Report by Sandra Millsopp
The October 2019 meeting of Bangor Historical Society was held on Thursday 10th. The speaker was Allison Murphy who talked about her book Winnie and George and its background. She talked about Belfast in the early years of the twentieth century when people of different religions lived side by side. Belfast was a world leader in rope making, tea machinery manufacture and ship building.
Allison had written an MA dissertation in which she had interviewed people about their memories of the early twentieth century and had then written books on the subject. Twenty years later her mother-in-law, a nurse at the UVF hospital in Belfast, gave her a box. This had been given to her by a favourite patient. In it Allison found an envelope with the name of George McBride and an address together with a newspaper cutting of an obituary. George had served in the Battle of the Somme, while his wife, Winnie Carney had been the secretary of James Connolly in 1916. Allisonís mother-in-law urged her to write about him and so a search for more information began.
A search in the library yielded very little information. Then she visited her mother-in-law and they talked about George. Allison wrote things down and typed up the stories. Once the internet started she was able to carry out more research. She used the internet to search the 1911 census and found that they came from very different backgrounds. Winifred Carney, a Roman Catholic, was born in 1887 at Victoria Road, Bangor into a republican family. George McBride, a Protestant, was born in Belfast in 1898 into a unionist family.
Winnie grew up in Belfast. Allison used sources such as the letters of James Connolly and the memories of 1916 rebels recorded in the 1940s to build up a picture of her life. She discovered that Winnie had joined the suffragettes and also worked for a solicitor. Winnie was a staunch republican, as well as a socialist and later got a job with James Connolly, then a union boss. During the Easter Rising in 1916 she acted as his secretary. She was in the GPO when he was wounded. When fire broke out in the building she had to leave. She was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol and then in Wales.
Meanwhile George was growing up in a family which opposed Home Rule. He joined the Ulster Volunteer Force and later enlisted in the army when the First World War broke out. He served in the 36th Ulster Division and fought with them at the Somme. He became a prisoner of war.
After the war Winnie and George met at a labour party meeting. She was 37 and he was 26. Although they had nothing in common except their socialism they fell in love. They wanted to get married, but both families were opposed to this. In 1928 they married in Wales with no relatives present and then returned home to Belfast. Later Winnieís mother overcame her prejudice and moved in with them. They were married for fifteen very happy years. Winnie always felt that the new Irish Free State did not turn out as James Connolly would have wished.
Winnie died in 1943 and was buried in Milltown Cemetery. George never remarried. He eventually came to the live in the UVF hospital where he met Allisonís mother-in-law Rita a nurse there. He talked to her about his life and about Winnie. He died in 1988 and left her the box. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Clandeboye Cemetery in Bangor. In 2016 the Belfast and District Trades Union Council erected a headstone for him and both families came to the grave. A display was also put up in Belfast City Hall to tell their story.