Political History

Origins – 1920

In 1798, Henry Joy McCracken was among those in the United Irishmen who orchestrated the armed rebellion against the British occupation of Ireland. He was the grandson of Francis Joy, who set up the Cromac Mill, a water-run paper mill on the Blackstaff River where Ormeau Avenue is now. In the 1820s, Belfast’s branch of Daniel O’Connell’s Catholic Association was set up in Lennon’s Tavern on Cromac Street in 1824; the Association’s were key to O’Connell’s concessions in Catholic emancipation. Henry Cooke, an opponent of emancipation, set up May Street Presbyterian Church in 1829. In this era, the Market was still fairly mixed in terms of religion between Catholics and protestants. Throughout the 1850 and 60’s the influx of migrants, many of whom were Catholics, created religious tensions in Belfast. The navvies (labourers) came to the Market around 1830 and were involved in religious scuffles culminating in a fatal sectarian attack on St Malachy’s in 1864.

1900 - 1960

With the third Home Rule Bill, sectarian tensions increased throughout Belfast. The UVF was set up in 1913 and quickly began doing drills at the vegetable markets. Charlie Monaghan of Riley’s Place in the Market, died in an operation a few days before the Easter Rising of 1916. His brother, Ailbhe Monaghan, was also active in the rising, but in Galway under the leadership of Liam Mellows. During Partition, the people of Belfast faced the pogroms, the systematic attack of Catholics. Between 1920 – 1922, at least seven people were murdered in the Market, with many others injured, had their homes destroyed or were made unemployed. Until this stage, around 42% of Market people were Protestants but this era certainly polarised the communities. The community also felt the effect of the Germans. On the 15th April 1941, the Luftwaffe initiated a bombing campaign targeting telephone house, decimating Gloucester Street and setting fire to the Hay Market depot.

1960 - 2000

However, nothing was to prepare the community for the Conflict. One of the first events to affect the community was Ian Paisley’s march through Cromac Square in June 1966. Following the deployment of troops across the North, violence ensued. 1971 saw the introduction of internment on the 8th August which enabled the army to arbitrarily imprison thousands. A few evenings later, on the 11th August 1971, the Battle of the Market began, a night-long gun battle between Republicans and the British Army by Inglis’ Bakery. On 1972, a bombs went off around Oxford Street, in what became known as Bloody Friday. At least twenty bombs exploded in the space of eighty minutes killing 9. On the 16th October 1977, bombs went off around the gas tanks in the Gasworks. There was then speculation that it could have ignited the gas underground. With buildings being bombed and torn down through redevelopment, divisions with the state and within the community, it was a harrowing few decades in the end of the 20th century.

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