Painting of Rev. Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane (1841-98):
This painting depicts one of Belfast’s leading citizens who was a popular Church of Ireland Minister and Grand Master of the city for 13 years. In this role, Rev. Kane presided over the opening of Clifton Street Orange Hall in January 1885.
Kane’s funeral in November 1898 was one of the largest the city had ever seen, with an estimated 60,000 people watching the procession.
Our Research into the Painting of Rev. Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane
Rev. Dr Richard Rutledge Kane (1841-1898), was one of Belfast’s leading citizens. A native of County Cavan, he was the minister of Christ Church, one of Belfast’s largest Church of Ireland congregations. He was also a leading Orangeman. At the time of his death he had been County Grand Master of Belfast for 13 years and was a Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. In this capacity, Kane presided over the opening of the new Clifton Street Orange Hall in January 1885. Politically he was a Conservative and Unionist, being a Vice-President of Belfast Conservative Association and Vice-President of the Ulster Loyalist Union. He was a vocal opponent of Home Rule and William Gladstone’s (British Liberal PM) conversion to this cause, gaining the nickname ‘Roarer Kane’ in the Irish nationalist press.
Kane’s funeral in November 1898 was one of the largest the city had ever seen, with an estimated sixty thousand people watching the funeral procession. His headstone was later engraved with, among other things, ‘Loyal Irish Patriot’. A number of Orange lodges were named in his memory including Kane Memorial LOL 890 in Sandy Row District, Kane’s Volunteers LOL 1773 in Gilford District and Dr Kane’s Crimson Star LOL 417 in Portadown District.
Along with a number of other prominent Protestant Leaders who were fluent Gaelic speakers and active in the preservation and promotion of Gaelic in this era he and two other prominent clergy, Dr Buick, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and Dr Welland, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Connor, were all Patrons of the Belfast Gaelic League. This organisation was founded in 1893 by Douglas Hyde, a Roscommon Protestant, who was elected as the first President of Ireland in 1938.
Kane’s position as a Protestant Minister, Orangeman and Gaelic speaker complicates our understanding of Irish language politics. In the late Victorian period, prior to partition and the politicisation of Gaelic language/culture, Belfast Protestants like Kane took an active role in conserving and documenting Irish Gaelic. This painting, and the story behind it, presents an opportunity to shift perceptions of the Orange Order and its perceived attitude towards Irish culture and language.