Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

20 February 1997 Edition

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Remembering the Past: 1922 Pogroms

Within weeks of the ratification of the Treaty of surrender and the split in the Republican Movement, the unionist regime, in an attempt to consolidate their artificially created state, began a systematic policy of extermination against the nationalist population in the Six Counties.
There was consternation among northern nationalist at the acceptance of the Treaty in January 1922 and the agreement between Michael Collins, head of the Free State's `Provisional Government' and James Craig, the `Northern Ireland' Prime Minister which called-off the Belfast Boycott (a boycott of Belfast goods imposed by Dail Eireann in response to the Belfast pogroms of the summer of 1920). Fear also followed the breakdown of the talks of the Boundary Commission which it was believed would allocate large areas of the Six-County state to the southern state. The nationalist population in the North felt betrayed, abandoned and very much at the mercy of the Orange bigots in the new sectarian state. Their fears were fully justified.

Rioting on a serious scale broke out in the North in early February 1922. Backed up by the newly formed A and B Specials, loyalist mobs began systematic attacks against the nationalist population, burning their homes and driving them from their jobs.

On 12 February, the loyalists launched a violent onslaught in the Catholic ghettos of Belfast which continued for four days. They then resumed again on 23 February. During these three weeks 138 casualties were reported in Belfast of which 98 were nationalists. The death toll in the North for February was 44, thirty of whom were killed in Belfast on a single night.

One of the worst atrocities during these pogroms occurred on 14 February. A bomb was thrown into a group of Catholic children as they were playing in Weaver Street, off the Shore Road in Belfast, killing six of them.

Despite the intervention of the IRA in defence of the beleaguered nationalist population, there were burnings, shootings and looting on a massive scale throughout February. As the pogroms intensified, thousands of refugees streamed south to Dublin while over 1,000 crossed to Glasgow.

At the end of February, in an act which made the nationalist population feel more isolated, Craig ordered the blocking of all minor roads across the border while the main roads were patrolled by the A and B Specials. Craig appointed the bigot, Sir Henry Wilson, a fierce enemy of Irish nationalism, as adviser to the new northern regime.

Throughout the spring and early summer of 1922 the pogroms continued with 60 people being killed in Belfast alone during March. The pogroms reached their climax in May and June with constant heavy firing into nationalist ghettos. Nationalists were killed at random by Specials and loyalist murder gangs who were intent on terrorising the nationalist community into a state of abject submission.

When the pogroms of the early summer finally subsided it as established that another 9,000 nationalists had been driven from their work and the number rendered homeless had increased to 23,000. By the middle of June 1922, 264 people had been killed in the Six Counties since the signing of the Treaty - 171 nationalist and 93 loyalists.

A terrific intensification of the pogrom against the nationalist population in Belfast began on 17 February 1922, 75 years ago this week.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1