Demeter Archive - Times of Upheaval

Prime Cut Demeter Archive - Women Protest against Home Rule   Prime Cut Demeter Project - Street Celebrations at the end of World War 2   Prime Cut Demeter Archive - A Ration Book from 1953   Prime Cut Demeter Archive - the Civil Rights Movement


Women's Suffrage is the right of women to vote. Woman campaigning for the vote from the peaceful to more active methods like protests and marches were called Suffragettes. Suffragettes wanted to vote, be treated as equal with men and have a voice in running the country.

Women’s Suffrage began as early as 1872 with women establishing groups or committees to campaign for the right to vote.  In 1872 Isabella Tod formed the North of Ireland’s Woman’s Suffrage Committee in Belfast and in 1909 other women followed her example and the Irish Women’s Suffrage Society was founded.  Though most of the famous protests for suffrage are stories from London, Belfast had its own share of passionate advocates. For example in 1913 and 1914 a number of incidents of incidents and arrests occurred including a woman  storming into the office and attacking the editors of the Belfast Evening Telegraph and the Belfast Newsletter. Women finally got the right to vote in 1918. 

The Blitz

Belfast was unprepared, having no adequate plan or previous experience to cope with major bombing attacks and large-scale air raids.

On the 7th of April, 1941, German bombers raided the dockside. This first raid caused damage to the Harland and Wolff premises and left 13 people dead. There was a second raid on the night of 15th  April; 180 German bombers took part in the attack that lasted from just before midnight until 4 a.m. on Easter Tuesday. Over 900 people were killed in the Easter Tuesday raid alone. During World War II probably no other city in the United Kingdom, except London, lost so many of its citizens in a single night’s raid.

After the April raids measures were taken to improve the defence of the city.

The Civil Defence movement and voluntary organisations, such as the Air Raid Precaution (A.R.P) units and the Women’s Voluntary Service were organised. These volunteers were trained in first aid, issued gas masks to the public, attended lectures on gas and gas warfare and volunteered at the posts which acted as central locations between air raid wardens, the war office and the public. Women volunteered in these posts and as nurses to help those injured by the bombs such as Falls Road public baths and St. George’s market. Meanwhile men and young boys acted as couriers, carrying messages to and from wardens. Some were hired for fire watching, they were given extra money to watch and make sure fires didn’t start in places of employment.

On May 4-5th an air raid targeted east of the city, bombs fell on homes and businesses. This was a strategic area targeting the shipyards and harbour. The following evening a smaller raid followed. The effect of these raids was devastating.

People living in Belfast in all areas and neighborhoods were affected and many different ways. Some communities fled to air raid shelters when the siren started while others hid in coal shelters in their homes. Those living in neighbourhoods being targeted slept outdoors in parks while others, mostly women and children, were evacuated to the country to live with relatives.


The Troubles

In 1968 The Civil Rights movement started in Ireland. This event coincided with the troubled years in Belfast.  Though some women had similar experiences as men in the conflict most women associate their priorities during the Troubles with organising and maintaining family life. Despite the challenges and difficulties in their communities and personal lives women often say “life had to go on, you just had to go on with it.” This attitude towards the conflict reflects a similar attitude across both the catholic and protestant communities with women on both sides commenting on their anxiety and worry yet mentioning their friendship, family and support.  This meant developing ways of getting by, depending on other women in the family or neighborhood and, as imany Belfast women say, developing an acute sense of humour.

In addition to maintaining a “normal” life during conflict many women played active roles working towards stopping the violence in their neighborhoods. Women were very active in peace building and establishing political and civic institutions. Women like Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams led this movement and went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for their work while other women worked to establish local community centres which served as places for education and learning, support and help with community issues.