The Agony of Belfast

The Agony of Belfast

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circa 1920


circa 1920


02min 12sec




black and white


Irish Film Archive


British Film Institute, Irish Film Archive

Rights Holder

It is illegal to download, copy, print or otherwise utilise in any other form this material, without written consent from the copyright holder.


This footage is particularly valuable because of the dearth of film on the Troubles in Belfast 1920 - 1922. The violence in Ulster had begun in April 1920 in Derry and intensified there in June. Intercommunal warfare began on 21 July at 'dinner hour' in the shipyards when Catholics and socialists were expelled. The expulsions spread to the Sirocco works, Musgraves, Mackies, etc. in the ensuing days. Most of the fighting took place at night (hence the paucity of film) and involved Protestant assaults on Catholics enclaves (notably Short Strand and the Lower Falls). The Catholic districts were defended by members of the IRA and Protestsants were often backed up by the revived UVF. During the first 40 seconds loyalist children pose for the camera and oblige by throwing cobbles prised from the street (known as 'kidney pavers') with a 'No Pope Here' graffiti as backdrop. Also seen is a military post, regular troops were involved from the outset - no Black and Tans or Auxiliaries here and no Specials until a few months later. At 01:40 people forced out of their homes load belongings onto carts.

Title sourced from the Irish Film Archive.


Norman Whitten's 'Irish Events' (1917-1920) was the only indigenous Irish newsreel until the Amharc Eireann series appeared in the 1950s. (Amharc Eireann was an Irish language newsreel produced between 1956-64). Cinema audiences in Ireland watched mostly British newsreels and some American material throughout the height of the newsreel era, which began in the 1910s and declined from the 1950s onwards with the advent of television. This meant that coverage of local events was usually undertaken by 'external' news producers and Irish audiences often watched representations which were contrary to their own knowledge of events, particularly during the turbulent War of Independence and Civil War. 

Title sourced from the Irish Film Archive.

Shot List

'The Agony of Belfast. Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. Irish Events'. The corner of a street. To the right is a shop with signs for Lyons Teas, Van Houten coffee and Hudson's soap. A group of children congregate at the street corner. To the left is a pile of cobblestones running across the road like a barricade. In the background is graffiti reading 'No Pope Here'. Children on the cobblestone barricade which is the waist-height of a child. They throw stones for the benefit of the camera. The anti-Catholic graffitti can clearly be seen. A number of women watch the children. Pan right of another group of children on waste ground between houses. A mural of King William on horseback can be seen painted on the gable end of a house. British army sandbag machine gun position by the Belfast Co-operative store. View down terraced street. To the right is a King William mural, to the left the shop seen in the opening scenes. Union flags fly from many of the houses. A barricade of cobblestones crosses the road. A large group of children congregate on the barricade with the King William mural behind them. In another street, of larger, more middle class houses, furniture is piled on the street. A number of police officers stand outside the house - this might be an eviction. At the corner of Henry Street (sign seen) a large sandbagged, machine gun position - about ten British soldiers stand behind the gun position. To the left, a large number of children stand. Source: SIFT - NFTVA database.


Produced by Irish Events, 17 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin. The newsreel company Irish Events produced films from 1917 -1920.



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