Band Hall: Chris Thackaberry

Chris Thackaberry is a protestant born and bred in Dublin. He is an Orangeman and sits on the Central Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge. He works in Belfast but is regularly in the city of Carson. Thackaberry is on the Central Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge.




Band Hall


Shutter front pound can

Blue bag – bodies deep

Mass grave of side drums

Spill out from wall

A salient of illegal gatherers 

No eleven plus one required


Skinny girl clearing table

Giggling out the penny

Her boy – ‘burrrbs’ out

“A light shown in the night”


Swaggering polyester uniforms

Cut the smoke

Ash trays – cheap beer- spray tan

Loyalist tunes – urban voice

But real


No Surrender

Grained out of jax door

Pen and ink proclaim

To educational disavantage?

Political manipulation?

No big houses in the inner East


Only – red, white, blue – people


Music in The Kesh ( Continued )

Music in The Kesh-( Continued ).



To the uninitiated, Long Kesh-and I suppose the other correctional establishments of the time had a certain vernacular they could lay claim to inventing.  Common phrases of the time include…
“ Do your whack”-Be content in serving your sentence.
“ Do the beef”-Administering a sharp instrument to one’s wrists.
“ Dry your lamps”-Please refrain from crying.
“ On the box”-Staring into space and oblivious to all surroundings.

There are more of course.  Too many to mention here.  There are also abbreviations that outsiders-i.e. non jailbirds would wrinkle their brow at.
The big ‘A’-usually mentioned in a conspiratorial whisper and referring to the one thing that was hoped-and prayed-for the most, which proved to be mere wishful thinking-Amnesty.  Big ‘A’ must not be confused with the most common abbreviation-at least during my tenure in the various penal institutions.  The big ‘D’s-synonymous with feeling low, a plummeting of self esteem, missing of a visit-an expected but undelivered letter-or much worse-an Unexpected but delivered letter-the dreaded Dear John. 
Yes-the big ‘D’ stood for Depression.
If a fella closed his curtain and pulled a blanket over his head, ostensibly for an innocent afternoon nap-for all intents and purposes he was suffering from a bout of the big ‘D’s.
Another sure sign of the big ‘D’s was to see someone boul-walk-around the compound on their own.
  A dead giveaway for sure. 
But the biggest indication of an approaching double dose of the D’s was to glimpse someone stroll nonchalantly past with an LP under their arm-the cover portraying a gap toothed wholesome Texan or a bouffant laden Southern gal, who, if given the chance would relay their tales of pitiful woes to us.
It’s a well known fact-apparently-that if you were to play a country and western record backwards you get your job your wife and your dog back.  When a colleague is in the throes of the big D’s and his chosen elixir is a caterwauling country artist, you know you’re in for a couple of hours of tear inducing-toe curling and teeth gnashing renditions that could conceivably have you reaching for 
Blue Gillette yourself.
By the time Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner had strangled the last ounce of sentiment out of Jeannies Afraid of the Dark, you felt like sticking your toe up wee Jeannies hole.

And if you weren’t Crazy when you started out listening to Patsy Cline’s warbling you sure as hell were by the end of it.  And let’s be honest-if you seriously gave a fuck when Old Shep’s peepers were growing dim then I’m afraid all hope had been long abandoned.  You’d have been closer to turning the shotgun on yourself never mind the demented canine.
Should it be Hank Williams aiming to melt your Cold Cold Heart or the delectable Freddie Fender advising you what to do just Before the Next Teardrop falls, the feelings are just the same.

And to paraphrase our great leader of the time-A. A. Spence-true and abject misery.
This isn’t to make light of the bouts of darkness that overcame some of the guys during those long days and nights. No.
This isn’t to poke fun at those who felt that the best refuge in those downbeat hours was in the grooves of a lamentable dirge. No.
this isn’t to make little of those who sought solace in the comforting tones of a seasoned country performer. No.
When the exponents of this dispiriting and dismal form of popular culture were wallowing in their individual misery, I only wish they’d thought of the rest of us.
And, in deference to that country stalwart and he of countless, melancholic refrains-Hank Williams-when he claims, There’ll be No Teardrops Tonight-well-I for one beg to fucking differ!!



Why on Earth are we still talking about restoring the Executive? : Cllr: Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston

Why on earth are we still talking about restoring the Executive?




The 16th of January 2017 marked the fifth suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly since its inception merely twenty years ago. Attempts to secure its operation on a permanent basis have been exhausted and frustrated by disagreements. Describing the different types of Executive we have had since December 1999, Political Commentator Alex Kane said that we have had “one with the UUP/SDLP/SF and the DUP neither in nor out. Then one with the DUP/SF/UUP/SDLP. Then one with the DUP/SF/UUP/SDLP/Alliance. Then the UUP left. Then the latest one, with DUP/SF/Claire Sugden. And all of them, every single one of them, has included walkouts, in/outs, suspensions, show downs, crises, instability, threats of legal action, emergency talks, potential collapse and round-the-clock briefing against each other.” 

Which begs the question; Why on earth are we still talking about restoring the executive?

Besides broken relationships, calls for Direct Rule (or as we’ve recently heard ‘Joint Authority’) suggest that there is a consensus that the present system of devolved governance – mandatory coalition – is not only broken but beyond repair. 

Let’s be honest. The institutions envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement were a compromise, agreed at a time when an honourable outcome and stability were desperately needed. However, those structures were not designed to last forever. They were specific to their context and, just like the devolution of justice or an extension of fiscal responsibility, the institutions grow and change as the political landscape does.

With speculation that the agreement is dead in the water, perhaps now there is opportunity for the Northern Ireland Secretary of State to uphold its content and exercise the review legislated for under strand one section thirty-six. It reads “After a specified period there will be a review of these arrangements, including the details of electoral arrangements and of the Assembly’s procedures, with a view to agreeing any adjustments necessary in the interests of efficiency and fairness.”   

Perhaps now as we begin a new year, we can have conversation about new beginnings, a new system of governance that deinstitutionalises sectarianism and paves the way for a truly progressive and pluralist Northern Ireland.

A new devolved legislator formed in the image of successful institutions where delivery is the rule not the exception.

Cllr Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston

Progressive Unionist Party N.I.


Prof. Pete Shirlow’s speech at Sinn Fein Conference


University of Liverpool Logo

Prof Peter Shirlow’s speech at Sinn Fein annual conference

Published on

Peter Shirlow


Professor Peter Shirlow FAcSS, Director of the Institute of Irish Studies, addressed Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis (Annual Conference) earlier this month, speaking on the theme of sectarianism. As Prof. Shirlow is from a unionist community background, such invitations are rare.

His talk focussed on themes including; the idea that being pro-union is inherently sectarian is not only wrong it is inherently sectarian and asked questions such as; ‘How could the treatment of Catholics in the North and Protestants in the South not make us suspicious of each other?’ and ‘How could the violence of the past not make us fearful of each other?’

Prof. Shirlow said;

“Although my family circle and I have been affected by republican violence, I saw this invitation as an important part of a wider healing process. I have worked for many years in the area of anti-sectarianism and I hope that sharing my critical thoughts has helped embed such endeavours.”

Find out more

Download Prof Peter Shirlow’s speech (pdf)









Why Maze film should act as a timely reminder not to trust republicans: Jamie Bryson

Editorial: Why Maze film should act as a timely reminder as to why we must never trust republicans

By Jamie Bryson


The Maze 1983 film is an opportunity for the Unionist community to remind ourselves of the sheer folly of ever trusting the republican movement or their pretence of ‘reconciliation’.

After the Hunger Strikes a new strategy emerged within the jail. It was conceived by the prison leadership which included current senior Sinn Fein members such as Bik McFarlane, Gerry Kelly and Bobby Storey.

The strategy was slow and painstakingly disciplined. It involved republican prisoners pretending that they had accepted the regime. They smiled and got along with the prison guards; they relaxed the whole system by pretending they were happily operating within it. The account of their strategies is outlined in various accounts of the escape and in even more detail within the book ‘Nor Meekly Serve My Time’.

Read more »


To be opposed to the ‘Peace Process’ is not to be opposed to ‘Peace’: Jamie Bryson

To be opposed to the ‘Peace Process’ is not to be opposed to ‘Peace’ – By Jamie Bryson


This article first appeared on Eamonn Mallie’s Blog



In recent days the debate around dual Nationality and dual citizenship has been re-ignited, following revelations that BBC presenter Stephen Nolan has obtained an Irish passport to compliment the British one already held.

This issue goes much wider than dual Nationality, which was freely available prior to the Belfast Agreement.

This poses the key question in relation to the intent- in a contested state- of availing of such.

The Belfast Agreement went much further than reaffirming the right to hold dual nationality, and instead provided for parity between Britishness and Irishness and the right to hold citizenship in relation to both.

The Belfast Agreement was sold to Unionism under the plainly false assumption that Nationalism would prioritise their equality agenda over the constitutional issue and would accept the legitimacy of Northern Ireland, providing that they felt they were able to play a full and meaningful role.

There was the false notion, fed because the agreement meant all things to all people, that dual citizenship would create the environment whereby Nationalists could live happily and play a meaningful role in a settled state.

Of course Nationalism never had any intention of dividing their ‘equality’ agenda, of which the citizenship  strategy is a key part, from the constitutional question.

The rightful rejection of this equality agenda by Unionists is framed as ‘bigoted, sectarian and hard line’.

This is part of Sinn Fein’s strategy to use rights based language to advance political aims and present Unionism as regressive on the International stage.

Unionism’s resistance to the equality agenda is based upon the quite correct realisation that rather than Nationalism’s ever growing list of demands being part of a settlement for a stable Northern Ireland, it is a Trojan horse designed to undermine the legitimacy of the state and feed into the much larger Nationalist political aim of Irish unity.

The equality agenda is the art of dressing up political aims as civil rights.

The majority of people pursuing Irish passports do so in order to assert their rights as Irish citizens living in what they believe is an illegitimate state.

Some Unionists however have obtained Irish passports for cultural reasons because they identify with certain aspects of Irish culture, as is their right. If one holds two passports then this is a de-facto acceptance of the Nationalist position that Northern Ireland is neutral.

The next logical step is that if you accept the citizenship parity between Britishness and Irishness, then so too would you have to accept that the Irish national flag should be held in equivalence with the sovereign Union flag.

Of course to follow it right through to its logical conclusion, if you accept the aforementioned then the only end position is acceptance that- at the very least- Dublin and London should have joint-sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

The issue of citizenship is so crucial in a contested state because it provides those seeking to undermine the state with an avenue to demand parity of esteem for minority political aspirations.

It seeks to place an obligation on the state to recognise Irishness in parity with Britishness.

It is a demand not for parity for people, but rather for political aspirations. At its most basic level it is a demand that the minority aspiration of Irish unity be afforded equal standing with the democratic  wishes of the majority to remain British.

It is not only a back-door way of undermining the principle of consent, but is part of the overall trajectory of the ‘peace process’.

A process by its very definition has a beginning and an end. Therefore to discover the end of the peace ‘process’ it is only logical to look at the primary agreement underpinning it, and what end is envisaged within it.

The Belfast Agreement allows for only one ending, the trajectory leading only one direction, and that is towards a referendum on Irish unity followed by a continuous cycle of referendums every seven years until the Northern Ireland electorate decide they want to join a United Ireland. This is the end game, the end of the process.

To be opposed to the peace process is not to be opposed to peace.

All our political battles must be underpinned by a commitment from all that never again must violence take the place of democracy.

Peace must be an absolute commitment, not a commitment to peace only within the confines of the ‘process’.

Liberal Unionism labours under the false notion that granting dual citizenship rights and embracing Nationalism’s ever broadening ‘equality’ demands will reduce Nationalist hostility to the state and thus politically stabilise Northern Ireland.

This is a fool’s paradise. Northern Ireland is a contested state, the name of which Sinn Fein cannot even utter.

Unionism must be alert to the fact that citizenship and equality are not stand alone rights based issues, but rather the key battle ground in Nationalism’s overall political objective of achieving Irish unity.


It Is Tempting To Conclude That SF Has No Strategy: Patrick Murphy

“it is tempting to conclude that SF has no strategy…”

on 9 July 2017 , 3:46 pm 31 Comments | 1,018 views
From yesterday’s Irish News, Patrick Murphy, once again, making direct contact with the head of the nail.



While the DUP’s future role in Westminster is far from predictable, it is easy to understand. Sinn Féin’s strategy, however, is less clear. Indeed it is tempting to conclude that SF has no strategy, other than to prolong the talks and hope for a lucky break, similar to the one the DUP received in Westminster.

Sinn Féin collapsed Stormont because of the RHI scandal. But this issue rarely appears on their current wish list. Instead they have a list of demands ranging from the vague but reasonable (Irish language recognition), through the distracting (equality, but not for the poor) to the downright silly (demanding respect).

Respect has to be earned. In view of the years they spent chuckling with Paisley, Robinson and Foster, some might suggest that if they did not respect themselves, they cannot reasonably expect others to respect them.

SF’s claim that nationalists were failed by Stormont is untrue. Stormont failed everyone, but because SF relies on nationalist votes, it re-wrote the assembly’s performance as having failed only nationalists and then expanded that claim into the current list of demands.

They have raised nationalist expectations, but it is difficult to see them getting all they seek. So are they deliberately making demands which they know will not be met, or will they re-write their shopping list in the autumn and settle for less? Re-writing has served them well in the past.

So the bad news about the talks breaking up this week is that our politicians missed watching the Irish Open on television in the comfort of Stormont Castle. But the talks prospects for the rest of July are good. Their agenda items will presumably include watching the Tour de France and possibly the Ulster Football Final.

This article first appeared in The Irish News 8th July.



Why I wrote UVF: Behind the Mask:Part Two-Aaron Edwards


Without doubt this has been the most difficult book I have ever written.

My other books are on a variety of different subjects, ranging from a history of the labour movement in Northern Ireland to insurgency in South Yemen.


Although challenging to write in their own way, they did not pose the same unique problems as UVF: Behind the Mask.

Professional historians are used to scrutinising the past by way of documents and interviews with eyewitnesses.

They are supposed to triangulate these kinds of sources with what is already known about the past.

Sometimes this means challenging their own preconceptions and beliefs.

In the case of the UVF, this meant adjusting my own previous analysis on the group because some of the facts had changed as new evidence came to light.

Interestingly, as I neared the end of my project, these new facts augmented most of my previous analysis on the UVF, which was completed well over a decade ago.

More seriously, however, was the changing context within which I now had to conduct my research.

Read more »


Why I wrote UVF: Behind The Mask…Part 1–Aaron Edwards

Aaron Edwards explaining motivations and purpose for writing his eagerly awaited book.




Next week my book UVF: Behind the Mask will be published by Merrion Press.

The book has taken me three years to write but has a much longer gestation, stretching back nearly twenty years.

I first began researching the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 2000, prior to the outbreak of the bloody feud between the UVF and their rivals in the Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters.

My focus then was to interrogate the critique by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that the UVF’s political associates in the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) were merely ‘mouthpieces for gunmen and bombers’.

I discovered that the PUP’s politics were a lot more complex than what these critiques were suggesting.

Indeed, many of the critiques were disingenuous, especially given the close ties between individual members of the UUP and DUP and loyalist paramilitaries since the mid-1960s.

Digging deeper I found that the PUP was actually trying to offer a political alternative to mainstream unionist parties like the UUP and DUP.

Read more »


When did it become unacceptable to bomb Manchester?

This article by Eilis O’Hanlon first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph.

So, Michelle O’Neill, just when did it become unacceptable to bomb Manchester?

Sinn Féin leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, speaks to the media after signing a book of condolence at Belfast City Hall which was opened up for the victims of the bomb attack in Manchester5050

Sinn Féin leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, speaks to the media after signing a book of condolence at Belfast City Hall which was opened up for the victims of the bomb attack in Manchester



Sinn Fein’s northern leader is delusional if she thinks people don’t see through her ‘that was then, this is now” whataboutery, writes Eilis O’Hanlon.

The late Cardinal Cahal Daly called it “the commonest form of moral evasion in Ireland today”. He was referring to whataboutery, the familiar practice of deflecting criticism of acts of violence by groups with which one agrees by immediately pointing to acts of violence by those with whom one disagrees, and loudly demanding: “What about this? What about that?”

Like all good definitions, though, it’s become misused, to the point where anyone who exposes the hypocrisy of certain speakers when they condemn violence, despite having enthusiastically supported it in the past, is also accused of engaging in whataboutery, when all they’re actually doing is struggling to reconcile two entirely contradictory points of view.

That tendency has emerged again following the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in the Manchester Arena on Monday night, which killed 22 people. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams called it a “shocking and horrendous attack on children and young people”. The party’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill signed the book of condolence at Belfast City Hall, calling the attack “unthinkable”, and saying she’d watched events unfold with “shock and horror”.

“I condemn it,” she added, with none of the ifs and buts that generally accompany such statements.

O’Neill did all this only weeks after attending yet another commemoration for Provisional IRA members killed on so-called active service. Defending that decision, the Co Tyrone woman described those who died at Loughgall as “Irish patriots”.

The terrorists that Michelle O’Neill proudly celebrates murdered children too, and far more than were killed in Manchester. The “patriots” whose memory she venerates indiscriminately slaughtered people quietly going about their business in public places.

Just because the men she celebrates did it for a united Ireland, and the Manchester bomber most likely for a worldwide Islamic caliphate under Sharia law, doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

The only difference is there was no 24-hour news back then, and certainly no social media. Atrocities did not unfurl in real time; people at home didn’t see the full horror for themselves. If they had, the IRA may have been shamed into stopping sooner.

Irish republicans would have us believe that their terrorism was different. That their bombs were nicer. They look at the suicide bombers and insist: “We’re not like Themmuns.” Are they sure about that?

Isis may carry out more of what the IRA used to call “spectaculars”. Even so, homegrown jihadists would have to significantly intensify their operations to come anywhere near to matching the more than 2,000 killed by republicans and more than 1,000 by loyalists.

How do Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Adams have the gall to express sympathy for a city which the republican movement itself devastated with the largest bomb in Britain since the Second World War, showering people more than half a mile away with glass and debris?

That a warning was given that day in 1996, and the area evacuated in time, is no excuse. It was pure luck that no one died. Only a sick mind expects credit for luck.

“Martin McGuinness was not a terrorist,” declared Adams during a graveside oration for the former Deputy First Minister. But what was the proxy bomb that murdered civilian chef Patsy Gillespie and five soldiers if not an act of terrorism? What were Claudy, Enniskillen, Bloody Friday, Harrods, Brighton, Warrington?

Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Adams should feel disgraced that the republican movement whose memory they paint in rosy colours was an early adopter of the nail bomb, as witnessed to barbaric effect in Hyde Park, years before Monday’s bomber, who used the same type of device to kill and maim, was probably even born.

The dead are no less dead because the cause in whose name they were murdered is one that Sinn Fein shares. They may delude themselves that the IRA didn’t target civilians, but its volunteers were prepared for civilians to die, and were reckless with innocent life.

Only last year, former hunger striker Pat Sheehan – who was jailed as a teenager for trying to bomb a cash and carry store, of all things – said that moving on from the past “may mean an apology” for the 1996 attack in Manchester, but he added that the British government would need to accept its responsibility for conflict in Northern Ireland in return.

That’s not how repentance works. You’re either sorry or you’re not. Turning an apology into a negotiation is politics, not ethics, and that’s what is once again on display this week from Sinn Fein.

Politicians who supported terrorist violence in the past, and condemn it when it happens now, just expect us to be too polite and diplomatic to point out their hypocrisy.

At the very least, they should answer why the violence which they backed is any less reprehensible, because you can’t take the credit for moving away from violence without also accepting it was wrong in the first place.

Why keep bringing this up? That’s what some people will say, frustrated that those who suffered at the hands of terrorists in Northern Ireland won’t conveniently shut up and let those who supported it then, and continue to justify it in retrospect, reap the electoral benefits of joining the chorus of condemnation.

It’s because of a suspicion that they’re not being honest, and not saying what they really think.

The same goes for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who cosied up to Sinn Fein for decades, and now fervidly rewrites history to make it seem as if he was a behind-the-scenes negotiator for peace.

It also goes for Dianne Abbott, who’s lined up to take charge of tackling terrorism as Home Secretary in any Labour government after June 8, who once hailed the fight for Irish unity as “our struggle”, saying “every defeat for the British state is a victory for us all.”

Like Adams and O’Neill, they cry foul when their past words are thrown back at them, as if it’s unfair to expect them to either withdraw or stand over them.

What really goads them is that they can’t. It’s their own words that are the problem, not the fact others refuse to forget.

“When you’re in a war situation, I’m not saying ethics are put on hold, but I think you have a different template.” That’s what Pat Sheehan once said.

Those who bombed Manchester this week, 21 years after the IRA set the same example, would totally agree.

Republicans were far closer to Themmuns than they like to believe.