seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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20th Anniversary of the 1981 IRA Hunger Strikes

hunger-strike-20th-anniversaryOn August 12, 2001, loyalist protesters block a main road in north Belfast to prevent the republican Wolfe Tone Flute band from joining a parade in the Ardoyne district commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1981 Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger strikes.

The 20-minute blockade of the Ligoniel Road is in response to the local branch of the loyalist Apprentice Boys of Derry organisation being refused permission to drive their bus past the nationalist Ardoyne the previous day.

Billy Hutchinson, the Progressive Unionist Party Assembly member for Belfast North says, “Nationalists are saying that the Apprentice Boys can’t come down the Crumlin Road on a bus because it is seen to be a parade.” He adds further, “I think loyalists are saying if the Apprentice Boys can’t go down on a bus why should the Wolfe Tone band be allowed to go down on a bus?”

On August 11, police officers prevent the Ligoniel Walker Club of the Apprentice Boys of Derry from driving their bus down the Crumlin Road past the Ardoyne shops because it constitutes a parade and breaches a ruling by the Parades Commission. The club is prevented by the Commission from marching through the area and tries in vain to broker a last minute compromise to use their bus.

Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin Assembly member for Belfast North, describes the loyalist protest as a “nonsense,” adding he does not believe that nationalist residents had objected to the organisation using their bus. “That is a decision the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) took on the ground. I don’t think there would have been a problem from the people of Ardoyne,” he adds.

The Apprentice Boys vow to seek a judicial review into the decision to prevent them from traveling through the area to get to their main parade in Derry.

After a six and a half hour stand-off, Apprentice Boys representative Tommy Cheevers brands the Parades Commission a “farce.”

(From: “Hunger strike march blocked by loyalists” from The Irish Times, Sunday, August 12, 2001 | Photo credit: PA:Press Association)


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The Drumcree Conflict of 1998

orangemen-drumcree-marchThe Drumcree conflict or Drumcree standoff is a dispute over yearly Orange Order parades in the town of Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The town is mainly Protestant and hosts numerous Protestant/loyalist marches each summer, but has a significant Catholic minority. The Orange Order, a Protestant unionist organization, insists that it should be allowed to march its traditional route to and from Drumcree Church on the Sunday before The Twelfth. However, most of the route is through the mainly Catholic/Irish nationalist section of town. The residents, who see the march as sectarian, triumphalist and supremacist, seek to ban it from their area. The Orangemen see this as an attack on their traditions as they have marched the route since 1807, when the area was mostly farmland.

In 1995 and 1996, residents succeed in stopping the march. This leads to a standoff at Drumcree between the security forces and thousands of Orangemen/loyalists. Following a wave of loyalist violence, police allow the march through. In 1997, security forces lock down the Catholic area and let the march through, citing loyalist threats to kill Catholics if they are stopped. This sparks widespread protests and violence by Irish nationalists. From 1998 onward, the march is banned from Garvaghy Road and the army seals off the Catholic area with large steel, concrete and barbed wire barricades. Each year there is a major standoff at Drumcree and widespread loyalist violence. Since 2001 things have been relatively calm, but moves to get the two sides into face-to-face talks have failed.

Early in 1998 the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 is passed, establishing the Parades Commission. The Commission is responsible for deciding what route contentious marches should take. On June 29, 1998, the Parades Commission decides to ban the march from Garvaghy Road.

On Friday, July 3, about 1,000 soldiers and 1,000 police are deployed in Portadown. The soldiers build large barricades made of steel, concrete and barbed wire across all roads leading into the nationalist area. In the fields between Drumcree Church and the nationalist area they dig a trench, fourteen feet wide, which is then lined with rows of barbed wire. Soldiers also occupy the Catholic Drumcree College, St. John the Baptist Primary School and some properties near the barricades.

On Sunday, July 5, the Orangemen march to Drumcree Church and state that they will remain there until they are allowed to proceed. About 10,000 Orangemen and loyalists arrive at Drumcree from across Northern Ireland. A loyalist group calling itself “Portadown Action Command” issues a statement which reads, “As from midnight on Friday 10 July 1998, any driver of any vehicle supplying any goods of any kind to the Gavaghy Road will be summarily executed.”

Over the next ten days, there are loyalist protests and violence across Northern Ireland in response to the ban. Loyalists block roads and attack the security forces as well as Catholic homes, businesses, schools and churches. On July 7, the mainly-Catholic village of Dunloy is “besieged” by over 1,000 Orangemen. The County Antrim Grand Lodge says that its members have “taken up positions” and “held” the village. On July 8, eight blast bombs are thrown at Catholic homes in the Collingwood area of Lurgan. There are also sustained attacks on the security forces at Drumcree and attempts to break through the blockade. On July 9, the security forces at Drumcree are attacked with gunfire and blast bombs. They respond with plastic bullets. The police recorded 2,561 “public order incidents” throughout Northern Ireland.

On Sunday, July 12, brothers Jason (aged 8), Mark (aged 9) and Richard Quinn (aged 10) are burned to death when their home is petrol bombed by loyalists. The boys’ mother is a Catholic and their home is in a mainly-Protestant section of Ballymoney. Following the murders, William Bingham, County Grand Chaplain of Armagh and member of the Orange Order negotiating team, says that “walking down the Garvaghy Road would be a hollow victory, because it would be in the shadow of three coffins of little boys who wouldn’t even know what the Orange Order is about.” He says that the Order has lost control of the situation and that “no road is worth a life.” However he later apologizes for implying that the Order is responsible for the deaths. The murders provoke widespread anger and calls for the Order to end its protest at Drumcree. Although the number of protesters at Drumcree drops considerably, the Portadown lodges vote unanimously to continue their standoff.

On Wednesday, July 15, the police begin a search operation in the fields at Drumcree. A number of loyalist weapons are found, including a homemade machine gun, spent and live ammunition, explosive devices, and two crossbows with more than a dozen homemade explosive arrows.


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2012 North Belfast Riots

belfast-violence-july-2012The first incident of the 2012 North Belfast Riots occurs on July 12, 2012 during “The TwelfthLoyalist celebrations. The sectarian disorder and rioting between loyalists and republicans takes place when rival parades, authorised by the Parades Commission, take place.

Catholic rioting has been common in recent years when the parades are forced through the mostly Irish nationalist Ardoyne in north Belfast. The local Orangemen parade down the predominantly Ulster loyalist Crumlin Road towards the loyalist Woodvale area. Before turning into the Woodvale they are met by Irish republican protesters and a nearby counter-parade organised by the Greater Ardoyne Residents Association (GARC). Nationalists then attack the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the parade with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs.

There is also violence in the Bogside area of Derry, where petrol bombs are thrown at police and a car is set afire. In south and east Belfast there are five arrests for a variety of offences including disorderly behaviour.

Prolonged attacks on the PSNI by Catholics follow the parades with missiles being thrown at police lines. Three cars are hijacked and pushed at police lines with at least one of them being set on fire, and at night ten shots are fired at police by a nationalist gunman who intends to kill police officers. On July 18, 2012, a 47-year-old man is charged with attempted murder of the police officers. The PSNI blames the violence on “thugs” and makes a further 26 arrests across Northern Ireland relating to the trouble.

In another incident during a different parade, a Shankill Road-based loyalist band “The Young Conway Volunteers” is filmed by a Sinn Féin activist playing The Famine Song outside St. Patricks Catholic Church in Ardoyne. The activist filming the incident is attacked by band members who try to snatch the phone from him. The incident brings condemnation, with Sinn Féin declaring it “provocative.” Protestant church leaders also condemn the incident as “blatantly sectarian.” It is this incident that is believed to ignite tensions in the area which continue over the next few months.

In the days that follow strong loyalist criticism is levelled at the Parades Commission blaming them for the violence. Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) accuses the Parades Commission of making a “bizarre, crazy, and mad decision” to allow the nationalist parade to coincide with the Orange parade while Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly blames the Orangemen for violating regulations set out by the Parades Commission. The Parades Commission denies responsibility, explaining “We have to balance the rights of everybody concerned in parades, not just the rights of paraders, but the rights of people who live in the areas and the rights of police officers.”