Monday 3 August 2020

RCBL Archive of the month: Outreach in a time of conflict

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Belfast Riots, Prof Brian M Walker, Professor Emeritus of Irish Studies, Queen’s University Belfast, in collaboration with the RCB Library in Dublin, has produced a timely piece on the bridge-building contribution of one Church of Ireland cleric. |The feature is the Library's online Archive of the Month.

St Patrick's CoI Church, Ballymacarrett, E. Belfast
The Revd John Redmond was a well-known figure in the columns of the Church of Ireland Gazette in the 1920s. He was vicar of the parish of Ballymacarrett in East Belfast, 1920-1929; the parish church, dedicated to St Patrick, was the spiritual home to more members of the Church of Ireland than any other parish in the country.

Born in Co. Armagh in 1876, Redmond served as a chaplain with the 36th Ulster Division. He ministered to the mortally wounded Willie Redmond MP, (the brother of Irish nationalist John Redmond*) in his last hours at Messines in 1917. He became vicar of Ballymacarrett less than three years later.

Sectarian riots broke out in Belfast in the summer of 1920. On 3rd September, the Gazette observed how ‘since the troubles began in Belfast Mr Redmond had been in the thick of the disturbances’. In July and August he went onto the Newtownards Road in East Belfast to stop rioters, and organised bands of unarmed volunteers to prevent rioting and looting.

On 13 May 1921, the Gazette noted that Redmond had ascertained that there were at least 15,000 nominal Church of Ireland people in the parish, but many did not attend church.

To meet this challenge, he engaged new staff and organised Sunday schools and branches of young people’s organisations. In March 1922, Redmond reported that there were many who ‘on account of the condition of their clothes would not come to the parish church’. To reach them, Redmond organised the building of mission halls.

Full page coverage of the work of the parish,
Church of Ireland Gazette, 22 February 1929
Poverty and unemployment were deep concerns for Redmond and his staff. During the coal strike and general strike of 1926, groceries were given out each week to over 300 families, and the soup kitchens in St Patrick’s School distributed 3,000 meals weekly.

In late 1928, the Gazette published a letter from Redmond, appealing for funds and expressing a wish that other church members might ‘adopt’ one of the mission districts. This appeal won an immediate response. He received financial contributions from all over Ireland. In Dublin a committee was formed under the Bishop of Meath to establish the Southern Church Mission to Ballymacarrett. Funds were raised to build a new church.

On 8 April 1933, St Martin’s church, off the Lower Newtownards Road, was consecrated.

LECTURE: Professor Walker is the author of the recently published Irish History Matters: Politics, Identities and Commemoration (The History Press, 2019). He will be including John Redmond in an online recorded lecture for this year’s West Cork History Festival. The lecture will reflect on inter-connected violence in Cork and Ulster in 1920 and will be available from 8 August via the link.

* Revd John Redmond was not related to John and Willie Redmond.