Carlisle, Alexander Montgomery (1854–1926), ship designer and businessman, and his two brothers John Carlisle (1856–1945), engineer and shipowner, and Henry Montgomery Carlisle (1863?–1945), shipowner, were sons of John Carlisle (d. 1884), teacher, and Catherine Carlisle (née Montgomery). There may have been another brother, and Margaret Pirrie (qv) was one of their two sisters; Henry Montgomery (qv) was their great-uncle. The older children were born in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, and the younger ones in Belfast after 1861, when their father became headmaster of the English department of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and effectively head of the school. Alexander, born 8 July 1854, was educated at RBAI; when he was 16 (1870) he became a premium apprentice in Harland & Wolff, which was rapidly becoming one of the world's leading shipyards. His skills in draughtsmanship and in accounting were quickly recognised, and he had a meteoric rise within the company, being appointed chief draughtsman and in 1878 shipyard manager. He was closely involved with the designing of all the yard's major liners and steamers right up until his retirement (30 June 1910). In 1889 his designs for the Teutonic, a ship commissioned by the White Star line, were said to be the finest designs ever submitted to the admiralty; she was the first transatlantic liner to be built without auxiliary rigged sails. Just before he retired, he worked on the blueprints of the revolutionary and huge new White Star ships, the Olympic and her more famous sister the Titanic. After initial design work on the new ships, he was responsible for the coordination of the designs and the fitting out and decor of what were to be the most luxurious ships afloat. He suggested a new design of lifeboat davit to carry four boats, thus providing more than the outdated board of trade minimum requirement. The White Star Line decided that the boat decks would be overcrowded, reducing promenade space, and (against Carlisle's protests) opted for one boat to each davit. At the inquiry of 1912 into the loss of the Titanic and the deaths of hundreds of people for whom there were no lifeboats, Carlisle (who was heartbroken by the disaster and the loss of many former colleagues) had to admit that despite his concerns about safety he had in fact acquiesced in the decision.
Carlisle may have retired early as a result of difficulties in working with his cousin William James Pirrie (qv) (the whole family was notably strong-minded), but he also had political and business interests: he was a director of the National Bank. In the 1906 general election he stood as an independent unionist candidate in Belfast West. His surprisingly low poll of only 153 votes may have split the unionist vote, and as a result Joseph Devlin (qv), the nationalist candidate, got in. In 1907 Carlisle was made a privy counsellor; on 9 August 1920 he availed himself of the privilege of standing on the steps of the throne in the house of lords, to shout an unprecedented protest about the second reading of the bill for the restoration of order in Ireland, on the grounds of its threat to civil liberties. His words were reported as ‘My lords, if you pass this bill you may kill England, not Ireland’ (New York Times). He later wrote to Lord Curzon, refusing to apologise, and stated that the lords of the day were very unworthy descendants of those who had brought about Magna Carta. The privilege of access was accordingly withdrawn. On 14–15 March 1921 Carlisle contacted Arthur Griffith (qv), then in Mountjoy jail in Dublin, to suggest negotiations for a settlement in the war of independence. In common with others of his background in non-subscribing and remonstrant presbyterianism, Carlisle had demonstrated a degree of support for home rule, and it is possible that his approach was not an independent initiative; government may have thought he would be an acceptable intermediary. However, there was no immediate positive outcome, and his suggestion that government should withdraw the Black and Tans was not followed up.
Carlisle had moved to London after 1910 to be close to his brothers. He knew many leading figures in European business and politics, and was friendly with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany; one of his daughters married a German baron who was an aide of the kaiser. After visiting the deposed kaiser in exile in the Netherlands, Carlisle fell ill and died in London on 5 March 1926. He had paid in advance for his funeral at Golders Green crematorium, and requested that the organist play the ‘Merry widow waltz’, rather than the Dead March from Saul. He married (date unknown) Edith, daughter of John Benjamin Wooster of San Francisco, California, who survived him with one son and two daughters. She was connected to the Ismays, owners of the White Star line.
His brother John Carlisle, born in 1856 in Ballymena, was educated in RBAI. In 1871 he was apprenticed in Harland & Wolff, and from 1876 he spent two years studying engineering in QCB. He took up employment with a civil engineering firm in Chester, which had undertaken the construction of the Derry Central railway line in Co. Londonderry, and for four years was in charge of the project. He moved to a shipping agency in London, and before he was 30 set up (1883) his own shipping company with his brother Henry's assistance. In that year Harland & Wolff passed over to the Carlisle brothers the use of two steamers, and from this beginning Carlisle & Co. gave rise to the Blue Star Line, and prospered exceptionally quickly to become one of the ‘largest private ship-owning firms in the metropolis’ (Leading men of London). In 1895 the combined length of all the Blue Star steamers was over a mile (1.6 km). It seems clear that this line was distinct from another Blue Star Line, a merchant shipping company founded in 1911 by the Vestey family from Liverpool, specialising in refrigerated shipping, and very well known in the twentieth century. Possibly the Vesteys bought the Carlisles' company or some part of it. John Carlisle was a director of a number of marine assurance and other companies, and was said in 1895 to be a determined unionist. He married (1882) Lucy (d. 1945), daughter of Charles Holland, Liverpool merchant, presumably a relative of Charles Menzies Holland, the Chester civil engineer for whom Carlisle had worked in 1878–82, and whose wife Harriet (née Neill) had been born in Belfast.
Henry Montgomery Carlisle, born c.1863, entered RBAI in 1874. As a very young man he joined his brother John in establishing a shipping agency in London. It is not known if he married; he may have lived with his sister, in whose memory he established a benevolent fund to be administered by the minister of Notting Hill unitarian church. He died in London on the same day as his brother John (20 January 1945); both were cremated. His estate was valued at over £87,000.