On 23rd August 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower returned to Northern Ireland. Landing at R.A.F. Bishopscourt near Downpatrick, Co. Down, he arrived along with Colonel J.F. Gault in an unescorted Douglas C-47 carrying the badge of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.
Eisenhower was due to arrive at R.A.F. Long Kesh but poor weather prompted a last-minute change of plans. He arrived at Bishopscourt, having taken off from Germany with a stop off in London, at 1615hrs to a welcome party of dignitaries.
During his brief stop at the Bishopscourt Airfield, he paid tribute to “three of the greatest soldiers of this war”. Those 3, all products of Ulster; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, and Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander.
They are all my friends and I count myself very lucky to have known them.
Among the welcoming party were: Air Commodore A.R. Churchman D.F.C. (Air Officer Commanding Northern Ireland), Sir Crawford McCullagh (Lord Mayor of Belfast), Mr. John Dunlop (Town Clerk), Mr. Edmund Warnock K.C. (Minister of Home Affairs), Major C.F. Davies (Deputy Inspector General of the Royal Ulster Constabulary), Mr. W.F. Ayer (American Vice Consul), as well as hundreds of airmen and W.A.A.Fs.
Eisenhower recorded a brief message for the British Broadcasting Corporation:
I am happy to be back again in Northern Ireland, for it is the first spot to which American troops came to prepare for the invasion of Germany. The Americans who had been here had gone away warm friends of Northern Ireland and I am one of its friends.
Travelling by car, the General made his way to Belfast for a private dinner at Belfast City Hall. Crowds gathered to welcome the famous General who dined with Sir Crawford McCullagh and Prime Minister Sir Basil Brooke.
That evening, the 3 men were guests of honour at the Grand Opera House, Belfast. At 1930hrs they attended a “Special Victory Performance” of ‘Lady From Edinburgh’ written by Aimee Stuart and L. Arthur Rose, and featuring the Savoy Players. The Savoy Players were actors based in Northern Ireland at the time. They performed weekly as wartime restrictions prevented other actors from travelling.
During his visit to the Grand Opera House, the General met Miss Adeline Bolton, the first female Secretary of the Grand Opera House. She took over the role in 1937 and was a powerful force in the arts community of the time. Managing Director Mr. Edward Buckley, Colonel J.A. Rogers, and Mr. W.W. Buckley also greeted the American General on his visit.
A large crowd gathered outside the theatre awaiting Eisenhower’s arrival, cheering “Good Old Ike”. They lined Great Victoria Street and Glengall Street. They climbed lamp posts and hung out of windows. He shook hands with many of those waiting in the Belfast streets before taking his place in a box to watch the performance. After the orchestra played ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘God Save The King’, the U.S. General addressed the audience:
Irish hospitality brought me here today, but Irish weather almost kept me away. You people in Ulster took many American soldiers into your homes, and to each one of you who with a smile helped an American soldier along the road – even if it was only to the nearest pub – I say “thank you”. If we are all friends, we can get rid of these damnable wars.
On his first night back in Northern Ireland, Eisenhower was a guest of Sir Crawford McCullagh, Lord Mayor of Belfast at Lismara, Whiteabbey, Co. Antrim.
On the morning of 24th August 1945, General Eisenhower travelled by open-top car from Lismara, Whiteabbey, Co. Antrim into Belfast. At the city boundary, the vehicle slowed to travel along York Street where local schoolchildren assembled. Crowds lined much of the route including in the village of Whitehouse, Co. Antrim. On arriving in Royal Avenue, Belfast, the General a greeting of tickertape and confetti greeted the general. Office workers and shop workers scattered the cut-up paper from windows along the processional route.
At 1100hrs, he attended a ceremony in the Great Hall, Queen’s University, Belfast. There, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. Crowds gathered on University Road to welcome the General as a military guard of honour presented arms.
As the procession formed, Captain C.J. Brennan performed an organ recital for the gathered audience in the hall. The Chancellor the Marquis of Londonderry, Vice-Chancellor Mr. D. Lindsay Keir, and Pro-Chancellors greeted the General before he donned his robes. As part of the ceremony, Eisenhower addressed the audience speaking of the war, the connections between Ulster and the United States of America, and the importance of educational institutions.
At 1200hrs, a guard of honour of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary lined the way into Belfast City Hall awaiting the General’s arrival. Crowds of thousands of locals gathered in Donegal Square for a glimpse of the celebrity General. A military band played ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘God Save The King’ before Eisenhower inspected members of all 3 services in the grounds.
In the Council Chamber, Sir Crawford McCullagh presented Eisenhower with the Freedom of the City of Belfast. The cameras of film-maker Richard Hayward rolled as he shot footage for a film that dealt with the historical connections between Ulster and the United States of America. The order of procession was: The Civic Macebearer, Sir Crawford McCullagh (Lord Mayor of Belfast), General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sir Thomas Dixon H.M.L., Sir Basil Brooke (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland), Mr. B.J. Fox K.C. (Recorder of Belfast), Councillor R.B. Alexander M.P. (High Sheriff of Belfast), Mr. John Dunlop (Town Clerk), and Colonel J.F. Gault.
This global war has taken the American Army to many foreign fields, but it was here in Northern Ireland that we first began to concentrate for our share in the attack upon the citadel of Continental Europe. From here started the long, hard march to Allied Victory, which led our Forces to North Africa, Sicily, the Italian mainland, Normandy, and finally the dash across Germany… It has been a mighty brotherhood of fortitude and courage, consecrated to the pursuit of a righteous cause. Thanks to this common purpose and these united efforts, we now share the victory on all fronts. These lessons, these friendships, should serve us well in peace.
The Lord Mayor also hosted a luncheon attended by Sir James Grigg, Lord Abercorn, Sir Thomas Dixon and other dignitaries. After the formal proceedings, the U.S. Army General signed the visitors’ book and autographed a portrait. This picture remained hidden in Belfast City Hall for many decades. The presentation of a silver casket supplied by Fred J. Malcolm, Goldsmiths and Silversmiths of 18 Chichester Street also took place at Belfast City Hall.
At 1450hrs, the General and his entourage departed Belfast City Hall for Stormont, travelling via Chichester Street, Victoria Street, Lower Ann Street, Queen’s Bridge, and Newtownards Road. At Stormont, over 3,000 people attended a celebratory Garden Party. Among them were Lady Montgomery the mother of Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery, and ex-servicemen from the nearby hospitals at Craigavon House and Galwally.
Flowers, bunting, and the Stars and Stripes decorated the largest catering marquee ever seen in Ulster. Beneath it, the firm of the Ulster Menu Co. Ltd. under Mr. J. Nelson McMillen served food to the distinguished guests. After an address from the Prime Minister Sir Basil Brooke, General Eisenhower wandered the grounds. He spoke warmly and shook hands with many of the guests confirming his place in the hearts of the people of Ulster.
That evening, he departed Northern Ireland by air from R.A.F. Long Kesh near Lisburn, Co. Down.