Title: Fighting like the Devil for the Sake of God: Protestants, Catholics, and the Origins of Violence in Belfast, 1850-70
Name: Mark Doyle

History Department, Box 23
Middle Tennessee State University
1301 E. Main St
Murfreesboro, TN 37132
mdoyle@mtsu.edu

Year: 2005
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: This project examines the construction of a tradition of communal violence in mid-Victorian Belfast. Although Belfast had seen violence between working-class Protestants and Catholics before this period, the repeated and prolonged clashes of these years marked the emergence of an endemic, deeply engrained tradition of violence that powerfully shaped both groups emerging communal identities. By tracing the evolution of these distinctive patterns of violence  particularly their transformation from ritualized, rural-style battles into convulsive, deadly urban riots  I illuminate the complex forces driving communal polarization and priming Belfasts rival communities for the titanic political struggles of the late-nineteenth century.

In identifying the moment when a distinctive tradition of violence emerged in Belfast, this study challenges the way historians have traditionally understood Belfasts communal divisions. Where previous studies have searched for the underlying structural causes of Belfasts riots, this study argues that communal violence cannot be understood apart from the human agents who undertook it. Complex social relationships  in which differences of gender, class, occupation, and even age were as important as religious divisions  shaped communal violence and ensured that rioting became an endemic part of Belfasts social order. This study examines those relationships through detailed reconstructions of particular outbreaks of rioting, particularly the prolonged riots of 1857 and 1864. It is also the first study fully to examine the complex relationships between the citys inhabitants and the forces of the state, arguing, by way of a detailed comparison with Victorian Glasgow, that Belfasts violence must be understood not simply as a problem of sectarianism, but as a problem of imperialism as well.

Adopting a perspective that is both microscopic and broadly comparative, this study offers a new way of conceptualizing communal polarization in Belfast, explaining it not as the inevitable product of vague historical forces, but as a fitful, uneven, and continually evolving process that depended greatly upon the networks of social interaction that took shape during the 1850s and 1860s.

Bibliography: Doyle, Mark. The Sepoys of the Pound and Sandy Row: empire and identity in mid-Victorian Belfast, Journal of Urban History (November 2010).

Doyle, Mark. Fighting Like the Devil for the Sake of God: Protestants, Catholics, and the Origins of Violence in Victorian Belfast. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.