Academic journal article Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies

Belfast's First Bomb, 28 February 1816: Class Conflict and the Origins of Ulster Unionist Hegemony

Academic journal article Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies

Belfast's First Bomb, 28 February 1816: Class Conflict and the Origins of Ulster Unionist Hegemony

Article excerpt

Irish immigrant correspondence has great scholarly value. It provides insight, of course, into the processes of Irish migration and adaptation, but occasionally it can also illuminate contemporary events, developments, or concerns that historians have either not noticed or failed to investigate or appreciate fully. Such may be the case with the following letter, written by William Coyne in Belfast on St. Patrick's Day, 1816. (1)


William Coyne was probably a master cooper, and he may have been in his mid-forties when he wrote this, his only surviving letter, to his brother in Duchess County, New York. Very likely William Coyne was a Protestant and perhaps a member of the legally established Church of Ireland. Early nineteenth-century Belfast was a rapidly growing city of migrants, principally from East Ulster's Lagan Valley, and, given the reference in his letter, it is probable that Coyne had moved to Belfast from the predominantly Anglican parish of Magher

agall, in the barony of Massareene Upper, in Southwest County Antrim. (2)

In the early 1800s transatlantic mail was expensive, and its delivery uncertain. Consequently, Irish immigrant correspondence was filled primarily with information that was, for its authors and recipients, vitally important but which often appears to contemporary scholars as mundanely personal or familial. The principal subjects of William Coyne's letter, however, were very public and quite dramatic, and his missive's exceptional character indicates that he and his neighbors in Belfast considered the developments he described to be extraordinarily significant--and that he assumed his brother in faraway America would consider them equally so. Hopefully, social and political historians of early nineteenth-century Ulster will also find Coyne's letter of interest.

William and E. Coyne, Belfast, to Henry Coyne, Pleasant Valley, Duchess County, New York, 17 March 1816(3)

Belfast 17th March 1816 Dear Brother

I have [rec.sup.d] your Letter of the 24th [Dec.sup.r] which give us great Satisfection to hear that you and your Familey were in good health; my aunt also [rec,.sup.d] one from you and She and Nancy desires to be remembred to you they are both well and would have wrote but as they had nothing particular to mention they thought the one Letter would do us both, I Showed your Letter to all your acquentainces that is here who was all particularly happy to heare from you, but John Mullan and Michal Roney is both in Scotland; and Mr [M'Pharson,.sup.s] Congregation is disolved his wife Died here and he is in England his Church is Converted into a Muslin ware-house and ocupied by an old acquentaince of yours [W.sup.m] [Shaw.sup.4] who is an acting Partner in a Concern that is doeing a good dale of business at present however trade is in genera/but retry flats yet thank God i have had the best of work Since I went to Mr Bell (6) and the two oldest boys Henry and John is doeing pretty well at the Loom. We have now and then a little Stir as usual between the Weavers and Manifecturiers particularly Thomas How and Frank Johnson (7) Several voilant attacts have been made on the praperty of these 2 individuals but the most dareing of all was on the night of the 28th of Feby on the House of Mr Johnson as his place had been twice Set on fire before he was well prepaird for a third attect haveing the out Side of his windows and door Covred with Sheet Iron and well prepaird in the inside to meet his asealants however notwithstanding they made the attact about 3 Oclock on the morning of the 28th by forseing off the iron Shutters while he(8) and his inmates with Small arms from the uper windows of the House attected the Guards that was covring the working party at the windows when a havy fireing Commenced on both Sides to (9) the party that was at work forsd the Shutters and entroudeced either a bomb Shel or Some other extronary Combustable preperation that Soon exploded and rent the House from top to bottom not a wall nor inside partation that was not torn to pices yet despirate as it was and wounderfull to relate not a life was lost on either Sides, large rewards are offerd for aprehending any one Concernd no less than 2000 [pounds sterling] for prosacution and 500 [pounds sterling] for private information, four quiet well disposed men have been taken (10) on Suspecion but it is hoped there is nothing against them that will affect their lives. …

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