Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

All Our Yesterdays: Smithfield in flames

Bicycle retailer Jimmy McGarvey epitomises the 'business as usual' spirit by offering what remains of his stock for sale on the street outside his burnt-out premises. 9/5/1974

On the morning of May 7, 1974, one of Belfast's best known landmarks was little more than a smoking ruin.

Incendiary bombs had reduced the 200-year-old Smithfield market to ashes.

The old buildings were mostly made of wood and the flames caught hold quickly.

All the fire service could do was prevent the blaze from spreading beyond the square.

When dawn broke and the smoke began to clear, traders, who had lost everything, began to talk of rebuilding the market and restoring their ruined businesses.

No-one typified the ‘business as usual' character of the time more than bicycle retailer Jimmy McGarvey.

Within 24 hours of the massive blaze, Jimmy resumed business in a converted dormobile van parked outside the smoking

rubble of shop. "This is to show we intend to remain in business in Smithfield, despite the tragedy of yesterday," he said.

Jimmy had been trading at Smithfield since 1950 and his family's business connections with the market stretched back even further to 1900.

Jimmy wasn't the only trader to call for the immediate rebuilding of Smithfield. One of the area's best known traders, Joseph Kavanagh, said: "All morning people have been asking, appealing and demanding that we get together and rebuild the market. "It will never be the same again, but we must do our best to preserve as much of the character of the place as possible."

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