OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Chapter VII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

Pages: 1 <2>

Night put an end to the disturbance for the time, but on the following day matters became serious. Between five and six o'clock in the morning, affrays occurred between various bodies of mill-workers going to work. The day passed off quietly, but in the evening an encounter took place between the Catholics and the inhabitants of Brown Square. The Catholics were for the time beaten off; but returning, armed with brickbats and other missiles, they fell upon the constabulary, who had by this time arrived upon the scene, leaving five or six severely wounded. All through the night the fray continued. The Catholics watched their opportunities, and as soon as the apparently restored quiet of the town had deceived the police into retiring, they made rushes through the respectable quarters, smashing windows and destroying property as they went. The police made some captures, but nothing damped the spirit of the Catholic mob, and the rioting continued unabated during the whole of the following day, and throughout Friday and Saturday. Sunday was quiet, but Monday brought with it fresh scenes of disorder accompanied with worse injuries to life and limb than had been the case hitherto. A body of Roman Catholic navvies attacked the Protestant houses in Brown Street and the national school, wrecking both the buildings and their contents. While thus engaged, they were set upon by a party of exasperated Orangemen, and a regular fight ensued. The police at length, after many fruitless attempts, succeeded in separating the struggling crowds, but not before many on both sides had been badly hurt. The authorities saw that it was high time extreme measures j were taken. The police, so far. had been able to do little or nothing towards the suppression of the riots; it was a question of force to be met by force, and the military were called out, under Mr. Lyons, J.P., and posted in the Protestant districts. But the Irish blood was up, and the sight of the soldiers produced none of the hoped-for effect upon the reckless mob, armed with bludgeons and pitchforks, which seemed bent upon wrecking the prosperous and wealthy town. Next day, both soldiers and police fired upon the people. Two were shot dead in the melee, and between fifty and sixty seriously injured. There was a fearful rumour in the course of the day, that the ship-carpenters, mostly Orangemen, had seized upon the gunpowder stores, besides confiscating the contents of two gunsmiths' shops. The gunpowder, however, was saved by the prompt action of the authorities. On the 17th, the ship-carpenters vowed vengeance upon the navvies, who had wrought such havoc at the outset of the riots, and having forced their enemies into the mud- banks in the harbour, they fired upon them from the shore, killing one and wounding nine or ten. All Ireland, however, by this time was roused and indignant; the excitement in Dublin was great, and, it being quite evident that the Belfast authorities had no adequate force at hand to cope with the disturbances, large reinforcements were sent from the capital and other parts to the number of about 4,000 men. These troops, encamped in the city, succeeded in preventing any further violence on a large scale; while the clergy, whose remonstrances till now had been treated with contempt, taking advantage of the enforced quiet produced by their presence, went in and out among the combatants preaching peace and moderation. At length, on the 24th, Belfast was reported tranquil, though an unfortunate occurrence on that day had well-nigh renewed the hostility between those formidable adversaries the ship-carpenters and the navvies; and the bruised and sobered rioters began to look forward uneasily to the reckoning to come.

The town looked as Paris looked after the Commune. Whole streets stood windowless and doorless; here and there houses lay in ruins; while the debris of property of all kinds blocked up the roadway. In the hospitals deaths were occurring daily. The price of provisions went up, and the poorer classes suffered severely. Depression settled upon the town. Even an Irishman and partisan could hardly consider the unbridled license of the preceding fortnight worth the misery and privation it had brought. Unfortunately, the mischief did not end with Belfast; other parts of Ireland caught the spirit of the rioters. But the authorities had been put on their guard, and the prompt dispatch of troops to Dundalk and Newry nipped the disturbances there in the bud.

At the spring assizes in the following year, 1865, many persons concerned in the riots were brought up for trial. The judge, the Right Hon. Baron Deasy, in his speech to the grand jury, dwelt on the serious nature of the disturbances. According to the report of Dr. Murney, surgeon to the General Hospital, 316 persons had received more or less severe injuries. 219 had recovered, 11 died; while at the time the report was presented (November 6, 1864) there were 98 cases of gun-shot wounds still under treatment. " This," said Baron Deasy, " reads more like the Gazette, after a very serious military or naval engagement, than the return presented to a judge of assize at the assizes in this country. Important military events, perhaps decisive of a campaign - the occupation of a city, the surrender of a commanding position - have been achieved with less effusion of human blood, and a smaller sacrifice of human life." At the conclusion of the Baron's long and eloquent speech, the trials came on in order, Mr. Butt, Mr. Hamill, and Mr. MacMahon appearing for the Roman Catholic prisoners. In most cases a verdict of guilty was returned, and the sentences varied from two years' imprisonment with hard labour to three months.

We cannot do better than conclude our account of these miserable scenes of party passion and violence by another quotation from the Judge's speech: - " I trust, gentlemen, that Belfast, which has so long been an example to the rest of Ireland for its manufactures and commercial industry, will in a short time be a model of peace and propriety. The inhabitants, by so demeaning themselves, will not only conduce to their own welfare and that of the community of which they are members; they will thereby hasten the advent of that time, which, I trust, is not far distant, when antagonism of race and religion will have ceased - when Irishmen, from whatever race they may have sprung, whatever religion they may profess, or whatever party they may belong to, will yet remember that they are children of one common country, which has need of the exertions of all her sons; and while exercising to the fullest extent their legal rights and constitutional privileges, while giving the fullest, freest expression within the wide limits of the law to their religious and political opinions, they will respect each other's feelings and each other's opinions, however little they may sympathise with the one, or however widely differ from the other, and will be content to dwell and work together on this fair land."

Vain hope! It does Baron Deasy credit; but the troubles of Ireland lie deeper down than perorations can reach. The sense of personal and social duty is temporarily dead in the lowest class of Irishmen. With them, everything else has for years been swallowed up in the sense - however unwarranted, however unjust - of political injury. To a Roman Catholic, an Orangeman is the sign and symbol of a state of things against which Fenianism was a protest. The sight of his processions and his flags revives in the Catholic the memory of Cromwellian settlements, of penal laws, of the wholesale corruption which led to the Repeal of the Union, and the withdrawal of the right of self- government from the country - bygone mistakes and crimes of England, about which the information of the uneducated Irishman is of the most meagre and confused description, but the thought of which, nevertheless, guides his opinion and shapes his action at all critical points. The religious difficulty is real enough and serious enough, but it is the political situation which lends it its sting, and destroys all chance of that peaceful and gradual solution which the contact of years often brings with it.

<<< Previous page <<<
Pages: 1 <2>

Pictures for Chapter VII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About