DCSIMG

Ballymena 1914 - Countdown to war

Upper Mill Street in the early days of the 20th century. The two ladies with their wonderful dresses and hats are standing outside the site of the modern day 'George Buttery'.

Upper Mill Street in the early days of the 20th century. The two ladies with their wonderful dresses and hats are standing outside the site of the modern day 'George Buttery'.

Ballymena and district in the summer months leading up to the outbreak of war in August 2014 had all the hallmarks of a thriving town at the heart of a prosperous rural hinterland.

In fact, anyone unfamiliar with the nuances of local politics - both constitutional and class-based - could have been forgiven for believing the area was striving towards a happy, modern future.

To all intents and purposes the area was flourishing, economically, culturally and in terms of population.

There were cinema shows in the Ballymena Picture Palace on a nightly basis, band concerts featuring the likes of the Young Conequerors or Ballymena Temperance Brass Band.

In all classes - and this was a very stratified environment - there was a relatively high level of respect for education with younger members of the working class especially keen to grasp any opportunity to better their lifestyle potential.

Ballymena Technical College was growing in numbers with some 500 students enrolled.

Ballymena Academy and Cambridge House, catering for the well-to-do locals, both sent academically gifted students on a yearly basis to Trinity College Dublin and Queen’s Belfast.

There was growing interest throughout the area in medical matters and public health. The Cottage Hospital, on the edge of the People’s Park, provided help for those who could not pay large sums for independent medical care.

But those at the bottom end of the social and economic scale found themselves pleading for free assistance at the Workhouse Dispensary.

However, underneath the facade of booming civic life with a healthy retail sector catering for the growing population there had been simmering labour unrest with strikes and demands for better pay and conditions emanating from workers in local mills and foundries.

The owners and their managers looked with some trepidation at the ability of the Trades Unions to mobilise.

Clearly such challenges to the industrialists of Mid-Antrim presented a threat to the social unity needed in the protestant community for what was the real ‘big issue’ of the day - Irish ‘Home Rule’.

In this special feature which launches our ongoing coverage of the War, we step back in time to examine the complex political issue and how it affected the wider Mid-Antrim area at the time.

 

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