Billy Joined Up

Guest writer Maitiu Connel with a piece on the life of a young man sucked into the ranks of the UDA.

  • I wished to share this story of one young man I knew growing up. He had been sucked into the world of loyalist paramilitaries but managed to break free from their grip. I am sure there are dozens of similar stories on both sides but this is the only one I know of.


Billy was born in the early 80's and raised in a loyalist housing estate.  His childhood was very normal compared to most other families in the area. His father worked when work was available and his mother was a stay at home parent to raise him and his siblings.

Living on the outskirts of Belfast, the conflict never really affected him. Bombs and shootings were very seldom. The closet they got to the conflict was travelling into Belfast on the bus, where they would see British soldiers patrolling the streets and at times, the left over rubble from previous bombings. The other medium to expose his childhood to the troubles was his parents watching the news on the television.

Every year he looked forward to the big night of lighting the bonfire. He and his friends collected for this celebration: a celebration that was always followed with a huge Orange parade in Belfast for the 12th July.

As time passed and Billy grew older, he started to be exposed to masked gunmen at the bonfire. Before the bonfire would be lit, a group of armed paramilitary members would appear with machine guns. The gathered crowds would chant “U -U - UFF”. Billy felt the rush of excitement to this. The community getting behind these defenders of loyalism. Some of his mates commented that someday it would be cracker if they could do it.

As Billy grew even older, he realised that these masked men were actually neighbours and friends of family. Local people who he had always known. Surely it could not be bad to be involved if these people are in it?

The 12th of July meant getting up at around 7am to get ready for the day and to see the local bands arriving at the Orange hall. He and his mates had a personal favourite band that they followed. It was a UDA band and one that always had a colour party in full combats.

Most of the band were in the UDA and many had been to prison. Hard men many of them.
Even though Billy was only 14 he was still able to buy a carry-out from the “offies” down the road. 6 WKD and 10 Mayfair and they were each set for a day of parading.

Billy felt great, part of the crowd when walking along side the band, singing along to Orange wings,  singing about taking the war to the IRA and defending his community.

Every time the band was out on local parades, he was there with it. That 12th July he bought his first UDA postcards of the murals, his first UDA music tape. He proudly displayed his new postcards on his bedroom wall. One was of a UFF man with an RPG with the words “UFF rocket team on tour”.

It was at this age that Billy started helping the paramilitaries put up flags around the estate. He was running about with members of the youth wing and now going for a pint down at the bar with them. Soon this led to him joining the local band. As he turned 17 and the 1990's set themselves aside for the new millennium, a very brutal loyalist feud broke out.

There was sheer taunting of UVF bands during parades. Sometimes fights broke out between rival members. The UVF bands would stop near them and play tunes such as “we hate the Hairbears”. The Hairbears was the nickname given to the UDA and had stuck. The UVF were named the “Blacknecks”.

The feud had started up the Shankill and Johnny Adair was the catalyst. Murders started happening. All for what? Billy wondered, lying in his bed questioning what the following day’s news would reveal. Loyalist turned on Loyalist. The community was very tense. Streets were empty at night. Local bars started to block off easy entrances into the premises.  Over time the feud went away and a level of normality returned to the estate.

Billy was turning 18 soon and decided along with a few other mates that it was time to join up. He approached a local commander and stated that he and a few others wanted to join. He was told no problems. A week or so later he was told to be at a certain place at a certain time. He and his mates stood waiting in the freezing cold wind. A car pulled up and they recognised the driver. Right lads, get in the car. The driver asked them one last time ‘are you sure you want to join? Once you are in there is no going back.’ They all said yes.

Soon they arrived at location and were all taking inside. When called into the room they saw a group of masked men with guns. A table was laid out with a flag over it and a bible and guns also placed. They were then sworn into the organisation. Back to the bar for some pints Billy said to the group.

All were now part of the “boys and had a feeling of excitement over what it would be like. Even though loyalists had been on ceasefire since 1994 and they had all been 14 years old at the signing of the GFA. They felt and were told that the threat from the IRA was as real now as ever. Months passed by and Billy was now part of a beating team. Dishing out justice to local hoods. Most of the time it was just beating people who owed a few quid or had talked the wrong way to a local member. Though someday they wondered if they would turn their guns on the IRA. In 2001 the UDA murdered a few Catholics for no other reason than being easy targets. Many celebrated this. Tension was high from the trouble at Ardoyne over Catholic schoolgirls being walked through loyalist areas. From known IRA men walking through their areas just to taunt them, or so Billy was told. Whitecity was constantly under attack from local Republicans. Billy felt his membership was justified over the current political situations.

Once again time passed and the political landscape changed. The UDA, after more feuds, started to move towards decommissioning its weapons. Now that Billy was in his mid 20's and with a young family he had wanted to get away from the paramilitaries for some time. He was sick of paying dues each month. He was sick of watching the top boys driving around in fancy cars and having regular holidays. He was tired of watching the community that he wanted to defend being destroyed by these so called protectors. He had realised that the biggest threat was not the IRA or Irish Republicans but the local criminals who hold the community in a grip of fear. Dare not attend parades and a £50 fine is given accompanied sometimes with a dig in the face. Billy felt trapped. If he left the area then his family would be harassed to get him back.

Upon approaching his early 30's he was now watching a new generation of 15 years old lads being sucked into the same world of paramilitaries. Via the music and bands that get young lads brainwashed into a paramilitary mindset. Another generation throwing their life away. Billy wished he had listened to his elders when they told him he was making a huge mistake. Openly speaking about his feelings to the 3 others who joined with him, they all felt the same. They all regretted it. They had been ceasefire soldiers.  More importantly, they had all been young na├»ve lads who were led into a paramilitary life by grown men. Were they groomed via years of local murals showing masked gunmen? The paramilitary music played to them? The hatred of anything Irish and being told that the IRA want to take their country? At 28 years old Billy had just gained his first qualifications and had gotten his first job. He became best friends with a man whom he later found out was a Catholic from West Belfast. Billy felt ashamed that it had taken him 28 years to become friends with somebody who he had shared so much in common with but the little fact of religion had kept them apart.

Billy knew that despite his mistakes, his personal saviour would come in the open and free life that he would provide his kids with. Billy is now attending University and lives in England.


  1. Billy fucked up-

    " Sucked into the ranks of the UDA "-

    Only because he wanted to be sucked up-one of the biggest lies ever told was the one about the war to end all wars-it will never end-young girls got toy dolls yesterday because its expected of them to have their own children when they grow up-young boys got Action men and toy guns-toy swords
    yesterday because its expected of them to support a Peace process when they grow up-Lol-

    " UFF rocket team "

    The UFF fired a RPG at the Rock bar in Belfast and at Republicans
    in Crumlin jail after two UFF members died at their supper in that jail for not looking after their own security-

  2. Very, very good. This is just how I imagined the first process of joining a band, to paramilitary would develop.

    Murals, bonfires, tribalism, top men, middle men and assocaites. I suppose it would be similar on the catholic side, to a lesser content.

    I remember the xmas flag protests last year, where young loyalist men and women were shouting, east, east, east belfast as they approached into the city centre.

    My first thought was Christ here is a new generation ready to take up the mantle.

    It must be very powerful force living in a loyalist community with the band culture, peer pressure and for "God and Ulster".

    Fear, perception, religion, sectarianism are the real winners here, on this little part of the Island.

    There is no glory in war or sectarianism, from which ever side your percieved to be aligned with.

    It reminds me of the old saying "old soldier old shite, young soldier gap shite".

  3. Ceasefire soldiers..LOL.See a few of them alright.couple of mps lord mayors spring to mind.

  4. I just read the last sentence of what I wrote. I hope I didnt come across as patronizing Billy or anyone who took part in the conflict ceasefire or not.

    It simply was not intended. I remember hearing the saying old soldier old shite, young soldier gapshite while ago and it was after I read the book "Forgotten voices of the Somme" £2.99 the

    The most devasting battle of the great war in the words of those that survived. It was a horror story from start to finish.

    It would certainly put the bravo out of you. Or any glory associated with any type of war, especially in the trenches. It certainly was not Rambo, hollywood propaganda dis-information preying on the young naive men. I often though the UVF leadership exploited this for recruitment purposes in their communities.

    We are supposed to learn from conflict situations so they are not repeated, I thought.

    Unfortunately, there are supposed leaders happy enough for people like us to do their fighting for them, whilst they sit back somewhere directing from a safe distance. "Sure it is the world over".

    I hope Billy is well and good. Sometimes, it is better all around to get away from it and seek a new life somewhere else.

  5. I think Billy Brooks "ceasefire soldiers" is descriptive as would be 'paraphernalia paramilitaries'; The whole motivation to 'join-up' seems to be derived from myth and hype or historical recollection and wannabe.

    Similarly, one young republican complained in conversation to me, (paraphrased) 'what right had the provie generation to call a ceasefire and deny my generation the right to fight the brits?'

  6. He was a mad cunt with a sub in the 70s.some people say as the near 60 yr old passs by without a washer.billy was lucky.most of the ones i know got the gfa.

  7. James

    I would agree with your insight that the UVF do exploit the Somme and the World War for their own gain. Been reading some great books lately and it all states that the UVF was formed to go to war with Britain as they were perhaps going to give Ireland back in 1910 era. Yet, the UVF are holding gunrunning parades next year and selling badges of the gunrunning with the queens crown on the badge. Rather ironic.
    The PUP are bent over backwards to exploit the people to gain votes next year. Stirring the tensions.

    Most people in loyalist areas do not speak out because they are scared. Billy Mitchell in Rathcoole spoke out in his play writings and got forced from the area.

    I wrote this article because it is a major problem in working class areas ran by these paramilitaries and one that goes unspoken.
    Young boys are still being actively recruited into these groups. Beyond being used to give extra numbers and money to the leadership, what are they there for?
    So many young lives wasted.

  8. tiarna-

    " deny my generation the right to fight "-

    That's one of the best ones yet-plenty of armed groups out there if that young pup wants to fight-but he will just keep on making up excuse after excuse-

    How many prods did Billy beat up
    before he got fed up with the 50 pound UDA fines for not turning up for a march-violence was wrong for Billy boy when he never got a big car and never got respect from others-what a loyalist dope-

  9. seem to know a lot about this outfit coming from a sheltered childhood an all that.if billy had of been clipped th night after he joined was he a it billy mitchell your referrig to the way billy wright talked in the 3rd person.

  10. The sad thing this applies to both sides of he community . Young people signing up for the cause. And it's still happening! One wonders if our society will ever change or will we keep poisoning every generation that comes along with stories of how they were hard done too!

  11. It is more a rite of passage for most feed on a daily diet of “the enemy are at our gate” and in some places that is in the literal sense.
    Being drawn in to the world of paramilitaries under the notion it is for the greater good of the community creates a sense of belonging and for some emboldens that sense of belonging.

    For some it will become natural as it animates their character as doing something is better than doing nothing enjoying that false sense of pride being acknowledged as “one of the lads” unaware they are being primed and lead by armchair generals who reap the rewards.

    For others it becomes a crisis of conscience as the luster of the life of a paramilitary soon loses its sheen.
    The enemy seems further away as they become swallowed up in not defending their own communities but crippling them.

    Caught in the web of lies forced to pay dues and worse engaging in racketeering and other criminal enterprise becoming the de facto police force meting out street justice not necessarily on the grounds that the victims deserve it but instead they are seen as taking monies away from the armchair generals.

    If the generals don’t like someone “simple” they set the hounds on them at best getting a severe beating or kneecapping or forced out of their homes at worst the all too familiar being shot dead.

    Just like back in 70s there was little to do but knockabout the streets, brick the odd cop/Brit/UDR patrol and wait until your dole came in which usually ended up being pissed out by the end of the night.

    Today the paramilitaries’ have a pool of resources to draw from the youths have little and face life on the dole so it is easy to fall into that world as it offers a sense of belonging local prestige and for some a few extra quid.

    The reality usually only sets in when the slam of a cell door puts things in perspective and one becomes just another number another forgotten prisoner.

  12. Tain Bo

    It was not until I was a teenager of 16 and we had moved to a middle class area before I realized how very abnormal life was living under the hidden rule of paramilitary groups. It was a night and day difference. In the new area it was normal to just hang around with friends and be normal teenagers. Nobody worried about getting a warning or a beating. If a fight ever broke out, it was not a matter of somebody running to the paramilitaries to get you " done ".
    No flags, no murals and no fear. Once I had gone to live in America in my early 20's, that is when I realized how very abnormal society in the north of Ireland was. I found it hard to adapt to certain aspects and freedoms of American life.
    One thing that I do find. I am at University at the moment and on a daily basis the uni is packed with GAA and Celtic tops and there is a very relaxed and mixed atmosphere. Most I know are from middle class Catholic homes. Surprisingly most are from country side areas. I hardly ever meet any from a working class Protestant background. I mention this in relation to my being raised in a housing estate where only 3 others of my generation have gone to uni. Where all my friends from the middle class area all went to university as did their parents.
    This education gap really needs to be addressed.

  13. Maitiu,

    it is a sad reality the politicians and paramilitaries prefer we remain not so wise.

    It becomes comical whilst they are pre-occupied with flags and emblems and other minor issues they still prefer segregation and worse encourage it for their own political expediency.

    A great failure on the part of both communities is to fight for better standards of education and more financial aid for those who wish to further their education.

    The old school system keeps the divisions alive making a workable environment of integrating schools should be an issue worth fighting for.

    That is not to say that Catholic and Protestant schools should be closed down but the alternative of integrated schools provides a healthier start to children’s outlook.

    I don’t see the Paramilitaries pushing for better health; better housing and even more reasonable benefits for the unemployed to scrape buy on. They seem content to exploit the poorer areas in which they thrive.

    The enemy is not at our gate it is in our communities.

    There is no difference between a poor working class protestant family and a poor working class Catholic family.
    But bigotry and ignorance will keep us believing there is.