The forgotten centenary of January 1919
Sir, – There is an inverse relationship between the numbers involved and the coverage given to three important historical events in January 1919 that are to be commemorated this month. The one that has received most publicity so far is the Soloheadbeg ambush in Tipperary, which involved no more than a dozen people.
The next is the founding of Dáil Éireann, which involved a few hundred, and the last is the Belfast engineering strike which involved 40,000 workers in the city and saw another 20,000 laid off.
The Belfast engineering strike was the start of a wave of industrial unrest across the United Kingdom, including Ireland, that would see the length of the average working week reduced by an average of 6.5 hours a week, the largest cut ever achieved. It laid the basis for our current 39-hour week.
It may lack the drama and controversy that surrounds its more famous historical counterparts, but arguably it has had a far greater, and more beneficial impact on all our lives, confirming the old Irish saying that eaten bread is soon forgotten. The Messines Association is commemorating the Belfast engineering strike event on Friday, January 25th, in the ICTU headquarters in Belfast. – Yours, etc,