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Visualising partition: Images showing the creation of Northern Ireland.

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One hundred years ago, Ireland witnessed great change. While the conflict and political unrest of the First World War was drawing to a close, the island was experiencing its own. In May 1921, following the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Ireland was divided into two self-governing polities. The early 1920s were marked by upheaval, conflict for some, together with wider social and economic change. Here are some photographs from National Museums NI’s extensive collections that help create a picture of the events and atmosphere in the years surrounding partition.

Home Rule debates

Home Rule debates

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War and revolution 1914-1919

War and revolution 1914-1919

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Irish War of Independence

Irish War of Independence

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Violence and disruption of the 1920s

Violence and disruption of the 1920s

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Opening of Parliament

Opening of Parliament

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Home Rule debates

The Home Rule movement, and subsequent anti-Home Rule efforts, are key to understanding partition. The Home Rule movement in Ireland emerged in response to 1801 Act of Union with Britain, and campaigned for Irish self-governance within the United Kingdom[1]. Home Rule efforts received Unionist opposition, largely from Protestants, who were the numerical majority in Ulster. In 1913, the Unionist militia of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was formed in resistance to Home Rule, which was soon followed by the formation by the rival Irish Nationalist group, the Irish Volunteers, who wished to safeguard the movement. Over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, four Home Rule bills were introduced in the House of Commons (1886, 1893, 1912-14, 1920). Following the failure of the first two acts in passing parliament, the implementation of the third was delayed and complicated by the arrival of the First World War and the events of the 1916 Easter Rising. It was instead replaced with the Government of Ireland Act 1920, leading to Ireland’s partition.

National Museums NI holds a wealth of material relating to the Home Rule movement in Ireland in its collection. Here are just a few examples. They give an insight into how pro and anti- Home Rule efforts manifested themselves, ranging from twelfth of July decorations to large scale gatherings, and how these efforts were communicated, in Ireland and beyond, through visual culture, including postcards.

[1] James McConnel, ‘Irish Home Rule: An imagined future’ BBC

 

Image: Pro-Home Rule postcard 'Home Rule; Ireland Sings Her Old Songs.' Featuring Irish Round Tower, Irish wolfhound and Fenian symbol of the Rising Sun. BELUM.W2011.2133 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Pro-Home Rule postcard 'Home Rule; Ireland Sings Her Old Songs.' Featuring Irish Round Tower, Irish wolfhound and Fenian symbol of the Rising Sun. BELUM.W2011.2133 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: Balcony ticket for a public meeting held in the Ulster Hall on the evening of 8 February 1912 under the auspices of the Ulster Liberal Association, a group of Liberal party members who supported the Home Rule Bill. The meeting was to be addressed by the Rt. Hon Winston Churchill M.P. and Mr John Redmond M.P under the Chairmanship of the Rt Hon. Lord Pirrie. The cost of the ticket was two shillings and sixpence. It was at this venue that Lord Randolph Churchill, Churchill's father, gave a very passionate anti-Home Rule speech which included the slogan "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right". The event had to be re-scheduled for Celtic Park on the Falls Road after some Unionists threatened to use force in order to prevent it being held at this city centre venue. BELUM.W2011.507 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Balcony ticket for a public meeting held in the Ulster Hall on the evening of 8 February 1912 under the auspices of the Ulster Liberal Association, a group of Liberal party members who supported the Home Rule Bill. The meeting was to be addressed by the Rt. Hon Winston Churchill M.P. and Mr John Redmond M.P under the Chairmanship of the Rt Hon. Lord Pirrie. The cost of the ticket was two shillings and sixpence. It was at this venue that Lord Randolph Churchill, Churchill's father, gave a very passionate anti-Home Rule speech which included the slogan "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right". The event had to be re-scheduled for Celtic Park on the Falls Road after some Unionists threatened to use force in order to prevent it being held at this city centre venue. BELUM.W2011.507 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: A.R. Hogg, Lantern slide: A Belfast crowd outside the Ulster Hall on Ulster Day Eve, 27 September 1912. BELUM.Y11619 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Lantern slide: A Belfast crowd outside the Ulster Hall on Ulster Day Eve, 27 September 1912. BELUM.Y11619 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: R.J Welch, View of upper end of Nelson Street, looking northwards, showing Orange decorations. 1912. BELUM.Y.W.10.21.205 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J Welch, View of upper end of Nelson Street, looking northwards, showing Orange decorations. 1912. BELUM.Y.W.10.21.205 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: Anti-Home Rule postcard 'Who said we're to have Home Rule? Come to Belfast and we'll shew 'em.' BELUM.W2011.1325 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Anti-Home Rule postcard 'Who said we're to have Home Rule? Come to Belfast and we'll shew 'em.' BELUM.W2011.1325 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

War and revolution 1914-1919

Between 1914-1919 over 200,000 men from Ireland fought in the First World war[2]. Against the backdrop of global conflict, many significant developments, leading to partition, were happening in Ireland. One event that notoriously led to increased support for Irish independence took place in April 1916; the Easter Rising. This armed insurrection, launched by Irish Republicans to overthrow British Rule, ended with the executions of 16 of its leaders. Negotiations concerning a Home Rule that excluded Ulster and Irish conscription followed but failed. The power of Sinn Fein, committed to an Irish Republic, and led by Eamon De Valera increased. Forming their own Parliament in 1919, they made a declaration of independence. Home Rule was no longer enough. The objective was an Irish Republic.

[2] Creative Centenaries - 1914 Outbreak of the First World War

Image: First World War recruitment poster; 'Is Ireland Backing out? While the Allied armies march towards the Rhine. Ireland was in at the start- will she not be in at the finish?' This poster describes the heroic feats of the Allied armies but wishes that the Irish divisions could have been part of it. BELUM.Zg14638 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
First World War recruitment poster; 'Is Ireland Backing out? While the Allied armies march towards the Rhine. Ireland was in at the start- will she not be in at the finish?' This poster describes the heroic feats of the Allied armies but wishes that the Irish divisions could have been part of it. BELUM.Zg14638 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: W. & G. Baird Ltd., Easter Rising postcard showing the view 'Looking from Nelson Pillar down North Earl Street.' One of a set of six, 1916. BELUM.Zp410.1916.3 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
W. & G. Baird Ltd., Easter Rising postcard showing the view 'Looking from Nelson Pillar down North Earl Street.' One of a set of six, 1916. BELUM.Zp410.1916.3 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Irish War of Independence

Partition took place during, and partly in response to, the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921). This campaign against government forces was mounted by the Irish Volunteers, increasingly known at the time as the Irish Republican Army[3]. In 1921, the total death toll had come to 405 police, 150 military, and an estimated 750 IRA and civilians[4]. Within Belfast, the death toll was 416, 257 of which were Catholics, despite only forming a quarter of the city’s population[5]. In 1921 a truce was reached and the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed, creating an Irish Free State, which Northern Ireland officially opted out of in 1922. While there are no photographs of the guerrilla warfare that ensued within National Museums NI’s collections, there are images relating to the key groups involved, including the IRA and the Royal Irish Constabulary.

[3] S.J Conolly, Oxford companion to Irish History (Oxford, 2011), pp, 16-17.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jonathan Bardon, Belfast: a century (Belfast, 1999), p. 41.

Image: Belfast Telegraph Collection, Irish Republican Army at "Finner" camp. HOYFM.BT.1275 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph Collection, Irish Republican Army at "Finner" camp. HOYFM.BT.1275 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: Belfast Telegraph collection, Irish Republican Army marching. 1922. HOYFM.BT.1247 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph collection, Irish Republican Army marching. 1922. HOYFM.BT.1247 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: R.J Welch, Royal Irish Constabulary hut with patrol posed outside. BELUM.Y.W.14.05.84 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J Welch, Royal Irish Constabulary hut with patrol posed outside. BELUM.Y.W.14.05.84 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: Belfast Telegraph Collection, "B" Specials on duty at a Belfast Bank in Strabane. 1922. HOYFM.BT.1304 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph Collection, "B" Specials on duty at a Belfast Bank in Strabane. 1922. HOYFM.BT.1304 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Violence and disruption of the 1920s

Partition did not see the end of violence. Between 1922-3 the Irish Free State witnessed the Irish Civil War between the pro-treaty Irish Government and the anti-treaty IRA. Northern Ireland was not free from disruption. While ‘ethnic division had manifested itself in waves’ throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century in Belfast, sectarian division, conflict and rioting, were exacerbated by fears surrounding Home Rule and partition[6].

Some photographs in National Museums NI’s collections relate to the ‘Troubles’ of the early twenties in Belfast. These include a number of images of buildings in the city, reportedly burned by the IRA in May 1922. Sectarian segregation in workplaces, and expulsion of Catholic workers and perceived sympathisers (most notably in 1920-22 when up to 1,000 were shut out) also led to a decrease in immigration to the city[7]. A photograph showing the Valleleys, a Catholic family from County Tyrone, can be seen below. This family were migrating to Canada in 1929. Rural to urban migration occurred at a tremendous scale in the early twentieth century, as Belfast industry boomed. As well as industrial decline, sectarianism and violence may have discouraged many families to move to Belfast, emigrating further afield.

[6] S.J Conolly, Oxford companion to Irish History (Oxford, 2011), p. 44.

[7] Ibid.

Image: R.J Welch, View of Millar's offices, formerly the old Belfast Maternity Hospital after the building had been burned by the IRA in May 1922. BELUM.Y18659 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J Welch, View of Millar's offices, formerly the old Belfast Maternity Hospital after the building had been burned by the IRA in May 1922. BELUM.Y18659 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: A.R. Hogg, Emigrants. Valleley family, 1929. BELUM.Y2360 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Emigrants. Valleley family, 1929. BELUM.Y2360 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Opening of Parliament

On 22 June 1921, the official state opening of the Northern Ireland parliament took place in Belfast City Hall[8]. The King and Queen were in attendance and were received with ‘a wholehearted welcome’ by the throngs that gathered. The Northern Whig reported that, ‘The Royal route was densely lined by vast crowds, and senses of unparalleled enthusiasm marked their majesties’ progress to and from the City and Ulster halls[9]. This elevated photograph taken by Belfast photographer R.J Welch records the vast crowds and atmosphere of the occasion. In this image, the barricade between the crowd and the procession can be seen, which included some vehicles, seen bottom left, and lines of troops, some of which are on horseback. The local press commented that, while it was essential to separate the crowds from the objects of their loyalty and devotion ‘a real Ulster welcome’ would have involved ‘a fierce grip of the hand, and possibly an ordeal known as chairing’[10].

[8] Northern Whig, 23 June 1921.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. 

Image: R.J Welch, View from top floor window of building on corner of Castle Place and Royal Avenue showing crowds watching the Royal procession approaching the City Hall for the state opening of the first Northern Ireland Parliament 22 June 1921, with spectators sitting on a window ledge. BELUM.Y22657 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J Welch, View from top floor window of building on corner of Castle Place and Royal Avenue showing crowds watching the Royal procession approaching the City Hall for the state opening of the first Northern Ireland Parliament 22 June 1921, with spectators sitting on a window ledge. BELUM.Y22657 © National Museums Northern Ireland.