Sunday, January 03, 2021

Belfast Working Men's Institute and Temperance Hall (built 1873)

I haven't been in Belfast city centre much over the past 10 months due to Covid restrictions, but I think this building is probably still there. Today most folk imagine a "working man's club" to pretty much be a community bar in a working class area. But many references to the ones in Belfast that I've come across over the years show them to have originally been places not only of social life and (often non-alcoholic) refreshment, but of culture, debate, music and learning.

This description is from Historical and Descriptive Guide to the City of Belfast, by John Vinycomb MRIA, published by Marcus Ward, price one sixpence. One of the founders of the Institute, Thomas Gaffikin, delivered a famous lecture here on 8 April 1875 entitled Belfast Fifty Years Ago which was reprinted as a booklet a number of times. His entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography is online here.

A retired man that I only "know" via Twitter posted this photo back in mid October, of the old club on Danube Street just off the Crumlin Road, and said it was where he started brass band tuition in the 1960s – "As a working-class boy in the 60s I don't think I ever appreciated what a rich musical education was being offered to me free as working men (& school boys) played transcriptions of Berlioz, Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Holst, Rossini, Haydn et al. in North Belfast Working Men's Club".