Home Rule crisis UVF rifles discovered in Orange Hall
Antiques found in old locker to go on display
Ten antique rifles dating back to the UVF's 1914 gunrunning operation in Larne are to go on display after they were discovered in an old locker in a Belfast Orange hall.
The pre-First World War rifles were unearthed - greased and bandaged with linen - in an old room on the fourth floor of the Orange hall at Clifton Street in north Belfast.
Curator Ron McDowell said the Austrian-made Steyr rifles were part of the 25,000 cache smuggled into Larne from the German Empire by the UVF aboard the Clyde Valley as part of its gunrunning at the height of the Home Rule crisis.
"When one particular locker was opened, it was a bit of astonishment for us all when we found these old period pieces lying in a really damp and dingy place," Mr McDowell explained.
"The first thing that goes through your mind is: 'I'm going to jail and I'm never going to see my wife and kids again'."
Mr McDowell said the police were contacted immediately following the discovery of the guns in a little-used part of the building.
After being examined by experts the 10 rifles were returned as they do not require a firearms licence due to their age and the lack of ammunition available for them.
"They are an obsolete calibre, effectively a big stick," Mr McDowell said.
"Their make is a 1904 Steyr and they all have a little UVF stamp on them, which was used at the time to identify them.
"The original guns were brought in from Germany and were bought from an arms dealer called Danny Sparrow.
"He was Jewish and he later died in the concentration camps.
"The man that landed them, Fred Crawford, was a member of this hall."
Most of the Clyde Valley cache was stored in a central depot as the Home Rule row simmered.
They were then put into storage in late 1914 after Britain went to war with the same German Empire the UVF got its guns from.
They were distributed to the Home Guard during the Second World War, and at the end of that conflict most were sold on to Ethiopia.