THE MOBILISATION OF THE ULSTER VOLUNTEER FORCE
Report from The Belfast Evening Telegraph, April 25th, 1914
MYSTERY SHIP ARRIVES
THE BALMARINO “BLIND.”
STRANGE SCENES AT THE CHANNEL.
Whispers of gun-running gained currency in certain circles throughout the night, and many remarkable stories went the rounds. The convergence of some of the battalions comprising the East Belfast Regiment upon the Musgrave Channel was taken as corroboration of the rumour that some daring exploits in the gun-running line were to be attempted in that quarter of the docks. Queen’s Road, usually semi-deserted in the later hours of the evening, was literally moving and alive with people, Volunteers and the public, while an air of reality was lent to the extremest of sensational stories by the hurrying to and fro of motors and despatch riders. By eleven o’clock a force of five thousand Volunteers had concentrated upon Victoria Park and Musgrave Channel. In the park as far as the eye could stretch myriads of pin-point lights glowed from the long lines of the Volunteers who were taking things easy with cigarettes and pipes. The public were attracted to the strange scene in their thousands, and when the outline of a steamer was seen looming up in the darkness, the intense excitement which was all prevalent, became the more accentuated.
All eyes were turned upon the unknown vessel, and as the “mystery ship” did not proceed to the wharf at once, but manoeuvred about the channel for quite a period, the excitement developed rather than diminished, specially when mystifying lights, red, white, green, and other colours were flashed from on board in the strangest of fashion. It was well on to one o’clock, indeed, before the steamer was at length made fast, and she proved to be Messrs. John Kelly’s, Ltd., Balmarino, one of the firm’s numerous fleet of coal-carrying craft.
The berthing of the steamer, however, did not settle the mystery of her cargo, about which wild rumours were current, and when a posse of Customs officers, with staves and lanterns, were seen to board her immediately the crucial moment seemed to have arrived. The captain was below, and there was another delay till her papers were forthcoming, Customs officers taking post in the meantime over each hatch. A further touch of the dramatic was added when the vessel was officially “seized,” and her hatches sealed. The carts and horses which were in waiting along the quayside adjacent to the berthing point, imparted the seeming reality of carefully-planned detail to the strange early morning spectacle. The presence, too, of the City Commissioner of Police (Mr. T. J. Smith, J.P.), and District-Inspector Dunlop, was taken as significant, and everybody was on the tip-toe of excitement awaiting momentary revelations. The Commissioners interrogations of a number of the Volunteers elicited nothing, but the most non-committal “I don’t know, sir,” to his every question.
THE CURTAIN RAISED.
The raising of the curtain—or in other words the opening of the hatches did not take place till four o’clock, after all the preliminaries had been completed, and nothing more formidable than an inoffensive cargo of coal met the gaze of the attendant Customs representatives!
The Volunteers were not marched off until 4-30. They enlivened the scene with the singing of patriotic airs and were in the best of spirits when the order to move off was given. Colonel G. H. H. Couchman, commanding the Belfast Division, Staff-Officer Captain J. Scriven, and Col. R. Spencer Chichester, D.C., of the East Belfast Regiment, were in personal attendance, and complimented the men upon the splendid manner in which they had ended the work of a memorable night.