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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 November 2006, 15:02 GMT
Plaque honours ham entrepreneur
By Arthur Strain
BBC News website

The contribution of one of Belfast's Victorian entrepreneurs and a renowned philanthropist has been stamped in stone at a former residence.

The plaque is housed on Sir Edward Coey's former residence
The plaque is housed on Sir Edward Coey's former residence

Sir Edward Coey, 1805 to 1887, went from being an apprentice butcher to making a fortune by pioneering American style cured ham and bacon.

Born in Larne in 1805 he was Belfast's only Liberal mayor and one of the first subscribers of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

On Saturday, a Blue Plaque was unveiled at Merville House in Newtownabbey, where Sir Edward had been resident.

He established Coey & Co after a sojourn in America, where as his brother James recalled, "he got a smell for the ham trade".

Irish taste buds agreed with his nose and the company was an instant success, and from his trade in cured meats he built a large property and business portfolio.

At the unveiling ceremony Belfast's deputy mayor, Ruth Patterson, said that his work as a harbour commissioner had helped turn the city into a world leader in the export of linen.

"He was one of a group of people who developed and improved the port, reclaiming land to accommodate new quays, new trades and changes in shipping and cargo-handling machinery," she said.

The times have changed and the entrepreneurial spirit mixed with charitable endeavour of Sir Edward and his Victorian counterparts seems thinner on the ground.

"Belfast is certainly missing men of such character and generosity," Mrs Patterson said.

It was his philanthropy that was to be the legacy, with Sir Edward sharing his wealth with a host of charities, from the destitute to orphans and even the Belfast Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

His generosity is also remembered in his home town, as the co-founder of Larne Grammar School in 1886.

Sir Edward Coey was an entrepreneur and philanthropist
Sir Edward Coey was an entrepreneur and philanthropist

A number of pupils were on hand to see the plaque unveiled by his great-great-great niece Mary McBride.

She said that while the house changed ownership many years ago it had strong links with Sir Edward's legacy and the family.

"My own father was born in this house on March the 30th in 1895," she said.

The Blue Plaque was made possible following a grant from Newtownabbey Borough Council, whose mayor, Lynn Frazer, helped unveil if.

"He played a vital role in the development of Belfast," she said.

The Blue Plaques are placed by the Ulster History Circle and the group's Doreen Corcoran said the presence of relatives and pupils from the school Sir Edward helped found had made it special.

"This was also a fast track from how long it normally takes to erect a plaque in that Newtownabbey Borough Council stepped in to pay for it," she said.

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