Whippet car mounting a machine-gun patrol on York Street. (C: BEAD/AP Photo)

OTD: 12 July 1935: Violence erupts in Belfast, leaving nine dead, forcing 2,000 Catholics from their homes 

On this day in 1935, violence lasting two months erupted in Belfast after an Orange Order parade decided to return to the city through a Catholic area rather than its usual route. By 21st July, the violence that followed resulted in nine people being shot dead.

Rioting persisted until late August, by which time another five Catholics along with eight Protestants had been killed. The rioting, which took place between York Street and North Queen Street in the city, was described by The Manchester Guardian as “something in the nature of a reign of terror”.

Whippet car mounting a machine-gun patrol on York Street (C: BEAD/AP Photo).

 

The police were largely ineffective at dealing with the situation, and hundreds of others were injured and had their homes destroyed. Over 2,000 Catholics were displaced from their homes across Northern Ireland because of the violence.

While troops were called in and a curfew was enforced, the vicious sectarian rioting continued until the end of August, resulting in the deaths of both Catholics and Protestants, hundreds of injuries, and thousands of (predominantly Catholic) homes were destroyed. Funerals and funeral processions sparked fresh outbreaks of violence during that time frame. As gun battles and riots continued unabated, many nationalists pleaded for the Free State and British Governments to take action to protect them.

York Street, scene of the riots, on 13th July 1935 (C: BEAD/AP Photo).

 

Disturbance reverberated in the South of Ireland because of the violence, and late July 1935 witnessed a wave of anti-Protestant activity in the free state. The riots, work-place evictions and house burnings in the north meant graffiti began to appear on Protestant-owned businesses across the border demanding they make public calls for the ferocious attacks on northern Catholics to stop. 

A riot broke out in Limerick city on 20th July, and just days later in Galway, workers went on strike demanding that Protestants be dismissed from their employment. In total, sectarian incidents were reported in 19 counties in the Republic. 

It took over a fortnight for the violence to subside, but the memory of the events of 12 July 1935 lived on. An investigation into the violence was launched by the National Council for Civil Liberties, and was published in 1936. 

A Catholic parish in Belfast broke down the geography of the violence across the city in July 1935, which can be seen here:

C: Evictions in Belfast, as listed by Northman, by Catholic parish in Belfast

 

Many unionist leaders have conceded that the Northern Ireland Government from 1922-1972 discriminated against Catholics, although not all leaders, including those from the DUP, accept this, and it is still disputed by prominent figures in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). In 1998, former First Minister and UUP leader, David Trimble, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, said he accepted that Northern Ireland, since its formation in 1921, had been a “cold house for Catholics”. 

It is only in recent decades that Catholics in the north have been afforded equality of opportunities in areas such as employment.

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