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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XVI. Religion and Sectarianism

112. Anti-Catholicism, 1935

Texte intégral

  • 10 Evening News, 12 October 1934, quoted in S. Bruce, T. Glendinning, M. Rosie, Sectarianism in Scotl (...)

1The Protestant Action Society, founded by Edinburgh Councillor John Cormack in 1933, was an anti-Catholic organization that demanded the curtailment of Irish Catholic immigration and the expulsion of all Catholic orders. After his victory at the local election of North Leith in 1934, Cormack declared that “wherever in the political life of our country, municipal or national, the Papist beast shows its head we must crush it or, at least, keep it in subjection.”10

2Some of the members of the Protestant Action Society engaged in public demonstrations, including acts of violence against individual Catholics.

3The following is an article about a demonstration the Society organized against a Catholic religious procession in Edinburgh (also see introductions to texts 110 and 111).

4The Scotsman, 26 June 1935.

Exciting scenes in Edinburgh

Catholic Congress ends

Exciting scenes marked the close of the Eucharistic Congress in Edinburgh last night. Buses containing Catholics were stoned, and batons were drawn by the police. Four men were arrested, and two men were treated at the Infirmary for head injuries. There were other minor injuries also in the course of the evening.

The centre of the disturbance was on the south side of the city, in the Morningside and Bruntsfield districts, where large crowds had gathered to view the holding of a Solemn Procession of the Blessed Sacrament in the grounds of St Andrew’s Priory in Canaan Lane.

The police cleared the lane and guarded all approaches to it, but for three or four hours Morningside Road was thronged from the station to Bruntsfield Place. This meant that the police had to control a crowd which stretched for about three-quarters of a mile in addition to watching various points in other districts where sympathisers with the Protestant Action organisation had gathered.

The gathering in the Priory grounds had been timed for a quarter past seven, but the crowd began to collect in the Morningside district late in the afternoon. As the hour of the gathering approached, tramcar after tramcar brought Protestant extremists and others to the scene, and there was a regular trek of demonstrators who made their way along Morningside Road on foot. By 7 o’clock there must have been at least 10,000 people in Morningside Road. Gangs of youths and young women, shouting ‘No Popery’ and waving orange and blue scarves or Union Jacks, were a feature of the crowd.

The crowd was exceptionally dense at Canaan Lane and opposite Hermitage Gardens and also at Churchhill, foot and mounted police endeavouring as far as possible to keep it on the move. A motor car containing Protestant Action leaders and displaying a card, on which was printed ‘No Popery’, made a constant tour of the neighbourhood and was noisily cheered. Speakers frequently attempted to address the crowd, but met with little success. Round them knots of supporters gathered, some of these carrying placards, which read ‘No Priest but Christ’ or ‘For God and Freedom’. The speakers attracted few hearers, the main element in the crowd being bent rather upon excitement than upon listening to them. There were attempts to form a procession, but these were defeated by the police and there were a number of ineffectual and pointless rushes which served to do little more than to give an ugly appearance to the situation. During some of these the police seized one or two of the demonstrators including a man brandishing a penknife but let them go later, having apparently taken them in hand for their own safety. Near Maxwell Street a bus carrying Roman Catholics to the Priory had a stone flung at it and the window was shattered.

The crowd continued to hang about in the expectation of some of the 10,000 Catholics leaving the Priory grounds by way of Morningside. One of the Protestant spokesmen mounted a pillar at the entrance to a stone-mason’s in Balcarres Street and told those who listened to him that Councillor Cormack’s orders were that Protestants should behave themselves in an orderly manner. Councillor Cormack had himself been on the scene earlier.

The ceremony at the Priory was over before nine o’clock, but the task of getting those who attended it away lasted for about an hour. The route taken in nearly all instances, was by way of the north end of Canaan Lane and Pitsligo Road. Churchhill had been cleared by the police, and a cordon was drawn across its juncture with Morningside Road, though tramcars were allowed to proceed along Churchhill, as they were in Morningside Road itself though here they accomplished the journey with difficulty. At the junction of Pitsligo Road with Churchhill, mounted police were kept in readiness.

A few of the buses carrying Catholics away took the Churchhill route, and, when they arrived at Morningside Road, they found a dense crowd waiting. Mounted constables made repeated skirmishes at this point in order to keep the thoroughfare clear. The crowd was in an angry mood, and made rushes at the buses as they emerged into the main street. In one of these stampedes a police horse slipped on the pavement, and the rider was thrown heavily to the ground, and had to be assisted to his feet, while his horse was led away amid jeers.

Not all the buses which ran the gauntlet of Morningside Road escaped unscathed. A bus was attacked by a section of the crowd at the corner of Colinton Road. Stones were thrown, and Canon Forsyth, an Edinburgh priest, was struck on the head. A bottle was hurled at a bus containing children which followed the first bus. About half-past nine a bus which contained women from St Patrick’s Church in the Cowgate was attacked. The windows on one side of it and at the back were smashed. Many of the women inside became hysterical, but most of them managed to duck below the window level and to draw their coats over their heads.

Shortly before 10 o’clock, so threatening was the attitude of the crowd in Morningside Road, that the police had to make a baton charge between Churchhill and Colinton Road during which one or two men were thrown to the ground. The object of the police was apparently to divide the crowd by driving a section of it northwards and the other section in the opposite direction.

There were also exciting scenes in the neighbourhood of Bruntsfield Links, when the crowds were making their way back to the centre of the city, and buses were crossing the links from the direction of Whitehouse Loan. There were skirmishes on the Links, and some free fights occurred in the district as the result of arguments. A crowd in Leven Street stoned a bus load of policemen, and there was a slight disturbance in Princes Street Station when a number of Roman Catholics were entraining.

Almost the entire force of police in Edinburgh was drafted to the disturbed area, where the handling of the crowds was supervised by Chief-Constable Ross. Roman Catholic chapels in Edinburgh were guarded by young Catholics all last night.

Strict and careful watch was kept by the great army of stewards who were posted at the various gates of St Andrew’s Priory, where the Solemn Procession of the Blessed Sacrament was held. Only authorised and special Catholics were allowed to enter the grounds, and each ticket was minutely examined.

After the service and procession, the great crowd, which must have numbered nearly 10,000 was called to attention by the warning voice of the loud speaker. ‘All those who are wearing the official badge as a mark of their participation in the Congress are asked to remove them before leaving the field’, it said. ‘His Grace the Archbishop desires that this should be done’.

Reference to the unruly scenes which have unfortunately marked the Congress was made by His Grace the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who pontificated at the Benediction which followed the impressive procession ‘I envy those who have had more to put up with than myself’, said the Archbishop in a short address, ‘but they will certainly receive more blessings’.

The beautiful grounds of the Priory made an ideal setting for the procession, and an hour before it was due to commence nearly 5,000 people were present. The number was doubled by the time the candles on the high altar were lit a few minutes before eight o’clock, and the announcer at the microphone had requested that the grounds should be regarded as a church, and that those present should refrain from talking and smoking.

In the centre of the grounds the high altar, with its four tall pillars in red, black, and gold, had been erected, and the gold base surmounted by white tiers stood out strikingly against a sylvan setting of thickly-leaved trees. On all four sides was a great sea of faces. A route for the long procession had been roped offamongst those taking part in the ceremony, but many hundreds of people had left the flat ground around the altar and climbed the steep natural embankment on either side for a better view of the procession.

The arrangements were perfectly organised. Prior to the actual ceremony a band enlivened the crowd with Scottish and Irish tunes. The procession, in which 1,200 took part, started from the western end of the Priory, and slowly and impressively wound its way towards the altar.

A thick mist swirled over the grounds, but its greyness was almost eclipsed by the colourful sight which met the eye at the first appearance of the banner bearer, who was followed closely by the members of the Guild of St Agnes in red and cream. Women’s Guilds, with the long line of the Children of Mary in blue and white preceded members of the University, Tertiary Sisters, in their black veils, and the representatives of Convents. Then came the Boys’ and Men’s Guilds, each participant wearing a coloured sash, members of University, Tertiary Brothers, and finally the Guild of Blessed Sacrament, servers, and clergy.


As the Archbishop ascended the steps of the altar and the golden Monstrance was carried aloft, every member of the large crowd knelt reverently for the solemn Pontifical Benediction. ‘Sweet Sacrament we Thee adore’, and ‘Faith of Our Fathers’ were the hymns sung during the procession.

Archbishop M’Donald read a copy of the telegram which had been sent to His Holiness the Pope at the beginning of the Congress. The message expressed the ‘deep loyalty and affection of all Catholics taking part in the Congress’, and concluded by ‘begging the eternal blessing of the Holy Father’.

The reply from Rome congratulated all those who had taken part in the Congress, ‘and still further, on having to suffer somewhat in the interests of the faith’.


10 Evening News, 12 October 1934, quoted in S. Bruce, T. Glendinning, M. Rosie, Sectarianism in Scotland, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004, p. 52.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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