By Jack Holland
The crisis at Drumcree is a reminder of an all-too-easily forgotten fact about the Northern Ireland Troubles, and that is the pivotal role played by extreme Protestants and their organizations. During those decades, the IRA got most of the attention. As a result, loyalists were frequently ignored. Yet consider these facts.
It was loyalists who launched the first terror campaign, in 1966, claiming three lives – a Protestant and two Catholics. The Ulster Volunteer Force was responsible.
It was loyalists who launched the first bombing campaign against Northern Ireland, in March 1969, which forced a prime minister, Terence O’Neill, from office. They targeted electricity and water-supply installations. One man was convicted of involvement in the attacks, but the court heard that he did not have the political subtlety to see the implications of his actions, suggesting that a far smarter conspirator than he lay behind them. Many believed that that man was the Rev. Ian Paisley, currently fomenting trouble at Drumcree.
It was loyalists who were responsible for murdering the first policeman to die in the current Troubles. Constable Victor Arbuckle was shot dead protecting the Catholic Unity Flats from a loyalist mob angered, ironically enough, because the police had just been disarmed. A loyalist gunmen, Thomas Rountree, was later charged with manslaughter.
It was loyalists who first became involved in widespread riots against the British army in Belfast, on the Shankill Road in the fall of 1969, during which two people were killed.
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It was loyalists who were responsible for the worst single bomb attack against civilians in Northern Ireland in the history of the Troubles. On the night of Dec. 4 1971, loyalists bombed McGurk’s Bar in North Queen Street in North Belfast, killing 15 people, two of them children.
It was loyalists in the form of the Ulster Defense Association who in July 1972 helped bring about the end of an IRA cease-fire by blocking Catholics from moving into houses which had been allocated to them. The UDA subsequently set up large “no-go” areas and threatened rebellion unless the British army moved in to dismantle the Nationalist no-go areas. Northern Ireland was perched on the brink of civil war as a result.
It was loyalists who launched the first systematic campaign of assassinations in Belfast, in 1972, targeting innocent Catholics. The UDA and UVF would go on to claim more civilian lives than all the republican organizations combined.
It was loyalists who again brought down a Northern Ireland prime minister, Brian Faulkner, in May 1974, through the so-called Ulster Workers’ Council “strike” – which was in fact more of a lock-out maintained through UDA intimidation. The “strike” forced the first power-sharing experiment to collapse and once more pushed the country to the brink of civil war.
It was loyalists who were responsible for the bloodiest incident in the entire history of the Troubles: the Dublin bombings of May 17, 1974. The three bombs claimed 26 lives, including two children, aged 5 months and 17 months. The bombs went off at the same time as a bomb in Monaghan which killed another seven people. The attacks, which were the responsibility of the UVF, were coordinated with the UDA campaign against the power-sharing government in Belfast.
To sum up: between 1966 and 1974, loyalists launched two terror campaigns of assassination, bombed one prime minister out of office, forced another and his government to resign through extreme intimidation, and perpetrated the worst bombings in the history of the Troubles. But that, as they say, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Loyalists have always thought of themselves as “Queen’s rebels,” and apparently see no contradiction in attacking her security forces in the name of “loyalty.” Over three days, up to Tuesday, July 7, according to figures in The Irish Times, loyalists launched 246 attacks against the police and army, injured 42 RUC men, threw 330 petrol bombs, hijacked 101 cars, burned 39 house and 71 other buildings. They did all this in the name of “loyalty.”
But loyalty to what? it might be asked. In the end, it seems, they are loyal to preserving their own status in Northern Ireland and have shown over the years a readiness to use extreme violence to protect it when they perceive that it is threatened.
Among the more curious stories to emerge from the showdown at Drumcree, Portadown, was that concerning “The Committee,” the book published by Roberts Rinehart, which makes controversial allegations about a conspiracy among Protestant businessmen and police to murder Catholics. According to what is usually referred to as a “highly placed source” – which in fact normally means a hearing-aid salesman or a house painter – the Catholic residents of Garvaghy Road were threatening to read the entire text of “The Committee” in relays over loudspeakers pointed toward the Orangemen camped in the nearby fields. That would certainly have kept them awake at night.
Even more curious was the quote in The New York Times story about Drumcree on July 6 in which Robert Brown, an Orangeman, attacked Pope Gregory XIII for “changing the Western calendar 400 years ago.” I have heard Orangemen lash out at various historical figures, but never at the calendar reforms of Pope Gregory XIII, who reigned from 1572 to 1585.
Pope Gregory XIII recognized that for astronomical reasons the Julian year was 10 days out of synch with the solar year. So he declared that the day after Oct. 4, 1582 (actually Oct. 14), would be Oct. 15. The British, however, behaved the way they are behaving about adopting a standard European currency. They did not introduce the new calendar until 1752.
Of course, for Orangemen the implications are confusing, to say the least. It means that the Glorious 12th was actually the Glorious 2nd. That is, if they were still calculating according to the Julian Calendar. No wonder Brother Brown is so upset. The pope actually conspired to rob the Orangemen of the 12th 105 years before the Battle of the Boyne was even fought. That’s foresight for you. But those popes, you know, were always a cunning lot.