A Street Through Time: Sandes soldiers home
The Sandes Soldiers Home on map of Clifton Street

In between a multi-functional row of shops on Clifton Street, the Sandes Soldiers Home remained between 1891 to 1960. The Sandes homes started in Tralee, Co Kerry by Elise Sandes, a devout Christian woman who was concerned for the physical and spiritual well-being of soldiers in Ireland.[1] She opened her home to local soldiers as a welcome break from the hardships of life in the barracks, her offerings of reading rooms and games rooms were an alternative to more common, salacious past-times amongst soldiers including visiting bars and brothels. Sandes rented buildings across the UK, Ireland and later further afield, including Hong Kong. Wherever soldiers were in the British Empire, she aimed to have a Sandes Home. Within these homes travelling soldiers, or those on leave, were offered beds so that men serving their country might never be stuck for accommodation. Sandes Soldiers’ Home were thus opened in close proximity to military barracks to appeal to serving soldiers. In the case of Clifton Street, the local barracks were Victoria Barracks, on North Queen Street. From the completion of the barracks in 1798, they played host to thousands of soldiers each year until they were severely damaged in the Belfast Blitz.[2] The barracks subsequently fell into decline throughout the 1950s, leading to their eventual demolition in the early 1960s.

Sandes Soldiers Home

There was also a strong military identity in this area of Clifton Street, due to the naval recruitment centre two doors away from the Soldier’s home. During the Second World War, an RAF recruitment centre also opened there. Recruitment to the British Army proved popular in this inner-city recruitment centre at the outbreak of war. Authorities in 1939 had to work at ‘feverish haste in handling the batches of men, many of whom queued up from early morning’. [3]

Despite its honest intentions, the Sandes home on Clifton Street was beset with tragedy. One of the earliest was the case of Sergeant Jones who was found hanged in the bathrooms of the home in April 1892, in a case of suspected suicide.[4] The event was widely reported in the media, with sensitive information including the final letter he wrote to his wife, published in its entirety. A later misfortune also ensued in the toilets of the Soldiers’ Home in September 1908 when Private W. Ness was discovered there poisoned.[5] The visiting soldier was found collapsed with Oxalic acid by his side, prompting fears of yet another suicide attempt, and taken to the local Mater Hospital for assessment. Additionally, in May 1926 Private R. Quigg, was seriously injured in the Soldiers’ home.[6] The Victoria Cross awardee (for his bravery in the Battle of the Somme) was allegedly asleep in the home when he sleptwalked out of a first-floor window and fell 50ft. Whilst his injuries were concerning, many newspapers acknowledge his lucky escape from a fatal fall, having narrowly missed the iron railings that surround the building.

Clifton Street colourised (Sandes Home on second left)

Despite these incidents the Sandes Home institution was extremely successful, and was a mainstay on the street throughout much of the 20th century. However, the home, and the local recruitment bases were demolished to make way for the Westlink. No physical reminder of its contribution to the lives of local soldiers are left. Today, however, three homes remain in barracks across Northern Ireland in Lisburn, Holywood and Ballykinlar, testament to their important function in the lives of British soldiers.


[1] “Endynamited by Christ’ Sandes soldiers’ homes’ in History Ireland Vol XIII (2005), https://www.historyireland.com/endynamited-by-christ-sandes-soldiers-homes/

[2] ‘The Barrack’ in Belfast History Project, http://www.belfasthistoryproject.com/thebarrack/, 28th May 2017.

[3]Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19390907/222/0008?browse=False, 7th September 1939.

[4] Belfast Weekly News, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001593/18920423/081/0003?browse=False, 23rd April 1892.

[5] Larne Times, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001531/19080919/117/0008?browse=False, 19th September 1908.

[6] Ballymena Observer, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001426/19260528/193/0009?browse=False, 28th May 1926.

Members Involved