From The Irish Press, Tuesday 16th September, 1969: “The threat to the owner of a pet shop that his premises would be burned out if he did not sack his Catholic manager was carried out yesterday morning.
More than 100 birds, 170 mice, 20 parrots, 20 hamsters and scores of tropical fish died in the blaze at the Castle Aquatics, on the Castlereagh Road, Belfast.
Owner, Mr Robert Matthews (32) received the threat by telephone five days ago. “Of course, I did not sack my manager,” he said. Police and forensic experts yesterday searched among the burned out portion of the shop for clues as to the origin of the outbreak.
The pets died of suffocation, but Mr Matthews, who lives nearby, rescued three puppies and a rabbit.”
Other news reports provide some further details. Robert Matthews owned two adjoining shops on the Castlereagh Road where his manager was Jim Killen a Catholic from the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey. Thousands of tropical fish were killed in the fire including a piranha fish worth £60 (that’s just under half a teachers monthly salary in 1969). There were actually 25 parrots killed and several valuable peach-faced love birds. The fire appeared to have been started with petrol bombs.