The Loyalist Backlash: An Anatomy - Exce ...

The Loyalist Backlash: An Anatomy - Excerpt - 'Basher' Bates - Aug 69

Oct 15, 2021

Another short (rough) excerpt from my work in progress on the next book. I hope you find it interesting. If so, please consider contributing at the link on my page. All subscribers will have their name acknowledged in the book when it is published.


Robert Bates - known as ‘Basher’ by his friends and foes alike - was a member of Prince Albert Temperance. On 2 August 20-year-old Bates was accompanying the Junior Orange down along Peter’s Hill at the foot of the Shankill Road. The lodge were led by the Shankill Accordion Band. Other lodges were led by various bands playing loyalist music. Those on parade were intending to walk toward York Street train station where they would travel onward to a demonstration at the seaside town of Carrickfergus roughly eleven miles away. Carrick was the landing site of King William III (William of Orange) on 14 June 1690 just under a month before he was victorious over King James II during the Battle of the Boyne at Oldbridge, County Meath.

Picture: Robert Basher Bates walking with Prince Albert (second from back)

At roughly 1.00 pm Bates was at the rear of the group of Junior Orange members as the parade passed through Peter’s Hill and proceeded toward the train station. On the left hand side of the road stood Unity Flats, a so-called ‘modern’ housing complex which had been built to replace the dilapidated dwellings of old Carrick Hill. For decades the area had been an epicentre for sectarian conflict with the mainly Catholic working class community who lived there being at loggerheads with their near neighbours on the Shankill Road, the heartland of urban loyalism in Northern Ireland. Unity Flats was much like a scaled-down version of the Thamesmead estate in London which had been intended as the future of working class housing in Britain, modelled on futuristic Swedish architecture of the time.

Planners mistakenly believed that working class people would be better off without the old terraced-style housing stock which had characterised industrial Belfast for decades. With its open walkways and balconies looking down on the Peter’s Hill area it was perhaps inevitable that Unity Flats would come to be regarded as a prison by many of its residents, while Shankill Protestants viewed it as a gauntlet they would have to run to get in and out of the city centre.

‘As I was coming to the junction I saw a couple of bottles being thrown from the balconies of the flats and stones coming from that direction’, Robert Bates recalled during evidence to the Scarman Tribunal in February 1970. [Scarman, 3 Feb. 1970, GOV/4/3A/13] Bates claimed that those throwing the bottles were located on the third and fourth balconies between the two blocks of flats. ‘… we were told further up the road that there was trouble at Unity Walk and they told us to watch Unity Walk, and I saw a couple of bottles being thrown from the top.’ Some of the glass bottles hit the inside of the wall which separated Unity Flats from the main road while others smashed on the pavement near the Junior Orangemen. ‘I saw a young boy with a cut on the side of his head’, Bates told the tribunal, ‘When the first bottle was thrown the crowd started to scatter a bit in each way … There was a lot of women and children standing too and the women got scared and just scattered.’ As some of the shocked and angry loyalists made for Unity Walk at the front of the flats a line of police officers moved in: ‘[they] just ran towards the boundary wall and everybody just stopped.’ The stewards told the marchers to maintain their step and march on to their destination.

Later that evening as they returned from the train station Bates and the other Orangemen turned into Peter’s Hill to find that a large crowd had gathered. A passage was left and the members of Prince Albert Temperance and the other lodges were able to march in rank toward the Shankill. Bates stated ‘… I went home. When our lodge goes up the road we go to the Orange Hall and then we go down again to the Young Junior Orange House and that is where we break off. That is in Berlin Street…’

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