One hundred years ago parts of North Belfast were being targeted by a small dissident group intent on spreading ‘the cause’ by violent means. Those burning down stately mansion houses and pouring acid on golf courses were doing so with one demand – the right to vote.
In 1914 the Ulster Suffragettes targeted the tea house at Bellevue Zoo with an incendiary device. Cavehill bowling and Tennis Club was extensively damaged by arson and greens at Fortwilliam Golf Club were destroyed by acid attacks.
Abbeylands House was also attacked. After the attacks some of those involved were incarcerated in Crumlin Road Gaol.
Now on March 2, leading author Dr Margaret Ward will return to the Ulster Hall – the same venue that a passionate crowd heard leader of the Suffragette Movement, Emmeline Pankhurst demand votes for women – to deliver a lunchtime lecture on the Ulster Suffragettes, who risked prison and physical attack in their struggle for equality.
Her talk – Prison, Protests and Hunger Strikes: the Ulster Suffragettes - will discuss the leading figures in the movement and their attacks on bastions of male power, including those in the north of the city.
Dr Ward, who is Director of the WRDA and author of Irish women’s history, says at the time Ireland was on the brink of civil war over the Home Rule crisis.
Edward Carson was a major target for the anger of the Suffragettes as he fervently opposed the rights of women to vote, while openly advocating rebellion.
“At this time women were becoming increasingly militant and were furious that they were being imprisoned while the UVF was gun running and preparing for civil war but were unpunished,” said Dr Ward.
“In response they burned down Abbeylands House in Whiteabbey, where the UVF were drilling their troops.”
Other places targeted by the Suffragettes included the grandstand at Newtownards Race Course, and windows at Lisburn Cathedral.
“The targets were seen as places of male entertainment or male power.
“Churches were regarded as one of those places. Several women were arrested and housed at Crumlin Road Gaol.
“Most of them were English or Scottish women who came over as part of the overall campaign, although three or four Irish women were also imprisoned.”
The women protestors were subjected to physical abuse from groups of males opposed to their activities. In the North there were around 1,000 members in 20 different Suffragette organisations.
“They held open air meetings in places like Carlisle Circus, Ormeau Park and outside Methodist College.
“They filled the Grand Opera House and the Ulster Hall. Despite the Home Rule issue, these crowds were made up of Unionist and Nationalist women united in a common cause,” said Dr Ward.
“They were part of an international movement that spanned the US, Australia and Europe. Proportionally the Suffrage Movement had as many members in Ireland as they had in England.
“They were divided on whether or not to be militant. Some of the groups supported direct action, while others were opposed to attacks on property. It was mainly a middle-class movement but they tried to encourage working-class women to get involved,” she added.
The lecture is the final in the Anna Eggert Lecture Series which examines the impact of women on the North.
The series has been organised by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Prison, Protests and Hunger Strikes: the Ulster Suffragettes, the final lecture, takes place from 12.30-2pm in the Group Space at the Ulster Hall on March 2. A light lunch will be provided.
The lectures are free but as space is limited they must be booked in advance by contacting the WRDA on firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 02890230212.