Thursday, 30 April 2020

Rev John McConnell Auld MA

Photo Credit: Belfast Telegraph

I can't remember my first encounter with Con Auld. He was always quite a distant figure at first, though I was young and naïve.

I suppose it must have been at some civic function in Holywood, County Down, the town where my father was born.

I must have seen him at civic receptions in the Queen's Hall; certainly on Saturday mornings in Holywood's library.

The Reverend John McConnell Auld's main association for me was the tiny hamlet of Portbraddan, on the north County Antrim coast.

On many occasions, mainly during summer months, I made a pilgrimage to that charming gem along the coast from White Park Bay, where Con Auld had created his own holiday home from the remnants of an old mill house.

He even wrote a book about it, Letters to a Causeway Coast Millhouse, published in 2004.

His spotless, vintage, bottle-green MGB GT sports car was usually parked near the tiny church he established beside The Braddan, St Gobban's Church.

St Gobban's

If Con happened to be at home he might have been whitewashing the walls of the cottage, or painting the drainpipes.

He had amassed a remarkable collection of memorabilia and items associated with the Titanic, I seem to recall, including a deck-chair.

The Braddan, like the man himself, was oozing with character.

Con might have been a very private gentleman, though he was also intrepid.

Perhaps one of my fondest recollections was of him seated at his cast-iron table and chairs, at the flag-pole, in front of The Braddan, overlooking the sea and White Park Bay.

Con was quite content to sit there reading and sipping from a bone-china tea-cup.

The Braddan, Portbraddan, County Antrim

He made full use of his talents throughout a charitable and varied life, having gained his MA from Trinity College, Dublin.

Con Auld was educated at Sullivan Upper School in Holywood, and Belfast Royal Academy; Princeton, New Jersey, USA, and the Union Theological College, Belfast.

He went on to become senior housemaster and Head of Divinity at Belfast Royal Academical Institution (Inst) from 1958 till 1988.

Con joined the Ulster Unionist Party and was elected to North Down Borough Council, where he served from 1973 until 1988.

The Mayor and Mayoress of North Down? 

He was Mayor and Deputy Mayor between 1980-84.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, though the image above shows Con wearing morning dress as His Worship the Mayor of North Down, with the Mayoress, Councillor Mary O'Fee OBE.

These activities are merely a flavour of his colourful life. I've already spoken of his great charitable endeavours, not least at St Gobban's Church, where many an Old Instonian was married.

Click to Enlarge

Incidentally, it's a shame that St Gobban's Church, or the building, wasn't listed. It was listed in 1990, though for some reason de-listed three years later.

The photograph above shows Portbraddan, probably in the late 19th century. Con Auld's cottage can be seen as it was.

St Gobban's Church, the small building to the left of the image, once used as a byre, was demolished in 2017.

Con had intended to write an illustrated book about the old houses of east Belfast.

He had a large cardboard box with dozens of colour drawings of old villas and mansions, including Garnerville and Norwood Tower.

I was indeed saddened to learn of his death, aged 90, on the 28th April, 2020.

Be in no doubt. Northern Ireland has lost a worthy and virtuous son.

I'm not ashamed to say that a little tear was shed when I heard about his passing

Con was, I believe, a man with a strong faith, and this fortitude served him well through life's challenges.


Brian Curragh said...

What sad news. If ever someone deserved being labelled unique, it was Con Auld, my old Divinity teacher at Inst. RIP

Margaret said...

He was truly a remarkable man. I met him on many occasions inside and out . I always brought my grandchildren to visit the little church every time they came over to stay in Portballintrae. He will be truly missed.

Louise Champion said...

Thank you for writing this. My fondest memory of Con Auld coincides with yours exactly. I am actually sitting here at home in France looking at a photograph of him in the very position and attitude you describe -- book in one hand, finger holding the place, bone china tea cup in the other, sitting at the white cast-iron table, his hand up shielding his weather-beaten face from the sun. I sent him this picture last Christmas. We were married at St Gobban's in May 1998. He will be very sadly missed. Deepest sympathy to all his family. Louise Champion

Unknown said...

My friends, myself and husband spent a fortnight on a Gulet sailing the coast of South West Turkey alongside Connell back in May 1996. He was indeed a remarkable character and one that we will never forget. When the rest of us each hauled a huge suitcase containing enough swimsuits and flip-flops for a month, connell boarded with nothing More than a small rucksack on his back. He woukd drink one single bottle of efes beer every evening with dinner, and woukd then retire to his cabin to draw, or teach the Turkish crew English. Every morning he would rise with the sun and perform his yoga at the front of the boat. A great character..

Timothy Belmont said...

Dear Anon, many thanks for that contribution, which is much appreciated. I only wish I'd known him better. We were acquaintances. and I wasn't aware that he practiced yoga!