Shortly before the First World War, Belfast was one of the most prosperous and vibrant cities in the world, boasting an impressive new City Hall and some of the largest industrial concerns of their kind. It was, nevertheless, divided politically by intransigent ideologies and socially between conspicuous wealth and degrading poverty. The unexpected outbreak of the war engendered a surprisingly united response to events in Europe, as all the parties regarded the conflict as an opportunity to fulfil their contending aspirations. The city's meritorious military contribution was, however, offset by the hardship caused by economic vulnerability and endemic social problems.
The sacrifice of 7,000 of Belfast's citizens was not rewarded in the post-war world with the realisation of dreams - instead they faced a failing economic climate. In addition to the depression of trade, the once-buoyant commercial environment was challenged by the emergence of a strident and demanding socialism.This examination of a vital period in Belfast's history takes its foundation primarily from the contemporary local press, and is considered from the perspective of both political traditions and all points of the compass.
Keith Haines has lived in Belfast for almost forty years and has been the Head of the History Department (1977-2000) and Archivist (2000-present) at Campbell College, the HMC school in the area. Keith was previously the Hon Sec of the East Belfast Historical Society for twelve years, and was on the Management Committee of the Federation for Ulster Local Studies Ltd (a publicly-funded `umbrella' organisation) for a decade. He edited Due North (the magazine of the Federation for Ulster Local Studies) for its first twelve issues, The Campbellian (the magazine of Campbell College) for seven years, and one edition of the journal of the East Belfast Historical Society.