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The Grain Market at Smithfield, part 2: meetings galore!

Grain Market - map

Ordnance Survey map, second edition (1846-62), showing in the top left the location of Lisburn’s Grain Market, which was also known as the ‘New Market’. Note its location in relation to the ‘New Church’ and compare with the photograph below.

The Grain Market at Smithfield, Lisburn, was not only popular for trade. It was also frequently used for demonstrations and political rallies due to its large open space and central location in the town. In July 1868, for example, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland assembled at the Grain Market prior to a demonstration organised for protesting against the Party Processions Act, which banned all parades in Ireland. Around 6,000 Orangemen marched to a field near the railway station, despite the procession being illegal under the act. William Johnston of Ballykilbeg, the so-called ‘champion of the right to march’, addressed the meeting which provided an important platform for airing his views prior to being elected MP for Belfast in the 1868 general election. The Grain Market and Smithfield area continued to be a popular assembly and demonstration point into the twentieth century for fraternal societies like the Orange Order, Royal Black Institution, and Order of Shepherds.

Broomhedge RBP photo

Royal Black Institution demonstration assembling at the Grain Market, Lisburn, c. 1920 (ILC&LM Collection). The embroidered flag in the centre is of Broomhedge Pride of the North RBP 244 and right of centre is the banner of Largymore Star of the North RBP 198. The tower of the ‘New Church’, parish of Christ Church, Hillsborough Rd, can be seen in the background.

The site proved to be important for Unionist and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) rallies opposing Irish Home Rule. During the First Home Rule crisis of 1886, a ‘monster open-air demonstration’ was organised in May under the auspices of the Lisburn Working Men’s Constitutional Club at the neighbouring Hay Market to protest against Prime Minister Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill. When the Third Home Rule crisis arrived in 1912, the Grain Market was the spot chosen for most of Lisburn’s anti-Home Rule events, including a meeting addressed by Sir Edward Carson on 19 September and a united religious service on Ulster Day, 28 September, prior to the signing of the Ulster Covenant. The local UVF, which was established in 1913 as the militant wing of Ulster Unionist resistance to Home Rule, used the Grain Market for drilling and were presented their colours here in July by Lilian Craig, wife of the local MP and sister-in-law of Sir James Craig.

UVF grain market - photo

1st South Antrim Battalion of the UVF assembled at Lisburn’s Grain Market, 1914 (ILC&LM Collection).

Many of the Lisburn Volunteers joined the armed forces on the outbreak of war in 1914, and Lisburn residents who did not join were invited to do so in August 1918 at a demonstration at the Grain Market organised by the Irish Recruiting Council. After the Great War, the Grain Market was the location for events associated with the Peace Day celebrations of 16 August 1919, including a dinner for ex-servicemen.

Ex-servicemen dinner, photoEx-servicemen’s dinner at the Grain Market, Lisburn, on Peace Day, 16 August 1919 (ILC&LM Collection).

The Grain Market was afterwards used less often for demonstrations and rallies, though there were some interesting events held there. These included a procession of schools and youth organisations for the coronation of King George VI in 1937, a display on poison gas by the Royal Army Medical Corps for the benefit of Lisburn’s Air Raid Precaution volunteers in 1940, and a carnival for Lisburn Temperance Silver Band in 1957. Demonstrations continued to be held at nearby Smithfield in the latter part of the twentieth century, including a peace rally organised by People Together in 1975.

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