Loyalism

Bonfires

Does Size Matter?

As we fast approach the 12th of July, bonfires are being built in Loyalist communities across Northern Ireland. For many people bonfires are an enjoyable part of the annual July festivities, for others they are a scar on the landscape. Whatever your opinion though, bonfires are here to stay.  I have nothing against a good ‘bonny’, but, I will say that in my humble opinion, bonfires should be scaled back in size. Some of the bonfires that are built each year are truly gigantic, do they have to be so large?

I contend that they do not. After all, isn’t the point of them to replicate the signal fires lit across the high hills of Ulster to communicate the news that King William III had landed at Carrick? Those original fires were not massive edifices. I fully understand that in some areas, especially in the Greater Belfast area, having the biggest bonfire is a sort of badge of honour. There is obviously a lot of fierce competition. However, there are other factors which need to be urgently considered.

Some Eleventh Night bonfires are on a truly epic scale

Some Eleventh Night bonfires are on a truly epic scale

Safety First

Last “11th Night” I attended a bonfire in County Antrim. Whilst not by any means a record breaker the bonfire was still very large. Consisting almost entirely of wooden pallets, the fire was not very wide at the base but was quite tall. After it was lit it began to burn on only one side. A few minutes later and the inevitable happened- the bonfire collapsed and fell over. Fortunately nobody was hurt but I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before one of these really large bonfires costs someone their life. Shouldn’t the safety of the community, and especially the youth of the community, be paramount? Bonfires don’t have to be gargantuan.

Some Loyalist communities have switched from large, and quite frankly ugly, bonfires to the much smaller and neater beacons. These beacons are metal, usually wrought iron, cage like structures into which combustible bonfire type material is placed. They have a number of benefits: they are safer, easier to clean up afterwards, easier to light etc. I know that in some places pressure has been applied to community groups/representatives to make the switch from bonfire to beacon but that is a counterproductive tactic. Often communities simply dig their heels in and refuse to even consider a beacon. To bribe communities with the promise of funding for other things (children’s playparks etc) is downright reprehensible, though I know full well of several examples of such shady practice.

Flag Burning

I don’t condone the burning of flags on bonfires. On the field of battle, an enemies colours, once captured, are rarely desecrated let alone destroyed, the Irish tricolour is though, being routinely burned on 11th of July bonfires, just as Loyalist flags are burned on Irish nationalist/republican bonfires. I can understand the reasoning of the flag burners, even though I don’t agree with their views. For many Loyalists and Unionists the Irish tricolour is a flag that will forever be tainted by it’s association with many and various terrorist gangs. PIRA/SF, RIRA, IPLO, CIRA, OIRA, INLA/IRSP, have all used (or continue to use) the tricolour as their emblem. If you ask the young bonfire builders what the Irish tricolour represents, many of them will tell you that it is the flag of “the IRA”, arguably they would not be incorrect in such an assertion.

It's not just Loyalists that burn flags on bonfires as vividly demonstrated by this republican "anti-internment" bonfire

It’s not just Loyalists that burn flags on bonfires as vividly demonstrated by this republican “anti-internment” bonfire

Nationalist/republican flags will also continue to go up in flames every summer whilst the Union flag and Ulster banner continue to be burned on republican bonfires. This is a sad indictment of Ulster society but unfortunately that is where we are at in terms of community relations. We live in a “zero sum” society. If one side of our divided community does something, the other side will do the same. “Yous burn our flag and we’ll burn yours”.

An Appeal to Common Sense

Whether or not you agree with me on the issue of bonfires, if you attend the Eleventh Night festivities please use your common sense and keep yourself and those around you safe. Too much alcohol is never a good idea at anytime, and especially not in the vicinity of a large open fire! Orange men and bandsmen should know not to indulge too much, after all, the 12th is a long day for those involved in the actual parade.

Keep dogs away from the bonfire. Never throw glass bottles etc into the fire. Keep a close eye on the youngsters and try to avoid getting your eyebrows singed off! What will I be doing? I’ll be tucked up in bed. Like I said, the 12th is a long day. I might not take an active part anymore but still, a good nights sleep is essential the night before Europe’s largest outdoor cultural festival.

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How Far They’ve Come

I welcome the election of Mitchell McLaughlin as Stormont speaker. No doubt that some extremely misguided Irish nationalists will see it as some kind of triumph, but to anyone with a brain in their heads this is yet another sign that PIRA/SF have abandoned all pretensions of being a truly republican movement.

Not only are they happy to help govern NI as an integral part of the UK, they are quite content to become a part of the very system of government. Would the thugs who murdered former Stormont speaker, Sir Norman Stronge, approve of their political wing sitting in a “partitionist” assembly, let alone a so-called republican becoming speaker of that institution? I don’t think so. How far these fascists have come in such a relatively short time.

McLaughlin’s elevation to the position of speaker is no victory for Irish nationalism, it is yet another defeat, indeed it is a humiliation, dressed up as another blow to the Union. Loyalists would do well to remember that and refuse to allow themselves to be goaded by those who live in a fantasy world where everything is interpreted as a triumph for nationalism and republicanism. Remember, PIRA/Sinn Fein vowed for years to “Smash Stormont” now they are part of the Stormont establishment . Does that not seem like a defeat to you?

On The Scottish Referendum

Prologue

The British Isles. The Islands of Britain. If you’re an Irish nationalist or republican- the archipelago off the North-West coast of mainland Europe formerly known as the British Isles (source: the Sinn Fein dictionary of Newspeak, 13th edition). A group of over 6,000 islands, many of which are inhabited, many of which are uninhabited. The two largest islands are commonly known as Great Britain (because it is the biggest), and Ireland, although I prefer to use the less common titles of East Britain and West Britain (and no, I’m not joking). These islands are subdivided into six distinct nations. East Britain is made up of England, Scotland and Wales. The more westerly island is made up of Eire and Ulster. The tiny island nation of Vannin (the Isle of Man) lies between the two. If one includes the Channel Islands, and there are arguments for and against doing so, the number of nations rises to 8. If one recognises Cornwall/Kernow as a distinct nation, and many do, that number rises to nine. The United Kingdom governs most of the British Isles. Eire has been an independent country since the early 1920s. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey are not part of the United Kingdom, they are British Crown Dependencies, ergo- British but not part of the UK (Irish nationalists will, by now, be furiously scratching their heads!). 

A handy map of the British Isles for the geographically challenged

A handy map of the British Isles for the geographically challenged

On Thursday, the 18th of September, one of the UK’s constituent nations, namely Scotland, will hold a referendum on independence. At present, opinion polls suggest the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns to be neck-and-neck. The result will be close, or so it appears. As an Ulster Loyalist many people think they know what my views are on Scottish independence. Most of those people are wrong. Let me be perfectly honest: I am not in favour of independence for Scotland, but if the Scots people are in favour of it, or at least the majority are, then I say- so be it. If there is a ‘Yes’ vote I will not be slitting my wrists, nor will I be out looking for a sturdy bough from which to hang myself. The world will keep spinning, the birds will keep singing and I, like many other Ulster Loyalists, will get on with my life exactly like before. Let me tell you why…

Lord, Save me from the Hypocrites!

Most Irish nationalists and republicans struggle with logic. They assert that this island, West Britain (aka ‘Ireland‘) should be, neigh must be, governed as a single, unitary, homogeneous state but that the island of Great Britain should not be. Unionists however, hold an equally paradoxical view- that the nations of one island should remain separate but that the nations of the other (main) island should remain unified. Ok, maybe there are some Unionists who would argue that all the nations of these islands should be politically united but surely such Unionists are only a tiny minority? Holding two seemingly opposing views at the same time creates cognitive dissonance. Something I’ve never been too keen on. So how do Loyalists “square the circle” so to speak? Let me explain-

As an Ulster Loyalist I am loyal to the land of my birth, Ulster (pay attention at the back there). I regard my native land as being a distinct nation, a nation which (as the polity of Northern Ireland) is part of the United Kingdom because the majority of it’s citizens wish it to be so. I, like the majority of my compatriots, believe that Ulster’s membership of the United Kingdom is beneficial to our material well being. I do not believe that that membership is a prerequisite of my country’s existence, nor do I believe that the UK is somehow a ‘spiritual’ or undissolvable union. My primary loyalty is to Ulster (as it has existed since 1921, ie. the six county Ulster model of the modern era). I reject the idea that Ulster should be subsumed into a monocultural 32 county Irish state, not because of any enmity or prejudice against Eire or it’s citizens, but because the idea is anathema to me as a patriotic Ulsterman. I would be just as opposed to any proposed annexation if our neighbours on this island were the Dutch or the Swiss! I would also be naturally opposed to any effort by England to supplant Scottish culture, rewrite Scots history and/or fully ‘integrate’ those two nations into one.

Admit it, this isn't really how you imagined the Swiss army, is it?

Admit it, this isn’t really how you imagined the Swiss army, is it?

I regard the United Kingdom as a family of nations. But a family held together, not by inflexible bonds of iron, but by more subtle ties. Common outlook, common language (more or less), common history and common values. Should one part of that family of nations decide to go it’s own way and to break the ties which bind our countries together, then so be it. The rest of the family will simply carry on. No island, no landmass, is preordained to be a single, unitary political entity. Islands do not equal nations. Scottish independence will not make me, or Ulster, any less British. The people of the UK are of course British by birth, but in another way, a more intangible way, we are British by choice. Is it not then also valid to choose not to be British, if that is how one feels? And is it not also correct for each part of the Union, each nation, to have the right to self-determination? A Union held together by force or coercion is not a Union I would want any part of.

We’ll Still be Brothers

In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, the people of Ulster and the people of Scotland will still be close relations. Political decisions, no matter how momentous, cannot alter thousands of years of history and kinship. I will still visit the Scottish branch of my family in Stirling, I will still welcome Scots into my home each July. I might even chance my arm and try to get a Scottish passport (one can never have enough passports!). An independent Scotland may even have unexpected benefits for Northern Ireland, after all, those nuclear submarines have to be based somewhere, and Lough Foyle is as good a place as any. It is my sincere hope though that this referendum is decisive, one way or the other. Is a 51-49% split a clear indication of the will of the people? Can Scotland transition to independence if, for example, 47% of the population didn’t want, or vote for, independence?

There is another issue here too. If independence is rejected, then surely it is time for a constitutional modernisation of the United Kingdom? A redefining of relationships between constituent countries, a reassertion of the inalienable rights of individual nations and the updating of the UK’s written constitution (contrary to popular belief the United Kingdom does have a written constitution: the Magna Carta Libertatum of 1215). And is it not time for English devolution? The UK has always been a federal entity in all but name, it is high time for our federation to be codified and it’s articles of association to be made clear.

Oh Alex, you're making this all far too easy. People will start to think you want to have the "pish ripped clean outta ye".

Oh Alex, you’re making this all far too easy. People will start to think you want to have the “pish ripped clean outta ye”.

Epilogue

The Scottish people should use their votes and use them wisely. People in other nations that constitute a part of a larger union or federation will never get a vote on their countries future. Wars have been fought for such things. Remember Biafra-  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-20801091. One could argue that the American Civil War was about the right of constituent states to secede (or not), a conflict that cost over 600,000 lives and tore apart a continent. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument, it will at least be settled at the ballot box, not on the field of battle.

I wish my Scottish brothers and sisters well, whatever they decide. The choice is theirs and theirs alone. I will not wax lyrical about British identity, I will not use sentimentalism to argue for Scotland’s continued membership of the Union. Scots should vote with their heads, not their hearts, for Scotland will always be in their hearts, as Ulster is in mine. They will always have Scotland’s best interests at heart, simply because they are Scots. Therefore the choice must be made with cool head rather than warm heart. What is best for Scotland? Separation or Union? The Scots must decide. The rest of us must await the outcome of that decision, but I will leave you with my prediction- when all the votes are cast and counted, I believe that Scotland will say: “Naw thanks”.

 

 

In Proud Memory: Benny Redfern & Gary Lynch

At this time of year the minds of many Loyalists in Co. Londonderry are cast back in memory of two brave young men from that county who made the ultimate sacrifice. Benny Redfern and Gary Lynch. Benny and Gary were two dedicated, courageous, hard working Loyalists who were prepared to do anything and everything necessary to defend their country and their community. Both were to die tragic deaths. Both cut down in their prime, but their sacrifice will never be forgotten, they will live on in the memory of all true Loyalists.

Vol. BENNY REDFERN

Benny was from Desertmartin and was prepared to do whatever it took in the defence of his community and beloved Ulster. Benny was a well liked and respected member of the local community whom he strived to protect. Like many around South Londonderry and East Tyrone, Benny saw first hand the suffering being inflicted upon the Protestant community. Such incidents shaped Benny’s thinking and led him to become an Ulster soldier, joining the local brigade of the UDA at the age of 21. Benny’s fearless and loyal nature made him an excellent soldier and one whose memory will live forever. His excellence and great soldier like qualities quickly allowed him to rise up through the ranks of the UDA as a young man. 

Vol. Benny Redfern. Sadly missed by all who knew him.

Vol. Benny Redfern. Sadly missed by all who knew him.

In 1977 the Londonderry and North Antrim Brigade lost a fine man when Benny was interned in Crumlin Road Prison and later charged in connection with the death of 3 Republicans, namely Joe McAuley, James Chivers and John Bolton. He was sentenced to 18 years in Long Kesh where he was also held in high regard by other Loyalist POWs. It was not in Benny’s nature to be locked up and he yearned to once again take the war to republicans, as he had so successfully done before his incarceration, which is why on the 10th of August 1984, Benny tried a daring escape from Long Kesh. Coming up with a plan to escape from the prison concealed in the back of a bin lorry. However, when he jumped into the back of the lorry, a tragedy occurred, the bin lorry was activated and Benny was crushed. Sadly he passed away the next day at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Many people lost a great friend and relative that day, but all of Ulster lost a true son and valiant defender. His death shocked and saddened so many in this local community and further a field where Benny was held in high esteem. Benny has since always been remembered as a great man of the local community and a brave soldier who took the war to violent republicans. Vol. Benny Redfern will be remembered always by the Loyalist community in South Londonderry.

GARY ‘LOFTY’ LYNCH

Gary Lynch was a steadfast and dedicated young Loyalist, a member of the Ulster Democratic Party’s Londonderry Branch, and a popular and well liked member of his community. As a member of the UDP, Gary worked to try and bring about peace and reconciliation. Gary was also working on a number of community projects at the time of his death. An articulate and erudite young man, politically astute beyond his years, Gary was part of brilliant generation of young Loyalist politicos, alongside people like Gary McMichael and Ray Smallwoods. No doubt, had he not been cut down in his prime, Gary Lynch would have gone on to earn a senior position within the Ulster Democratic Party.

'In Honour of Fallen Comrades'. A mural dedicated to the memory of those men of L'derry & Nth. Antrim UDA/UFF who died during the long years of Conflict.

‘In Honour of Fallen Comrades’. A mural dedicated to the memory of those men of L’derry & Nth. Antrim UDA/UFF who died during the long years of Conflict.

On the 9th of August 1991, seven years after the tragic death of Vol. Benny Redfern, Gary was murdered by an Irish nationalist death squad. The cowardly gunmen waited for Gary to arrive for work at Foyle Meats, in the Lisahally area of Londonderry, and as he parked his car the PIRA/Sinn Fein terror gang opened fire, hitting Gary a number of times. It is widely believed that he was targeted simply because he had attended the funeral of his party colleague and friend Cecil McKnight, who had been murdered on the 29th of June that year, and acted as a pallbearer at his comrades funeral. Throughout the year the UFF had been successfully seeking out and killing high ranking republicans and the Provo murder gangs were struggling to hit back. In County Londonderry they were unable to hit back at a military target so instead chose to target the UDP, considered the ‘political wing’ of the UFF/UDA. The callous murder of Gary Lynch was a cowardly act. The actions of men who were deeply fearful of the rejuvenated Loyalist resistance. Those responsible probably thought that they could defeat the Loyalist people, they couldn’t have been more wrong. Loyalism will never be defeated and true Loyalists will always remember our honoured dead. Brave men like Gary Lynch and Benny Redfern. Men who gave their all for their homeland;

“They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them”

QS