Belfast Riots in July 1920

Once word reached near-by Catholic areas of the expulsions, trams carrying Protestant workers are attacked near Short Strand.  Protestant mobs gather near Donegall Pass and riots ensue on Cromac St. with police intervening.  Gunfire breaks out in the evening.  Margaret Noade (27), on her way to visit her ill mother in Cromac St is shot by a police bullet and killed.  A loyalist mob gathered in Bryson St, threatening to storm the local Catholic church – a detachment of the 1st Norfolk Regiment opens fire and this results in the death of three Protestants – Nellie McGregor (20), James Stewart (a teenager) and John Dole (24).  Later, a Catholic (Albert McAuley) is killed by the army.   

In the early evening of the 21st, crowds of angry Shankill shipyard workers (who were stoned on their way home from work) gathered on the streets near the Falls and Catholics mobs came out to face them.  The military intervened and two Catholics were shot dead by the army – Francis Finnegan (40) and Bernard Dillon (20) [McDermott gives his name as Bernard Devlin and his age as 18 - McDermott (2001), pg 39].  Seven people received hospital treatment for their injuries.

The following morning, tram-loads of Protestant workers were attacked as they arrived at Mackies Foundary and Catholics were evicted from the Sirocco works.  On the 22nd July, loyalist mobs attacked the Ballymacarrett [Short Strand] area; Kashmir St and (as in August 1969) Bombay St.  Catholic residents leave their houses.  Many Catholic owned spirit grocers in east Belfast are looted.  

When darkness falls, gunfire breaks out in the Falls-Shankill area.  The Norfolk Regiment claims that it came under fire from the Clonard monastery.  The following people were killed: Henry Hennessy (48); John Downey (20); Joseph Giles; Thomas Robinson (33); John McCartney (36) and Brother Michael Morgan (28) -  all of the above would seem to have been Catholic and killed either by the British army or loyalists.  Four Protestant were also killed:  Alexander McGovan (25); William Godfrey (46); William Dunning (23) and James Constable (32).  They were mostly killed in the Cupar St area – as the British army denied shooting into this area, it would seem that these people were killed by the IRA shooting from the Clonard area.     

Much rioting continued in the Short Strand area over the next few days with the houses and businesses of Catholics attacked by loyalist mobs.  On Friday 23rd, a small detachment of police and military opened fire on a loyalist mob attempting to set on fire the Cross and Passion convent.  At least 12 were injured, 3 fatally - the latter were Mary Weston (29); William McCune (39) and Susan Houston (a teenager).   A particular focus of the loyalist mobs is the predominantly Catholic-owned spirit groceries – at least 60 spirit groceries and 12 pubs are damaged within 48 hours.  A major cause of the easing on tension on the Newtownards Road is a set of ‘peace picket’ volunteers started by the Rev John Redmond (Church of Ireland Ballymacarrett) who patrol the area maintaining the peace and protecting buildings threatened by rioters.

In the following days, the military start to establish a more obvious presence – putting up sandbags and barbed wire blockades across roads.  This leads to a reduction in the violence but minor rioting and sniping continued.  On the early morning of the 25th July, a taxi man (David Dunbar from the Shankill) was shot dead for failing to stop at a military post.


The response by a number of prominent nationalists and republicans in the North in August (including Sean McEntee; Denis McCullough; Bishop McRory and Rev John Hassan) is to set a ‘Belfast Boycott Committee’ which aims to force Belfast businesses to take back expelled Catholic workers by pushing a vigorous boycott of all goods produced in Belfast.  They have success with county councils in the South and, while initially reluctant, the Dáil takes responsibility for it from January 1921.