In Proud Memory: Cecil McKnight

Cecil McKnight was a dedicated and highly motivated man. Cecil was a true Loyalist, an erudite and articulate community activist, and an honest and forthright man. Active within Loyalism for many years, he had risen to become leader of the Ulster Democratic Party in the City of Londonderry. Cecil was active in the Orange Institution (LOL 1866), and worked tirelessly, not only for the benefit his own community but also, as a senior member of the Ulster Democratic Party, in an effort to deliver a viable political process which would finally bring the internecine conflict in Ulster to an end.

Cecil McKnight

On the 29th of June, 1991, Cecil McKnight was murdered by the enemies of Ulster. Shot dead at his home in Melrose Terrace. Incredibly, an RUC inspector and a constable were in the house when the attack happened, having earlier arranged to meet Cecil there to discuss some unspecified issue. Contrary to some reports, the two armed policemen did not pursue the two men who had just murdered Cecil McKnight.

The fact that an Irish republican murder gang knew exactly where Cecil would be, the fact that two police officers were present at Cecil’s home and the fact that those police officers did nothing to challenge the republican gunmen, or to afterwards apprehend them, has lead many Loyalists, in the North-West and beyond, to believe that Cecil McKnight was ‘set up’ and that his killers acted in collusion with an agency (or agencies) of the state, most probably RUC Special Branch.

The republican terror gangs of the time were absolutely riddled with informers and paid agents, the former ‘Officer Commanding’ of PIRA/SF in Derry being one such example. Irish nationalist/republican paramilitary groups also have a long history of collusion with- An Garda Síochána, the Libyan government, Colombian drug cartels, the East German government, the Dublin government etc, etc. To suppose that such groups would not have acted in concert with, or at the behest of, a branch of the Security Services, or elements thereof, is naive in the extreme.

To his credit, the then Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daly, described the killing as a wholly sectarian murder, adding: “May I say on behalf of the Catholic community that we do not want anything to do with this type of sectarian conflict“. Cecil McKnight’s murder was also condemned by all of the mainstream political parties, with only the lunatic fringe- Provisional Sinn Féin and the IRSP- refusing to condemn what had been a vicious and blatantly sectarian attack upon the entire ‘PUL’ community in Derry/Londonderry.

Loyalists in the Londonderry and North Antrim area, and indeed throughout Ulster and the rest of the UK, remember Cecil McKnight with pride and affection. A fearless and determined Ulsterman, Cecil McKnight lead by example. Remembered by his comrades for his courage, intelligence and honesty, Cecil McKnight will never be forgotten, nor his legacy tarnished.

“NOT GOLD BUT ONLY MEN CAN MAKE, A NATION GREAT AND STRONG. MEN WHO, FOR TRUTH AND HONOUR’S SAKE, STAND FAST AND SUFFER LONG. MEN WHO WORK WHILE OTHERS SLEEP, WHO DARE WHEN OTHERS SHY, THEY SET A NATION’S PILLARS DEEP AND LIFT THEM TOWARDS THE SKY”

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”

Quis Separabit

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The Forgotten Minority; Catholic Unionists in Northern Ireland

Thin on the ground?

According to a 2014 opinion poll, 22.8% of Northern Ireland Catholics described themselves as “British”. The poll also revealed that 20.6% of Roman Catholic’s wanted Northern Ireland to remain an integral part of the UK. That is almost over one fifth of NI’s Catholic population. A surprising and extraordinary statistic, or at least it will be to some people. There have however, always been Catholic Unionists, some of them very prominent, although in recent years the number of Catholic Unionists, and Catholic Loyalists, seems to have increased.

In October, 2017, Stephen McCarthy was co-opted unto Antrim and Newtownabbey Council, as an Ulster Unionist Party councillor. Nothing unusual? Well, actually Cllr. Stephen McCarthy is a little unusual. A former altar boy, he grew up a Catholic in the republican stronghold of West Belfast, growing up in the St James area before moving to the Short Strand. His grandfather was shot dead in 1991 by the UVF while working as a taxi driver.

He joined the UUP aged 19 despite coming from what he is on record as describing as an “SDLP family”. In an interview with the Irish News Cllr. McCarthy stated- “There are many Unionists in the Catholic community.” Adding that he is a Unionist principally for “economic reasons” but also that he feels “both British and Irish”.

Cllr. McCarthy is not unique and in the coming years and decades there will be many more like him. Unionism and Loyalism, despite the vitriol of the usual suspects, has never been about religion. As time moves on and religion becomes less and less important in people’s lives, an increasing number people will base their political opinions, not on the traditional outlook of their parents or grandparents, but on their own thoughts, feelings and aspirations.

Sir John Gorman, Ulster Unionist MLA for North Down (1998-2003) and “Catholic Unionist”

The real bigots

Those 20.6% of Catholic’s who said they wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK are, very obviously, Unionists, even if many would be reluctant to describe themselves as such. It is interesting that the 2014 poll also revealed that there were more than twice as many Catholic Unionists as there were “Protestant Irish nationalists”. Again, for some that will no doubt be surprising, and troubling. For a significant proportion of Irish nationalists and republicans, that 20%+ of Catholics who are also pro-Union, are traitors. Many Catholic Unionists hide their real political leanings, sometimes even from their own families, for fear of becoming pariahs. Like it or not, believe it or not, the “CNR” community is much more tribalistic and insular than the “PUL” community.

Sir Denis Henry. Catholic, Unionist and the first Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland

That is an uncomfortable truth, but it is one that nationalists and republicans are going to have to come to terms with. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” as the saying goes. We will see then, which political camp really is the most tribal and sectarian over the course of the coming years and decades. I am confident that as the number of Unionists and Loyalists from outwith the Protestant community continues to grow, that it will be Irish nationalism which will be exposed as the sectarian, intolerant and parochial doctrine Loyalists have always known it is.

Fan Art

We here at It’s Still Only Thursday were very pleased (and surprised) when we received a very nice message, praising our humble wee blog and accompanied by a fantastic bit of what we can only describe as “fan art”. Even better, the budding artist hails from Denmark, further demonstrating the reach of I.S.O.T

Thanks very much S.A.

When the UFF bombed London

The Target

In the 1970’s, Biddy Mulligan‘s pub on High Road, Kilburn, northwest London, was a notorious Irish republican meeting place. The unofficial headquarters of both the Official and Provisional factions of the IRA and a focal point for republicans from all across London. The premises lacked any semblance of class or charm, although that did not seem to deter the clientele, which included not only militant Irish nationalist extremists but also Far-Left activists and a not inconsiderable criminal element. “Biddy’s” was frequented by terrorists, petty criminals, would-be Communist revolutionaries, terrorist sympathisers and political tourists. The collection bucket was passed round on an almost nightly basis, with the donations, or at least most of them, being sent across the Irish Sea to help fund the murderous activities of the Official IRA and PIRA/Sinn Féin. The pub was once described by a local Conservative as being “a festering boil on the face of north London”. Just before Christmas, 1975, that “boil” was lanced in violent and spectacular fashion.

“Lancing the boil”

On the evening of Sunday, 21st December, 1975, a young man entered the premises carrying a small holdall. After a brief altercation with the bar steward, John Constantine, the young man left. Nobody seemed to notice that when he went he no longer had his holdall with him. There were 90 people in the pub at the time and the IRA collection bucket had not long been passed round. It seemed to be business as usual in Biddy Mulligan’s. Then, at shortly before 10 o’clock, the pub was rocked by an explosion. Five people were fairly seriously wounded, although none of the injuries were life threatening, and a number of others suffered minor injuries (the majority of whom refused hospital treatment and quietly slipped away before the police could question them).

The Metropolitan Police later stated that a bomb, containing “about three to five pounds of explosive” had been left in the pub doorway. The Police also said that a phone call had been received by the BBC the previous night, from an individual claiming to represent the Ulster Young Militants, the youth wing of the UFF, calmly stating that the UYM were going to “carry the war against the IRA onto the mainland“. The Provisional republican movement in England were panicked, with Sinn Féin representatives openly expressing the concern that the Kilburn bombing was merely a prelude to a much wider ranging Loyalist bomb campaign against republican targets in England and Scotland. The Provos main concern however, was not the well being of republican activists and sympathisers. Tellingly one Sinn Féin man had spoken openly about how they raised “more than £17,000 a year” in Kilburn, most of that amount almost certainly coming out of Biddy Mulligan’s pub.

Aftermath

The following day landlords of Irish pubs across London and beyond put guards on the door to check people’s bags as they entered. Without the slightest hint of irony locals were said to be “very concerned” that the ‘Troubles’ had spread to Kilburn and told journalists that they now felt under “immense threat”. One might wonder how exactly they felt when they were stuffing pound notes into collection tins for Irish republican murder gangs, or if they ever spared a thought for the innocent victims of those gangs.
In October, 1976, four men appeared at the Old Bailey and were found guilty of carrying out the daring attack. Two young men from north Down received sentences of 14 and 15 years respectively. A 20 year old electrician from Belfast, the alleged bomb maker, got 12 years, and a 40 year old lorry driver, from Cumbernauld, Scotland, who allegedly procured the explosives for the bomb, received 10 years. In sentencing it was said the men were Loyalists who “were determined that the IRA and IRA sympathisers should not meet in the pub without retribution“. The judge said however that, “It should be clearly understood whatever political, religious or social feelings people may have, a crime of vengeance is not allowed“. Such is the lacklustre attitude of the UK establishment towards dens of sedition and terrorism in their own capital.

The Motive

It seems that the decision to strike at republican targets in England was taken by the Ulster Freedom Fighters in the wake of the events of Saturday, 8th June, 1974, when an estimated 3,000 people lined the streets of Kilburn for the funeral (or rather the first of three funerals) of Provisional IRA member Michael Gaughan. Gaughan, originally from Co. Mayo, Éire, had been living in the Kilburn area for a number of years when, in 1971, his ham-fisted attempts at armed robbery, supposedly on behalf of the OIRA, earned him a seven year prison sentence. Whilst in prison he defected to the Provos and in March, 1974, began a hunger strike that was to last 64 days and ultimately claim his life. He was joined on hunger strike by Hugh Feeney, the “Old Bailey bomber”, Frank Stagg, who along with Catholic priest, (Father) Patrick Fell, had commanded a PIRA unit based in the West Midlands, and Sinn Féin’s very own “medallion man”, Gerry Kelly, at the time better known as “bomber Kelly” for his part in bombing the Old Bailey and the Ministry of Agriculture in Whitehall.


Biddy Mulligan’s pub circa 1975


It would seem, with the benefit of hindsight, that the Ulster Freedom Fighters never had any serious intention of mounting a sustained campaign against republican targets in England. The Kilburn bombing seems to have been a warning, a “shot across the bows” as it were. It seems improbable that, if the UFF really had intended to strike at multiple targets in England and Scotland, that no other such attacks occurred. The capture of the Active Service Unit responsible for the attack on Biddy Mulligan’s was unfortunate, from the UFF’s point of view, but it would not have been at all difficult for them to have dispatched another ASU, or to have recruited one from Loyalists resident on the mainland. It is worth remembering that the UDA maintained, and to some extent still maintains, a “Mainland Brigade”, which is in actuality a number of brigades, with the UDA particularly strong in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Glasgow, the northeast of England, Yorkshire, the Midlands and London.

Undoubtedly the decision not to begin a wholesale bombing campaign in England was the correct one. Whatever the benefits of striking Irish republican targets on the Mainland, they are more than outweighed by the potential detrimental effects such a campaign would have brought. No doubt a Loyalist bomb blitz, regardless of the nature of the targets, would have cost Loyalism much support, or at least grudging respect, from the English populace. In this instance, the decision by the leadership of the Ulster Freedom Fighters to refrain from action was ultimately a prudent one.

The Irish diaspora in England seemed to heed the warning that the UFF had so ruthlessly delivered in London. Collections on behalf of the republican murder gangs became much less frequent and there were no more displays like Michael Gaughan’s funeral. Biddy Mulligan’s continued on into the 1980’s but it’s heyday was most definitely over. Today “Biddy’s”, the once notorious republican mecca, is a bookmakers shop. Few who live in Kilburn even remember the name of the infamous pub that was once bombed by the UFF.

Fire Up The Time Machine

The blog is back

Ok folks, I’m back. Almost three years since I took an enforced sabbatical from the heady world of blogging. On a personal level, things have changed. I have changed. At least in some ways. Sadly though the same cannot be said for Ulster politics. Twenty years after the signing of the Belfast Agreement, the political landscape in Northern Ireland still resembles a battlefield. The DUP and Sinn Féin still thrive on confrontation and contention, much of it wholly manufactured, whilst the majority of the population grit their collective teeth and try to get on with their lives.

The Loyalist community is supposed to be absolutely outraged at the prospect of a Gaelic language act (legislation to protect a minority language? Arrgggghhh, the horror, the horror!), whilst Sinn Féin voters are supposedly weeping and gnashing their teeth because of how oppressed and downtrodden they are. Well, that’s Northern Ireland according to Arlene and Michelle anyway. Personally I couldn’t give a monkeys if the toy-town parliament up at Stormont is ever restored or not. Don’t get me wrong, in principle I believe in devolution, indeed, I believe in the radical decentralisation of power, far beyond what the N.I. assembly delivers, or rather doesn’t deliver. In Ulster though, devolution has become a soap opera. A repetitive, stale and formulaic soap opera, rehashing the same old storylines again and again. Direct rule is hardly an attractive proposition, but at this point no alternative to the present self-perpetuating stalemate should be off the table. I’m sure I speak for many Ulster folk when I say that I have simply become bored with the whole DUP/Sinn Féin charade, which is why I’m now going to move on to the important bit—

An unenthusiastic return

In all honesty, I wasn’t entirely sure whether It’s Still Only Thursday would ever return. As I said, since 2015 I have changed personally.
I am still, as I have been since my mid teens, a militant Ulster Loyalist. I maintain the position that Ulster, in it’s modern six county form, constitutes an ethnic nation with an inalienable right to self-determination, and furthermore, that the Ulster-Scots people, like every other national community, have an inalienable right to defend themselves in the face of violence, aggression and attempted genocide. I make no apology for my political persuasion. I am not, nor have I ever been, a “loyal to the crown” Loyalist. My loyalty lies with my people, my ethnic cohort, I offer no loyalty whatsoever to the institution of the monarchy (an institution I am at best ambiguous about) and no loyalty to the UK state, or any organ thereof. To quote the old Ulster folk song, ‘the Armagh Brigade’, “Ulster is my heritage and Ulster is my cause”. The overwhelming majority of people here wish to maintain the Union, therefore, although I am personally agnostic about the benefits of continuing that Union (Loyalist not Unionist) I am obliged to accept that most Loyalists, and many others besides, see the continuation of the Union as being beneficial for this country (whatever non-Loyalists wish to call it). My politics remain unaffected by the passage of time, although it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I, as a human being, have remained untouched by the relentless march of years.

I would now describe myself as being very much in “post conflict” mode. I have, to wax lyrical, been overtaken by normalcy. The world I once knew; a world of conflict, violence and intercommunal tension, has long disappeared. So-called “legacy” issues notwithstanding, the Northern Ireland of 2018 has settled so firmly into relative normality as to be almost boring. That can only be a good thing. For me at least, politics has faded into the background. Whilst continuing to engage in community activity (or is that “activism”?), I have firmly relegated politics to the backburner, which is why I was unsure whether or not to resurrect this blog.

Had it not been for the surprising popularity of this blog, and no one was more surprised by it’s popularity than me, I honestly don’t think I would have returned to it. However, because it was/is far more popular than I could ever have imagined, and because of the almost universally positive feedback I received, I decided that I couldn’t just let it die, or rather, allow it to become a sort of cyber ghost, forever floating in the internet ether, untended, ignored and more or less forgotten. For some reason, some people (and in some very unusual places) found this blog informative, entertaining, or otherwise enlightening. I therefore felt I had something of an obligation to return to blogging, although to be frank it is an unenthusiastic return. A blog, like a small child, requires a lot of attention, although fortunately it requires only a modest investment of energy. I could put that energy into some other endeavour, but I’m here now so I might as well get on with it!

It’s Still Only Thursday might not be exactly as it once was. I will be covering issues beyond the usual fray of Ulster politics; futurism, the environment, economics etc., although I will still return to the politics and history of Northern Ireland regularly. I have written a fair bit about such things already but, as is so often the case in this troubled little corner of Europe, there is always much more to say. Unfortunately, the historical revisionism of the Irish republican propaganda machine shows no sign of abating, therefore I will no doubt feel obliged to address some of their more outrageous fabrications, however I intend, as always, to focus on being pro-Loyalist as opposed to being merely anti-republican. Hopefully my old readership will continue to read and enjoy It’s Still Only Thursday, and hopefully we will pick up a few new readers too. I can’t say that I’m enjoying writing again, yet, but we’ll see. I have a sneaking suspicion that I might. Soon.

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.

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?