Doing it the old-fashioned way in North Antrim


As everybody’s favourite festival draws to a close, there’s been the regular riot in Ardoyne. It’s at least a reminder that the New Dispensation has not magicked away all the old tensions. There’s also the regular question of just how long the Provos can continue to keep a lid on the Ardoyne youth. From the way Gerry Kelly was cussing out the dissident groups – and the idea that the riot was orchestrated by dissidents beggars belief – one might expect another ostentatious anti-dissident campaign. Worth watching the headlines in the Andytown News, then. I’ll just say that being praised by Nelson McCausland and Frankie Gallagher is not going to do Munster much good with the youth.

There’s also the heroic effort of the modernising faction in the Orange Order – and when we say Drew Nelson is a moderniser, it should be clear we’re talking about those willing to drag Orangeism kicking and screaming into the eighteenth century – there is the effort to rebrand the Twelfth as something more in keeping with the brave new society we’re supposed to be building, something that might appeal to tourists, or at the very least not have the broad masses doing a runner for Donegal in the second week of each July. Changing the name to “Orangefest” is just the start. There is supposed to less public drunkenness and less loutish behaviour from march followers and kick-the-Pope bands. The Eleventh Night is supposed to be marked by eco-friendly “beacons” instead of enormous bonfires made of pallets, tree branches and discarded furniture, and adorned with sectarian slogans; the lighting of the bonfires is tied to “family fun days” with face-painting and bouncy castles. There are not supposed to be paramilitary flags on display. There are even designated “flagship marches” to function as examples of Best Practice.

Sadly, Drew and his brethren are having a hard time of it. To a large extent, it’s an existential question – if the Orange Order isn’t defined by anti-Catholicism, what is it? How is it possible to have a Twelfth of July that isn’t sectarian? You don’t have to be a mad republican to ask this question – actually, many of those who would celebrate the Twelfth would recognise its validity. That’s why, despite financial inducements being offered for beacons, many loyalists prefer the traditional bonfires, and the bacchanalian celebrations attached to them.

It’s also the time of year for intimidation. As if it wasn’t enough to have many of our ethnic communities fleeing their homes in South Belfast, we then had the threat against those who remain. Scuttlebutt links the threat to the UYM, the UDA’s youth wing, which surely puts something of a question mark over Jackie McDonald’s new touchy-feely anti-racist UDA.

Anyway, it’s Catholics rather than ethnic minorities who are the bread-and-butter targets, and this year it’s North Antrim that’s looking particularly hairy. This, I think, has to do with demographic shift, or what North Belfast unionists like to call “encroachment”. By this we mean Catholics moving into previously solidly Protestant areas, something that sends lots of unionists, even the self-proclaimed moderates, into a frenzy. This political imperative is what lies behind the housing crisis in North Belfast, as Catholic estates are bursting at the seams while Protestant estates – into which no Catholic may move – are increasingly empty, in some cases to the point of being derelict.

It seems that something similar is going on in North Antrim. When I heard there had been an attack on a GAA hall in Ahoghill, I was amazed at the idea that there was a GAA hall in Ahoghill. These little villages – Ahoghill, Cullybackey, Dervock – were katholikenrein until quite recently, but the appearance of visible Catholics, bringing churches and GAA clubs with them… well, that’s the sort of thing that winds up your rural loyalist who’s used to living in a cosy Prods-only environment. And this is just the time of year when loyalist passions run high.

In the interests of balance, it must be said that the area has also witnessed a number of sectarian attacks by Catholics, notably in Dunloy and Rasharkin. But the dynamic is not the same. The semi-regular arson attacks on rural Orange halls have been going on for quite a number of years, and some Orangemen would have you believe they are all personally masterminded by Gerry Adams, but my take is that the culprits are young folks who might describe themselves as republicans, but are basically lumpen Celtic supporters acting under the influence of alcohol. The intimidation of Catholics in North Antrim villages where the Catholic presence is recent fits a different pattern, and is of a piece with the tensions in Crumlin, a town where demographic shift has been very rapid. When demographic shift happens in an area, one of two things happens: either the Catholics are driven out and the status quo ante is restored, or the Catholics establish themselves and the Prods start to move out, to East Belfast or North Down or similar areas where it’s all Prods as far as the eye can see.

So it doesn’t look good for the Orange modernisers. Not only are they in an institution famously resistant to modernisation, but the ugly realities of sectarianism will keep reasserting themselves. That they reassert themselves at this time of year is hardly a coincidence. And Orange and unionist leaders proclaiming “Nothing to do with us, honest guv,” is not going to butter many parsnips.


  1. Phil said,

    July 14, 2009 at 9:58 am

    the idea that the riot was orchestrated by dissidents beggars belief

    Yes and no. If you think in terms of political geography, the idea that the rioting was organised by dissident elements opposed to the peace process is pretty much self-evident – it’s just that ‘dissident’ covers more ground than it used to (as well as retaining the narrower meaning – but that’s how these repositioning exercises work). Anyone who calls him/herself a Republican but isn’t bound by SF discipline qualifies as a “dissident element”, and I think “opposed to the peace process” in this context means “not prepared to renounce political violence in any way, shape or form whatsoever”.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 14, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Well, the Provos are specifically pointing fingers at eirigi and the Real Republicans – although, oddly, not at the IRSP, who actually have some support in Ardoyne. But I think this falls foul of Occam’s Razor. Recent history shows that Ardoyne youth are quite willing to kick off at Orange marches without anyone telling them to.

    Another thing worth pondering on is whether Gerry Kelly and Bobby Storey inspire the fear they used to. If not, then it becomes more and more unlikely that they’ll be able to discipline things in the future.

  3. ejh said,

    July 14, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Butter and parsnips for the curious

  4. July 15, 2009 at 8:22 am

    “dissident elements opposed to the peace process” … does this also include TUV & Co.

  5. Ciarán said,

    July 15, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    It could be all those nefarious ‘dissident journalists’ as well. Everyone knows that Allison Morris of the Irish News was injured by the ricochet of a stone she herself had thrown.

  6. ejh said,

    July 15, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    One thing that astruck me – why doCatholics find themselves in previously overwhelmingly-Protestant-and-Loyalist small towns and villages? Do they move house there, because they want to (would you?) or are they local authority tenants and that’s where they’ve been allocated housing?

    If the latter, is there any provision to say “I don’t want to be housed in an area with UVF banners hanging on the telegraph poles”? Should there be?

  7. Garibaldy said,

    July 15, 2009 at 8:15 pm


    I’d say it’s a combination of things. I don’t think by and large it is because that is where they are allocated housing, and AFAIK – although I’ve always never done advice work – it is generally accepted that people can stay in their “own” areas where they won’t be in the minority if they want.

    I don’t have the figures, but I think most people are moving into private housing, because it’s cheaper, out of the city etc. There is a widespread perception that Catholic areas are bursting at the seams, although someone I know who is fairly senior in the Housing Executive told me the situation was more complicated when I said that to him. Can’t remember the details now. This was during a nasty spat of burnings out of Catholics from loyalist areas in Belfast about 10 years ago.

  8. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 15, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    There are certain areas that are bursting at the seams. Ardoyne would be one, and Short Strand another – both areas with lots of unruly youth.

    But the big shifts at the moment are in parts of the Belfast commuter belt, like Carryduff or Glengormley, or villages a bit further out like Crumlin. Up in north Antrim, villages like Dervock or Ahoghill are actually quite pleasant wee places, generally peaceful, and it’s not surprising that small numbers of intrepid Catholics might move there. It’s only a question of whether they could establish themselves.

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