Bowling at the North Belfast Working Men’s Club
The first bowl, 1914 (donated to NBWMC by the family of a former club member who ha later migrated to Australia)

Much of Belfast’s identity has been shaped around its heavy industry, in shipmaking and linen for example. As large sources of employment, the trades soon came to define the working population of Belfast’s increasingly urban centre. The heavy burden workers carried upholding Belfast development in industry often left them little time for recreation. Working Men’s Clubs aimed to readdress this imbalance by providing entertainment (of moral standing) to the working classes that would rival the pub.

The North Belfast Working Men’s Club was completed in March 1894 and catered to the large cross-section of working men in the North Belfast community. Largely, the club’s members were employed by the linen manufacturers that dominated local industry. Once a member, the men could expect access to facilities such as a sizeable reading room and billiards tables. These spaces provided an opportunity for the men to form social communities outside of the workplace. For their employers, the club was also beneficial, serving to it increase worker’s morale and kept employees from other, less illustrious, activities. It was, consequently, a sober environment where refreshments of, ‘tea, coffee and cocoa’ were sold ‘at a most attractive rate’.[1]

Bowling at NBWMC in 1967

One of the most popular additions to the club came in 1914 in the form of a bowling green. The first bowl was ceremoniously delivered on the green by Samuel Hall-Thompson, the future unionist MP for North Belfast. [2] Whilst many members at the time were new to bowling, the sport was soon regarded with much affection in the Club; in 1914 they entered the IBC Junior Cup having unfortunately lost in the 3rd round. The club returned the next year with more success, having won both the Junior Cup and Junior Rinks competitions! [3] The bowling green introduced outdoor recreation and greenery into the lives of industry workers in an increasingly industrial city.

Much about the club has changed since its creation, including the reversal of the club’s temperance values in the 1960s and the welcoming of women into previously gendered spaces.[4] Even the employment patterns of the club’s member has since changed, owing to the decline of the heavy industries in the late 20th century. The bowling green, however, remains in use in the current day as a symbol of continuity in change. The club recently celebrated the centenary of its bowling green in 2014! The immaculately maintained green is now, as it was then, a source of great pride for the club’s members who continue to compete in local fixtures and who now may enjoy a pint in the bar afterwards to celebrate!

Centenary celebrations at NBWMC

[1]Belfast News-Letter, 23 January 1894.

[2]North Belfast Working Men’s Club: The First Bowl | Great Place (

[3] ‘Bowling notes: By the skip’ in Ireland’s Saturday Night, 24th July 1915.

[4] Interview with Rev. Colin Hall-Thompson.

Members Involved

YEAR: 1894

Location: Danube Street