Views from the hill
BY LAURA FRIEL
Two views from the hill
Ruth Dudley Edwards was born and brought up in Dublin. She read history at University College Dublin and was a postgraduate at Girton College, Cambridge. She went on to become a civil servant and later, a freelance writer and journalist. ``The Faithful Tribe'' is published by Harper Collins and priced at £17.99.
Susan McKay was born in Derry and now lives in Dublin. She is a staff journalist with the Sunday Tribune . She was one of the founders of the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre and was a community worker in Sligo and Fermanagh before becoming a journalist. ``Northern Protestants, An Unsettled People'' is published by Blackstaff Press and priced at £12.99.
A sapling, despoiled of its leaves and branches, stands in a barren field against a darkening sky. Tied at the top of the tree flies a British Union Jack; beneath it an Ulster loyalist flag is unfurled.
In her study, ``Northern Protestants, An Unsettled People,'' Susan McKay argues that ``a sense of place is important in the North of Ireland''. On the front cover, the deserted field at Drumcree provides McKay with an image of desolation which sets the tone of her book.
The gravest flaw at the heart of the Ulster Protestant community lies in its ambivalence towards sectarian violence. To what extent are Northern Protestants undermined by a sectarianism that few of them acknowledge? asks McKay
This is a story of ambivalence, indifference and denial - a story of a community whose greatest peril lies within rather than outside its ranks. The impromptu flagpole may be staked into the ground, but its slender form is insubstantial against the threatening storm.
On the back of ``The Faithful Tribe'', a study of the Orange
Order by Ruth Dudley Edwards, the message is subtly different.
The image is still of Drumcree field. A bowler-hatted figure
stands silhouetted beneath a flying Union Jack.
At the heart of Dudley Edwards' analysis lies a simple model. It is this. If republicans are the bad guys, and if the Orange Order aren't exactly all time good guys, then for Dudley Edwards they're good enough
It's an archetypal image of Britishness, but in this
particular corner of Empire, the sun has already set. This
records the closing, not the beginning of an era. The immediate
nostalgia evoked by the image is dispelled by the harsh reality
barely visible on the horizon.
The flag may be illuminated, but only by the artificial lights
of British Crown force personnel deployed to thwart the
Orangemen's determination to walk down the Garvaghy Road. This is
a story of inexplicable betrayal.
For Dudley Edwards, the Orange Order represents ``the old
virtues of family, sobriety, self reliance, hard work and
thrift''. Her study opens with a quote from an English Orangeman
reminiscing about his childhood and remarking on the fate of
fellow Orangemen in the north of Ireland today.
``It's the Blue Remembered Hills: you can't go back. We can
all see that community and experience a sense of loss - because
we know where we've come from. But it makes me feel angry that an
entire community should be demonised for no greater crime than
being out of fashion.''
McKay has no time for such misplaced sentimentality. The
gravest flaw at the heart of the Ulster Protestant community lies
in its ambivalence towards sectarian violence. To what extent are
Northern Protestants undermined by a sectarianism that few of
them acknowledge? asks McKay.
She probes into the darkest regions first, describing in depth
the sectarian killings of two Catholic teenagers, Bernadette
Martin and James Morgan.''I wanted to explore the influences
which were capable of producing such violent hatred,'' says
``Bernadette Martin and James Morgan were young people full of
life and much loved. Their circles included Catholics,
Protestants, and others who had allegiance to neither faith. But
to the men who murdered them, they were simply taigs, fenians.
McKay displays no ambiguity when it comes to sectarian
violence; the passion with which she describes the circumstances
surrounding the killings and the compassion with which she
identifies with the victims, speaks for itself.
``Both of the killers [of Bernadette and James] supported the
Orange Order. Trevor McKeown was a Drumcree foot soldier. Norman
Coopey was an Orangeman, a member of the brotherhood.''
Within the Protestant community, such violence is not typical,
says McKay, but it does represent the worst outcome of a type of
strong political Protestantism. ``How, in some, did being `proud
to be Protestant' turn pathological?'' she asks.
For Ruth Dudley Edwards, sectarian violence isn't spawned from
within the Protestant community or Orangeism. Dudley Edwards
might record Orangemen describing themselves as ``blockheaded
bigots'', but she sees sectarian violence as the game plan of the
``It was Drumcree, at the Mecca of Orangeism, that was to
become the centre of the IRA/Sinn Féin strategy of setting
not just Protestant against Catholic and unionist against
nationalist, but the loyal institutions against the state to
which they were so fervently loyal.''
Republican cynicism has no bounds for Dudley Edwards. The IRA
``hope to provoke retaliation'' and ``the kicking to death of
Robert Hamill and the shooting of Adrian Lamph ``helped
[Breandán] Mac Cionnaith win a council seat.''
d then there's the do nothing theory of social change.
``Without the 25 years of assault from the IRA, the Orange Order
would have almost withered away,'' says Dudley Edwards.
She acknowledges that ``in Portadown itself, with its big
Protestant majority, violence against Catholics has been a
constant'' and that ``Portadown parades have often provided a
focal point for sectarian conflict''.
But although the author provides scant evidence to support it,
for Dudley Edwards sectarian violence is reciprocal. Two warring
tribes, with the RUC ``caught in the middle'' and Dublin
interference and''well meaning English belief in balance and
compromise'' making the situation worse''.
At the heart of Dudley Edwards' analysis lies a simple model.
It is this. If republicans are the bad guys, and if the Orange
Order aren't exactly all time good guys, then for Dudley Edwards
they're good enough.
The fundamental flaw at the heart of the analysis is this. The
right to live free from sectarian harassment is a northern
nationalist as well as republican aspiration. Dudley Edwards
fails to address the hopes and fears of the nationalist
community. They are portrayed simply as dupes of the IRA.
Thus, residents' spokespersons are ``frontmen'' and their
mandate is ``bogus''. Breandán Mac Cionnaith is an
``unrepentant ex terrorist'' and Father Eamon Stack, a
``fanatical'' Jesuit who ``stalked the Garvaghy Road hunting for
state injuries''. Irish Americans who give them a sympathetic
hearing are ``die hards''.
Dudley Edwards' analysis almost falters when in 1998 she
decides that ``the Sinn Féin agenda would not be helped by
mayhem at Drumcree''. Her solution is to demonise Breandán
Mac Cionnaith even further.
``Journalists who had known Mac Cionnaith for three years
confirmed to me that he seemed megalomaniacal. One man has
actually managed to flout the will of virtually everybody.''
So forget 200-odd years of Orange inspired bigotry and decades
of unionist misrule, ignore the anti Catholic pogroms of the
1920s and the 1960s, and sideline the campaign of sectarian
assassination perpetrated by loyalists in the name of Drumcree.
It's all Mac Cionnaith's fault.
Dudley Edwards often collapses her analysis of the opinions of
the Orangemen of which she writes so sympathetically.
Breandán Mac Cionnaith is currently being actively
targeted by loyalist death squads. Rosemary Nelson is already
dead. The demonisation of individuals is a very dangerous
business in the north of Ireland.
Of course, Dudley Edwards has no sympathy for loyalist
violence. Sectarian violence around Drumcree is just another form
of extremism, distinct from mainstream Orangeism. So when the
Orange Order's Grand Master, Robert Saulters, is reported as
having said that Tony Blair had ``sold his Protestant birthright
by marrying a Romanist'', this is not a sectarian remark, merely
a deeply religious one.
``Inevitably I tried and failed to explain to horrified
English and Irish people that such a remark did not mean that
Saulters was a mad bigot,'' write Dudley Edwards, ``but instead
that he took his religion seriously in a way which was
incomprehensible to a secular world.''
One minute Orangemen are singled out for praise because of
their plain speaking, the next they don't really mean what they
say. Misunderstood and ill treated, they are inevitably led
towards ill conceived acts of frustration.
``As I became closer to the loyal institutions and made more
friends within them,'' says Dudley Edwards, ``I was constantly
angered by the sheer unfairness of the way in which they were
perceived outside their community.''
At Drumcree, Dudley Edwards watched as an Orangeman ``briefly
succumbed to frustration and rage and was seen screaming at the
RUC''. Another, ``a pillar of his local community - completely
lost control when he saw the razor wire, for it conjured up an
image of the trenches at the Somme''.
While Dudley Edwards accepts the Orange Order's perception of
its own martyrdom, McKay is more questioning. She cites an
incident in which an Orange supporters' march in Portadown was
confronted by the RUC.
McKay describes a handful of RUC, ``undecided'' about what
they were about to do: ``Several held batons, but did not use
them. They did not block the footpath, so the parade simply moved
sideways off the road and resumed its route.''
But the marchers were ``furious''. The behaviour of the RUC
was ``a disgrace'' and partisan. It was the ``same police force''
who had ``protected an illegal Sinn Féin march in
Belfast... but here, they drew their batons,'' said one angry
``The rage seemed disproportionate. Righteous indignation gone
hysterical. I had no doubt that this citizen had been entirely in
approval when, during Drumcree 1997, the RUC drew their batons on
nationalists who were protesting by sitting on the Garvaghy
Road,'' says McKay.
Nationalist protesters had been ``grabbed, beaten, lifted,
carried through the first line of police, which then closed
behind them. Then they were flung through the second line.'' They
emerged ``bloody headed and bruised'' while ``the Orangemen
passed down the road beyond the RUC lines''.
The decision to stop the Orange march in 1998 was ``to the
Drumcree supporters, a matter of betrayal and surrender,'' says
McKay. ``A young man... stood in a circle cleared by the
incandesence of his anger.
``He looked like a firework exploding. `They're nothing but
fucking animals them bastards on the Garvaghy Road,' he roared,
`if they don't give us the Garavghy Road, we'll fucking take it
``Then they sang, `The Lord is my shepherd'. The last time I
had heard the beautiful psalm,'' says McKay, `` was at the
funeral, in the summer of 1997, of James Morgan, murdered by an
McKay identifies what she calls a ``craving for victimhood''.
In an interview with a Portadown Orangeman, whose ``sash was worn
over a shoulder which also bore a UDA tattoo,'' McKay exposes the
doublethink at the heart of the Drumcree protest.
The decision to reroute the Orange march away from the
Garvaghy Road in 1998 filled John with `fierce rapture'.
`I hope and pray Mo Mowlam will stick by what she says. The
Ulster people will be united again. If the Orange Order is
battered here, it is going to unite the people,' says John.
`This will be our Alamo. This'll be Custer's last stand. When
the British people see British subjects being battered on the
streets of Portadown, when they see British blood running down
the faces of the people... only looking to walk the Queen's
highway, they will think those people have the right.
`This will be our Bloody Sunday,' says John.
``John carved such a martyrdom for his people,'' writes McKay.
``He wanted blood sacrifice, filmed and photographed. Blood to
wash away the image of Protestants as triumphalist bullies, and
show them as the true victims.''
But of course fenian blood is also on the agenda. ``The little
boy stood silently listening. John ruffled his hair. He told me
this was his grandchild. `I'm bringing him up to the gun,' he
said. `Sing the girl a song, son. Sing her ``The Billy Boys''.'
``The child stood to attention. Then he sang: ``We are, we
are, we are the Billy Boys...' When he sang the line, `We're up
to our necks in fenian blood', John grinned, patted the child on
the head, and punched the air.''
But McKay doesn't just concern herself with the active
sectarianism of the few. She is just as concerned with the
ambivalence towards sectarianism found amongst the less overt.
`There was more to that than meets the eye,' said the woman,
`you wouldn't know what it was about, but there is no way it was
sectarian. This is not a sectarian town.' She was talking of the
murders of the three Quinn children, burnt to death in a loyalist
petrolbomb attack on their Ballymoney home in the early hours of
12 July 1998.
McKay describes the woman as ``kindly, an evangelical
Presbyterian from the professional classes'' and she was saying
what almost everyone else McKay had met from the Protestant
community in Ballymoney had said.
McKay describes Ballymoney as ``peaceful enough''. A
predominantly Protestant town ``nestled on the western edge of
Paisley's Bible belt heartland in North Antrim but ``where a
Catholic minority seemed to live quietly''.
But behind the denials, there was a more sinister reality
which many people in Ballymoney refused to recognise. When the
nearby nationalist village of Dunloy objected to an Orange march
through its main street, sectarian tension rather than toleration
was the response in Ballymoney town.
``Pastor Alan Campbell preached a sermon in the town, in which
he claimed that what was really going on in Harryville `is the
ancient battle between the true church, Protestantism, and the
Whore, the Beast, and the Baal worshippers within Catholicism'.
For 20 months, Orange Order supporters, protesting against the
rerouting of their parade away from Dunloy, picketed a Catholic
chapel in Harryville, Ballymena .''The picket at Harryville was
frightening,'' says McKay.
``The demonstrators attacked Catholics, threw bricks through
their car windows, and on one occasion broke into a house and
beat up people in their beds. They also hurled abuse, grunted
like pigs at the worshipper, and tried to burn out both the
chapel and the priest's house in the grounds.''
Then in 1997, in the centre of Ballymoney, a loyalist mob
attacked an off-duty RUC man, Greg Taylor. The mob, a local flute
band and its supporters had recognised the RUC officer from the
barriers at Dunloy. They kicked him to death in the street.
But ``people in Ballymoney disputed the evidence about this
murder too. `That was nothing to do with Dunloy,' said a
teacher....'there was more to that than meets the eye.' Others
said it was `just drink'.''
Denial would also shape the people of Ballymoney's response to
the Quinns' killings a year later. Even residents living on the
same housing estate as the Quinn family deny the killings were
``Josie had lived on the Carnany estate for almost 20 years
and loved it. She was angry at media coverage of the Quinn
murders. `They made a mountain out of a molehill,' she said.
`They went overboard. They were crawling all over the place.
`Now people say about Carnany. ``That's a bad place.'' If it
was, I wouldn't be here.' The community centre ran courses and
fun days and had darts and snooker and TV for the children. On
St. Patrick's Day, 17 March, they had an Irish stew night.''
Strangely, reports McKay, ``no one spoke to me in Ballymoney
about the shame or damage after the Quinn and Taylor murders.
Instead, they offered reasons for the murders. Some went to the
brink of justifying them.
``People insisted that the murders had nothing to do with
Drumcree, nothing to do with Dunloy, nothing to do with
sectarianism, nothing to do with the Orange Order,'' says McKay.
``Middle class people said that some of the people involved in
the killing of Taylor were `from respectable families'. By
contrast, Taylor had jeopardised his own respectability. He had
separated from his wife for a time.''
Susan McKay places the dynamic of Drumcree within the wider
Protestant community. There are many dissenting voices, which
deserved equally to be heard but which I have not included in
Ruth Dudley Edwards' vision may be coloured by her support for
the Orange Order and an anti-republican agenda, but her study
does offer some insights into the mindset of many people within
the Protestant community.