To be now my own master, subject only to the control of a reasonable and businesslike Board of Directors, a Chairman who resided in Dublin, visiting Belfast once a fortnight only, to have the command of men and the working of a railway, and to be free to move about the line as I thought fit, was a pleasure indeed and made Ireland a pleasant place. I lived near the city, but on its outskirts, with open country and sea views around me, occupied a neat little detached house, with a bit of garden wherein I could dig and cultivate a few roses, where the air was pure and clear—a refreshing change from the confinement of a flat, four stairs up, in the crowded environs of smoky Glasgow.
During the first few years of my service on the County Down little occurred to disturb the even tenor of my way. In a sense the duties of my new position were simple. There were no such things as joint lines, joint station working, running powers or joint committees, as in England and Scotland, to distract attention or consume time which could more usefully be devoted to the affairs of one’s own railway. Gradually I grew familiar with out-door matters, and duties that seemed strange at first grew as easy as second nature. I learned a good deal about signalling, became an adept in single line working, an expert in engine running economies, and attained some success in the management of men.
One thing especially gave me pleasure—my monthly visit to the Managers’ Conference at the Irish Railway Clearing House in Dublin. There I met my brother managers in the Irish railway world, and learned something of the other lines. The leading men at the Conference were Ilbery, Great Southern and Western; Cotton, Belfast and Northern Counties; Plews and Shaw, Great Northern; Ward, Midland Great Western; and Skipworth, Manager in Ireland of the London and North-Western. Of all the managers who assembled there I was the youngest, and the greatest personality was Edward John Cotton. By common consent, he had acted as Chairman of the Conference from the year 1864. No one had ever dreamed of assuming the position when he was present. This continued till 1890, when Tom Robertson came on the scene. He was all for change and innovation, and managed to get the principle of formal election to the chairmanship established. Many of us thought it was a pity to make the change in Cotton’s time, but Edward John seemed the least concerned of us all, for nothing ever disturbed his good humour. Robertson was a veritable Hotspur and upset for a time the serenity of our meetings. He was overcharged with energy, and a bachelor.