Objects > Illustration of Belfast riots 1886


Illustrated London News: 'The Riots in Belfast'

Date: 1886

Material: paper

Dimensions: 37 x 26 cm

Organisation: Royal Irish Constabulary

Source: Deputy Keeper of Records, PRONI T2125/3/20

An illustration of the Belfast Home Rule riots from the Illustrated London News 1886. In the 19th Century, the success of Belfast’s linen industry drew migrants from the countryside in search of work in the factories. As the city’s population grew, clusters of tightly packed houses grew up around the mills creating segregated communities. Poor living conditions and low wages increased traditional sectarian tensions in these neighbourhoods. As the century progressed, clashes between religious groupings became more frequent and violent and police and military reinforcements were regularly deployed to support the Belfast based Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

The passage of the Home Rule Bill through Parliament in 1886 heightened sectarian tensions in Belfast. At the beginning of June clashes between Catholic navvies (labourers) and Protestant shipwrights triggered rioting throughout the town. As the disturbance spread, the mayor of Belfast contacted Dublin Castle to request police reinforcements to restore order. Two thousand RIC men, 200 cavalry and 1000 infantry troops were drafted in to augment the existing Belfast RIC force. On the 8th June, Protestants in the Shankill Road area attacked Catholic public houses, the police charged the mob with fixed bayonets and the mob retaliated by throwing paving stones. Battles between the mainly southern police reinforcements and the Loyalists continued for several days. The disturbances did not die down until mid-September when the final death toll is thought to have been 50, the biggest loss of life through civil disturbance in Ireland during 19th Century.