James “Jimmy” McNulty, the eldest son of William McNulty and Margaret Doherty, was born on January 20, 1883 in Sion Mills, Co. Tyrone, in what is now known as Northern Ireland. He was 18 years of age at the time of the 1901 census. At that time, he lived with his parents, brothers and one uncle (his mother's brother George Doherty) on New Street in Sion Mills.
The 1901 Census shows that Jimmy worked as a Hackle Setter at Herdman's Mill. Apparently a Hackle Setter was one who set and maintained the pins of a Hackle, the combs used for combing the flax. However, information gained from Herdman's indicates that there was a slow down at the mill around 1907, and we suspect that Jimmy may have been laid off and then moved to Belfast, along with his younger brother Joe, around that time.
The iconic Belfast industry, was shipbuilding. It did not employ as many workers as the linen industry, but its achievements brought international renown to the city. Throughout the nineteenth century the shallow waters of the city were redeveloped into a major port, which were home to what became the largest ship-builders in the world. In 1859 Edward Harland bought the shipyard in the port which he had previously managed. Two years later he took Gustav Wolff as his partner. They expanded over the following decades, and by 1900 Harland and Wolff employed 9,000 people. In 1911 they launched the Titanic, then the largest ship in the world. Such was the industrial prowess of Belfast that the Titanic was then (though, of course, only briefly) the largest ship in the world. The wealth of Belfast was driven by the shipyards, the men who owned them and worked in them. This was a world of engineers and boiler-makers and other skilled tradesmen. Besides the shipyards, the linen mills of the city were also thriving. With thousands of women employed all across the city, Belfast was the largest linen producing center in the world. However, this wealth was not shared so much with the unskilled labor force. Most of these industries succeeded on the backs of the poorly paid working class.
Like every significant city in the industrialized world, Belfast streets were a mix of rich and poor. The rich lived in upscale locations. However, in the narrow streets of working-class areas, particularly around the shipyards, packed red-bricked houses were filled with large families. This was the type of insecurity which was so typical of unskilled working class life. It was usually a subsistence lifestyle, and families often relied upon the ability of wives and children to earn money. Most people earned enough to keep themselves in lodging, but destitution was also a constant presence in the city. However, despite this poverty, social life in Belfast was markedly similar to that in the northern industrial towns of England. Along these streets, working class culture often revolved around a love of sport and music and drink.
The 1911 census shows that Jimmy and Joe resided with the Goan family at 24 Elmfield Street, Clifton, Co. Antrim. In the same census, his parents and other siblings still resided on New Street in Sion Mills with a John Goan as a visitor. Jimmy reported that he was employed as a general laborer, while Joe reported that he was a mechanic in the foundry. It is a fact that Jimmy and, his brother Joe, worked on the construction of the Titanic at the Harland and Wolff ship yard so presumably these jobs were related to that construction. Presumably Jimmy and Joe would have walked the three miles to Harland and Woolf, a mere hour long walk each way.
The balance of his family relocated sometime after 1911 to Belfast. In Belfast, the McNulty family address was 23 Milford Street, and when Jimmy took himself a wife, Annie McCusker, (married April 14, 1914) she resided there as well. His son, Edward, was born in this house on January 23, 1915. It is believed that Jimmy's other children were born at this address as well. The original structure, just down the block from St. Peter's Cathedral, has been razed and replaced a couple of times, however. Jimmy and Annie had been married at St. Peter’s, and Edward and his siblings were baptized there.
The people of the city were divided by religion. Even before the change driven by nineteenth century industrialization, tensions existed between Presbyterians and Church of Ireland members. The influx of tens of thousands of Catholics brought another new dynamic to Belfast. Recurring riots led newcomers to Belfast to seek safety in numbers. Catholics dominated the south-western part of the city with Protestants dominating much of the rest. This residential segregation reinforced divides which did not ease with the passage of time. Divisions in places of employment – Catholics were grossly under-represented in skilled industrial work, for instance – and the development of separate streams of education confirmed the partitioned nature of the city.
There were different levels at the yard among the workers. At the top were the foremen. These were the men who, when times were hard, decided who among the unskilled would work and who wouldn't. By reputation, they weren't above taking a bribe, and were hated for it. Just below this, and almost as secure, were the skilled men, the riveters and carpenters and many other trades. For these trades, entry was by apprenticeship, and you could only be accepted by recommendation. This meant that trades stayed within families; it was a closed shop. At the bottom were the semi-skilled and unskilled, looked down on by all. They were mostly employed casually, and were not even protected by trade unions, which existed in Belfast to protect the interests of skilled men. Yet even the unskilled Protestants men saw themselves as privileged, better off than Catholics. Only twice did the downtrodden workers, Catholic and Protestant, come together to stand against their employers. But, largely, the shipyard workers identified with a Protestant state for a Protestant people.
In July 1920, Catholics and also a number of Protestant socialists were violently expelled from the shipyards, the big engineering firms, and other workplaces. In all, some 10,000 men and 1,000 women workers (mainly from the linen mills) were driven from their work, and one must bear in mind that there were only 93,000 Catholics in Belfast at the time. In the Catholic areas there was retaliation against the 'Islandmen' (those who worked on the island where Harland and Woolf was located) returning from work and widespread rioting resulted. The London Daily News spoke of 'five weeks of ruthless persecutions by boycott, fire, plunder and assault, culminating in a week's wholesale violence. Between 1920 and 1922 nearly 500 people were killed (and 2,000 wounded) in Belfast and over 20,000 Catholics (nearly a quarter of the city's Catholics) were driven from their homes.
So, against this backdrop, Jimmy McNulty probably concluded that there was no longer a life for him and his family in Ireland. According to his Petition for Naturalization, Jimmy emigrated to the United States, leaving Liverpool on August 25 1923 aboard the Celtic and arriving in Boston on September 2, 1923. After his departure his wife and family, resided with her mother at 42 Alexander St. W in Belfast until they sailed from Derry, Ireland and arrived in the New York on December 23, 1924 aboard the vessel Cameronia. It is believed that Jimmy worked on the docks, or tug boats at first. The family resided at 93 Jewel Street in Brooklyn at the time of his family’s arrival. At the time of his Petition for Naturalization on October 1, 1928, they resided at 244 W. 112th Street in Manhattan where he worked as a “house repairer.”
Eventually he became a superintendent in the apartment building where they lived at 375 Beekman Avenue, in the Bronx, New York. It was his responsibility to rise early and stoke the furnace, remove the trash from the “dumbwaiters,” to keep the sidewalks clear of snow and debris, handle general repairs and keep the building appearances up. He spent a good deal of time in the building basement with his dog, Molly, an Irish Airedale. He also enjoyed the occasional growler of beer that his daughter-in-law would send down to him in the “dumbwaiter”.
Jimmy was a big, sturdy man. However, he was shrunken in size and weight by the time of his death. He died on March 15, 1953 and is buried in St. John's Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY, where he was joined by his wife, Annie who died in 1981.
|Date of Birth
|20th Jan 1883
|Date of Death
|15th Mar 1953