9 – 1922

Violence, security, and a glimpse at life in Lisburn in the ’20s.

Ulster descended into violence during the first half of 1922.  Reprisal killings accompanied larger outrages, including an IRA attack on the Specials at the border town of Clones, Monaghan; civilian massacres at Weaver Street and Arnon Street, Belfast, and the murders of the McMahon Family, which attracted international outrage.  In May, the IRA’s final push to break partition ended in defeat, while violence reached a crescendo with the murder of William Twaddell MP in Belfast in May, and further outrages at Altanevigh, outside Newry, and Cushendall, Co. Antrim, the following month.

In an attempt to curb violence, the new Northern Ireland government introduced the Special Powers Act in April 1922. This gave sweeping powers to the authorities, including internment, a ban on public meetings, the prohibition of ‘seditious literature’, and widespread curfews. With the outbreak of the Irish Civil War – between the forces of the provisional government in the south and those who opposed the Treaty – on 22 June 1922, a ‘type of peace’ descended over Northern Ireland.

Book, Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom, 1920-1922, ILC&LM Collection - Front
Book, Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom, 1920-1922, ILC&LM Collection

Book, McKenna, G.B., Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom 1920-1922

1922, O’Connell Publishing Company, Dublin

ILC&LM Collection

Written under a pseudonym by a Belfast priest, Fr Hassan, this book aimed to draw attention to the plight of Catholics in the new northern state. From 1920-22, northern Catholics suffered disproportionately from communal violence and actions by state forces. Nationalists often refer to this period as a ‘pogrom’. The book was compiled under order from Michael Collins (1890-1922), and the provisional government in the south. Only 18 copies of this book were circulated, and Ernest Blythe T.D., born outside Lisburn, was influential in halting the book’s publication.  He believed its publication would be divisive.

Lisburn saw little of the violence that marked the opening months of 1922.  The new Lisburn and Hillsborough District Hospital (renamed Lagan Valley Hospital in 1947) had just opened, and there was great civic pride in late January as the prime minister Sir James Craig unveiled a statue to Brigadier John Nicholson (1822-1857) – who died putting down a rebellion against British rule in India – in Market Square.

Lisburn and Hillsborough District Hospital, ILC&LM Collection

Photograph, Lisburn and Hillsborough District Hospital, 1921
ILC&LM Collection

Although opened on the same site, and in the same building, as the old Workhouse, the new Lisburn & District Hospital wanted to step away from the stigma of the Poor Laws. As one local newspaper queried in December 1921: Could Santa Claus himself have provided a more appropriate gift? The newly refurbished wards and building would, through a mix of ratepayers and private practice, fund hospital care for the ‘sick and poor, and the wealthy and poor’.  The institution became the Lagan Valley hospital in 1947.

Photograph, prime minister Sir James Craig unveiling the Nicholson Statue and laying of a memorial wreath, 1922

ILC&LM Collection

In January 1922 a statue was erected in Market Square to honour Brigadier John Nicholson (1822-57), a local Victorian hero of Empire who died putting down the Indian rebellion of 1857. The statue had been paid for by the industrialist Henry Musgrave (1827-1922), who died in the weeks before its erection. At the unveiling, prime minister Sir James Craig was joined by Sir Henry Wilson (1864-1922), former head of the British Army and MP for North Down. By June Wilson was dead; he had been assassinated on his London doorstep by two I.R.A. men. Sir Henry has been scheduled to return to Lisburn and unveil the War Memorial in 1923. At a service on 11 December 1922, a wreath was laid at the base of the statue, marking the centenary of Nicholson’s birth.

Throughout the year the linen industry, which employed over 70,000 people in Northern Ireland, benefited from a strong flax yield, buoyant American export market, and a boom in the linen thread trade, one of Lisburn’s specialities. At Lambeg LIRA, the Linen Industry Research Association (established in 1919), worked to improve the trade’s international competitiveness.

In nearby Hillsborough, the former home of the Marquess of Downshire was bought by the Northern Ireland administration as the residence of the Governor, the King’s representative and holder of the Great Seal.

A snapshot of life in Lisburn in the early 1920s

(click to explore the objects)

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