Northern Ireland

Which anniversaries will be commemorated in Northern Ireland?

Jim Larkin
Image caption The 1913 lock-out led by Jim Larkin is one of the anniversaries Ms Ni Chuilin is looking towards

Last week MPs debated how the forthcoming decade of sensitive anniversaries should be commemorated.

This week the same debate surfaced at Stormont, when the Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin faced questions from the DUP about how her department intended to deal with next year's centenary of the Ulster Covenant and the 2021 centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland.

Ms Ni Chuilin responded by challenging the list of anniversaries compiled by her DUP predecessor Nelson McCausland.

She is examining other events which could provide, in her view, a "more inclusive suite of events for commemoration".

The minister resisted the obvious Irish republican temptation to single out the 1916 Easter rising.

Instead she referred to the 1913 lock-out and "suffrage for men and limited suffrage for women".

If I were to claim that the Stormont press pack instantly nodded their collective heads in recognition of the 1913 lock-out, I would be fibbing.

For those not immediately familiar with this chapter in Irish history, the lock-out was a industrial dispute involving thousands of workers led by the trade unionist and socialist Jim Larkin.

The bitter struggle was triggered when the boss of a tramways company sacked staff suspected of joining Larkin's Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

Other firms locked out their workers if they refused to sign pledges banning trade union membership. The dispute dragged on for seven months with hungry workers and their families reliant on donations.

So clearly a significant event, but it did take place in Dublin.

Belfast dock strike

Of course Ms Ni Chuilin would reject any partitionist approach to history, but you might argue that the obvious Jim Larkin event for people in Belfast to remember would be his achievement in persuading working class Catholics and Protestants to set aside their differences to back dockers, coal heavers and carters striking for better pay and union recognition.

The problem there is that Larkin's Belfast Dock strike took place in 1907 and so the centenary has already been and gone.

In fact it was marked with the installation of a special stained glass window at Belfast City Hall and a variety of commemorative events

The culture minister's reference to landmark events in the struggle for universal suffrage might have been surprising to some at Stormont.

However it's not the first time the battle for voting rights has been mentioned in relation to the discussion of commemorations.

The arson campaign of the Ulster suffragettes was discussed during a Remembering the Future conference in Belfast back in March.

Image caption Kennedy Kane McArthur won the Olympic marathon in 1912

2019 will see the anniversary of all men being given the vote in UK wide elections, although when it came to local elections in Northern Ireland the property qualification (which disenfranchised more than a quarter of voters) was not removed until 1969 (I hope to be around to celebrate that centenary, which falls just before my 108th birthday!).

When it comes to the female suffragette movement, Ms Ni Chuilin may find herself spoiled for choice.

As my colleague Barbara Collins reported on BBC Radio Ulster back in February there's the amazing story of Lillian Metge, who founded the Lisburn Suffrage Society in 1908. Sure we might have missed the creation of the society, but we aren't too late to remember Mrs Metge's daring dynamite attack on Lisburn Cathedral in July 1914 (perhaps a stained glass window could be installed to mark the original blowing out of the Cathedral's stained glass window).

As an excellent article from the Glenravel Local History project makes clear, it wasn't just Lisburn which witnessed suffragette militancy.

Cat and mouse

More than 1,000 Ulster women backed the campaign for the right to vote. They launched arson attacks on Belfast mansions and many went on hunger strike, only to be force fed.

The hunger strikes led to the passing of the infamous 1913 "Cat and Mouse Act" which enabled the prison authorities to release women when they became ill, then jail them again once they had recovered.

The suffragettes' relationship with Sir Edward Carson was also fascinating - initially they set great store by his promise to back their movement, but then "declared war" on him, accusing him of breaking his pledge.

2014 marks the centenary of a five-day occupation of Sir Edward's London doorstep by enraged Ulster suffragettes.

So plenty of anniversaries to pick from there, and I haven't even got around to the 250th anniversary of New York's first St. Patrick's Day parade, the 40th anniversary of the dissolution of Stormont, or the 100th anniversary of a man from Dervock, County Antrim winning the Olympic marathon, all of which fall next year.

I am also told that 100 years ago a boat built in Belfast sunk somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland. But I don't imagine anyone would be interested in remembering that, would they?

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