chapter four

Politics, Violence, and Crime

Understandably, there was a large gap between the rich and the poor, and frequent religious and political unrest resulting in riots (quelle surprise!) – Belfast was strongly Presbyterian (although in 1879 there were 55,575 Catholics in the city). On 12 July 1857, confrontations between crowds of Catholics and Protestants turned into ten days of rioting, with many of the police force joining the Protestant side! In the summer of 1872, about 30,000 Nationalists held a demonstration at Hannahstown in west Belfast, campaigning for the release of Fenian prisoners, but this lead to another spate of riots between Catholics and Protestants in the city. In June 1886, Protestants celebrated the defeat of the Home Rule Bill, leading to rioting again on the streets of Belfast and the deaths of seven people, with many more injured. In the same year, following the Twelfth Orange Institution parades, clashes took place between Catholics and Protestants, and also between Loyalists and police. Thirteen people were killed in a weekend of serious rioting which continued sporadically until mid-September with an official death toll of 31 people. Our Thomas lived through all of this and I often wonder if he hid at home or displayed the well-known Carabine feistiness and got tore in himself.

Apart from political violence, Belfast was plagued with considerable crime and violence, including the domestic variety. The Durham Street Murder illustrates this very well.

The Durham Street Murder: Friday 1 October 1875 from the Court Chronicle

Margaret Daly, a little girl aged 6 years, and daughter to the prisoner, was re-examined by Mr. M'Lean, and went over in greater detail her original evidence. Her mother, aunt, and herself went to their own house in Durham Street, on Tuesday, the 14th instant, where witness was sent out for, and brought in a glass and a-half of whiskey which was divided between her mother and aunt. Her aunt complained of her head being sore before that time, and then lay down and fell asleep. Witness remained in the house until her father came and knocked at the door at about half-past four o'clock. Her mother asked her aunt to rise, but she refused, and her father went away not having got in. Her father stood at the corner, and her mother went out and stood at another corner watching him. Witness went and brought her father into the room. Witness told her aunt Margaret to rise, but she refused. Her father then lifted a stool, and hit her aunt on the feet. The leg came off the stool. He told her to "rise up out of that, or, if she would not, he would strike her." Witness ran down stairs for her mother, whom she found at the corner. Her father had on a moleskin pair of trousers, and a blue flannel shirt, with a checked one under it. At the time the witness went out there was no blood in the room, or about the room, nor did she see any blood about her father's vest or shirt. Her father was in the habit of sleeping without a shirt. She saw a little cut on her father's face, and there was a little blood on it. Her aunt had a black velvet, a blue velvet, and a black skirt on in bed. Her mother had given her aunt a little green jacket which lay on the bed. The quilt [produced] was her father's, and had been on the bed under her aunt. Witness identified the pieces of wood [produced] as being the stool which was in the house, and with which her father struck her aunt before they went out. It was not broken then, nor was there any blood on it. [A petticoat, bolster cover, child's shirt, grey shawl, and an apron, were produced and identified by witness as being her father's.] There was no blood on them when she went out. She did not see a piece of cord attached to some straw. A bag was also there, and lay on the bed. When leaving the house there was no blood on the walls or the stairs. She met Anne Whitelay and her cousin Annie, who, with her mother, went to Mary Quinn's. From thence they went to Carabine's, where they stopped all night, and which they left at seven o'clock next morning for Durham Street, but on the way were arrested by two "peelers."


John Daly was executed for this crime on 26 April 1876 and more than 1000 people turned up to see justice done. Our Thomas would probably have been there too.

Alcohol seems to have fuelled much of the lawlessness of the time, and reading through old newspaper reports confirms this: dead bodies were frequently found in the gutter and inquests reported the drink and cold to have been the causes of death.

Given the social conditions of the time, it is sure that Thomas would have seen much human suffering in his life including accidents, premature deaths, the desertion of his eldest grandson leaving a wife and three children behind, prolonged sickness, and the special misery that casts its cloak around the poor who have to work very hard to make ends meet. At one stage (in 1852), I reckon he was living in a small cottage at 62 Townsend Street with 8 members of his family and perhaps some extras too! Times were indeed hard! I'm sure he often stood outside his door and looked up towards Black Mountain with countryside in between and thought back to his youth in the more peaceful countryside of Mayo.