UVF hat badges and Red Ulrike - Excerpt ...

UVF hat badges and Red Ulrike - Excerpt from work in progress

Dec 16, 2021

Another short draft work in progress from my next book project. Hope you find it interesting!

On Saturday 27 May ‘Company after company of loyalists marched through Belfast’s city centre’ from Sandy Row to Woodvale Park, ‘in an impressive display of Protestant strength and organisation’ reported the Newsletter in an article the following Monday. ‘The men,’ the article continued, ‘dressed in combat jackets and wearing bush hats or berets, wore white armbands of the Ulster Defence Association. Some wore UVF hat badges, and many had dark glasses and handkerchief masks.’  The spectrum of militant loyalists who had been manning the barricades of the no-go areas was reflected in the parade with the Irish Times noting that after members of LAW had marched, setting off from Linfield Road,

Next in the parade were groups of Tartan gangs, sporting blue denim outfits and the obligatory dark glasses, who also marched in military formation. As the units of the U.D.A. from many different areas of Belfast trooped past, there were continual raucous commands of “Left, right” and “Get those arms swinging” from their commanders. Onlookers applauded and cheered the marchers.

It was not only men who had assembled for the parade which had been arranged by the UDA, LAW and Vanguard; the paper printed a picture of an impressive phalanx of young girls and women wearing scarves, sunglasses and boots marching past the bottom of North Street. En route toward the Shankill the procession ‘wound its way through the city centre and up past the Unity Flats…Some marchers jeered and chanted “U.V.F.”’   

On the day of the parade the Sydenham Defence Association published an article in its newssheet entitled ‘We Can Wipe Out IRA’. The author referred to the previous week’s ‘war warning’ which had stated that ‘the Loyalists of this Province were now organised and equipped to take the appropriate steps to crush the murdering IRA once and for all’ continuing with the observation that

It is noticeable that as the preparation for war among Loyalists becomes more and more evident the more we hear of peace petitions and peace committees springing up in the areas which have been the most militant over the past three years. So they are becoming tired of the fighting, tired of the death, tired of the destruction which they have been directly and indirectly responsible for. So they want to call a halt. Why? Is it not that they now fear for their own lives, that they now expect mercy, human kindness and compassion which they themselves have been so reluctant to practise?

The article concluded with a stark warning which highlighted that loyalists were in no mood for rapprochement of any kind: ‘We the Loyalists can wipe out the Irish Republican Army, let there be no doubt about that, and this is exactly what will happen. No cries for peace will wash Protestant blood off their murdering hands. Revenge will indeed be sweet.’ [Sydenham Defence Association, 26 Vol. 1 27 May 1972, p.8]

Writing in her diary on 27 May 16-year-old Catholic schoolgirl Eimear O’Callaghan from West Belfast remarked,

Big explosions on Crumlin and Oldpark Roads – 2 cinemas.

10,000 Loyalists marched through tow.

Paraded in uniform to military commands. They strike terror in everyone’s heart.

I had intended going down town but somehow, between bombs and Tartan gangs, I don’t think that I would be too safe. Instead, did some baking.

After tea, came up to do my homework but couldn’t do it – too hard.

Although the massive parades and demonstrations suggested that loyalists were on the front foot and full of confidence, the reality is that they were feeling isolated and under threat. Beyond their own areas which were rapidly becoming fragmented along paramilitary and political lines they were finding it difficult to articulate their cause in any coherent manner. Competition for people’s loyalty and support was intense within small geographical areas. Externally loyalists were struggling to gain support beyond traditional bases such as the West of Scotland and other countries that Ulster Protestants had migrated to, most notably Canada. Republicans had allies in more places and this inevitably led to some loyalists seeing the enemy spread through their midst.

An extreme example of this fear and paranoia occurred in early June when a typically hyperbolic article in Loyalist News warned readers that a ‘tall striking good looking woman with tawny red hair has been seen in a car driving through Belfast.’ In a feverish tone the author suggested that the description fitted ‘Europe’s most dangerous and violent woman criminal’, Ulrike Meinhof. Meinhof had been a founding member of the West German left-wing militant organisation Red Army Faction. Described in the media as ‘Red Ulrike’ Meinhof had become notorious across the globe for her violent activities with the RAF section known as the Bader-Meinhof gang. Like the PIRA the RAF ideology was that the system could not be reformed and must be destroyed in its totality. To their opponents both were insidious and destructive forces living in plain sight. McKeague’s warning about Ulrike Meinhof betrayed a wider anxiety among loyalists about the reach of the Provisionals. Posing the question as to whether Meinhof had spread her ‘hatred of “the system”’ to ‘troubled Northern Ireland’ the author cited Interpol as saying that her political philosophy ‘certainly fits that of the Provisional I.R.A. Scum’ and stated ‘The I.R.A. themselves have refused to identify any of the people they have working for them but it know [sic] that they have sought help from the Continent before – as in the recent arms case in Amsterdam, when a huge consignment of guns from Czechoslovakia was intercepted.’ [Loyalist News, 3 Jun. 1972] Meinhof, who was certainly not in Belfast as Loyalist News had surmised was arrested in Langenhagen on 14 June.

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