Politics, Sectarianism and the Working Class in Nineteenth-Century Belfast

  • Catherine Hirst


The Belfast working class is famous for its unionist/nationalist division. Some historians consider that this divide developed late in the nineteenth century as a result of nationalism being imported from the south of Ireland during the home rule campaign. Up until this time, it is argued, some other kind of political division could have developed.1 In fact, the unionist/ nationalist division dates back to the 1840s when Catholic and Protestant workers were involved in campaigns for and against the repeal of the union with Great Britain. This political conflict was grafted onto the existing sectarian divide evident in the form of the Orange Order and the Ribbon society. The nationalist convictions of the Catholic working class were confirmed by their active participation in the Fenian society and the home rule movement in the mid- to late nineteenth century. Working-class Protestant opposition to these movements was equally fierce and manifested itself in rioting and unionist politics. There was little chance of anything other than unionism and nationalism being the defining features of working-class politics in Belfast.


Working Class Football Club Secret Society Repeal Movement Home Rule 
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© Catherine Hirst 2005

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  • Catherine Hirst

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