Barney: Bernard Hughes of Belfast, 1808-1878 : Master Baker, Liberal and Reformer
Bernard Hughes stands out as one of the extraordinary entrepreneurs who shaped Belfast's transformation from market town to sprawling industrial city. He arrived as a penniless laborer from Co. Armagh in 1826; by the 1870s he owned the largest baking and milling enterprise in Ireland. By then Hughes was Belfast's first elected Catholic representative and his roles as municipal politician, industrial reformer and Catholic lay spokesman had also won him the admiration of an increasingly divided town. Hughes's strong political and personal courage was characterised by a deep aversion to sectarianism, and he sought justice and equality for all. He was an eye-witness to the bitter sectarian riots of 1857 and 1864 and his evidence to the resulting Royal Commissions of Inquiry antagonised the Tory hierarchy of the town. His sharply independent outlook also brought him into conflict with the local Catholic bishop and the Catholic press. But it is for his bread that Barney Hughes will be best remembered. His innovative production and marketing ideas provided the town's working population with a cheap basic food at a time when they needed it most, particularly during the Great Famine. The popularity of "Barney's Baps" won him a permanent place in the city's folklore. This absorbing biography shows how—as master baker, Liberal politician, Catholic representative, and philanthropist—Barney Hughes has earned an enduring place as one of Belfast's most fascinating public figures.
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