Kane, Richard Rutledge (1841–98), clergyman and politician, was born at Newtownstewart, Co. Tyrone, and educated locally. He was raised a methodist but joined the Church of Ireland as a teenager. Extremely religious, he held strict protestant views, and was highly critical of catholicism throughout his life. He decided upon a career in the church and in 1868 became curate at Dundonald, Co. Down. After his ordination as priest in 1869, he left Down to take up a curacy at Walditch, Dorset, where he worked for two years. On his return to Ireland he was curate (1871–2) and then rector (from 1872) for Tullylish, Co. Down. He entered TCD, graduating BA and LLB in 1877, MA in 1880, and LLD in 1882. Distinguishing himself as an academic, preacher, and orator, he served as rector at Christ Church, Belfast (1882–98).
Vehemently opposed to home rule for Ireland, Kane was a committed supporter of the Orange Order. He became grand master of the order in Belfast in 1885, based at lodge no. 890, and toured Ireland and England denouncing Gladstone's attempts to pass home rule in the late 1880s and early 1890s. A fiery orator and uncompromising politician, he was regarded as the dominant personality in the political life of Belfast for a decade. When Randolph Churchill considered making an ‘inflammatory’ tour of Ulster in 1880 he backed out, admitting that he ‘feared Kane’ (Foster, 249). It seems that Kane suspected Churchill of harbouring sympathies for Irish nationalism. He once declared that if Churchill ever set foot in Ulster he would make things ‘very hot for him’ (Foster, 254), but by 1886 he was prepared to welcome him onto a unionist platform in Belfast. Indeed, in late 1886 he wrote to Churchill suggesting a conciliatory Irish policy, but this was merely a tactical manœuvre aimed at outflanking the home rule party. Kane always considered himself an Irish unionist and did not want Ulster to be seen as the only home of unionism. He was a patron of the Gaelic League in Belfast and a strong supporter of the Irish language, refusing to accept that this was in any way incompatible with his Orangeism. When Douglas Hyde (qv) made a submission to the Commission on Intermediate Education in 1899 he cited Kane's support for the Irish language.
Kane has been described as ‘six feet two of doughty, truculent protestantism, straight as a spear . . . A complex personality' (MacCartan, 117–18). His nicknames included ‘Roaring Kane’, ‘Rampageous Richard’ and ‘the Shooting Rector’, the last a reference to his suggestion in 1880 that a priest should be shot for every landlord killed. Kane married Annie Greenslead, of Derry; they had two sons and four daughters. His youngest son, Richard Cecil Rutledge Kane, was governor of the Solomon Islands. He died 20 November 1898 at his residence at Christ Church Rectory, Belfast, of a cerebral haemorrhage. His funeral in Belfast attracted a very large attendance, and he was buried in Christ Church cemetery.
In his honour, Loyal Orange Lodge Number 890 was renamed the Kane Memorial Lodge. Even after his death his name still carried great weight in Orange circles in Belfast, and at a meeting in 1902 a speaker declared, to much applause, ‘There is not a man in this great crowd who does not revere the memory of the late Dr Kane, the late grand master, who was in truth a leader’ (Jurist, 16–17). In some sources (including Crone and DIH) Kane's name is erroneously given as Robert Routledge Kane.