World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Ulster loyalism

The Union Flag, Ulster Banner and Orange Order flags are often flown by loyalists in Northern Ireland
A loyalist flag bearing the Red Hand of Ulster and the loyalist slogan "For God and Ulster"

Ulster loyalism is a political ideology found primarily among working class Ulster Protestants in Northern Ireland.[1][2] Many Ulster Protestants are descendants of colonists from Britain. Like Ulster unionists (of which loyalists are a subset), loyalists are attached to the British monarchy, support the preservation of Northern Ireland, and oppose a united Ireland. Ulster loyalism has been described as a kind of ethnic nationalism[3] and "a variation of British nationalism".[4] It is strongly associated with paramilitarism.

Ulster loyalism emerged in the late 19th century, as a response to the Irish self-government and Irish independence movements. Although most of Ireland was Catholic, in the province of Ulster Protestants were the majority. Loyalism began as a self-determination movement among Ulster Protestants who did not want to become part of an autonomous Ireland. While some Irish Catholics were also unionist, loyalism tended to emphasize Ulster Protestant heritage. This movement led to the partition of Ireland in 1921. Most of Ireland became independent, while about two-thirds of Ulster remained within the United Kingdom as a self-governing territory called Northern Ireland. Loyalists often use 'Ulster' as an alternative name for Northern Ireland.

Since partition, most loyalists have supported upholding Northern Ireland's status as a part of the United Kingdom (i.e. unionism). Historically, the terms 'unionist' and 'loyalist' were often used interchangeably. However, since the resurgence of loyalist paramilitarism in the 1960s, a distinction between the two is made more often. The term 'loyalist' is now usually used to describe working class unionists who are willing to use, or tacitly support, paramilitary violence to defend the Union with Great Britain.[5][6][7] Loyalists are also described as being loyal primarily to the Protestant British monarchy rather than to the British government and institutions.[8] Garret FitzGerald argued that loyalists are loyal primarily to 'Ulster' rather than to 'the Union'.[9] Some loyalists have called for an independent Ulster Protestant state, believing that they cannot rely on the British government to prevent Irish reunification (see Ulster nationalism).

In Northern Ireland there is a long tradition of militaristic loyalist Protestant marching bands. There are hundreds of such bands who hold numerous parades each year. The yearly Eleventh Night (11 July) bonfires and The Twelfth (12 July) parades are strongly associated with loyalism.


  • Background 1
  • Political parties 2
  • Paramilitary and vigilante groups 3
    • Collusion with the security forces 3.1
  • Fraternities and marching bands 4
  • Other groups 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The term loyalist was first used in Irish politics in the 1790s to refer to Protestants who opposed Catholic Emancipation and Irish independence from Great Britain.[10]

Upon the partition of Ireland in 1921, six of the nine counties in the province of Ulster were excluded from the independent Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland).

These counties remained a part of the United Kingdom. Academically cited records from 1926 indicate that at that stage 33.5% of the Northern Ireland population was Roman Catholic, with 62.2% belonging to the three major Protestant denominations (Presbyterian 31.3%, Church of Ireland 27%, Methodist 3.0%).[11]

Tensions between Northern Ireland's Catholic population (which mostly supports Irish reunification) and its Protestant population (which mostly supports remaining part of the UK) led to a long-running bloody conflict known as the Troubles from the late 1960s to the late 1990s.

Political parties

Loyalist graffiti and banner on a building in a side street off the Shankill Road, Belfast (1970)
Active parties
Former parties

In Great Britain, a number of small far-right parties have and still do express support for loyalist paramilitaries, and loyalism in general. This includes the British National Front[12] (who registered to stand in Northern Ireland), the British People's Party[13] and Britain First.

Bigger and more moderate right-wing unionist parties like the Ulster Unionists (UUP) or Democratic Unionists (DUP) have actively sought to distance themselves from loyalist paramilitary activity. However, Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist Party have been involved with Ulster Resistance and worked alongside loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Defence Association in the 1974 Ulster Workers' Council Strikes and the 1977 Loyalist Association of Workers strike.[14]

Paramilitary and vigilante groups

A UVF mural in Belfast
A UDA/UFF mural in Bangor, County Down

Loyalist paramilitary and vigilante groups have been active since the early 20th century. In 1912, the terrorist organizations.

During the Troubles, their stated goals were to combat Irish republicanism – particularly the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) – and to defend Protestant loyalist areas.[15][16] However, most of their victims were Irish Catholic civilians, who were often killed at random[17] in sectarian attacks.[15] Whenever they claimed responsibility for their attacks, loyalists usually claimed that those targeted were IRA members or were giving help to the IRA.[18] M. L. R. Smith wrote that "From the outset, the loyalist paramilitaries tended to regard all Catholics as potential rebels".[19] Other times, attacks on Catholic civilians were claimed as "retaliation" for IRA actions, since the IRA drew most of its support from the Catholic community.[15][17][20] Such retaliation was seen as both collective punishment and an attempt to weaken the IRA's support; it was thought that terrorizing the Catholic community and inflicting such a death toll on it would force the IRA to end its campaign.[19][21]

The modus operandi of loyalist paramilitaries involved assassinations, mass shootings, bombings and kidnappings. They used sub machine-guns, assault rifles, pistols, grenades (including homemade grenades), incendiary bombs, booby trap bombs and car bombs. Bomb attacks were usually made without warning. However, gun attacks were more common than bombings.[21] In January 1994, the UDA drew up a 'doomsday plan', to be implemented should the British Army withdraw from Northern Ireland. It called for ethnic cleansing and re-partition, with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant.[22]

Some loyalist paramilitaries have had links with far-right and Neo-Nazi groups in Britain, including Combat 18,[23][24] the British National Socialist Movement,[25] and the British National Front.[26] Since the 1990s, loyalist paramilitaries have been responsible for numerous racist attacks in loyalist areas.[27] A 2006 report revealed that of all reported racist attacks in the previous two years, 90% occurred in loyalist areas.[28]

In the 1990s, the main loyalist paramilitaries called ceasefires. Following this, small breakaway groups continued to wage violent campaigns for a number of years, and members of loyalist groups have continued to engage in sporadic violence.

Name Initials Operational Status
Ulster Volunteers UVF 1912-1922 Disbanded
Ulster Protestant Association UPA 1920–1922 Disbanded
Ulster Imperial Guards UIG 1921-1922 Disbanded
Ulster Protestant Volunteers UPV 1966–1969 Disbanded
Ulster Volunteer Force
Red Hand Commando
Young Citizen Volunteers (youth wing)
Officially on ceasefire since 1994
Officially ended campaign in 2007
Ulster Defence Association
Ulster Freedom Fighters
Ulster Young Militants (youth wing)
Officially on ceasefire since 1994
Officially ended campaign in 2007
Ulster Resistance UR 1986–? Disbanded
Loyalist Volunteer Force LVF 1997–present Officially on ceasefire since 1998
Officially ended campaign in 2005
Orange Volunteers OV 1998–present Uncertain since 2009[29]
Red Hand Defenders RHD 1998–present Active[30]
Real Ulster Freedom Fighters Real UFF 2007–present Active[31]
Other paramilitary-style groups
Umbrella groups

The name Protestant Action Force (PAF) was also occasionally used by loyalists during the Troubles. It has been suggested that PAF was a covername used by a semi-independent group (or groups) within the UVF who were carrying out attacks on their own initiative or without the sanction of the UVF leadership.

A republican mural in Belfast with the slogan "Collusion Is Not An Illusion"

Collusion with the security forces

In their efforts to defeat the IRA, there were incidents of handlers. The De Silva report found that, during the 1980s, 85% of the intelligence loyalists used to target people came from the security forces.[32]

Due to a number of factors, the locally recruited

  • Progressive Unionist Party
  • Beyond Conflict – A South-East Antrim organisation linked with the Ulster Defence Association
  • Loyalist, Unionist and Protestant Resources
  • English Loyalists
  • Scottish Loyalists
  • British Ulster Alliance

External links

  1. ^ Miller, David W.. Queen's Rebels: Ulster loyalism in historical perspective. Gill and Macmillan, 1978. ISBN 0064948293
  2. ^ Taylor, Peter. Loyalists. Bloomsbury, 2000. ISBN 0747545197.
  3. ^ Ignatieff, Michael. Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism. Vintage, 1994. p.184.
  4. ^ John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary. Explaining Northern Ireland. Wiley, 1995. pp.92–93.
  5. ^ Bruce, Steve. The Red Hand: Protestant Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Oxford University Press, 1992. p.15.
  6. ^ Alan F. Parkinson (1998). Ulster loyalism and the British media. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 1-85182-367-0
  7. ^ a b Glossary of terms on the Northern Ireland conflict. Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  8. ^ Alison, Miranda. Women and Political Violence. Routledge, 2009. p.67.
  9. ^ Cochrane, Fergal. Unionist Politics and the Politics of Unionism since the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Cork University Press, 2001. p.39.
  10. ^ Arthur Lyon Cross (1920). A shorter history of England and greater Britain. The Macmillan company. pp. 593–595, 597. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  11. ^ CAIN: Background Information on Northern Ireland Society – Religion
  12. ^ National Front policies. Official National Front (UK) website.
  13. ^ "Stand by Loyal Ulster!" – British People's Party leaflet. Official British People's Party website.
  14. ^ Peter Taylor, Loyalists, 2000
  15. ^ a b c Doherty, Barry. Northern Ireland since c.1960. Heinemann, 2001. p15
  16. ^ "A history of the UDA". BBC News. 6 January 2010. Retrieved 28 March 2010. 
  17. ^ a b David McKittrick (12 March 2009). "Will loyalists seek bloody revenge?".  
  18. ^ Kentucky New Era, 14 April 1992
  19. ^ a b Smith, M L R. Fighting for Ireland?. Psychology Press, 1997. p.118
  20. ^ Tonge, Jonathan. Northern Ireland. Polity, 2006. p.157
  21. ^ a b Mitchell, Thomas G (2000). "Chapter 7 subsection: The Loyalist terrorists of Ulster, 1969–94". Native vs. Settler. Greenwood Press. pp. 154–165. 
  22. ^ Wood, Ian S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp.184–185.
  23. ^ Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. NYU Press, 2003. p.45.
  24. ^ McDonald, Henry (2 July 2000). "English fascists to join loyalists at Drumcree". London: The Observer. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  25. ^ Goodrick-Clarke, pp.40–41.
  26. ^ Wood, Ian S.Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp.339–40.
  27. ^ "Racist war of the loyalist street gangs". The Guardian, 10 January 2004. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  28. ^ "Loyalists linked to 90 per cent of race crime". The Guardian. 22 October 2006.
  29. ^ "Orange Volunteers claim Moneymore bomb attack". Mid Ulster Mail. 2009-08-24. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  30. ^ Paramilitary threat to Belfast schools' - UTV Live News"'". Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  31. ^ Roberta Toan. "Blast bomb victim 'lucky to be alive' - UTV Live News". Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  32. ^ "Pat Finucane murder: 'Shocking state collusion', says PM". BBC News, 12 December 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  33. ^ Thomas G. Mitchell, Native Vs. Settler: Ethnic Conflict in Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, p. 55
  34. ^ Brett Bowden, Michael T. Davis, eds, Terror: From Tyrannicide to Terrorism, p. 234
  35. ^ a b c "Subversion in the UDR". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  36. ^ "Collusion – Subversion in the UDR". Irish News, 3 May 2006.
  37. ^ "CAIN: Public Records: Subversion in the UDR". Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  38. ^ a b c d "British army 'covered up' UDR units links to UVF". The Detail, 31 July 2011.
  39. ^ Wood, Ian S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp.107–8
  40. ^ CAIN: New Year Releases 2003 – Public Records of 1972
  41. ^ Potter, John Furniss. A Testimony to Courage – the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969–1992. Pen & Sword Books, 2001. p.376
  42. ^ The Cassel Report (2006), pp. 8, 14, 21, 25, 51, 56, 58–65.
  43. ^ a b c d "Collusion in the South Armagh/Mid Ulster Area in the mid-1970s". Pat Finucane Centre. Retrieved 2 January 2011.
  44. ^ The Cassel Report (2006), pp. 6, 13
  45. ^ The Cassel Report (2006), p.63
  46. ^ a b The Cassel Report (2006), p.4
  47. ^ The Cassel Report (2006), p.8
  48. ^ a b "Scandal of Ulster’s secret war". The Guardian. 17 April 2003. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  49. ^ a b "Security forces aided loyalist murders". BBC News. 17 April 2003. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  50. ^ Stevens Enquiry 3: Overview & Recommendations. 17 April 2003. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  51. ^ a b "Stevens Inquiry: Key people". BBC News. 17 April 2003. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  52. ^ a b "Obituary: Brian Nelson". The Guardian. 17 April 2003. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  53. ^ "Deadly Intelligence: State Involvement in Loyalist Murder in Northern Ireland – Summary". British Irish Rights Watch, February 1999.
  54. ^ Human Rights in Northern Ireland: Hearing before the Committee on International Relations of the United States House of Representatives, 24 June 1997. US Government Printing Office, 1997.
  55. ^ Clayton, Pamela (1996). Enemies and Passing Friends: Settler ideologies in twentieth-century Ulster. Pluto Press. p. 156. More recently, the resurgence in loyalist violence that led to their carrying out more killings than republicans from the beginning of 1992 until their ceasefire (a fact widely reported in Northern Ireland) was still described as following 'the IRA's well-tested tactic of trying to usurp the political process by violence'… 
  56. ^ "NI police colluded with killers". BBC News, 22 January 2007.
  57. ^ McKittrick, David. Lost Lives. Mainstream Publishing, 1999. p.724
  58. ^ "Killing Fields". New Statesman. Stephen Howe. 14 February 2000. Retrieved 2 February 2011
  59. ^ The Cassel Report (2006), p.68
  60. ^  
  61. ^ Tonge, Johnathan. Northern Ireland. Polity, 2006. pages 24, 171, 172, 173.
  62. ^ Mark Simpson (10 July 2009). "Turning hotspot into friendly fire". BBC News. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  63. ^ "Loyalist band numbers at new high" The Newsletter


  • Potter, John Furniss. A Testimony to Courage – the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 – 1992, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0-85052-819-4
  • Ryder, Chris. The Ulster Defence Regiment: An Instrument of Peace?, 1991 ISBN 0-413-64800-1


Other groups

In Northern Ireland there are a number of Protestant fraternities and marching bands who hold yearly parades. They include the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys of Derry. These fraternities, often described as the "Loyal Orders",[7] have long been associated with unionism and loyalism.[61] There are also hundreds of Protestant marching bands in Northern Ireland, many of whom hold loyalist views and use loyalist symbols. Yearly events such as the Eleventh Night (11 July) bonfires[62] and The Twelfth (12 July) parades have also been associated with loyalism. A report published in 2013 estimated there were at least 640 marching bands in Northern Ireland combining a total membership of around 30000 which is believed to be figures of an all-time high.[63]

Fraternities and marching bands

Other incidents of alleged collusion between loyalists and the security forces include the McGurk's Bar bombing, the 1972 and 1973 Dublin bombings, the Milltown Cemetery attack, the Cappagh killings, the Sean Graham bookmakers' shooting, the Loughinisland massacre, and the murders of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson, and Eddie Fullerton.

A loyalist marching band on 12 July 2011 in Belfast

A 2007 Police Ombudsman report revealed that UVF members had committed a string of serious crimes, including murder, while working as informers for RUC Special Branch. It found that Special Branch knew of this but had given the informers "immunity". It ensured they weren't caught, helped them during police interviews, made false notes and blocked searches for UVF weapons.[56] UVF brigadier Robin 'the Jackal' Jackson has been linked to between 50[57][58] and 100[43] killings in Northern Ireland, although he was never convicted of any and never served any lengthy prison terms. It has been alleged by many people, including members of the security forces, that Jackson was an RUC agent.[59] According to the Irish Government's Barron Report, he was also "reliably said to have had relationships with British Intelligence".[60]

The Stevens Inquiries concluded that the conflict had been intensified and prolonged by a core of army and police officers who helped loyalists to kill people, including civilians.[48][49] Members of the security forces tried to obstruct the Stevens investigation.[49][50] It revealed the existence of the Force Research Unit (FRU), a covert British Army intelligence unit that used double agents to infiltrate paramilitary groups.[51] FRU recruited Brian Nelson and helped him become the UDA's chief intelligence officer.[52] In 1988, weapons were shipped to loyalists from South Africa under Nelson's supervision.[52] Through Nelson, FRU helped the UDA target people for assassination. FRU commanders say their plan was to make the UDA "more professional" by helping it to target republican activists and prevent it killing uninvolved Catholic civilians.[51] The Stevens Inquiries found evidence only two lives were saved and that Nelson was responsible for at least 30 murders and many other attacks – many of the victims uninvolved civilians.[48] One of the most prominent victims was solicitor Pat Finucane. Although Nelson was imprisoned in 1992, FRU's intelligence continued to help the UDA and other loyalist groups.[53][54] From 1992 to 1994, loyalists were responsible for more deaths than republicans.[55]

During the 1970s, the Glenanne gang—a secret group consisting of loyalist militants, British soldiers and RUC officers—carried out a string of attacks against Catholics and Irish nationalists in an area of Northern Ireland known as the "murder triangle".[42][43] It also carried out some attacks in the Republic of Ireland. Members of the group allege it was commanded by the British Intelligence Corps and RUC Special Branch,[43][44] with one, RUC officer John Weir, claiming that his superiors knew of the collusion but allowed it to continue.[45] According to the Cassel Report, the group was responsible for at least 76 murders and there is evidence that soldiers and RUC officers were involved in 74 of those.[46] It said some senior officers knew of the crimes but did nothing to prevent, investigate or punish.[46] Attacks attributed to the group include the Dublin and Monaghan bombings (1974), the Miami Showband killings (1975) and the Reavey and O'Dowd killings (1976).[43][47]

Initially, the Army allowed soldiers to join the UDA.[39] In November 1972 the Army ordered that a soldier should be discharged if his sympathy for a paramilitary group affects his performance, loyalty or impartiality.[40] By the end of 1975, 171 soldiers with UDA links had been discharged.[41]

In 1977, the Army investigated two companies of 10 UDR based at Girdwood Barracks, Belfast. The investigation concluded that 70 soldiers had links to the UVF. Following this, two were dismissed on security grounds.[38] It found that thirty Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) had fraudulently diverted up to £47,000 to the UVF. It was also alleged that UVF members socialised with soldiers in their mess.[38] The investigation was halted after a senior officer claimed it was harming morale.[38] Details of it were discovered in 2011.[38]

[37] although by 1973 UDR weapons losses had dropped by up to 75%, partly due to stricter controls.[35]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.