In 1969, John McKeague called a press conference and boasted of having “hundreds of guns” and “rich friends” if they needed more, going on to claim that the SDA (Shankill Defence Association) could put ‘a couple of guns and a tank’ in every house on the Shankill. He went on to say:
We take up this battle that has been placed upon us, and we will see the battle through to the end. What they have started, we, the Protestants, will finish. We are now going to take the initiative.
Major Bunting memorably added that: “the Protestant dog can bark, the Protestant dog has teeth, the Protestant dog will bite if need be.” (UVF 1966 – 73, David Boulton)
What did the Protestant dog actually do? Well, many of them ended up in the kennels of their British masters, serving decades in prisons for waging a terrorist campaign against the Catholic population. And, in doing so, a fifth of their victims were from the Protestant community that they claimed to defend.
The ‘loyalist backlash’ was feared, by the British state, and by the Catholic population. But when it came, whilst lethal on a large scale, it was dwarfed by the republican offensive. And yet, still, with the type of exceptionalism that can be borne only out of an inferiority complex, loyalists hint at a forthcoming backlash, that their “young men”, the “children of Ulster” won’t “tolerate” what they feel is being “placed upon them.”
In 1998, again memorably, Ruth Patterson, a particularly pathetic political clown, exclaimed “May god forgive them , for I won’t … and neither will the children of Ulster. Neither will the children of Ulster.” She was talking about those who designed and agreed the Good Friday Agreement.
The children of Ulster… who does she mean? She doesn’t say. I’m a child of Ulster, (though Ms Patterson would not allow me to claim this title, since I was from the Falls Road area of Ulster). I don’t think those behind the Good Friday Agreement need forgiving. What Ms Patterson is doing is the political and paramilitary equivalent of the ineffective manager using another manager’s menace as a negotiating tool. It reeks of weakness, and incompetence. Her party’s political machinations failed to prevent the Good Friday Agreement, so, in her frustration, she subcontracted the reaction to the “children of Ulster” without spelling out what she meant. She didn’t have to. Everyone knows.
Just like everyone knew, in 1997, what Willie McCrea, sore at losing his seat to Martin McGuinness, meant when he said the nationalist population would “reap a bitter harvest.” And they did. His co-star on a political platform in Drumcree, Billy Wright - and his friends - and other loyalists murdered quite a few politically uninvolved Catholics in the North. They included the Quinn brothers, burned to death in a petrol bomb attack carried out by a UVF unit that included a man who committed suicide years later, and another man, convicted of manslaughter, Garfield Gilmour who is apparently living in Belfast. Were they the unforgiving “children of Ulster”? Was McCrea’s “bitter harvest” Gilmour’s petrol bomb attack? Patterson and McCrea will say no, of course.
And now, to the present day, the party Ruth Patterson was once a councillor for, the DUP, were publicly humiliated by a Tory government who wanted their Brexit, and didn’t care about Northern Ireland constitutional status.
Dominic Cummings allegedly said he “does not care if Northern Ireland falls into the fucking Irish sea” and yet the Economist reports a loyalist paramilitary leader saying "the guys around me in their 20s are now saying ‘you had your war, granda - it’s our turn now.’”
I wonder what those “guys … in their 20s” want to do? Who is their enemy? Who will they go after? The DUP who failed to protected the union? The Tories who, increasingly obviously, just want rid of the North? Or Catholic taxi drivers, take-away men, builders, and bakers?
Instead of paying any heed to the bombast and hype of rabble rousers like Ruth Patterson, Willie McCrea, and, lately, Jamie Bryson, the “children of Ulster” would do well to remember the words of loyalist hero Lord Edward Carson:
I believed all this. I thought of the last thirty years, during which I was fighting with others whose friendship and comradeship I hope I will lose from tonight, because I do not value any friendship that is not founded upon confidence and trust. I was in earnest. What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power. And of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome it is those who will sell their friends for the purpose of conciliating their enemies, and, perhaps, still worse, the men who climb up a ladder into power of which even I may have been part of a humble rung, and then, when they have got into power, kick the ladder away without any concern for the pain, or injury, or mischief, or damage that they do to those who have helped them to gain power.
⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys.