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20: Giants from a different age. Ice hockey in wartime Northern Ireland.
Episode 2028th June 2023 • A Wee Bit Of War • Scott Edgar of WartimeNI
00:00:00 00:30:12

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Everyone remembers when the Belfast Giants brought ice hockey to Northern Ireland in the year 2000. But is everyone mistaken? Ice hockey had been played in Ulster since the Second World War. In 1939, Canadian Arnold "Duke" Brockman, manager of the Belfast Ice Rink at the King's Hall established a league. Harlandic Wolves, Short and Harland Raiders, Balmoral Tigers, and Thornton Wasps did battle on the ice as German forces swept across Europe and fears of invasion grew in the U.K.


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Scott Edgar:

Hello and welcome to A Wee Bit Of War, a podcast dedicated to telling the stories of Northern Ireland during the Second World War. I'm your host, Scott Edgar, and in this episode we are preluding next week’s Canada Day celebrations in Belfast by looking at the connections between Ulster and Canada and one of Northern Ireland’s least known wartime stories.

Of War, but back to the year:

[Organ Fanfare]

nd December:

a time of global conflict, to:

the sectarian violence of the:

Streets in working-class areas of north and east Belfast, streets that would in a few years face the devastation of falling Luftwaffe bombs, resounded to shouts and cheers as local children skated and slotted home goals between makeshift posts. As the sport’s popularity grew, so to did the opportunity to play. Informal competitions took place at sporting venues like Dunmore Park off the Antrim Road and in community halls such as The Palm Hall on east Belfast’s Tamar Street. Across the Irish Sea, predominantly in London, ice hockey was fast growing in popularity. Were it to become a sport in Northern Ireland, a dedicated venue would be required.

In June:


[Formby Song]

Earlier in the year, crowds at the State Cinema in Ballymena had enjoyed 'Idol Of The Crowds', a thrilling love story B-movie set against a hockey rink backdrop starring John Wayne and Sheila Bromley.

[Idol of the Crowds Clip]

Other movies that year included ‘The Game That Kills’, a drama of ice hockey, dodgy dealings, and racketeering.

[The Game That Kills Clip]

In June:

This idea may be out of season, but it is one worthy of consideration. It concerns the Canadian sport, ice hockey, which is booming on the other side of the Channel both in England and Scotland. While this may, or may not, be the time of year to consider winter sports, it is generally reckoned that the "early bird..."

There is no doubt that the sport has caught on tremendously across the water, and it is undoubtedly one which could more than pay its way here. Ice rinks, costing about £20,000 to £30,000 are springing up like mushrooms, and £20,000 is not such a large sum when spread over say 1,000 shareholders. Surely, there would be sufficient support coming from Belfast to justify the erection of one either in the city or in Bangor. Preferably the former place.

Ireland has never been exploited for ice sports, and yet it can surely boast a large quota of skaters in the population. The ice hockey teams are, of course, recruited from Canada - so there won't be any question of going outside the Empire.

Curling clubs could be formed, and this is a grand old sport for active old men and enthusiastic young ones. Skating is definitely on the upgrade, as would soon be proved by the erection of such a sports centre. The idea is, perhaps, unseasonable, but it has its possibilities.

th October:

[Hockey Whistle]

Duke was a Canadian hockey player and coach and in his role as manager of the Belfast Ice Rink, ice hockey was about to become big business in the city. Brockman was a real pioneer of the sport. As a former player, he continued to coach, to train teams, to referee games and become and ambassador and promoter of the game.


The latter half of:

th July:


In accordance with the regulations and statutes of the internatonal controlling body, Ligue International de Hockey sur Glace, all ice hockey clubs in Great Britain and Northern Ireland must be affiliated direct to the British Ice Hockey Association and the individual players must hold a valid B.I.H.A. playing certificate.

th November:

Many people will be patronising the first ice hockey match to be played in Belfast, at the King's Hall, Balmoral, on Saturday next; and will enjoy the game much better if they know something of the rules.

It is generally recognised as the fastest and toughest game in the world. Hard knocks are given and taken, and occasionally players have stitches inserted, returning to the ice to continue the game.

The rink is divided into three zones - neutral, attacking, and defence - and the game lasts for three periods of twenty minutes each.

The goals are about ten feet wide and two feet deep, and the player in goal is known as the goalminder. Six players for each team are on the ice at once, and the formation is goalminder, two defence men, and three forwards. The teams carry substitutes, usually three, but they can only replace players when the whistle has blown for a foul or an infringement of the rules.

If a foul is serious a player can be sent to the box for one to five minutes, according to the seriousness of the offence, and the penalty box is an enclosure at the side of the rink, and an official with a stop watch times the period of detention.

The sticks are somewhat similar to hockey sticks, have longer handles, and the blade is flat and used both sides. The rubber puck, four inches in diameter, can be driven with terrific force.

And so, the people of Belfast were ready. Someone at the King’s Hall was preparing to holler let’s play hockey.

[Hockey Chant]

nd December:

Another newspaper article from Ireland's Saturday Night provided a little more context for the new casual fans.

The players look like giants from another age so well are they padded on shoulders, arms, and legs, for this is a real man's game in which the blows given and taken are of the hardest. The goalkeeper is like a robot, with his huge cricket pads and wicket keeper's gloves.

The second game of the day, saw the Wembley Terriers extract revenge with a 7-12 victory. If it was a fast-paced, goal heavy thriller that Gaston and Brockman wanted to show the excitement of the game to a new audience, then that’s exactly what they got.

th December:

[Hockey Cheer]

th December:

Though the evening game was poorly attended there was more enthusiasm than at the match between the Colts and Terriers a fortnight previously. This was possibly due to the fact that Archie Greer, a local player, came on as a substitute for the Marlboroughs., and incidentally revealed himself as being much better than a raw hand at the game.

th December:

The organisation of a Belfast Ice Hockey League is rapidly working to a successful conclusion. At a full dress practice match last week an exciting game took place at the King's Hall between Thortons and Short and Harlands. At the end of an exciting and even struggle the result was a draw of one goal each.

It is hoped to stage the first public league game before the end of January. The King's Hall team is naturally setting the pace. They have some extremely promising talent available. Archie Greer, who made a promising debut in Belfast when assisting the Earl's Court Marlboroughs, will be one of the forward line. His two brilliant individual goals scored against the Redwings should prove a good augury of goals to come. His Marlborough performance was all the more creditable when it was remembered that Thompson, one of the Redwings' defence men, whom he was up against, has played for England 32 times in international games.

Nick McLaughlin's nickname of 'Train' will give some idea of his speed, while Donald McIntyre, a very young player only 14 years of age is a prodigy for his years. Johnnie Chivers is another useful stickman.

Henrick Kacsar, a Czech by nationality, is also among the probables. He has been away from his native land for three years and seems quite acclimatised, but his countryman Don Moravetz, has been in Belfast only eight months and is a refugee. Ernie Johnston is available as goalminder. This experienced player belonged to the same team in Canada as Arnold Brockman, the coach.

Another experienced player who may find a place in the King's Hall team is Zinet, an Austrian who played for the Zentralverein in Vienna. Although there are a number of strangers, however, the great majority of the players are Belfast born and bred and are fully capable of holding their own with the rest.

rd February:


hen that newspaper article in:

was he the only Whistle. From:

th June:

th December:

th May:


nd May:

Following his tragic and untimely death, Jackson Kennedy was buried in Dundonald Cemetery on the outskirts of east Belfast, only a few hundred yards away from the Icebowl Rink where generations of new young hockey players have learned the trade over the years.

ore a shock transfer in April:

th October:

nd February:

th April:

ockey in Belfast. In December:

that dinner dance in December:

s derequisitioned in December:

of the franchise in the year:

Even in:

Lodges became more common. In:

rent place now than it was in:

From wartime to peace, from giants of a different age to, well just Giants.

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