Section 1: Ireland and County Down, early 1900s

County Down experienced great change during the latter half of the nineteenth century.

The development of the linen industry, improvements in agriculture and the growth of the railway network had brought prosperity to many areas. The Land Acts brought in by Liberal and Conservative governments meant that tenant farmers could buy the land they farmed. More men (but not women) could now vote in general and local elections. However religious divisions were still a factor. Although Catholics and Protestants lived side by side in many parts of County Down, Catholics were in the majority in south Down and Protestants formed the majority in the north of the County. Most Catholics in the County supported the Home Rule party (the Irish Parliamentary Party). Most Protestants in the County did not want Home Rule. By 1900 people were increasingly identifying themselves as ‘nationalist’ or ‘unionist’.

Image A shows one of the entrances to Tollymore Park in Newcastle, County Down decorated for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.

Images B and C show decorations in streets in Belfast and Dublin for the visit of the King and Queen in 1903.

What do these pictures tell you of attitudes to the monarchy at this time ?

Did those who supported Home Rule support or oppose the monarchy ?

Between 1899 and 1902 Britain was at war in South Africa with the Boers (white settlers of mostly Dutch origin) who wanted independence from the Empire. Many County Down men fought for the Empire against the Boers. The war was bloody and both sides suffered many casualties.

Image D is a photograph taken at the South Down Militia barracks (the old gaol where the museum is now) in 1900. This photograph was taken for a concert held to raise funds to send medical supplies to the men fighting in South Africa.
Image E is the cover of the concert programme held in the Assembly Hall (where Down Arts Centre is now) in February 1900.
There were some pro-Boer demonstrations in Downpatrick at this time. Would Unionists or Nationalists have supported the Boers ?

The men in image D were photographed  wearing the uniforms of different sections of the military and navy. Why do you think this was ?

For more activies please select one of the images below for more details..

  • Image A
  • Image B
  • Image C
  • Image D
  • Image E

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