and guide through the devious paths which lead through our lives, and whose judgment and commonsense --- with the assistance and support of our daughter, who looks after our comfort and who runs Hillside in these troubled times as only one with skill and training can --- have never failed.
With us we had hoped to have some of our wide-scattered kith and kin., but under present conditions this is impossible. We have Wallace and Lilla, and a step further down the line our three grandsons who bid fair for the coming years and are distinguishing themselves in various ways;; my namesake having passed his first year medical examination with credit and distinction. As a family we have a great right to be thankful for His protection and care that in the present trouble we have been brought through safely up to now. More especially does this apply to the two members of our circle in England, Eleanor Thornton and Arthur.
As for myself, few are left of the days of my boyhood, and the thoughts of many old friends come to me from the shores of memory (especially our recent loss in the death of our son Noel) and the many relatives beyond the seas who still follow with interest and thankfulness the fact that the Almighty Father has prolonged our live till now, and whose letters, warm and regular, prove how dear to their hearts is their old home at Hillside. And now, to conclude, what should we wish for in these times?
“The road wins over the top of the hill,
The hillside bleak and bare;
But the road winds up and over the hill.
And one day we’ll be there.
The comrades we love the best are gone,
The evening air grows chill;
But the road wins up; the road leads on.
We shall meet at the top of the hill.
What matter if hearts are faint and tired?’
What matter if steps are slow?
We’re a little nearer the goal desired
With a little less far to go.
The earth grows wider the higher we climb,
The heaven more deep above
And hidden beyond the ridge of time
Eternities of love.”
Wallace’s (1888) report ends with these words:
We Harlands must all be thankful to that kindly Providence who has brought the head of our house to such a ripe old age, hale, hearty, and keenly interested in life and has preserved for 50 years the second loving mother to whom we owe so much and whose care and influence in a critical stage of our lives will ever be treasured as a priceless gift.
The wedding anniversary was indeed very different to the gay affair we had envisaged. But it was a very happy occasion, and it may be that in 1942 or in 1943 another opportunity will offer to the clan overseas to re-visit the war-torn land of our birth and to greet the survivors of these stirring and testing times.
Signed Wallace (undated)