Coleraine's history of intolerance
Recent attacks have once again shown Coleraine to be a centre of
sectarianism. Mick Naughton reports
In the early 1980s Coleraine saw a ``gas the gooks'' campaign aimed
at the handful of Vietnamese refugees who settled in the
Ballysally estate. They were subjected to a series of attacks
until they left the estate.
It was part of a pattern of sectarian and far-right hatred in the
Also in the 1980s the British National Front-backed ``anti-student
army'' targeted students from the nearby university. Nazi stickers
carrying a contact number for the notorious US-based racist
murderer, Harold Covington, are a regular feature in the town
centre and elsewhere.
In 1984, Coleraine council was the only local authority in
Ireland or Britain to permit the NF to use their premises for a
nazi rally. The hate sheet, Bulldog had high sales at Coleraine
FC's home ground.
Certain Coleraine supporters regularly appear at the Coleraine
Showgrounds wearing full Ku Klux Klan regalia. At the final of
the 1994 Milk Cup when Cherry Orchard from Dublin played Glasgow
Rangers a section of the crowd carried a banner which read simply
`Fenian Bastards'. The Milk Cup is a tournament for under-16
In 1994, the Coleraine NF (now called the National Democrats)
attacked an Anti-Nazi League protest in the town centre. When the
protestors fought back the RUC's DMSU's escorted the fascists to
the safety of a nearby bar. Also in 1994, several items of
anti-Jewish hate mail arrived at a synagogue in Belfast and the
offices of Militant Labour (now called the Socialist Party).
These letters were posted from Coleraine.
After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 the Mayor
of Coleraine Jim McClure and councillor Dessie Stewart, both DUP,
appeared at a loyalist paramilitary show of strength at the East
Strand in Portrush. McClure justified his presence there by
hinting that he had been semi-kidnapped from the grounds of the
local Free Presbyterian church.
Around the same time a Catholic-owned clothing shop and a student
house in Ballysally were firebombed within minutes of each other.
The chairwoman of Ballysally residents committee, the RUC and
local councillors declared that the attacks were not sectarian
but were the work of ``mindless vandals''. Numerous sectarian
attacks, usually during the Orange marching season, go unreported
or are classified as the work of vandals.
In one incident in nearby Bushmills loyalists attempted to lynch
two Catholics during the eleventh night `celebrations'. Loyalists
had nooses tied around their necks and were about to hoist them
on lamposts when the RUC intervened.
With the marching season once more approaching, Catholics in
Coleraine will once more be virtual prisoners in their homes for
most nights during the summer months due to the high number of
loyalist band parades. The town's unsavoury history of
sectarianism looks set to continue.