This is because most people say Derry not Londonderry. In the City of Derry itself almost everyone says Derry. In the Republic of Ireland road signs point to Derry whereas in Northern Ireland they say ‘Londonderry’.
Some Protestants had sectarian attitudes towards the Roman Catholics – disliking, distrusting and even viewing them as inferior. What prejudices did they have towards the Roman Catholics? They saw them as poor, they said they were unhygienic, they said that they were lazy, they accused them of alcoholism, they said that the Roman Catholic Church was oppressive, alien and totalitarian. They said that Roman Catholics were less educated. They said that Roman Catholics were against Northern Ireland and wanted to make it join the Republic of Ireland. They said that most Roman Catholics supported the IRA. It is important to emphasise that these were prejudices and not all true and certainly not all Protestants believed this. Viscount Brookeborough (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland 1943-63) said that he suspected Catholics of being ”anti-Northern Ireland.”
How much truth was there in these beliefs? Certainly the majority of Roman Catholics did want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland. It is true that by the 1960s the IRA was an exclusively Roman Catholic organisation. The author has not heard of a single Protestant who supported it at the time. Roman Catholics tended to be poorer. They had a much higher unemployment rate than Protestants. The higher unemployment rate is explained by several factors. Many firms preferred to employ ex-Servicemen and Catholics did not enlist in the British Armed Forces quite as readily as Protestants because many Catholics did not identify as British. Where Catholics were the majority were the highest areas of unemployment anyway. Strabane for instance had the unenviable disctionction of having the highest rate of joblessness in the United Kingdom. South Armagh and Fermanagh had high unemployment. It was high amongst people of both religious denominations but higher amongst Catholics. There was also discrimination.
The Roman Catholics were 35% of the population but rather less than 35% of people in the professions. The reasons for this will be explained later. Roman Catholics tended to be in the less well-paid jobs and were over-represented in the jobs that were grimey such as being dustbin men, workers in abattoirs, construction work and so on. This may have given rise to the myth that they were ‘unclean’. Admittedly being ‘unclean’ is a trope of racial and religious bigotry applied to every group that is disliked. The Roman Catholic Church certainly did try to control its flock and owned newspaper and abroad owned radio stations. It preached a highly illiberal social policy against divorce and contraception. It must be admitted that Protestant Churches were not much more broad-minded on these issues. The critique of the Roman Catholic Church was sometimes stemming from a liberal standpoint and sometimes from out-and-out bigotry. The Roman Catholics were of mostly Native Irish descent. The ethnic distinction between the Native Irish and the English and Scots is slight if indeed it exists at all. The notion that Roman Catholics were a different ethnicity from the Protestants is specious.
It is true that fewer Roman Catholics had pursed higher education. Many Roman Catholics were obedient to their Church’s teaching on eschewing contraception. The Roman Catholics had a higher birth rate. Larger families reinforced the tendency for Roman Catholics to be relatively poor. This in turn made it harder to pursue higher education. Until the 1940s there were university fees that were beyond the means of the working class and scholarships were very few. From the 1950s onwards a Roman Catholic upper middle class was growing having benefited from the Butler Education Act of 1944 that made university education free of charge.
Roman Catholic schools taught some lessons on Roman Catholic catechism which was not on the curriculum for the British exams of the time for O levels and A levels. This was – in terms of exams – wasted time. Some taught the Irish language which was good for the pupils’ education but did not help them with their exams as this was not on the curriculum. All the Roman Catholics spoke English but a few spoke Irish too. This again made sure that fewer than 35% of those attending university from Northern Ireland were Roman Catholics.
Roman Catholics tended to be poorer than Protestants. This is not to say that there were no poor Protestants – there were. The relative poverty of the Roman Catholic community was partly due to Catholics tending to have more children than Protestants because the Catholic Church preached that contraception was a mortal sin. The unemployment rate was higher among Roman Catholics than among Protestants. Why was this? There is the issue of education which has already been dealt with. There was some discrimination against Roman Catholics by Protestants. Roman Catholics owned rather fewer business than Protestants but there was anti-Protestant discrimination too as acknowledged by the Roman Catholic radical nationalist MP Bernadette Devlin in her autobiography ”The Price of my soul.” Therefore Roman Catholics were seldom in a position to discriminate. Likewise the Government of Northern Ireland and the county councils and city councils were mostly in Unionist hands. The Ulster Unionist Party was overwhelmingly Protestant. Therefore again Protestants often were in a position to discriminate against Roman Catholics if they were so minded. As few local councils were in Nationalist hands and the Nationalist Party was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic this meant that Roman cATHOLICS if they were inclined to discriminate against Protestants were seldom in a position to do so. There were said to adverts for Catholic workers. Nationalist controlled councils sometimes very seldom gave houses to those of the Protestant persuasion.
Terence O’Neill’s wife had placed an advertisement in a newspaper for a ”Protestant housemaid.” Adverts for jobs often stated the religious denomination sought. To some extent this was being against the other denomination but people also saw it more positively – helping one’s own.
Roman Catholics generally did not see the British Army as their army – nor see the Royal Navy as their navy nor see the Royal Air Force as their air force. They were less likely to volunteer for the British military. That partly explains the higher unemployment rate. Companies in the UK (Northern Ireland included) in the 1950s and 1960s thought it was a bonus if someone had served in the British Armed Forces. Roman Catholics were less likely to have done so and were disadvantaged thereby.
Roman Catholics seldom applied for jobs in Protestant owned enterprises or in the government – which they tended to perceive as being yet another Protestant owned enterprise. They normally said this would be because there was no point because they knew they would never be offered a job. There was also a feeling that they would not fit in and there could be arguments over religious and political issues. Protestants mostly wore poppies around Remembrance Day 11 November to honour all the British war dead since 1914. Most Roman Catholics did not wear poppies because the tended to be neutral towards the British military or hostile. The poppy seemed to have been co-opted as a badge of unionist identity. Protestant workers might be bigoted against the Roman Catholics. There had been times in the 1920s when bigoted Protestant workers had attacked their Roman Catholic colleagues in the shipyards. People often followed their family trade and part of the reason that some companies were overwhelmingly Protestant is because son followed father into that workplace. The same held true to some extent in Roman Catholic owned businesses.
It is indisputable that there was anti-Catholic discrimination. Lord Brookeborough (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland 1943-63) gave an interview in the late 1960s. He said Catholics were anti-Northern Ireland. He said that employing them would, ”put them in a position to destroy you.” The interviewer asked Lord Brookeborough if this was acceptable when most Catholics were only trying to change Northern Ireland by peaceful and legal means. Lord Brookeborough said that it would still be wrong to treat them with equality.
One job opportunity was joining the Royal Ulster Constabulary – the police. There was also the Ulster Special Constabulary commonly called the B Specials. The B Special were part-time police officers. The RUC was over 90% Protestant and the B Specials were entirely Protestant. Very few Roman Catholics joined the RUC despite their high unemployment. The Hunt Report into the B Specials in 1970 found that out of several thousand B Specials not a single one was cATHOLIC. The B Special often held their training sessions in Orange Halls. Catholics would probably not feel comfortable in an Orange Hall. The Orange Order was controversial among Catholics to say the least.
Roman Catholics lived more in the south and west of Northern Ireland. In the counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone they formed a majority. There was a strong case for these counties to be included in the Republic of Ireland. The city of Derry had a clear majority of Roman Catholics. This was closer to the border with the Republic of Ireland. It was possible that some of them worked in the Irish Republic and claimed benefits in Northern Ireland. It is also possible that Protestants did so too. However, fewer Protestants lived in such areas making is less likely for many of them to do so. Many Roman Catholics disliked the UK and would have been happy to do it harm.
Jonathan Bardon, a Dublin Protestant published his History of Ulster in 1992. He interviewed some Belfast Protestant teenagers for their attitudes towards Roman Catholics. One of them told him that Roman Catholics, ”live in filth.” There were number of insults that anti-Catholic bigots had for Roman Catholics. ‘Cat licks’ was one of the milder ones – it sounds similar to Catholic. Taig was another insult. It possible comes from the Irish word for native ‘tadaigh’. When English and Scots settlers came to Ireland in the 17th century the Native Irish called themselves ‘tadagh’ to distinguish themselves from the settler. Taig could be derived from the common boys’ name Tadgh which is almost without exception only used by Catholics. It is occasionally spelt Teague. It is found in the 17th century song Lilibulero, ”Ho brother Teague…” in an imagined dialogue between two Catholics. Fenian was another insult for Catholics. It is derived from some mythical Irish heroes of ancient history. It was also used as the nickname for a 19th century Irish republican terrorist organisation. Irish republicans often proudly called themselves Fenians. Rat Catcher was another insult – it had the same initials as Roman Catholic. Mickey was another such insult and it is based on that fact that Michael is a common name among Roman Catholic boys. Romanist was another expression used. Popehead was another slur. Roman Catholics were sometimes called Papists. This is not exactly an insult but was archaic and was almost never used by Catholics themselves. As Sean O’Callaghan wrote in his memoir ”The Informer” when he heard Rev Dr Ian Paisley using this term he and his IRA comrades bristles ”we were not Italian” and they took exception to the prefix ‘Roman’ before ‘Catholic.’ Basil MacIvor, a Unionist MP on the liberal wing of the party, recalled a ditty from his childhood in the 1930s – ”slitter slaughter holy water/ Sprinkle the Papishes every one/ That;s what we’ll do/ And the Protestants boys’ll carry the drum.” Fenian was often used. The Fenians were mythical warriors from Gaelic lore. The Irish Republican Brotherhood – a forerunner of the IRA that later overlapped with the IRA – had its members known as Fenians as well as IRB men. For those who were republicans the word Fenian was something honorific. But when used by loyalists it was intended as pejorative and used irregardless if the Catholic in questions was thought to be a republican or not. The Bridgeton Billy Boys in Glasgow used this word in their notorious 1930s song ”Hello, Hello we are the Billy Boys/ Hello, Hello you’ll know us by the noise/ We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood/ Surrender or you’ll die.” This has become a staple f Glasgow Rangers fans.
There were some prejudices in the Roman Catholic community against Protestants. Some of them felt that Protestants were not properly Irish – they were foreign. The Protestants were rich and traitors to the Irish nation – loyal to a foreign monarch. The Protestants were invaders who had displaced the real Irish people in the 17th century. The Protestants were either not properly Irish or were even not Irish at all. Some said that the Protestants had no right to be in Ireland. The Protestants believed in an apostate religion. They were dull and shunned traditional Irish dancing and sports. The Protestants were unreasonable in not seeing themselves as Irish and embracing Irish nationalism. The Protestants were unionists and discriminated against the Roman Catholics. Protestants were greedy and selfish. Protestants were fire-breathing anti-Catholics and unwilling to compromise. Of course not all Roman Catholics believed all of this.
How much truth was there in these beliefs? It is true that almost all Protestants were unionists. They did bear allegiance to the Queen of the United Kingdom and were often exaggerated in their expression of British national identity. Protestants sometimes called themselves Irish but say this as being compatible with being British. They would sometimes say they were Northern Irish and that being Northern Irish is a type of British or they were Ulster people and that was a type of British just as the English are British and the Scots are British. It is true that most of the Protestants were descendants of 17th century immigrants. Very few of them spoke Irish and very few identified with the Republic of Ireland. There was some ill-feeling among some Protestants towards Roman Catholics. There were some Protestants who discriminated against Roman Catholics although there were Roman Catholics who also discriminated against Protestants. Very few Protestants went in for Irish dancing or played Gaelic games such as camogie, hurling or Gaelic football. The puritan aspect of Protestants did exist in Northern Ireland but there were also Roman Catholics who refused to drink alcohol.
There were some insults for Protestants used by those Roman Catholics who were prejudiced against Protestants. Prod was a mild one. However, Protestants sometimes called themselves Prod and it is not necessarily offensive. Black Protestants is another such insult. This was not to imply that Protestants were African but it was using black to mean bad. Orangie was another such insult and it refers to the Protestants only outfit – the Orange Order. Only about half of Protestant men were members of the Orange Order or another such loyal order. Some Protestants strongly disapproved of the loyal orders. Left footer was another such insult. The idea was that Protestants did thing the wrong way round – when digging with a shovel they used their left foot. Sometimes they might be called ‘Proddy dogs’ as in the doggerel ‘Proddy dogs, Proddy dogs never had a wash/ If they do they think they’re posh.’
The division between the communities was never absolute and must not be overestimated especially at the beginning of the Troubles. There were streets where people of the two religious denominations lived in more or less equal numbers. They often worked together on farms, in shops and factories. They occasionally socialized together in pubs. They went to the same cinemas and theatres. People had friends from the other religious denomination. Relations varied from outright hatred to outright love with every shade of feeling in between. There were marriages between people of the two religious denominations. About 2% of marriages were mixed marriages as they were called. Sectarian feeling tended to be most intense at the bottom of society. The poorest and least educated people tended to have the most ferociously sectarian attitudes. The wealthiest and most educated people were least likely to hate people of the other religious denomination partly because they mixed with them in their professional life. Unskilled labourers were often sectarian. Doctors seldom hated their colleagues in the hospital on grounds of religious denomination.
Gaelic Games were played almost entirely by Roman Catholics. Gaelic Games were run by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). The GAA was not just a sporting organisation – it emphasised in its literature that it sought to advance Irish nationalism politically. GAA clubs were often named after Irish republicans of the past. Those of a unionist background seldom wished to go near GAA clubs for that reason. The GAA also stated that it intended to promote a distinctly Irish culture – the Irish language, traditional Irish dancing and it banned members of the British military, the Royal Ulster Constabulary or pensioners from those services from joining. The GAA banned its members from playing ‘garrison sports’ such as rugby or football.
Golf clubs were very middle class – even upper class. As the rich were mainly Protestant they formed the bulk of gold club members. Existing members had to approve new members. Some clubs appeared to have an unofficial bar on Roman Catholic membership.
Young adults tended to socialise in different pubs and dance halls according to their denomination. They could determine a person’s denomination by asking which school they attended. Schools usually had a denominational affiliation.
Many workplaces had workforces drawn largely from one denomination or other. Boys scouts were divided along denominational lines. Boy scouts swear allegiance to their country. Was the country the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland? Protestants often belonged to the Boys’ Brigade or the Anchor Boys. Churches often organised sports teams, social events and dance.
Unionists often put a ‘GB’ sticker on their car – standing for Great Britain. Nationalists sometimes put an IRL sticker on their car indicting ”Republic of Ireland.”
Unionists were not all hostile to the Republic of Ireland by any means. Many unionists had relatives in the Republic of Ireland. Unionists sometimes visited the Republic of Ireland and upper class unionists were often seen at the Royal Dublin Horse Show every August. Some unionist politicians had second homes in Southern Ireland. The most prestigious schools in Ireland were in Dublin such as St Columba’s. Trinity College, Dublin is Ireland’s most famous university. Unionists often studied in Dublin. Unionist boy scout troops sometimes camped in the Irish Republic. There were even B Specials who lived in the Republic of Ireland. They were Unionists to a man.
People’s religious denomination could be told apart by address and often by name.
Distinctly Irish names – especially in their Irish language version – suggested a Roman Catholics. Seamus, Catriona, Sean or Nuala. Names that were associated with the Catholic theology also indicated Catholicism like Innocent, Assumpta, Concepta or the boy’s middle name Mary. Patrick was normally a Catholic name but upper class Protestants used it too. Padraic or Padraig were very likely Catholics. Names like John were so anodyne that Catholics had them too in large numbers. Latinate names such as Pascal or Antonio were suggestive of Catholicism.
Surnames that were Gaelic Irish especially in their Irish language form hinted at Catholicism. MacCionnaith, MacSwiney, O’Prey or Sabhat indicated Catholicism. It was not clear-cut. Noel Docherty had a Catholic seeming name but was Protestant and an early ally of Paisley.
Protestants could be identified by notably Scots or English names such as Sammy, Kyle, Ian or Alfred. Biblical names often suggested Protestantism such as Priscilla, Adam or Ruth. Names used by British royalty were often Protestant such as George, Elizabeth, William or Margaret.
Protestants often had surnames that were of English, Welsh or Scots origin. These included Trimble, Poots, Kirkwood, Smith or Jones. It was not always straightforward. Len Murphy was perhaps the most barbaric UVF murderer. His name was Native Irish. He was teased for his Catholic name as a child but was a Protestant and sought to prove it by sadism. There must have been a conversion or mixed marriage in his background. Adams is a Scots Lowland name and Gerry Adams was a Catholic and head honcho of the IRA.
People in Ireland often supported one or other Glasgow football teams. Catholics being fans of Celtic and Protestants being fans of Rangers. Protestants in the South do not seem to support Rangers.
FLAGS AND EMBLEMS
The Flags and Emblems Act was an act of the Northern Ireland Parliament. It said that the Union Flag (that is the British flag) was to be honoured. It was a crime to interfere with it or to dishonour it by spitting on it or burning it. This is similar to the flag desecration act in the USA. On the other hand it said that other flags were allowed to be displayed but that the RUC were entitled to remove any other flags if they judged that this flag could lead to disorder. This second clause was aimed at the Irish Tricolour. The Irish Tricolour is the green, white and orange flag that is the national flag of the Republic of Ireland. Nationalists viewed their flag as the Irish Tricolour.
If someone called the police and complained about seeing the Irish Tricolour the RUC would remove it. Famously this happened in 1964 when a Sinn Fein electoral office had a small Irish Tricolour in their window. Within five years there would be thousands of Tricolours up in Northern Ireland.
THE ROYAL ULSTER CONSTABULARY
The police in Northern Ireland was called the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The RUC was drawn to a very large extent from the Protestant community with over 90% of its officers being Protestants. Some Roman Catholics had a very hostile attitude to the RUC. Many Protestants perceived the RUC to be their force.
The B Specials was a part-time section of the RUC. B Specials did their ordinary jobs and did some additional police work. In times of emergency the B Specials were called out. The B Specials were open to men of both denominations. However, by the late 1960s there were no Roman Catholic B Special officers at all out of several thousand.
Why did so few Roman Catholics apply to join the police especially when so many of them were unemployed? Many of them were neutral about the RUC and some were outright hostile. Some Roman Catholics said that the RUC was bigoted against them. The RUC, like any police force, has to uphold state security. Most Roman Catholics were dubious about the legitimacy of the state and some were totally opposed to Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. To join the RUC one had to take an oath of loyalty to the monarch of the United Kingdom. Republicans refused to do so.
Joining the RUC would make one a target for the IRA. Roman Catholic RUC officers could be in even greater danger than their Protestant colleagues if they lived in Catholic majority areas where the IRA was strong. A Catholic would be forbidden from playing in the GAA if he or she joined the RUC. One might at least be cold-shouldered for becoming an RUC officer an even perceived as a traitor.
When loyalist and republican mobs came into collision the RUC had to keep them apart. The RUC tended to face the republicans and perceive them as the enemy. The loyalists were not against the RUC. There had been controversial incidents in the 1920s when RUC officers were accused of murdering Roman Catholics.
THE LOYAL ORDERS AND THEIR NATIONALIST COUNTERPARTS.
The Orange Order was founded in 1795. It was an organisation which celebrated William of Orange who overthrew King James II and became King William III. The Orange Order was only open to Protestants. It stressed loyalty to the British monarchy. The Orange Order was a religious and charitable institution which had a role to play in the Ulster Unionist Party. The governing body of the UUP was the Ulster Unionist Council. The Orange Order had some votes on the Ulster Unionist Council. Membership of the Orange Order was helpful in advancing the careers of unionist politicians.
Members of the Orange Order are called Orangemen. They met in buildings called Orange Hall.
The Orange Order exists in other countries, in Great Britain (particularly Scotland), Canada, the USA, Australia, Ghana, the Maldives, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland. The Orange Order is open to people of all races and there are plenty of black Orangemen. However, there are more Orangemen in Northern Ireland than the rest of the world put together. The Orange Order said it opposed the ”fatal errors” of the Roman Catholic Church and forbade its members to attend Roman Catholics worship even for a funeral. A Scots Orangemen who spoke to the author said that when he was an Orangemen he was told that ”Catholics pray to funny things.” One of the ”qualifications of an Orangemen” is to ”abstain from uncharitable references to their Roman Catholic brethren.”
The Orange Order had its own high falutin titles for its office holders modeled on those of the Freemasons. The Orange Order was an equaliser. Gentry such as Terence O’Neill joined it. Upper class Orangemen sometimes found themselves subordinate to Orangemen from working class backgrounds in the pecking order of the Orange Order. This was no doubt gratifying for the working class Orangemen. However, the Orange Order tended to give its top positions to titled people.
B Special training sessions sometimes took place in Orange Hall buildings. This gave people the impression that the Orange Order and the B Specials were largely the same thing. Viscount Craigavon – the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland – had even said, ”It is from our loyal Orange lodges that our splendid B Specials are drawn.”
There were other loyal orders such as the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Royal Purple Arch and the Royal Black Preceptory. The Orange Order was the largest of the loyal orders followed by the Apprentice Boys of Derry. The other two were minor.
The Apprentice Boys of Derry takes its name from the fact that 13 Apprentice boys slammed the gates of Derry in 1688 to prevent the soldiers of the Roman Catholic king James II from entering the city. James II was the rightful king at the time. The Protestants of Derry rebelled against him before most people in Great Britain. Unionists tended to say they respected legitimate authority and were law-abiding. Yet the Apprentice Boys glorified an event that was an unlawful revolt against rightful government. The Apprentice Boys is a much smaller body than the Orange Order. The Apprentice Boys parade on 12 September to commemmorate the closing the gates of Derry. One can only became a member bu undergoing a ceremony within the Walls of Derry. They fly a crimson flag and wear crimson collarettes in memory of the blood spilt in the siege. Notice the use of the word Derry in their name – something that loyalists otherwise object to. Loyalist songs also say ‘Derry’.
12 July was the main day of celebration for Orangemen. They called it the glorious Twelfth. It marked the victory of William of Orange (a Protestant) over James II (a Roman Catholic). Some of William of Orange’s troops were Catholics – a fact that the Orange Order chose to ignore. 12 July was a public holiday in Northern Ireland. The summer was the marching season with other loyal orders marching then. It was a time of celebration for loyalists. Some nationalists did not like this.
POLITICS IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Politics in Northern Ireland was mainly about identity. The Ulster Unionist Party believed that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom and that the people of Northern Ireland were British. As Terence O’Neill said in one of his speeches at every election a banner was hung outside the Ulster Unionist Party headquarters saying ”Ulster is British”. Notably unionists often said Ulster rather than Northern Ireland. The ‘Ireland’ part of Northern Ireland was inconvenient for them. Nationalists seldom referred to Northern Ireland as Ulster since Ulster is a historic province of nine counties – three of which are in the Republic of Ireland. Politics was thus rather static. It was also a zero sum game. Northern Ireland could stay in the UK or move more towards the Republic. Someone had to be disappointed.
The Ulster Unionist Party was affiliated to the Conservative Party. To give that party its full name it was the Conservative and Unionists Party. The Ulster Unionist Party expressed typical centre-right views. Outside Belfast Northern Ireland was very much a rural society which partly explains why a non-socialist party was so dominant.
The Nationalist Party drew its support almost entirely from Roman Catholics and did not have any MPs who were Protestants since the 1920s. The Nationalist Party was dubious about the legitimacy of Northern Ireland as part of the UK. They did take an oath of allegiance to the queen of the UK in order to gain admission to the Parliament of Northern Ireland or the Parliament of the UK. The Nationalist Party’s aim was for Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland. Nationalists called themselves Irish and rejected any notion that they were British. They did not like to emphasise the distinctiveness of Northern Ireland or even use the expression Northern Ireland preferring ‘the north of Ireland’.
The Northern Ireland Labour Party espoused social democracy. The British Labour Party did not allow the NILP to be part of it. The British Labour Party had a little sympathy for the Irish nationalist position and this is why the NILP was not allowed to join. The NILP said that it was right that Northern Ireland was part of the UK and wished for it to remain so. The NILIP said that there was no need to make such a song and a dance out of British national identity. The NILP wished to concentrate on social issues – helping the poor, improving public housing, better public services, abolishing unemployment and raising wages. The NILP argued this was totally consistent with membership of the United Kingdom. Indeed the working class were much better off in the UK than the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland did better than the Republic of Ireland on unemployment, public housing, having free healthcare, having free university education, better roads, having lower taxes and higher wages. The NILP also chose not to emphasise its small ‘u’ unionism as this would discomfit Roman Catholic voters with a nationalist penchant. The NILP drew most of its support from Protestants but had a substantial Roman Catholic following too. The NILP was strong in Belfast but feeble in the countryside. Unionists would cause embarrassment for the NILP by going to NILP rallies and asking why the NILP did not sing the British national anthem at the beginning of its meetings. Unionists always began their rallies with God Save the Queen to underline their British national identity. Unionists asked why the NILP did not display the Union Flag? The NILP favoured the Union with Great Britain but chose not to lay stress on this because this would put off Roman Catholics who would otherwise be attracted to the NILP.
Sinn Fein was the political face of the IRA. Sinn Fein rejected and denied Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. It wished to force Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland which was also seen in need of a revolution to make it socialist and more nationalistic. Sinn Fein utterly rejected the notion that anyone in Ireland was British. For them British belonged only to Great Britain and everything from Great Britain was bad. Sinn Fein’s candidates if elected refused to take their seats as this would require an oath of allegiance to the Queen of the United Kingdom. All problems in Ireland were blamed on Great Britain. They did not use the term Northern Ireland but preferred the Six Counties.
The British Liberal Party also existed in Northern Ireland but was tiny.
Politics in Northern Ireland was to some extent a zero sum game. If one side made a step forward the other side was being driven a step back. It seemed as though both sides could not gain simultaneously. If anything was done to advance nationalism this would upset unionism. If unionism strengthened its position this would upset nationalism.
The Unionist Party was almost entirely Protestant. The Unionist Party was in office from the inception of Northern Ireland as a distinct province within the United Kingdom in 1921 until 1972 when the Northern Ireland Parliament was wound up. In democracies one generally rotates office between one or more political parties. In this portion of the United Kingdom one party held office without a break. Unionists became used to being in office and not having to share power. Some Catholics joined the party such as Sir Denis Henry MP, Louis Boyle and Bill O’Hara.
Unionist politicians sometimes made statements that were harmful to community relations – labelling Roman Catholics disloyal. Unionist politicians encouraged people to employ Protestants.
Some Unionists were worried about the growing Roman Catholic population. As most Roman Catholics favoured union with the Republic there was a chance that in the long-term the Roman Catholics would form a majority and vote Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland.
Occasionally people stood for election as ”Protestant Unionists ” in opposition to the UUP. Protestant Unionists disliked the way that the UUP had Roman Catholic members and made concessions to nationalist pressure. Protestant Unionists thought that the UUP did not act vigorously enough to defeat the IRA.
There was minimal movement between nationalism and unionism. Most people felt born into one movement or the other. Sinn Fein and the Nationalist Party fought tug of war over the same voters. Occasionally the Nationalist Party and the NILP were fighting over the same voters. The UUP competed with the NILP for support. To a small extent the UUP and Protestant Unionists competed for the same support.
Politics was very stable with few seats changing hands. Some seats had people elected unopposed – always Unionists. The Unionists were so rock solid that no other party thought it worth putting up a candidate.
The IRA’s in-house polemicist Tim Pat Coogan wrote that election there were a ”sectarian headcount.” Dr Marc Mulholland of Oxford University used exactly the same expression.
Terence O’Neill became Prime Minister in 1963 at the age of 49. He came from a Northern Irish gentry family. Terence O’Neill was a descendant of an English family that had been in Ireland for 300 years and changed its name in the 17th century. As well as his Native Irish stock he had English forbears. His father had been killed at the Battle of the Marne in 1914 – days before Terence O’Neill was born. Consequently the Prime Minister’s middle name was ‘Marne’. O’Neill had been schooled at Eton and served in the Irish Guards – a regiment of the British Army. The officers of the Irish Guards tended to be drawn from very aristocratic families. Terence O’Neill rose to the rank of captain in the British Army. In civilian life he was known as Captain O’Neill. O’Neill had an upper class accent very different from most people in Northern Ireland. When Terence O’Neill was a little boy his house was burnt down by the IRA. His mother told him that despite this he must not be anti-Catholic. His mother had been an MP and when she stood down Terence O’Neill was elected in her place.
O’Neill wanted to improve community relations. He believed that he could win over Roman Catholics and they would support the union. He was also privately under pressure from the Labour Government in Great Britain that took office in 1964. The Labour Government was persuaded by nationalists in Northern Ireland that Roman Catholics were badly discriminated against. The Campaign for Social Justice was an organisation that collected data about employment and housing in Northern Ireland. It was eager to highlight discrimination against Roman Catholics but not against Protestants. It even stated that its aim was to draw attention to discrimination against Roman Catholics. Admittedly there was less discrimination against Protestants mainly because Roman Catholics were seldom in a position to discriminate against them. Roman Catholics seldom owned businesses or held political power.
Labour MPs began raising these issues in Parliament. Some of them had Irish nationalist views. It was a nice irony that those who believed that the Parliament of the UK should have nothing to do with Ireland were broaching Northern Ireland issues in that Parliament.
Northern Ireland had a budget of £ 300 000 000 a year. A third of this came from Great Britain. Northern Ireland was the most subsidised region of the UK. The Labour Government secretly demanded major reform from O’Neill or the subvention would be cut completely. The Campaign for Democracy in Ulster had highlighted anti-Catholic discrimination and Unionist monopolization of political power. Dozens of Labour MPs in Great Britain broke with convention and spoke up on this in the House of Commons. Many of them signed a motion calling for an overhaul of the system in Northern Ireland. The British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, took note. Nationalists in Northern Ireland had made similar representations to the Labour Government just after the Second World War. The Prime Minister at the time Clement Attlee had done nothing. If sectarianism had been decisively tackled in the 1940s perhaps a lot of subsequent grief could have been prevented.
Some Unionists took exception to this pressure to reform. They mulled over what Rhodesia had done – a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. O’Neill denounced this as daft and undesirable. Some Unionists still thought the British Empire had a future and were sympathetic to the hard right stance of many white Rhodesians.
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland had co-operated on a number of issues since Partition. The lighthouses for the whole of Ireland were run from an office in Dublin. The two states co-operated on fishing in rivers and they coordinated on public transport. Northern Ireland got much of its electricity from a generator at Maynooth in the Republic of Ireland. One very hardline Unionist MP Sir Knox Cunningham was very worried about this. Maynooth was a the site of the most distinguished Roman Catholic seminary in Ireland. Were the wires spreading Catholicism as well as electricity? Presumably Sir Knox was named in honour of the Scots Protestant Reformer – John Knox.
The right to vote was granted to all those over the age of 21 provided that they were the householder or the spouse of the householder. The householder did not have to own the house but be the person responsible for paying the rent. Adult children over 21 living with their parents were not allowed to vote.
Local councils provided council housing. This was aimed at the poor. There was a long waiting list for council housing. Householding brought the right to vote in local elections. Therefore there was a conflict of interests. Local councils were tempted to give houses to people likely to vote for them. Unionists councils showed a strong tendency to give houses to people they thought would vote unionist – Protestants. Nationalist councils showed a strong tendency to give houses to those whom they thought would support them – in practice this meant Roman Catholics. The Unionists controlled a high majority of the local councils. Councils houses did not necessarily go to the largest families. The Roman Catholic Church taught that contraception was sinful. Many Roman Catholics went along with this stricture. Therefore they had more children, on average, than Protestants.
The right to vote in Parliamentary elections was not defined by being a householder. That is either for the Parliament of Northern Ireland or Westminster.
Local councils employed people. They often succumbed to the temptation to employ those whom they thought would vote for them and not necessarily the most able person.
Many Catholics said they were discriminated against by unionists. It is incontestable that there was sectarian discrimination. Were Catholics discriminated against because they were nationalist or were they nationalist because they were discriminated against? It sounds circular but both explanations are partly true.
Because there was more unemployment among Roman Catholics many of them emigrated – to the United States, to Canada, to Australia, to Great Britain, to the Republic of Ireland. Some Unionist Protestants thought that this was good news. If there had been no Roman Catholic emigration then eventually there would be more Roman Catholics than Protestants some thought. As 80% of Roman Catholics voted for the Nationalist Party or Sinn Fein then this would mean that Northern Ireland would join the Irish Republic. On the other hand there were also Roman Catholics from the South of Ireland who moved in to Northern Ireland and got jobs. Unionists pointed to this as evidence that the Government of Northern Ireland was not anti-Catholic.
Electoral district boundaries are often controversial. They can favour one party or other. In Fermanagh the Nationalists and Sinn Fein got a clear majority of the vote – at least 55%. Yet Unionists were continually re-elected to run the county council. This was because some county council wards were almost entirely Roman Catholic. Other wards had a very thin Protestant majority. As Protestants almost without exception supported the Union this led to Unionists being elected. Drawing electoral boundaries to help one party over another is called Gerrymandering. It takes its name from the Vice President of the United States Elbridge Gerry. His electoral district in Massachusetts was supposedly shaped like a salamander to maximise his electoral support.
In Derry a clear majority of the people were Roman Catholic. The Nationalist Party won the majority of the votes in every election. Because of the way the wards were divided the Unionists managed to control Derry City Council for almost 50 years. One of the unionist dominated wards went several miles into the countryside – presumably to bring in more unionist voters. The Catholic majority did not mean a Catholic majority of voters since many Catholics were children as Catholics tended to have more children than Protestants. The voting age was 21. The higher emigration rate among Catholics meant that many Catholics moved away before they attained the right to vote.
Incidentally unionists called Derry by the name Londonderry. Derry is the ancient name of the city deriving from the Irish Doire ‘oakwood’. The City of London livery companies invested money in expanding the city and sending English Protestant settlers to Derry in the 17th century. The city then took the name Londonderry. Nationalists disliked this name and called it Derry. Road signs in Northern Ireland call it Londonderry and in the Republic of Ireland it is called Derry. The unionists have little logic to their objection to using the name Derry since that is the name the majority of the inhabitants call it by. Moreover, loyalist songs call it Derry and the Apprentice Boys of Derry is a loyalist order.
The Ulster Volunteer Force was founded in 1913 and not 1912 when its foundation was merely discussed. It did not state that it was open only to Protestants but it turned out to be pretty much an all Protestant organisation. Its aim had been to keep Ulster out of any Home Rule settlement for Ireland – to anchor Ulster firmly within the UK. The UVF meant Ulster in its true sense – all 9 counties. But UVF men were found as far south as Westmeath as recalled by Sean MacEoin. The UVF imported guns – legally – from Germany. UVF leaders talked about rebelling against the British Government if it tried to compel Ulster to be part of a Home Rule arrangement for the rest of Ireland.
When the First World War broke out many UVF men joined the British Army. A division was created for men from Ulster – the 36th Ulster Division. About 75% of men in the Ulster Division were Protestants.
After the First World War the UVF reappeared to fend off the IRA. The UVF was dissolved early in the 1920s but some of its guns were hidden.
In 1966 the Republic of Ireland marked the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. The IRA marked it too. This raised tensions in Northern Ireland. Loyalists feared an outbreak of IRA attacks.
Some Protestant men in Belfast founded an organisation calling itself the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1966. The UVF of 1966 had no connection to the UVF of 1913. The leader of the new UVF was a man named Augustus ‘Gusty’ Spence who came from a loyalist district of Belfast called the Shankill Road. He had been in the British military police. Gusty Spence was a working class Orangeman of ferociously loyalist opinions.
The UVF was aware that a Catholic family was living on the Shankill house. The UVF attempted to murder them by setting fire to it. The family escaped but a disabled elderly Protestant woman next door died in the blaze. The UVF then murdered a barman who they identified as a Southern Irishmen by his accent. They assumed he was a Catholic (correct) and must be in the IRA (incorrect). They murdered another Catholic young man on the basis that all Catholics are bad.
Terence O’Neill had been in France at the time of the killings. He was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Ulster Division’s participation in the Battle of the Somme. He flew home to deal with the fallout from these murders.
O’Neill denounced the UVF as terrorists ”who murder their fellow citizens.” Of the original UVF he said ”let no one imagine there is any connection between the two organisations.”
In June 1966 – a month after the UVF had been founded – it declared illegal. Gusty Spence was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of John Patrick Scullion. One of the UVF men who was convicted of murder was recorded as saying in an interview with the police, ”I am sorry I ever heard of that man Paisley.” The implication was that Rev. Ian Paisley’s inflammatory rhetoric and driven these men to such terrible crimes. The UVF man concerned denied he ever made that statement and claimed that this quotation was invented by the RUC to try to blackguard Ian Paisley and uphold the dominance of the Unionist establishment.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
The NICRA was founded in 1968. A high majority of its members were Roman Catholics. It said it was campaigning against sectarian discrimination. It only seemed to highlight discrimination against Roman Catholics. It is notable that it had ‘Northern Ireland’ in its name. Nationalists tended not to use that term.
NICRA had five demands.
1. A points system for allocating council houses. The houses must be allocated on the basis of the number of people in the family and the number of years they had been on the list.
2. Employment must be on the basis of merit and not on the basis of sectarian favouritism.
3. The right to vote in local elections must be for all adults aged 21 and over whether they were householders or not.
4. The disbandment of the B Specials.
5. An end to gerrymandering.
NICRA was made up mainly of members of other organisations. The Nationalist Party was strongly represented in NICRA. There were NILP members who joined NICRA. There were a few IRA men who joined NICRA. A few moderate Unionists joined NICRA.
NICRA had no official stance on whether Northern Ireland should remain in the UK or join the Republic of Ireland. In reality NICRA was nationalist. At NICRA rallies the Irish Flag was carried and nationalist songs such as ‘A Nation Once Again’ were sung.
Nationalist politicians such as Austin Currie were involved. So was Ivan Cooper a Protestant who had been in the UUP but then switched the NILP. He was elected to sit for a largely Catholic constituency and saw himself as a disciple of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
In one notable case an 18 year old Protestant who was the secretary of a Unionist politician was assigned a house before Catholic family. Could this not be favouritism rather than sectarianism? She was engaged to a B Special so she would soon have a family even if only her husband. NICRA moved the Catholic family into the house and made a hoo-ha about it. Currie said – ”If I waited 1 000 cases I would not get a better case than this”. This indicates that this case was totally atypical.
PROTESTANT UNIONISTS OPPOSE O’NEILL
Some Unionists were upset that Terence O’Neill was making effort to win over Roman Catholics. This distaste for his sunshine policy were actuated partly by outright sectarianism and partly by the belief that O’Neill’s policy would hand power to nationalism and ultimately lead to Northern Ireland being forced out of the UK. O’Neill came from an upper class family and had spent most of his adult life outside of Northern Ireland. In fact he was born in London. Some unionists felt he was out of touch with the situation – he was too idealistic, cocooned by his wealth and social position. Unionists needed to be able to guarantee jobs and houses to the Protestant working class or they would lose that support. His belief that he could persuade Roman Catholics to support the Union with Great Britain was seen as naive. Most unionists thought that even if the Unionist Government was extremely generous to Roman Catholics few of them would ever support the Union. O’Neill was beleaguered by an increasingly strident Protestant Unionist politician – Rev Ian Paisley.
Ian Paisley was born in 1925 and although he claimed to be a fanatical British patriot he did not serve in the British military in the Second World War despite being of military age in the last two years of the conflict. He founded the Free Presbyterian Church. The Free Presbyterian was more extremely Protestant than the Presbyterian Church. Paisley was very hardline in his religious beliefs as well as his politics. He refused to countenance any reconciliation between Protestants and Roman Catholics on religious issues. He said that the Pope was the Anti-Christ and that Roman Catholicism was counterfeit Christianity. He denounced the Roman Catholic Church as the whore of Babylon. Paisley set up a newspaper called the Protestant Telegraph. He thought that all Northern Ireland’s problems were caused by the Roman Catholic community. He saw them as being mostly IRA supporters. He claimed that the Roman Catholic clergy backed the IRA. There were a few renegade priests who did but his claim was largely bogus.
Rev. Paisley was a tremendous public speaker and at a height of 6’5” was a commanding presence. He was married with five children, eschewed alcohol and had a lively sense of humour that belied his puritan side. His father had been a minister before him and Paisley grew up more or less working class. He was able to speak to working class Protestants in their own cadences. His views on Roman Catholicism were very hostile. At a speech in Armagh he said, ”You could call me anti-Catholic although I love the poor dupes really.” He thought that Roman Catholics were tricked into believing a bogus version of Christianity. He said that he was against Catholic beliefs but not against the people themselves. The distinction was too neat for some of his followers to see – other says this distinction did not exist at all. His thundering like and Old Testament Prophet alienated middle of the road opinion around the world. He was said to look after his Catholic constituents well but one of this Catholic constituents told the author that such a claim is bogus. Paisley later became friends with John Hume – the nationalist doyen – and they often dined at each others’ houses. So claims he detested Catholics are overblown.
Some Unionists even flirted with the idea of Northern Ireland leaving the UK and not joining the Republic of Ireland but being independent. Rhodesia – a white dominated British colony in Africa – had declared independence unilaterally in 1965.
O’Neill denounced the notion of a UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence). He said those who advocated this course of action were ”lunatics.”
Within the UUP at least a third of the Members of Parliament began voting against O’Neill’s liberalizations. Those who still supported him were increasingly uneasy. Their constituents were complaining. The Protestant Unionist Party was gathering strength and was expected to make significant gains from the UUP at the next election.
NICRA held rallies and went on marches to draw attention to their cause. An organisation called the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee tried to stop NICRA. They would attempt to block NICRA marches with cudgels studded with nails. Iain Paisley was an inspiration for the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee.
NICRA members had watched the Civil Rights movement in the US on television. NICRA said that the situation of Roman Catholic in Northern Ireland was analogous to that of African-Americans in the US who were discriminated against by law until the end of the 1960s.
NICRA protested in April 1968 at the banning of the IRA’s Easter Rising commemoration. The IRA was banned in the UK and the Republic of Ireland as terrorist organisation. The Easter Rising was a series of failed attacks the IRA launched in Dublin in 1916. This ultimately led to independence for Southern Ireland. The Easter Rising commemoration was highly controversial. It glorified what most people in Northern Ireland viewed as terrorism.
In 1966 Terence O’Neill had ordered the RUC not to intervene to stop the IRA’s Easter Rising ceremonies. This got him flak from hardline unionists. By 1968 the situation was becoming more tense and that was why he ordered the Easter Rising ceremonies to be banned. Ian Paisley denounced Captain O’Neill and used the slogan ”O’Neill must go.”Protestant Unionists demonstrated against O’Neill when he was in public and demanded he resign as Prime Minister.
NICRA protested against this ban on libertarian grounds. Nevertheless NICRA was tainted in unionist eyes for appearing to sympathise with a terrorist conspiracy. NICRA said it was a pacifist organisation despite the fact that there were some IRA men in its ranks. NICRA was willing to engage in civil disobedience. NICRA’s non-violent stance was sometimes compromised by minor acts of violence by a few of its members and the occasional act of vandalism such as burning cars at the end of its public gathering. There was some stoning of the police.
When NICRA engaged in protests and marches it was often countered by loyalist counter-demonstrators. A loyalist is a hardline unionist. Unionists can be Roman Catholics. It is very hard to imagine a Roman Catholic calling herself or himself a loyalist.
Paisley’s siren calls to loyalist got them angry and got them opposing any measure of reform that the UUP tried to bring in. Terence O’Neill delivered his famous rebuke of Paisley and his Protestant Unionist Party. ”For those of us who remember the 1930s the pattern is horribly familiar. The emphasis on monster meetings, the contempt for authority, seeing reasonableness as weakness, the appeal to a perverted form of patriotism.” He called Paisley’s style ”fascist.” Paisley had even spent a few weeks in prison for riotous assembly.
THE OUTBREAK OF LARGE-SCALE VIOLENCE.