Albert Crescent and the Belfast riots of 1857

© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse

I have been looking a lot lately at my husband’s ancestors from Northern Ireland, specifically the Macauleys from County Antrim and County Down. In the late 1800s, this Irish Catholic family owned a linen manufacturing business in Belfast, called Hugh Macauley & Sons. How they rose economically to become mill owners is an interesting story that I’m researching. One possible stepping stone along the way may have been Hugh’s marriage to the widow Boyle, whose first husband kept a pawnbroker’s shop in Belfast. Arthur Boyle was also Catholic, and his shop was located at 49 Albert Crescent. It seems that this street, also called Albert Street, was a pivotal location during the Belfast riots of 1857.

July can be a contentious month in Belfast, because on July 12th, the local Protestants celebrate Prince William’s victory at the Battle of Boyne in 1690. The celebrations include a series of parades (or “walks”) featuring marching bands and groups of Orangemen lodge members carrying orange flags and banners. Tensions ran high in 1857 and resulted in riots between Catholic and Protestant factions. Unfortunately for Arthur and Lillian Boyle, Albert Crescent was located on the border of the Catholic neighborhood called Pound Loney, and the Protestant’s Sandy Row area.

In the online Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland collection, there is testimony on the riots in a document entitled “Belfast riots: report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the origin and character of the riots in Belfast in July and September, 1857”. In it, a local landlord named William Walton testified about what happened to some of his Albert Crescent tenants, including both Catholics and Protestants. He spoke of large crowds moving through the streets, gun shots, and hundreds of broken windows. When asked about whether any of his Catholic tenants had moved out after the riots, he said

“Two Roman Catholics; the rest were Protestants. Arthur Boyle, a pawnbroker, was willing to have gone if he could have removed his property”.

More details on the Boyles’ experience were given in “The Belfast Riots in 1857”, a Department of History thesis by Maurice Krystal (Concordia University, Montreal Canada, 1979):

“During the attack on Mr. Walton’s houses, for example, the wreckers tried to enter Mr. Boyle’s pawnshop, located in one of Mr. Walton’s buildings. Though they made a concerted effort to enter by breaking down the window and door frames, metal bars prevented them from gaining entrance. They had to be satisfied with stealing the three metal balls hanging over the entrance”.

Apparently Arthur Boyle never left Alfred Crescent, in spite of the riots. After Arthur died in 1863, Lillian married Hugh Macauley. In 1877, the Belfast/Ulster Street Directory lists Hugh as a pawnbroker at 49 Albert Crescent. Perhaps taking over that business helped Hugh on his way to eventually becoming a linen manufacturer.

 

Sources:

  1.  Belfast riots: report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the origin and character of the riots in Belfast in July and September, 1857
  2. The Belfast Riots in 1857
  3. The Role of Open Air Preaching in the Belfast Riots of 1857
  4. Marriage record for Arthur and Lilian Boyle found at rootsireland.ie
  5. 1861 Belfast/Ulster street directory listing Arthur Boyle as pawnbroker at 49 Arthur Crescent
  6. irishgenealogy.ie used for record of Arthur Boyle’s 1863 death and will
  7. findmypast.com used to get 1867 marriage record of Hugh and Lilian Macauley
  8. 1877 Belfast/Ulster street directory listing Hugh Macauley as pawnbroker at 49 Arthur Crescent
  9. irishgenealogy.ie used for record of Hugh Macauley’s 1902 will with details on his linen manufacturing business Hugh Macauley & sons

 

 

 

 

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