We arrive now at a period in history which I would really consider to be the root of the Sectarianism which has blighted Rangers and Celtic,and which has proved to be extremely resilient to eradication.
It is the period in History,recent history,which saw the partition of Ulster from the Rest of Ireland.
I have mentioned in my previous article the beginnings of both Sinn Fein and also the IRA and their involvement in the fight to rid Ireland from British Rule. Both of these parties continued their political and civil war to create a unified Ireland after Ulster had voted to remain under British rule. The majority Ulster Unionists holding firmly onto the British Crown,and the British state.
Before I continue further with the historical events which were to follow, I need to look more closely at another group who were to play a very significant role in the conflicts. The Orange Order.
The Orange Institution commemorates William of Orange, the Dutch prince who became King of England, Scotland, and Ireland in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In particular, the Institution remembers the victories of William III and his forces in Ireland in the early 1690s, especially the Battle of the Boyne.
The 1790s were a time of political and religious conflict in Ireland. On one side were the Irish nationalists (mostly Irish Catholics, but also some liberal Anglicans) and on the other were the so-called “Protestant Ascendancy” and its supporters. In October 1791 the nationalist Society of United Irishmen was founded by liberal Protestants in Belfast. Its leaders were mainly Presbyterians. They called for a reform of the Irish Parliament that would extend the vote to all Irish men (regardless of religion) and give Ireland greater independence from Britain.
Although the United Irishmen were trying to unite Catholics and Protestants behind their goal, northern County Armagh was undergoing fierce sectarian conflict. Catholics and Protestants set up rural “vigilante” groups – on the Catholic side was the “Defenders” and on the Protestant side was the “Peep-o’-Day Boys”. In July 1795 a Reverend Devine had held a sermon at Drumcree Church to commemorate the “Battle of the Boyne”. In his History of Ireland Vol I (published in 1809), the historian Francis Plowden described the events that followed this sermon:
Reverend Devine so worked up the minds of his audience, that upon retiring from service, on the different roads leading to their respective homes, they gave full scope to the anti-papist zeal, with which he had inspired them… falling upon every Catholic they met, beating and bruising them without provocation or distinction, breaking the doors and windows of their houses, and actually murdering two unoffending Catholics in a bog. This unprovoked atrocity of the Protestants revived and redoubled religious rancour. The flame spread and threatened a contest of extermination…
The Order’s three main founders were James Wilson (founder of the Orange Boys), Daniel Winter and James Sloan. The first Orange lodge established in nearby Dyan, County Tyrone. Its first grand master was James Sloan of Loughgall, in whose inn the victory by the Peep-o’-Day Boys was celebrated. Like the Peep-o’-Day Boys, one of its goals was to hinder the efforts of Irish nationalist groups and uphold the “Protestant Ascendancy”. The Orange Order’s first ever marches were to celebrate the “Battle of the Boyne” and they took place on 12 July 1796 in Portadown, Lurgan and Waringstown.
By the time the Orange Order formed, the United Irishmen (still led mainly by Protestants) had become a republican group and sought an independent Irish republic that would “Unite Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter”. United Irishmen activity was on the rise, and the government hoped to thwart it by backing the Orange Order from 1796 onward. Nationalist historians Thomas A. Jackson and John Mitchel argued that the government’s goal was to hinder the United Irishmen by fomenting sectarianism — it would create disunity and disorder under pretence of “passion for the Protestant religion”. Mitchel wrote that the government invented and spread “fearful rumours of intended massacres of all the Protestant people by the Catholics”. Historian Richard R Madden wrote that “efforts were made to infuse into the mind of the Protestant feelings of distrust to his Catholic fellow-countrymen”. Thomas Knox, British military commander in Ulster, wrote in August 1796 that “As for the Orangemen, we have rather a difficult card to play…we must to a certain degree uphold them, for with all their licentiousness, on them we must rely for the preservation of our lives and properties should critical times occur”.
By the late 19th century, the Order was in decline. However, its fortunes were revived by the spread of Protestant opposition to Irish nationalist mobilisation in the Irish Land League and then around the question of Home Rule. The Order was heavily involved in opposition to Gladstone’s first Irish Home Rule Bill 1886, and was instrumental in the formation of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). The strength of Protestant opposition to Irish self-government under possible Roman Catholic influence, especially in the Protestant-dominated province of Ulster, eventually led to six Ulster counties remaining within the United Kingdom, as Northern Ireland.
In 1912 the Third Home Rule Bill was introduced in the British House of Commons. However, its introduction would be delayed until 1914. The Orange Order, along with the British Conservative Party and unionists in general, were inflexible in opposing the Bill. The Order helped to organise the 1912 Ulster Covenant – a pledge to oppose Home Rule that was signed by up to 500,000 people. In 1911 some Orangemen began to arm themselves and train as a militia called the Ulster Volunteers. In 1913 the Ulster Unionist Council decided to bring these groups under central control, creating the Ulster Volunteer Force, a militia dedicated to resisting Home Rule. There was a strong overlap between Orange Lodges and UVF units. A large shipment of rifles was imported from Germany to arm them in April 1914, in what became known as the Larne gun-running.
The Orange Order had a central place in the new state of Northern Ireland. From 1921 to 1969, every Prime Minister of Northern Ireland was an Orangeman and member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP); all but three Cabinet Ministers were Orangemen; all but one unionist Senators were Orangemen; and 87 of the 95 MPs who did not become Cabinet Ministers were Orangemen. James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, maintained always that Ulster was in effect Protestant and the symbol of its ruling forces was the Orange Order. In 1932, Prime Minister Craig maintained that “ours is a Protestant government and I am an Orangeman”. Two years later he stated: “I have always said that I am an Orangeman first and a politician and a member of this parliament afterwards…All I boast is that we have a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State”.
After the outbreak of “The Troubles” in 1969, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland encouraged Orangemen to join the Northern Ireland security forces—namely the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The response from Orangemen was strong. Over 300 Orangemen were killed during the conflict, the vast majority of them members of the security forces. Some Orangemen also joined loyalist paramilitaries. During the conflict, the Order had a fractious relationship with loyalist paramilitaries, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Independent Orange Order and the Free Presbyterian Church. The Order urged its members not to join these organisations, and it is only recently that some of these intra-Unionist breaches have been healed.
The Order, from its very inception, was an overtly political organisation. In 1905, when the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) was formed, the Orange Order was entitled to send delegates to its meetings. The UUC was the decision-making body of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Between 1922 and 1972, the UUP was consistently the largest party in the Northern Ireland Parliament. Due to its close links with the UUP, the Orange Order was able to exert great influence. The Order was the force behind the UUP no-confidence votes in reformist Prime Ministers O’Neill (1969), Chichester-Clark (1969–71) and Faulkner (1972–74). At the outbreak of The Troubles in 1969, the Order encouraged its members to join the Northern Ireland security forces, which were opposed by all Irish nationalist and republican parties.
Meanwhile across the border On Easter Monday 1949 Costello brought Eire out of the British Commonwealth and proclaimed that it was now a fully independent republic. Eire was then renamed the Republic of Ireland. Costello was sure that this formation of a Republic would satisfy Irish Republicans and would finally stop the violence in Ireland. He did not, however, realise that many Republicans were still not satisfied – their ideal Republic would be the entire island. The British responded in June by passing the Ireland Act which both recognised the existence of the Republic of Ireland and gave Stormont the final say in any attempt to re-unify Ireland. The Anti-Partition League was disbanded in 1951 in the face of apathy from both sides of the border
The 1950’s were a time of quiet prosperity in Northern Ireland. The Welfare State had been introduced by the Labour government after the war and many poor people in Northern Ireland saw their standard of living rise dramatically. The Stormont government also took advantage of the war damage in Belfast to build better council housing. In 1946 the Health Service was made completely free and unemployment allowances were introduced in 1948. The Labour government also rapidly nationalised most of British infrastructure but Stormont was unhappy about the changes in Northern Ireland. The Unionists were generally right wing and did not like socialist policies. They even proposed forming an independent Northern Irish country until the Labour government agreed to fund the welfare state in Northern Ireland. However this increased Northern Ireland’s economic dependance on Britain.
In 1951 the Conservatives regained power in Britain, and generally left Stormont to manage Northern Ireland. Problems existed in Northern Ireland at this time – 94% of the top 740 civil servant posts were held by Protestants (if equal opportunities were in force it should have been nearer 65%) and favouritism was often given to Protestants when council housing was given out. This policy persisted all through the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1956 the IRA regrouped and began a terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. They blew up border posts and electricity installations. However the IRA did not have enough weapons, and they met nationalist apathy and even opposition in Northern Ireland and their campaign went out with a whimper in 1962. In the early 1960s it seemed as if nobody in either part of Ireland was really interested in reunification.
There is little agreement on the exact date of the start of the Troubles. Different writers have suggested different dates. These include the formation of the UVF in 1966, the civil rights march in Derry on 5 October 1968, the beginning of the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ on 12 August 1969 or the deployment of British troops on 14 August 1969
In 1967, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was set up. Its members were drawn from both communities, although mainly from Nationalist Catholics who were more at a disadvantage under the Stormont government. The NICRA’s demands were for a fair voting system (‘one man one vote’), an end to gerrymandering, and end to religious discrimination, disbandment of the B-Specials and general equality for all the people of Northern Ireland. As the first Civil Rights marches took place in August 1968, Stormont began banning them because they were illegal (i.e. the police had not been notified of the intention to march). The marchers ignored the ban and, on various marches, were attacked and beaten by the police with battons. Stormont received condemnation from around the world. Eventually O’Neill relented and agreed to some of the demands. The NICRA then called off its campaign.
However, another group of people refused to accept the concessions, saying they were too little. Stormont had still not introduced ‘one man one vote’. Led by Northern Ireland students, such as Bernadette Devlin (today Bernadette McAliskey) the People’s Democracy movement ignored pleas for calm from the NICRA and organised a march from Derry to Belfast for January 1969. Near Derry, at the crossing over the river Burntollet, it was ambushed by loyalists and some off-duty policemen and B-specials. The marchers were stoned and beaten and the on-duty police did not make much effort to stop them. O’Neill was appalled by the scenes and announced an inquiry, despite opposition from his own party. O’Neill’s Deputy Prime Minister resigned in protest saying the inquiry could only make matters worse. Soon the tensions had risen so much that the NICRA recommenced their Civil Rights marches.
In February 1969 a general election was called in Northern Ireland. Although O’Neill’s party won most votes they no longer had enough to form a strong government. O’Neill then decided to introduce ‘one man one vote’ for the next election, but this caused so much chaos and anger from his own party that he was forced to resign. The new Prime Minister was James Chichester-Clark. Meanwhile Civil Rights marches began to get violent, fuelled by the anger at the violence that had met their earlier marches. As marchers clashed with police and loyalists, riots sprang up. In the summer of 1969 Clark called in the B-specials to help the police keep order. However, this only increased Catholic resentment and the situation began to get out of control.
The summer months of 1969 saw some of the worst rioting in Northern Ireland’s history, mainly in response to the heavy crackdown on the Civil Rights movement in the province. As time went on, the marches became less concerned with Civil Rights and more concerned with Republicanism. The IRA, which had been quiet for a number of years, decided that a non-violent response would be best and did not fight. In August 1969, after the marching season, a large number of Catholics began a huge riot in western Derry and the RUC fought with them for three days. It became known as the ‘Battle of the Bogside’. In Belfast, entire streets of houses were burned down by rioters and over 3500 families, mainly Catholics, were driven from their homes. Seven people were killed and 100 wounded as the rioters began to use guns. Many ordinary Protestants were appalled by the dramatic reaction of the government to the Civil Rights campaign, although many hardliners supported it.
The UK government realised in August that Northern Ireland was about to collapse into anarchy because the RUC was simply not large enough to maintain order. So, on 15 August, the UK Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, ordered the British Army into Belfast and Derry to support the RUC. (The Army is still in Northern Ireland today.) Four days later he also ordered the Stormont government to establish better community relations, introduce ‘one man one vote’, disband the B-specials, and disarm and restructure the RUC. With all their demands now unexpectedly met, the official Civil Rights campaign shut down.
However, this was not the end of the story. The violence that had erupted, directed mainly towards the Catholic community, had prompted many people there to rekindle their old desire for a united Ireland. In 1969 a fierce debate began within the ranks of the IRA. Some members supported the non-violent strategy. However many others accused the leadership of ‘going soft’ on the aim of a united Ireland and pointed to the new presence of the British Army in Northern Ireland. This militant group split off in 1970, formed the ‘Provisional IRA’ and began a ruthless bombing campaign in Northern Ireland, (and sometimes on mainland Britain) designed to destroy the economy and force the British to withdraw. The Provisional IRA almost certainly received money and arms from members of the Irish Government to start their campaign, although the Taoiseach sacked the members involved in the scandal. The Provisionals also targeted policemen and became increasingly involved in civilian demonstrations and riots. 25 people were killed in 1970 and 174 in 1971. The loyalist UVF began to use violence to ‘protect the Protestant community’ from the Provisional IRA and also launched their own offensives against Catholics and against the Irish Republic.
What had begun as a constitutional and political argument had spiralled out of control with the Inclusion of toxic sectarian militants on both sides.
My final article will draw together where the British State has been been complicit in all of this from the very beginning, and where deranged rabbits have been pulled out of the hat to fuel the bitterness and division which has ensured British Imperialist control over the North, and has been a factor in ensuring the sectarianism in the West of Scotland has been a desirable spin off for the British State, in denying Scottish Independence.