From Derry’s Diamond to London’s Chamber of Commerce

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Readers who keep an eye on the Dublin media may have seen Willie Walsh (former CEO of Aer Lingus and BA) being described as the first Irishman to be elected President of London Chamber of Commerce.

Readers who keep an eye on the Dublin media may have seen Willie Walsh (former CEO of Aer Lingus and BA) being described as the first Irishman to be elected President of London Chamber of Commerce.

“Not so”, says Colm Cavanagh, “Chairperson of London~Derry Connections Ltd. The very first President of the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry when it was founded in 1881, was a remarkable Donegal-born businessman and politician, William McArthur. And exactly 180 years ago tomorrow, October 26, 1831, McArthur, with a partner, opened his first business in Derry’s Diamond”.

Born in Malin, the son of Methodist minister Rev John McArthur, William remained a very committed, active, charitable and philanthropic Methodist all his remarkable life. In 1821 he was apprenticed in Enniskillen to a Woollen Draper - the trade that he himself opened in Derry 15 years later. After William’s brother emigrated to Australia, they carried on an international trade.

During this period William was elected to the old Londonderry Corporation and served as an alderman. Then as his business grew, in 1857 McArthur moved to London where he engaged in insurance and banking. He became chairman of the Star Assurance Company and a director of the City Bank, of the Bank of Australasia and of the Australian Telegraph Co.

In 1867-68 he was Sheriff of London and Middlesex. Having failed to win a Yorkshire seat in Parliament in the1865 General Election, three years later McArthur was elected as Liberal MP for Lambeth - a seat he held through two parliaments until a change of constituency boundaries.

In 1872 he entered the City of London Corporation as an alderman for Coleman Street. Eight years later, in 1880, he was elected Lord Mayor of London. This was a real mark of how highly he was esteemed in the political and business life of London - and, as is traditional to this day, he was knighted at the end of his year as Lord Mayor. His prominence and leadership in the business world became clear in 1881 when, during his year as Lord Mayor, London Chamber of Commerce was founded with William McArthur as its first president. One wonders whether William’s rise to such prominence in London business was a factor in the re-establishment four years later in 1885 of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, one of Ireland’s oldest business chambers.

This information was researched for London~Derry Connections Ltd by George Webster. London~Derry Connections was formed locally after a significant community conference in Derry’s Tower Hotel in January 2008 demonstrated strong cross-community, cross-party encouragement to develop the 400-year old link for the benefit of both cities.

Among other projects, the company has set itself the target of helping create “400 jobs for the 400th anniversary” - as well as being the year of the City of Culture, 2013 is also the 400th anniversary of the link with London.

“London is the largest city in the European Union”, says Cavanagh, “and has a large part of the Irish diaspora. In 2006 London purchased from within the United Kingdom alone, £123 billion worth of goods and services. If Derry had even a sliver of that market place, we would have full employment in the North West! But this won’t just fall into our laps - we have to earn it. It won’t just come to us”.

Already London~Derry Connections has held three business-social network receptions in London (one was hosted by Mark Durkan MP at Westminster). These have been arranged by Joe Doherty with his invaluable experience of arranging similar successful events for “Make it Back Home” and the “Graduate Returners’ Programme” in the 1980’s and ‘90s. London~Derry Connections has also joined the London Chamber of Commerce and is now part of its network of 2,500 London businesses.

“We have the encouragement of Derry City Council, Ilex, Mark Durkan MP, Invest NI and NW Regional College”, says chairperson Colm Cavanagh. “The City of London Corporation and The Hon The Irish Society are saying to us ‘How can we help?’ Now it is up to us. Already Derry businesses have started to participate in London Chamber meetings. William McArthur is still setting Donegal and Derry a challenging example”.