Northern Ireland

Rifles in north Belfast Orange hall for over 100 years

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Media captionThe guns were part of a shipment of 25,000 rifles smuggled into Larne on board the Clyde Valley in 1914

Ten antique rifles have been uncovered in an Orange hall in Belfast.

The guns were part of a shipment of 25,000 rifles smuggled into Larne on board the Clyde Valley in 1914.

It is believed they were concealed in Clifton Street Orange Hall for just over 100 years and date from the Home Rule crisis.

Orange Order members were clearing out a disused room inside the hall when they opened a cupboard and found the rifles and ammunition inside.

Orange Order member Ronnie McDowell described how he felt when he made the discovery.

"I'd like to say it was excitement, but at the onset it was blind panic," he said.

"We opened one of the cupboards expecting to find minute books and banners inside.

Image caption The rifles all have Ulster Volunteer Force stamps on them

"We were worried at first, as it is not every day that you open a cupboard and you see rifles and ammunition staring back at you.

"Finding out they're antique weapons with an antique calibre is great excitement."

The police were called and the guns removed.

An examination revealed that all 10 were Austrian made Steyr rifles manufactured in 1904 and were part of a cache of guns from the Larne gunrunning operation in 1914.

Each is stamped 'Ulster Volunteer Force'. Once landed, the smuggled guns were distributed and hidden by unionists.

Image caption Orange Order member Ronnie McDowell said he felt "blind panic" when he found the guns

In a statement the PSNI said: "All the weapons date from before World War One and the circumstances in which they were found indicate that they had not been disturbed for many decades.

"Orange Order members facilitated a search of the hall to ensure that no other weapons were present.

"Police are satisfied that the Orange Order members contacted them immediately on making the discovery and that none of the existing members were aware of the existence of these weapons."

About 25,000 guns and millions of rounds of ammunition were illegally landed in Northern Ireland from Germany on board the Clyde Valley coal ship to arm the Ulster Volunteer Force during the Home Rule Crisis in 1914.

Image caption Orange Order members were clearing out a disused room inside the hall when they opened a cupboard and found the rifles and ammunition inside

The 10 rifles have been returned to the Orange Order and will be displayed in a museum inside Clifton Street Orange Hall.

The arms were found on 29 December 2015, but the guns are being shown to the public for the first time.