The #1918Election in Belfast

Today 100 years ago the 1918 General Election took place. In Ireland the election was contested by Sinn Féin as the basis on which all elected members would be eligible to sit in a ‘Dáil Éireann’ formed to, effectively, legitimise the declaration of an Irish republic in 1916 through the creation of an elected, representative assembly. The changes in the law prior to the election removed most of the restrictive property qualifications for men over 21, with men who had turned 19 during the war also permitted a vote. Women were allowed to vote but only if over 30 years of age and based on a property qualification.

For the purposes of the election Belfast was divided into nine constituencies many only used for the 1918 election which used the first past the post system. Ultimately, Unionist candidates won five of the seats, with three going to Labour Unionists and the last going to the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Joe Devlin. The IPP soon folded after the election, surviving as the Devlin-led Nationalist Party.

Sinn Féin had fielded candidates in all nine constituencies, including four that were in prison at the time of the election. One of these was Eamonn de Valera, who stood in Belfast Falls against Devlin, where he became the only Sinn Féin candidate to save the £150 deposit. Another notable Sinn Féin candidate was Winifred Carney, who was the only female candidate that stood in any of the Belfast constituencies (she stood in Belfast Victoria).

Other notable candidates included Edward Carson (in Belfast Duncairn). Queen’s was also a constituency on its own (only graduates could vote). The winner there was Unionist William Whitla (of Whitla Hall fame). His only opponent was Sinn Féin’s John Dolan.

The candidates in the nine Belfast constituencies, and the results, are  included below along with the details of the proposers and seconders of the Sinn Féin candidates.

Cromac
LINDSAY, WILLIAM ARTHUR, of Tyrone House, Malone Road, Belfast, managing director (Unionist)
FREELAND, JAMES. 18, Woodvale Street, Belfast, trade union official (Labour)
SAVAGE, ARCHIBALD, 2, Sussex Place, Belfast, grocer (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Joseph McParland, 39 and 40, Joy Street; seconded by Margaret Magill, 37 Hamilton Street.
Result: Lindsay 11,459 (76.58%); Freeland 2,508 (16.76%), Savage 997 (6.66%).

Duncairn
CARSON, EDWARD HENRY, 5, Eaton Place, London, Knight, King’s Counsel and Privy Councillor (Unionist)
DAVEY, WILLIAM H., 48, Bawnmore Road, Belfast, Major (Nationalist)
McNABB, HENRY RUSSELL, 147, Donegall Street, Belfast, at present in Birmingham Prison medical doctor (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Peter Joseph Ward, 16, Kilronan Street; Felix McAuley, Mountcollyer Street.
Result: Carson 11,637 (81.05%); Davey 2,449 (17.06%); McNabb 271 (1.89%)

Falls
DEVLIN, JOSEPH. 3, College Square North, Belfast, secretary (Nationalist).
De VALERA, EAMONN, Greystones, County Wicklow, at present in Lincoln Prison, Professor of Mathematics (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Daniel Joseph McDevitt, 455, Falls Road; Denis Maguire, 30, Springfield Road.
Result: Devlin 8,488 (72.3%); de Valera 3,245 (27.7%)

Ormeau
MOLES, THOMAS, 5, Chichester Terrace, Antrim Road, Belfast, journalist (Unionist)
STEWART, WILLIAM JOHN, Breda Park, Belfast, builder (Independent Unionist).
DOBBYN, JAMES JOSEPH, 21, Clonard Gardens, at present in Lincoln Prison, commercial traveller (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Thomas McAlinden, 26, St. Jude’s Avenue; James Phillips, 66, Castlereagh Street.
Result: Moles 7,460 (59.06%); Stewart 4,833 (38.26%); Dobbyn 338 (2.68%)

Pottinger
DIXON, HERBERT, Wilmont, Dunmurry, Belfast, Army Captain (Unionist).
BENNETT, JAMES HENRY, 1, Victoria Villas, Charlemont Road, CJontarf, Dublin, trade union official (Labour).
CAMPBELL, BERNARD, 41, Albert Street, solicitor (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Patrick Casey, 4, Thompson Street; John Bavins, 4; Thompson Street.
PORTER, SAMUEL CLARKE, 31, Stranmillis Road, Belfast (Belfast Labour).
Result: Dixon 8,574 (70.63%); Porter 2,513 (20.7%); Bennett 659 (5.43%); Campbell 393 (3.24%)

St. Anne’s
BURN, THOMAS HENRY, 18, Ratcliff Street, Belfast, lithographic printer (Labour Unionist).
ALEXANDER, WILLIAM HUGH, Craigatten, 213, Cavehill Road, motor and cycle merchant and factor (Independent Unionist)
BARNES, DERMOT, 253, Falls Road, draper (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Arthur A. McManus, 196, Falls Road; Michael Doyle, 348, Falls Road.
Result: Burn 9,155 (74.8%); Alexander 1,752 (14.3%); Barnes 1,341 (11%)

Shankill
McGUFFIN, SAMUEL, 107 Shankill Road, Belfast, foreman hackle-maker (retired) and tradesman (Labour Unionist).
KYLE, SAMUEL, 42, Bray Street, Belfast, trade union official (Labour).
CAROLAN, MICHAEL, 80, Chief Street, Belfast, schoolmaster (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Charles Bradley, 20, Herbert Street; Thomas H. Gallagher, 34, Chief Street.
Result: McGuffin 11,840 (73.8%); Kyle 3,674 (22.9%); Carolan 534 (3.3%)

Victoria
DONALD, THOMPSON, 8, Fortwilliam View, Skegoniel Avenue, shipwright (Labour Unionist).
WAUGH, ROBERT, 42, Deramore Avenue, Belfast, delegate of Carpenters’ and Joiners’ Society (Labour).
CARNEY, WINIFRED, 2, Carlisle Circus, clerk (Sinn Féin). Proposed by John Quinn, 77, North Thomas Street; Andrew Leonard, 22, Garmoyle Street.
Result: Donald 9,309 (69.9%); Waugh 3,469 (26.05%); Carney 539 (4.05%)

Woodvale
LYNN, ROBERT JOHN, 4, Clonsilla, Antrim Road, Belfast, editor “Northern Whig” (Unionist).
HASKIN, ROBERT, 5, Cairns Street, Belfast, at present in Usk Prison, labourer (Sinn Féin). Proposed by James Harbinson, 143, Divis Street; John Donnelly, 139, Divis Street.
Result: Lynn 12,232 (90.75%); Haskin 1,247 (9.25%)

Queen’s University of Belfast
WHITLA, WILLIAM, Knight, M.D. (Unionist).
DOLAN, JOHN B., M.A. (Sinn Féin). Proposer, James Bernard Moore, M.B.: seconder, Peter McGinn, B.A. Assentors—Daniel Mageean. B.A.; Daniel Lafferty, B.A.; Daniel Lister, M.B. ; Henry Macauley, M.B.: John H. Savage, M.B.; Seamus O’Searcaigh, M.A.; Edward J. Crossin, B.A.; James P. Clenaghan, CA.; and Charles McNally, B.A.
Result: Whitla 1,487 (92.65%); Dolan 118 (7.35%).

Death of Sean Garland announced

Garland

This evening it is being reported that Sean Garland has passed away. Garland was one of the key figures on the left of the republican movement. He was a key figure in the split that followed the upheavals of the summer of 1969, but perhaps not in the way that many people might think.

Despite the subsequent portrayal of the 1969 divisions within the I.R.A. as being rooted in a dispute over left wing politics, at the time the very pointed issues that caused so much internal dissension were the disarming of the Belfast I.R.A. and the control being exercised by Cathal Goulding. This all came to a head in a famous meeting at the end of September 1969. The Belfast O/C, Billy McMillen had been interned since before the intensification of violence in mid-August and his release was the pretext for him meeting the Belfast Battalion staff to seek confirmation that he would continue in the role (as Belfast O/C).

In McMillen’s absence, circumstances in Belfast had changed dramatically. As many former I.R.A. volunteers had returned to active duty, some of those arrived at the meeting, including Billy McKee and John Kelly to update McMillen on events.

McKee and Kelly “…outlined the concerns of the Belfast units and put three proposals to McMillan. The first was that they asked for co-options onto the Battalion staff for the likes of McKee, Leo Martin, Seamus Twomey and Sean McNally (six co-options were made in the end).

The second was that Belfast was to break with G.H.Q. until it acknowledged its responsibility for the failures of August. In that regard, it wanted four named members – Cathal Goulding, Mick Ryan, Roy Johnston and Seamus Costello – to step down and be replaced. The proposed replacement for Goulding was Sean Garland.[i] Garland had overseen the development of the plan for a northern campaign that had been captured by the Gardaí in May 1966. As he was known to be a committed Marxist this seems to further indicate that left wing politics was simply not a factor in the issues between Belfast and Dublin.[For instance, Kelly had spent a number of years in prison with Garland in the early 1960s]

McMillan accepted the first and extended the Battalion staff accordingly and, on the second point, agreed to break with G.H.Q. and the Army Council for three months to allow the necessary changes to happen.

McMillan notes a third issue that was agreed but has generally been overlooked – a demand that the money donated to the Northern Defence Fund for the purchase of arms was to be spent on arms. Goulding was already known to be diverting this it into his political projects (supposedly he insisted that the first £10,000 raised would go to fund political activity).[ii]

Having discussed and agreed the various points, the meeting broke up.”

That account is taken from the new Belfast Battalion book which (almost literally) ends at that point.

As McMillan advised the Chief of Staff, Cathal Goulding via Sean MacStiofáin, that evening, the Belfast Battalion split from G.H.Q. in Dublin.

[i] See Swan 2008 (Official Irish Republicanism), p312.

[ii] Billy McMillan in Rosita Sweetman 1972 (On Our Knees), p191 and MacStiofáin 1975, p128-129.

 

 

Sailortown and the violence of 1935

Last weekend, as part of the launch for the Belfast Battalion book, I gave a talk in St Joseph’s Church in Sailortown in Belfast. The talk looked at the experience of residents during the violent, summer of 1935 (rather than at the broader politics of what happened). A couple of themes that emerge from it are, particularly when viewing the press coverage, is the number of children who were eye witnesses (if not actual participants). I think they provided a physical link to the later violence in 1969 which has strong parallels with that of 1935.

While putting the talk together, I also came across a couple of fatalities not usually included in the death toll of 1935, including two year old boy called Joseph Walsh. Among the darkness, though, there was one positive. In 1935, residents recognised that erecting ‘peace walls’ did more harm than good as it actually heightened a sense of siege and perpetuated division.

I re-recorded the audio for the talk over the same slides and you can watch it below or on YouTube.

Thanks to everyone who came to the talk and launch in St Josephs on the Saturday morning and the launch in the evening in the Felons Club.

 

I mentioned Ronnie Monck and Bill Rolstons 1987 book on Belfast in the 1930s (Belfast in the Thirties: An Oral History), but here’s some more reading:

http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/chron/ch1800-1967.htm

http://www.theirishstory.com/2013/01/09/belfast-riots-a-short-history/#.XA-0k_Z2uXY

Countdown to Christmas…

Quick reminder to keep an eye on the calendar, if you want to order a copy of Belfast Battalion, make sure you order with enough time for it to get delivered before Christmas!!

You can order it from here.

The shops currently selling it in Belfast, Dublin and Glasgow are listed here.

You will also be able to buy a copy at the two launches this Saturday (8th December), for more information see here.

Details of evening and morning launches of Belfast Battalion on 8th December

Litter Press

Here are the details of the two launch events for Belfast Battalion on 8th December in Belfast. The details of the morning were posted up previously but I’ve added them again below.

In the morning I’m giving a more general talk at St Joseph’s in Sailortown looking at individual Sailortown resident’s experience of violence during the 1935 riots. In the evening I’ll talk (a bit more briefly) about the book itself. Entry to both is free and all are welcome. Both events are listed on Facebook (see links below). Some copies of the book should be available to buy at both events but you can also reserve copies to pick up at them at the links at the bottom of this post (or click here).

In the evening, Joe Austin, Chair of the Belfast National Graves Association, will launch the book at Cumann na Méirleach/Felons Club on the Falls…

View original post 218 more words

THE IRA IN BALLYMACARRETT 1920-1922 (by Sean Ó Coinn)

The most dangerous place in Belfast, writes Sean Ó Coinn, describing Ballymacarrett in 1920-1922 in his book Defending the Ground published earlier this year. Here Sean gives a flavour of his account of the IRA in Ballymacarrett during that period (the book is available to buy at various places in Belfast).

 

The Most Dangerous Place in Belfast

Amid the closely- knit terrace streets of Ballymacarrett, B Company of the 2nd Battalion, the 1st Belfast Brigade was raised in 1920 and its volunteers fought at times a desperate action of defence to ensure its survival, while having to carry out its own offensive actions. The 2nd Battalion was created in the early months of 1920, under the command of Tom Fitzpatrick with a Company in Ballymacarrett, Carrick Hill and the Low Market.

The first O/C of B Company was Manus O Boyle, who along with his 2 I/C and later O/C John [Sean] Cunningham, succeeded in forming a Company of 120, mostly made up of men who were unemployed and armed with small arms and grenades.

Manus O’ Boyle recorded the following account:

“I know that the heaviest fighting took place in the Ballymacarrett area, where there were about 7,000 Catholics. On the outskirts of that area were about 40,000 Orange men and women St. Matthews church, Convent and Schools were the continuous target of the Orange hordes.

In the early days, it was chiefly a stone-throwing competition, until the Volunteers got organised. I was detailed then by the Brigade to organise a Company of Volunteers for the defence of Ballymacarrett. I succeeded in forming a Company of about 120 men. These were all unemployed. Then the fighting proper commenced as we were now armed with small arms and grenades. It was a continuous street fight in Ballymacarrett.

Our opponents were heavily armed and had the assistance of the Police and Military. This continued all through 1920 and up to the Truce. The nuns were magnificent, Mother Teresa, Sister Eithne, Sister Peter Paul and Sister Bridget are four that I remember particularly…. Mother Teresa could always present us with hundreds of rounds of .45 ammunition that she received from……  [Inspector Mc Connell], a Catholic RIC officer.”

Tom Fitzpatrick recorded one of the earliest actions taken by the 2nd Battalion against Crown Forces :

Some time about February or March 1920, after the military had taken over a place in the Low Market, where they kept a lot of vehicles, we threw a few bombs into it. That was a Battalion job and it was done very quietly.

There was no sanction from the Brigade for it. At that time, the Brigade were averse to activities in Belfast for fear of reprisals on the Catholic population.

Across the island of Ireland during the period of 1920 and 1921, the guerrilla war being waged by the IRA had spearheaded a political drive to settle the conflict. Negotiations were underway between the Republican Leadership and the British government and on Friday July 9th 1921, an order was dispatched to all IRA divisional areas:

“In view of the conversation now being entered into by our government with the government of Great Britain, and in the pursuance of mutual conversations, active operations by our troops will be suspended as from noon on Monday 11th JulyRisteard Ua Maolchatha [Richard Mulcahy], Chief of Staff.

The truce was signed on Friday 9th July and was to take effect from noon on Monday, 11th July. But while the rest of Ireland celebrated, Belfast bled. There was a de-escalation of fighting throughout the 26 counties and the truce was held with effect, but in the northeast, the fighting continued and Belfast was to witness a particularly vicious summer of violence. The Unionists felt that they were being sacrificed on the high altar of political pragmatism and there was a lack of will on the part of the northern Unionist administration to pursue the opportunity for peace.

That weekend in Belfast, the truce was ushered in with “blood letting”. The “Specials” [A part-time uniformed police militia drawn from the Protestant population] backed by Loyalist gunmen, were determined to launch an onslaught on Nationalist districts. The IRA throughout Belfast was mobilized in order to defend their areas, as the Specials and UVF gunmen unleashed sniper fire and moved with armoured cars against the Nationalist areas. The Carrick Hill enclave in the north of the city was near to breaking point and was only one hour short of running out of ammunition when the British military commander in the city organized an implementation of the truce.

Sixteen people died of whom eleven were Catholic and 161 homes were destroyed. Fierce gun-battles, involving machine-gun and rifle fire, as well as handguns and mills bombs were reported along the streets interlinking the Falls and Shankill Roads. Heavy shooting was also reported in the Falls and Cullingtree Road, Millfield and Carrick Hill areas.

Four of the Catholic victims were ex-servicemen. Over the next few days as the Orange marching season reached its climax, shooting occurred around the Short Strand and North Queen Street districts. Two people died and thirty more were wounded on the 14th July, while on the following day as sniping continued in the North Queen Street/York Street area, two RIC policemen were shot and wounded in Little Georges Street. A Unionist politician, William Grant was also wounded by a sniper.

A week later, the IRA GHQ in Dublin sent Eoin O Duffy, the IRA commander in Ulster to Belfast to act as a Liaison Officer with the British military in the city. He set up his headquarters in St. Mary’s hall in the Smithfield area, but found Belfast not to be on the same level as other cities in the rest of the country. The British military seemed content to respect the truce in its initial stages, but the Specials who were acting as the armed wing of the northern administration, which had been officially constituted by the British King in June, continued to act against the Nationalist areas with the full endorsement of the Belfast Parliament.

Reference to the period is made in an IRA divisional report sent by Seamus Woods O/C of the 3rd Northern Division, which covered Belfast, to IRA GHQ on the 27th July 1922, when he states;

“Until the signing of the treaty in London, the perfecting of our organization, training and equipping had been pursued with great earnestness on the part of all officers and men. As both Numbers 2 and 3 Brigades were very much below strength in July’21, a large number of recruits were taken on in these areas”.

The increase in recruits was due largely to the truce and the fact that as Woods states in the same report: “the Catholic population believing for the moment that we had been victorious and that the Specials and UVF were beaten, practically all flocked to our standard, with the exception of the aristocratic minority”.

Throughout Ireland, the IRA used the truce for intensive training. It was important to maintain discipline, as grievances on both sides were still sore.

In the same report Seamus Woods made reference to the fact that the truce was not been adhered to and officers and men were being arrested.

He also stated that: “After the raid on their liaison office, St.Mary’s Hall, Belfast, in which the name of practically every officer in the Division was found, all the Divisional and many of the Brigade officers demanded an inquiry into the circumstances of the raid and were asking the Divisional Commandant to resign.” [Joe McKelvey]

The truce appeared to have little effect on the situation in Belfast. In August 1921, the local RIC Commissioner observed in a confidential report: “Poverty is still rife in the Nationalist Quarters where so many people are existing on charitable donations received from the Expelled Workers Fund, which continues to receive fairly large subscriptions from various sources, particularly White Cross of America”

Training camps were established within the Divisional area at Hannahstown [Belfast], Seaforde and Castlewellan in County Down and Glenariff and Torr Head, in County Antrim.

The IRA in Belfast reached its peak membership during the months of August and September 1921 [835] and would have preferred to now engage in a war against British Crown forces similar to its counterparts in the south, but unfortunately the IRA in the north-east of the country but more especially in Belfast, found itself having to act as defenders of the Nationalist areas against armed Loyalists engaged in sectarian pogroms and the Unionist controlled armed militia in the guise of Special Police. Only in areas such as South Armagh, Tyrone and Monaghan, was the IRA able to operate with a free hand against the Specials and British military.

The need to defend the Catholic community was vital to the Belfast IRA during the 1920-1922 periods, as they struggled not to lose their ideological role as the Army of the Irish Republic. They were also operating in a hostile environment flooded with British troops, Police and Loyalist Specials who targeted the Catholic community in ‘acts of reprisals’ which stretched from merely shooting into Catholic streets during curfew hours in order to prompt a reaction from the military to the inhabitants, to conducting actual murder.

Added to this was the poor social condition in the Catholic working-class districts which was caused in part by expulsions from employment and also the overcrowding due to relatives and friends being forced out of their homes in Protestant districts.

This was a much harsher environment than the fighting ground’ of Roscommon, Mayo, or West Cork. It was for these very reasons that the majority of the Belfast IRA would later remain loyal to the pro-treaty Government GHQ in Dublin, who ensured mainly through Michael Collins that they were financed and armed.

For the Officers of the 1st Belfast Brigade or the 3rd Northern Division overall, it was loyalty to a GHQ that logistically supported them, rather than to a treaty that isolated them from their ‘natural aspiration of a United Ireland’.

Michael Collins stands out as the only Republican leader in the south for whom partition and the plight of the northern nationalists remained a major concern. Yet, it’s ironic that his desperate efforts to assist the latter, led him to adopt a confusing blend of ‘non-recognition’, diplomacy and coercion toward the Unionist Government in the north-east.

Collins death in August 1922 during the civil war and the new policy of Cosgrave’s cabinet in recognising the Belfast Unionist Parliament, spelt the end of Republican resistance in the north as a real potential threat for the next 48 years and one that when it did come, would be launched from the very streets of Catholic Ballymacarrett that Loyalists tried so hard to eliminate from East Belfast during the period of 1920-1922. [It is also important to emphasize that Collins death preceded the atrocities and executions of Republican volunteers carried out during the civil war by Free State forces which were then under the command of Richard Mulcahy].

Added to this, the political divisions in northern nationalism ensured that the Catholic minority in the north was effectively precluded from any say in influencing its own fate at a critical juncture in the historic issue of partition.

Despite the IRA in Belfast being forced into a primary role of defence, it still conducted an offensive policy against Crown forces; on whole this would mainly have been Specials and RIC personnel. The increase in attacks was due to the establishment of ‘Active Service Units’ [ASU], while others were shot during gun-battles that engulfed Nationalist districts.  IRA snipers in areas such as Ballymacarrett/Short Strand also fired at trams carrying shipyard workers, while others were bombed as a retaliation for the huge expulsion of the Catholic workforce.

The whole mood of political uncertainty was the signal for a renewed wave of bloody violence at the end of August 1921, during which 21 people lost their lives over a three day period. The worst of the fighting was around the Catholic York Street district, which lay within the 2nd Battalion area. The Loyalist attacks was planned to wipe out the Nationalist streets around York Street and send a message to Britain that no settlement involving the IRA was possible in Ulster. However, Eoin O Duffy mobilised the IRA to defend the area, which broke the siege.

Seven Protestants were killed and the Manchester Guardian reported that the IRA “was retaliating in kind and quite as effectively as the Loyalist gunmen.”

To further infuriate the Unionists, Michael Collins made a visit to County Armagh and told a 10,000 strong gathering, which included a large force of the IRA, that the Dail would not desert them. [Unfortunately after his death in August 1922, the Dail not only deserted the Nationalists of the north, but it betrayed the Northern Divisions]

The IRA also had an extensive stock of Mills bombs [grenades] and a large stock of home made bombs, which were used against mobs attacking Catholic districts. One example of this was when a large Loyalist crowd firebombed the Sextons house close to St. Matthew’s Church on the 24th November 1921.  The densely packed mob assembled in the vicinity gloating over their deed, when a bomb was hurled over into their ranks from Seaforde Street killing two and injuring forty-five others. The Irish News described the scene of the injured ‘laying in heaps of twos and threes.

On the same date, 24th November, a shipyard tram travelling along Corporation Street at 5.45pm was attacked when the IRA threw a bomb from Little Patrick Street. The device, which was hurled through a window of the lower part of the tram, blew a section of the tram apart and killed two of the passengers on board. That particular day ended with a death toll of 14 killed, ten of which were Catholic. The following evening, Shipyard trams were again fired on at around 7.30pm in the York Street/ North Queen Street area.

Two days later, on the 26th November, amid nightly gun-battles around York Street, North Queen Street and the Short Strand, another tram was attacked in Royal Avenue killing two of its passengers. The Shankill Road bound Shipyard tram was attacked at 6pm as it passed by the Grand Central hotel in the city centre. The two IRA Volunteers involved in the attack were prominent members; one from the Dock area, the other from Carrick Hill. They escaped along Berry Street into Francis Street and safety. These attacks usually resulted in retaliation against innocent Catholics; vulnerable targets in a bid to take revenge.

A pattern had developed through the month of September into November 1921 with snipers concentrating their fire into and around Seaforde Street, while mobs attacked St Matthews church and the Cross and Passion convent close by in Bryson Street. Both the church and convent were vulnerable to the tightly bound Protestant Streets opposite. The IRA remained active across the district with its own snipers firing into the Protestant streets and at the Shipyard trams.

An extract from the 2nd Battalion operations report to O/C No.1 Belfast Brigade around this time summarises the situation: “During the month there were constant outbreaks by the hostile population in the Battalion area and obviously organised attempts were made by armed gangs of men to invade the Catholic districts. The hostile element was extremely well equipped and in the Ballymacarrett district appeared openly carrying full bandoliers and service rifles. A determined and long threatened invasion of Seaforde Street, Ballymacarrett was attempted.

On the 22n – [September], B Coy. Were obliged to take up firing positions for its defence. On Sunday 24th large numbers of armed men were observed at the Newtownards Road and Seaforde Street and the position was so threatening that a Mills bomb had to be thrown by one of our men. The grenade was very effective and two of the Orange mob were killed and 34 wounded.” 

The IRA defence of the Seaforde Street area infuriated the northern authorities to the point that on the 21st September 1921, prior to another weekend of attacks, one of the most extensive raids to be seen in Belfast by the Crown forces was carried out by the RIC and British military in the Short Strand. For nine hours, they engaged in searches for weapons. Houses and yards across the district were searched by the RIC as the military were posted on the streets. No weapons were unearthed, but the huge presence of Crown forces prevented access to the area for 24 hours by IRA ASUs to reinforce any defensive measure in place by the local company.

During the week period of the 19th-25th November 1921, 27 people died and 92 were wounded across Belfast.

December 1921 continued much in the same vein with snipers active on a daily basis. But it was the weekend of Friday 17th and Saturday 18th December around the Short Strand that saw the worst shooting in the city since York Street at the end of August when the IRA was mobilised .

There had been the usual sporadic shooting leading up to the Friday and on the Wednesday; a Police lorry was raked by machine-gun fire in Seaforde Street.  Then on the Friday evening the Seaforde Street area was attacked with unparalleled vigour by Loyalist gunmen and Specials. Barricades were now erected at the top of Seaforde Street and Young’s Row on the Newtownards Road entrance to the district.

The Irish News reported in its columns: “Driven to desperation by the intensity of the onslaught at so many points, the Catholics to maintain their lives and property were compelled to reply and a regular gun battle was in progress.”

In reality, it was the IRA replying with gunfire as the district was coming under attack from every end. B Company was now engaged in the worst period to date of shooting to occur since the outbreak of the conflict.

There was no truce or treaty in effect on the streets of Ballymacarrett as the ritual of the snipers bullets swept the tightly bound streets. The shooting began at 5am and continued throughout the morning. A member of the Loyalist Ulster Imperial Guard was shot by the IRA close to Young’s Row on the Newtownards Road. The UIG was an organization made up exclusively of Protestant WW1 veterans.

An elderly Protestant man was also caught in the shooting as he made his way home from his job as a Night Watchman. He was shot in early morning crossfire between B Company and Loyalists in the Seaforde Street/Newtownards Road area. British troops at Seaforde Street also opened fire during the shooting. The 71 year old man sadly died in hospital twelve days later on 1st January, 1922.

By the following evening  B Company and those supporting non-members, were engaged in returning fire across the district until the attacks were repelled and faded out. Four people died two from each community and once again raids were carried out in the Short Strand by the military and RIC on the Sunday in a search for weapons. The year ended with the death of 109 people across Belfast. The new year, 1922, continued much as 1921 had ended, with daily shooting through out the Catholic districts of Belfast. February’s death toll reached 47, with up to 100 wounded. Worst was to come as the spring and summer months would boil to a bloody climax.

The killing of five-year-old John Devlin on February 16th in Seaforde Street when a Loyalist gunman fired a single shot through the barricade at the Newtownards Road entrance at children playing, caused anger in the district despite such shootings being a part of life in a city torn apart by civil war. The same day, Special Constable Mc Adam based at Mountpottinger barrack was shot and wounded in a B Company attack

The shooting of Specials was to increase as the IRA across the city stepped up its offensive actions and in particular began targeting Specials who would have been seen in the same manner in Belfast and the north, as the Black and Tans would have been in the south of the country. Two were shot and wounded on the 4th March, one of whom, Special Constable Henderson was shot by B Company in the Mountpottinger area.

The 12th of March began a week long series of sniping and bomb attacks in and around the Short Strand during which raids were carried out by the Military and Specials on the 15th in a search for weapons. Their presence did not prevent a murder gang penetrate into Thompson Street in the early hours to throw a bomb into the bedroom of a house killing a woman as she slept in bed. Later that morning, two Protestants were shot and wounded as they entered the Glavin stables at the corner of Thompson Street, while a third was shot and wounded in the Corporation Yard on the Short Strand.

That same weekend on the 19th of March, a B Company sniper shot dead a member of the Loyalist Ulster Protestant Association during a gun-battle around the Seaforde Street area of the district, while four days later on the 23rd of the month, an IRA ASU shot and killed two Specials at the corner of May Street.

This date-[23rd March] is synonymous with the brutal slaughter of the Nationalist Mc Mahon family in north Belfast by an in-famous RIC [Police] murder-gang led by District Inspector John Nixon operating from Brown Square barrack in the Peter Hill area. The following day 24th, another murder atrocity was attempted in Altcar Street within sight of Mountpottinger barrack. Three men, alleged to be Specials, entered a house and proceeded to shoot anyone they found there. Peter Murphy aged 61, was the first to be shot followed by Sarah Mc Shane aged 15, before they turned their guns on three years old Mary McCabe. As they ran from the house they fired at, and wounded Nellie Whelan. It was nothing short of a miracle that all those shot survived the ordeal. As with so many murders of that period, proof of identity or justice was not forthcoming.

A week later on the night of April 2nd 1922 similar style shootings were carried out in succession at three houses in the Carrick Hill district again by the Nixon led RIC gang resulting in a further atrocity during which five people died including a seven-year-old boy, Michael Walshe who was shot along with his young sister Brigid aged 2, while laying in bed having just witnessed their Father, Joseph a former soldier, been dragged from the bed and cudgelled to death. Michael’s sister survived as did his fourteen-year-old brother Frank who was beaten and shot in the small kitchen. Joseph Walsh’s baby son Robert aged 8 months died the following day. This was one of the worst atrocities of the period. The other victims who died that night were Joseph Mc Crory, aged 40 [15 Stanhope Street], Bernard Mc Kenna [26 Park Street] and William Spallin aged 70 [16 Arnon Street].

The Walshe family lived just two doors from the Spallins in Arnon Street. William Spallin had just buried his wife that day and his murder was witnessed by his twelve years old Grandchild who was found gazing in horror at the murdered man.

On the night of the Carrick Hill murders, Volunteer Sean Montgomery, an officer in D Company, 1st Battalion was in the area and later gave the following account: “Outside [the house], were the RIC, so I went out through the window to put our revolvers on the spouting of the roof. Then I heard a boy shouting that his daddy was shot. I came down the stairs and out we went. We were in an end house. When we got outside an officer of the Norfolk regiment had the driver of a Police Car against the wall, and three soldiers with rifles at the ready to fire. He said to the Special that if he did not tell him [who had killed the Catholics] he would give the order to fire. He [the Special] said he had nothing to do with it, but that DI Nixon was in charge and the Police had told the army they were going to raid. 

Within a week of the attempted Short Strand massacre in Altcar Street, once again in the Mountpottinger area, two Specials were shot and wounded by B Company, one of whom-Special Constable Hale died. In the west of the city on the 14th March, the IRA also shot and killed RIC Sergeant Christy Clarke on the Falls Road as it was strongly believed he was involved with an RIC murder gang which had operated from Springfield Road barrack in 1920. Clarke, a Catholic, is buried within a short distance of the Mc Mahon family in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery. A year earlier in May 1921, another Catholic RIC member, District Inspector Ferris based at Springfield Road barrack was cut down in a volley of shots fired by three IRA volunteers as he left St. Pauls Presbytery on the Falls Road.

Ferris was one of several men Rodger Mc Corley of the IRA’s Brigade Staff had marked for execution because of their links to the Springfield barrack murder gang. Ferris survived the shooting, but was seriously wounded. Not so fortunate was Sergeant Glover who was implicated in the killing of Republicans Liam Gaynor and Eamon Trodden both of whom were murdered in their homes. Sergeant Glover was shot and killed on the 10th June 1921 as he patrolled in Cupar Street along with Constables Sullivan and Sharkey, both of whom were wounded.

Following the shooting carried out by volunteers of the 1st Battalions D. Company, Auxiliaries carried out indiscriminate shooting around the Falls Road area as they patrolled in trucks prior to curfew hours.

The months of April and May 1922 saw the ferocity of attacks upon the Nationalist areas reach a bloody climax. But while the IRA were stretched to the limit in defending the Short Strand and trying to fight off attacks across the Lagan in the north of the city, they were also called upon through out May into June to engage in a series of offensive actions which included a ‘Burning Campaign’ against Unionist owned business premises.

Supplies of rifles much needed by the Belfast IRA began to arrive from GHQ in Dublin during April, as the 3rd Northern Division found itself at the core of a rapidly changing policy being conducted by the Pro-treaty GHQ, which played out as part of the internal politics being conducted in a bid to avert a total split within the IRA and on which side Divisional loyalties would emerge, should, what appeared inevitable, happened.

The week of April 17th to the 23rd 1922 was one when shooting reached great intensity around the Short Strand and Oldpark districts. Antigua and Sanderson Street in the Catholic Marrowbone area of the Oldpark were burned as casualties mounted amid pitched gun-battles.

The following month as the IRA stepped up its attacks, the final intimidation of Catholic families from the Protestant area of York Road in the north of the city commenced on Thursday 18th May when any Catholic families still living in Mountcollyer Street were forced to leave their homes. The following day, Friday the 19th, the small Catholic enclave around Weaver Street on York Road found itself at the mercy of Protestant attackers who armed with revolvers forced 148 families from their homes. The little enclave had suffered in previous shooting and bomb attacks and now a final purge was being made to clear Catholics from the York Road area. Within the following few days’ nearly 1,000 penniless refugees reached Glasgow. The let up in intimidation did not end, as more families would be evicted in the first week of June, 436 families in total.

Several thousand people from across Belfast poured into Dublin and Glasgow, while many others absorbed in some way into the already congested Catholic districts.

The same day as the purge against the Catholics of York Road was underway; [May 19th] the IRA in a desperate act of retaliation entered Garretts Co-Operative in Little Patrick Street off Nelson Street in the Dock area and proceeded to line the workers up against a wall. Only one was a Catholic and he was singled out to be placed against another wall. This man must surely have thought he was about to be shot, but the guns were not turned on him but on his workers as a hail of bullets struck down the unfortunate men resulting in four dying.

Three days later the week beginning Monday 22nd May, will not be remembered or recorded in the annals of the conflict for the daily cross divide sniping around the Short Strand which saw two Protestants killed and two B Specials shot and wounded on the Albert Bridge, but more for an event that occurred earlier that morning that was sending shock waves through the Unionist hierarchy. William Twaddell, a member of the Northern Parliament and an outspoken Loyalist was shot dead in the city centre as reprisals by the IRA continued.

The killing of Twaddell prompted the Northern Parliament to introduce Internment without trial.

In Belfast, the death toll for May reached 75, [42 Catholics and 33 Protestants], while the following month, 25 people died, [18 Catholics and 7 Protestants]. Despite the campaign of shooting and intimidation by Loyalists taking its toll on the Nationalist areas, the IRA continued its attacks against the Specials across Belfast and the north.

On the same day, William Twaddell was shot; six Specials were wounded across Belfast in sniping, two of those on the Albert Bridge. Two days later, Wednesday, 24th on the Mountpottinger Road, a tram carrying Protestant workers was fired on and a Special wounded when a bomb was thrown at a patrol.

The following day Thursday 25th May, three young children were wounded in gun and bomb attacks in the Seaforde Street area and two Specials, Constables Murphy and Connor died one in the Market, the other in the Falls Road area. That same week, the Marrowbone, Ardoyne and Market districts were subjected to having their streets raked by machine-gun and rifle fire from Specials prior to the nigh time curfew. As was the familiar pattern the IRA returned fire when and where possible. The month of May ended with the deaths of two more Specials, one on the 29th of the month and another two days later on the 31st.

The introduction of Internment in the north, coupled with the poor economic and low moral situation in the Nationalist areas along with the outbreak of a civil war in the south of the country over the acceptance of the treaty terms with Britain, all combined to erode the IRA in Belfast as an effective fighting force.

By July 1922, B Company was depleted with a skeleton membership. Volunteers had moved south for integration into the Free State Army, while others had been arrested and interned. The final blow came with the death of Michael Collins in August 1922 and the resulting underhand politics from the new Free State government that resulted in a change of policy toward the north. This effectively spelt the end of the northern IRA.

Only the 4th Northern Division that operated in the South Armagh and County Louth areas remained as an effective fighting group and in a good state of strength.

Despite a new resurgence in the mid-thirties by the IRA in Belfast, it would be 48 years before they would once more be able to strike at the heart of the Unionist State. This time it would not be a short sharp campaign reliant on Dublin support, but an all out assault of guerrilla warfare that would spell the end of Unionist domination of the north. That assault would begin on the streets of the Short Strand during the night of the 27th June 1970, the very district that Loyalists had tried to erase from the geographical landscape of East Belfast during the 1920-1922 years of conflict and pogroms.                                                                               

                                                                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…the minority, whom we consider rebels to the British Throne, the British flag, and to Protestant Ulster

Attacks on the press, calls for unionist unity, warnings that their heritage and Protestantism had been sold out. Not 2018, but 1935 and a meeting of the Ulster Protestant League (UPL) in the Ulster Hall. Many of the issues raised appear to be timeless, though, as you could find them echoed in similar meetings in the likes of 1969, the 1980s, the 1990s or the present.

A couple of weeks before the meeting, speaking in Bessbrook, the Unionist Prime Minister, Craigavon, had “…emphasised the duty of all loyal citizens to support the defence organisations upon which, more than upon anything else, Ulster relies — the Ulster Unionist Council, the Orange and Black Institutions, the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, and the Ulster Unionist Labour Association. These, he says, suffice for the purpose, and his advice to Loyalists generally is to avoid other so-called, defence organisations, of mushroom growth, which serve no useful purpose, and are, in fact, a source of danger.

Craigavon’s criticisms of the likes of the UPL are significant as it hints at it’s political distance from the senior Unionist leadership, albeit a difference measured in nuances rather than real variations in policy. Ultimately, despite a growing base of knowledge on the Belfast IRA in the 1930s, we still are limited in what we know about who directed non-state violence on the unionist side, such as the likes of the UPL. The following account of the UPL meeting appeared in the Belfast Newsletter on Thursday 10th October 1935.

ULSTER HALL RALLY

Call for Sir Dawson Bates Resignation

SUGGESTED PLEBISCITE

LIVELY scenes were witnessed at a meeting in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, last night, under the auspices of the “Maiden City Protestant League.” Mr. S. Thompson presided and there was a large attendance. Several bands were on the platform.

The meeting was opened with prayer and the singing of “O God, our help in ages past,” but in a short time there was shouts to put out the reporter of a Nationalist newspaper.

Disorder occurred and a rush was made towards the Press table. Stewards and ‘members of the platform party  intervened, however, and Mrs. Hartnett one of the speakers, pleaded for fair play. Order was then restored and the proceedings were continued. Subsequently the reporter left, being escorted out of the hall by stewards.

The Resolutions

The following resolutions, which were proposed by Mr. R. Ritchie and seconded by Mr. J. McBurney, were passed amid applause:

(1) “We, the loyalists of Belfast, assembled in the Ulster Hall, wish to protest against the speech of Lord Craigavon made at Bessbrook. promising protection to the minority, whom we consider rebels to the British Throne, the British flag, and to Protestant Ulster.

(2) We loyalists wish once again to voice our demand for the resignation of Sir Dawson Bates, Minister of Home Affairs, and, Sir Charles Wickham, Inspector General of the R.U.C., and if the Prime Minister continues to ignore our resolution we will proceed to have a plebiscite taken all over the City of Belfast and the rest of Ulster.”

Mr. McBurney alleged that Protestants had been waylaid in Greencastle, where he came from, and no action had been taken by the police.

“Mushrooms”

The Chairman expressed his pleasure at presiding over such a vast meeting both inside and outside the hall, and in the name of their common Protestantism he called on all to join in this great movement for their beloved cause. This had been described as a unity meeting, because they had on the platform representatives from virtually every Protestant organisation in Belfast and throughout the Province. Last, but not least, once again Derry Walls come closer to them that night, for they bad a representative there from the Maiden City.

In the following day’s Press reports they would probably read that instead of a unity meeting being held in the Ulster Hall representative of all the Protestant societies and organisations they were simply a gathering of mushrooms. A voice — Lord Craigavon. The most eloquent reply they could give to that, was that they were the most virile mushroom he had handled. They knew what they did with mushrooms They had to rise early in the morning to get mushrooms, but they would have to get up very early before they could sell Protestantism. (Applause) They were determined that the result of that meeting that a question would arise for all Protestants in Belfast and throughout Ulster to have a form of unification, and they were hopeful that not only would there be unity of Protestant organisations and Protestant societies but as a result a new Protestant Party would come into being. (Applause.)

A Protestant Party

The Protestant party that they visualised would require no labels. It used to be quite sufficient for them, as Protestants, for a man if he were the right kind of label to get their votes. But that, was not going to take place any longer because under that system their cause, their heritage, and their Protestantism had been sold daily to the enemy by those in whom they had put their trust. They called upon Protestant men and women to rally round in that endeavour to bring Protestants together in one united body so that they could ask Protestant people defy every politician who would betray them.

The object of their meeting was to do away with Popery, whether in Stormont or in Dublin. Their purpose was the unification of all Protestant organisations in a central committee that would decide on a policy acceptable to all. In the hands of the Central Committee Protestantism would always have first consideration. (Applause.)

Lord Craigavon Criticised

Councillor Gallagher, Derry, began by thanking Lord Craigavon for being more or less responsible for that night’s meeting. It was due to his remarks a few weeks ago at Bessbrook regarding “mushroom organisations”. After that the officers of the various societies represented there that night thought the time would come when they should be amalgamated into one big mushroom—or rather Orange Lily. Lord Craigavon had also said that the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys of Derry were behind him and behind Sir Dawson Bates and Sir Charles Wickham in everything they had done during the last twelve or thirteen years. (Cries of “Shame.”)

Councillor Gallagher then asked the meeting if they agreed with everything that Lord Craigavon and the other two men had done.

There was a thunderous shout of ” No!” and an outbreak of applause.

What, asked Councillor Gallagher, had come over their old leaders after fighting so loyally years ago? Why was it that Protestants who were supposed to have guns in their possession were sent to prison for six months or a year while Roman Catholics actually found with guns were fined 40s, with time to pay. If some disloyalist met with an accident seven or eight young Protestant men were arrested probably to satisfy the Roman Catholic Press.

Rush to Press Table

At this stage there was much commotion as some members of the gathering made a rush towards the Press table. Members of the platform party and stewards, however, appealed for fair play and the situation became calmer.

Continuing, Councillor Gallagher, referred to the Roman Catholics demand for an inquiry into the Belfast riots, and said that he could not understand why the Government did not grant the inquiry. They all knew who started the trouble and who suffered most. Was it because he Government knew that proper police protection had not been given to the Orangemen on 12th July.

Mrs D.G. Hartnett said that she was working for the amalgamation of Protestants in Belfast and Ulster. Their object was to keep Ulster in the Empire. They should press upon the Government to have some form of Protestant defence force so that the terrible occurrences of July last could not happen again. That force should be properly armed and equipped, ad if possible be under the Government. They were going to have it, and had decided to have it. They wanted the old Ulster Volunteer Force back again.

Talking about leaders, Mrs. Harnett said that there must be hundreds and thousands of men who could take the wheel as well as the old gang. (Loud applause) They should not be afraid of a big name. (Laughter) There were just as good men in the Shankill district and East Belfast who could be their leaders. (Applause.) They were determined to have a disciplined Protestant force to protect their homes. There were in Ulster as good men as their forefathers were. (Applause)

A number of other speakers addressed the meeting in similar terms.

Police Precautions

A large force of police on foot and in cars escorted the bands and their followers to and from the hall. Those who came from the Shankill Road area were accompanied by a very strong detachment of Constabulary on account of their having to pass through the fringe of a Roman Catholic quarter at Peter’s Hill. The services of the police, however, were not required, the marching and singing throng passing along unmolested.

The speeches in the hall were relayed by means of loud speakers to the large crowd which was unable to gain admission to the building.

I’m going to give a talk on what happened to some local residents of Belfast’s Sailortown during the riots in the summer of 1935 (rather than the political context). Some 643 compensation cases came before the Belfast Recorder’s Court that autumn. In these, individuals gave personal accounts of their injuries and how they occurred. Sometimes brief, sometimes in more detail, but all likely reflecting what later formed the substance of how local people on all sides of the community framed their own experiences of the events of 1935. The talk will take place in St Joseph’s Church in Sailortown on 8th December (starting at 11 am) and any and all are welcome. The talk is to help launch my book on the Belfast IRA, 1922-1969.

York Street 1935.png

British troops on patrol off York Street (Illustrated London News, 20/7/35).