Monthly Archives: June 2013


Possibly  the oldest band in Belfast.

Ballynafeigh is a small area of South Belfast. It runs from the Ormeau Bridge to the roundabout were the Ormeau Road meets the Ravenhill Road. It is halfway up this section of the Ormeau Road you can find Parkmore Street and Somerset Street the streets where the Ballynafeigh Apprentice Boys Flute Band were formed.

The date of the bands formation is the early 1890’s. The band was formed by young men who were apprentices in places like the Ormeau Road Gas-works or in the shipyard, hence the name –Ballynafeigh Apprentice Boys.  The band appears in the records of Ballynafeigh Orange Hall in June 1902 but is known to have been in existence long before this date. At first the band practised in the open entry at the end of Somerset Street so if it rained band practice was cancelled for that night. It then moved indoors in the same entry to what used to be old stables before moving round into an entry in Parkmore Street to a hall that was owned by Ava Blues Supporters Club.

When the Blues Club folded in the late 1960’s the hall was sold to the Education Board to become Parkmore Youth Club meaning the band had to find a new hall to practise in. With no hall in the area and the refusal of the Ballynafeigh Orange Hall committee to allow the band the use of the Orange Hall the band was forced with moving from it’s roots for a short period down to the Donegall Pass to practice in the hall used by the Donegall Pass Defenders Flute Band, now known as the [South Belfast Young Conquerors].

After a short period the band moved back to Ballynafeigh to practice in the Royal British Legion Hall up at Florenceville Avenue, now knocked down and turned into two houses. Band night in those days used to be thursday’s and after Top of the Pops band members used to head out of the Deramore Arms bar to practice. The uniform was blue sayers [more a black colour] with gold braiding white shirt and black dickie bow and it was made by the well known tailors, Spackmans from High Street.

At the start of the 1970’s and with the trouble becoming more intense the band found itself coming under attack more frequently from youths coming into the area from the Markets to attend the St. Mary Youth Club just up above Florenceville at Carolan Road. Due to these attacks the band took the decision to look for their own hall back down the Ormeau Road.


The Start of the Ballynafeigh Band Hall

A disused launderette at the corner of Walmer Street and Blackwood Street was purchased with five Trustee’s going as guarantors for the premises. As the premises needed a lot of work done to them and money was tight, alcohol at first was sold after band practice to help fund the work. This later progressed to selling alcohol on a Sunday night because bars in these days were not open on Sundays.

This was the first steps in the arrival of the Ballynafeigh Apprentice Boys Flute Band Club being formed, all be it as a she-been. The hall was raided by the police and the alcohol confiscated, so after this happened the band decided to try and secure a club licence to sell alcohol legally. This was secured and the Ballynafeigh Apprentice Boys Flute Band Hall was now legal.

The humble beginning from Launderette to Ballynafeigh Apprentice Boys Flute Band Club have now been in existence for well over 30 years and now incorporates numbers 3 & 5 Walmer Street as well. Practice night is now on a Monday night and there is very few young protestant lads from the Ballynafeigh area that have not been in or part of Ballynafeigh Apprentice Boys Flute Band such have been the family traditions over the years.



Early Morning, Picardy Plain, July 1st. 1916



Almost deafening in its power
somewhat overwhelming in the scheme of things
and considering just before a shower of molten metal
rained down upon the cowering men entrenched in dugouts…
Curled up foetal-like to escape the thunderous blasts.

The stench of cordite lingers long
and hangs about, unwanted just above
the trench—a trough not fit for swine but occupied
by lions brave and proud-supine-waiting for the whistle…
Trembling at the thought of facing the murderous barrage.

Shouts assault the stillness-Orders
barked-A common movement practiced oft before
an unwanted shift—knowing full well what waits above
but moving forward just the same and heading for…
The nightmare on a gently rolling Picardy plain.

Dawn…. Breaks….but  spirits fail to soar
a roar…a bellow as the horde beset the parapets
scrambling and crawling and scuttling, and shutting
out the fear, getting ever near to the broadside, the fusillade
that will greet them on this early July morn.

Robert Niblock




Young Jason Burke, recently entered a very interesting article concerning our Loyalist Working Class Culture. As one of the old Volunteers of the early seventies, I was very interested in reading the opinions of one of the young men, on whom our countries political and geographical future depends.
Possibly it is a sign of the times, hopefully it was unintentional youthful inexperience, but in listing his four main components of our Culture, Jason neglected to include the main cornerstone and rock, upon which the unshakable foundations of our Loyalist Working Class Culture has been constructed.
I am of course referring to our Protestant Faith and the sincerely sworn oath of our Fore-Fathers, “For God and Ulster”.
To our Fore-Fathers this Sacred Oath, was much more than mere words on a badge or a casual throw away drunken slogan and those of us today who casually, carelessly, and unthinkingly misuse this Sacred Oath, do so at our Countries peril.
The long troubled history of the Nation of Israel, should be a perfect lesson for us all on just how dramatically a Nations fortunes can rise or plummet, as a result of its peoples sincerity or lack of sincerity, with regard to our Creator.

During the past conflict, many of us who originally proudly proclaimed, “For God and Ulster,” slowly but surely excluded God from the equation, as we sought to repay indiscriminate sectarian terrorism, with an even greater dose of indiscriminate sectarian terrorism.
Slowly but surely in defence of the democratic right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide their own future and despite our original sincerity, we foolishly, gradually abandoned the moral high ground in the pursuit of, the satisfaction of revenge.
The end result of this distancing of ourselves from God was that, most of us eventually ended up in Long Kesh or dead.
With greatest respect to young Jason and Davy Ervines dear Wife, I sincerely believe that it is not a return to the culture of obsolete, totally useless languages, such as Irish and Ulster Scots, that our young people need.
I believe that what is required, is a sincere return to the basic Cultural Foundations of, our Protestant Faith and the sincerity of the Sacred Sworn Oath of our Fore-Fathers, “For God and Ulster.”
The totally useless, obsolete Irish  language, has long been used by the Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic education boards, as a means of deliberate legalised discrimination, to deny Protestant teachers employment in Roman Catholic Schools, while at the same time Roman Catholic teachers have been able to seek and receive employment, throughout the entire education system.
I have absolutely no objection to anyone learning Irish or Ulster Scots at their own expense, in their own time, however I believe that, obsolete totally useless languages, train-spotting, tiddly winks and blow-football, should not be unwillingly subsidised by the vast majority of taxpaying non-participants.
Jason rightly points out that Irish was once a part of upper-class Protestant Culture, at a time when the vast majority of the Protestant Working Class, were unable to write in either English or Irish. It was however never a part of Loyalist Working Class Culture.
In reality the return of the Irish Language is about as culturally desirable to Working Loyalists, as a return to sitting with frozen clinkers in a leaking outside toilet in the back yard, on a freezing cold winters night with a damp ink-smudged page of the Belfast Telegraph for a toilet roll.
Personally I have absolutely no desire for the return of either.

Charlie Freel. 




Why are the DUP so intent on facilitating SF’s motion of a shrine for the justification of IRA violence and murder ? Only those within the DUP can answer this , yet they remain silent when challenged by victims and those opposed to anything other than the Maze being raised to the ground . It’s evident that they’re on the defensive , at present they’re attacking anyone from the unionist community with such venom not seen since the attacks on Trimble’s UUP a decade or more ago. We see puppets for Robinson attacking those who speak out against their agenda to go ahead with this centre, which will include the actual hospital wing were Sands died . Only today we had Jimmy Spratt calling victims groups nutters and Donaldson recently stated that he’d had family members murdered too , a poor excuse to justify the DUP’s stance I must say , but yet , who hasn’t ? Is his families victims above mine or yours in that his opinion is more worthy than any of ours ? If the DUP would listen to the growing list including the loyal orders , victims groups , all the unionist political parties bar the UPRG and groupings such as the UDA , they’d realise that bar their party alone and those connected to the UDA no-one wants anything except the bulldozers to occupy the Maze . Are the DUP so caught up in this power sharing appeasement that they don’t realise that the likes of Bik McFarlane , Gerry Kelly , Dermot Finucane etc will be catapulted into world wide stardom for their exploits when the prisoners from H7 escaped , Kelly shot an officer from point blank range in the head , Finucane stabbed 2 officers more than 3 times each , numerous others inflicted untold violence onto unarmed officers without hesitation in injuring them to the point that 27 officers received serious injury. Without doubt this was a great plan , executed to precise detail and I’ve yet to mention the hunger strikes etc which the IRA gained great support from. Do you honestly believe anyone is coming to the Maze to view loyalism or prison officer life ? Seriously ? Are the DUP so misguided that they don’t know this or do they and they’ve made some deal with SF ( not for the first time ) regarding another subject which allows SF to have the Maze as their own ? Who knows apart from those within the DUP. I see no reason why the hospital wing were Sands etc died should be kept , listening to Donaldson say it’s not part of the Maze redevelopment I’ve this question , why keep it then ? Are the DUP denying that SF/IRA are not going to turn the Maze into a shrine to hunger strikers and that escape let alone trying to justify IRA men as pow’s instead of criminals? I’ve heard that Republicans are planning to invest into tourism, like the open top double decker bus kind of set up , only involving those who served time in the Maze taking the tours and they’re going to target Irish America , sounds about right if you think about it , cruise ships will be targeted on arrival to Belfast , something I suspect is starting to develop as a taxi driver told me that he took visitors to the international wall in West Belfast and that his visiting fare was told that when they return in 5 years they’d be able to go to the Maze to view the great escape and were Sands died with those who fought the Brits and brought them to their knees. Is this what we’re going to have happen to something that should , in my opinion , be ripped apart and torn down , respect , shared future , equals etc , all SF language , how about respecting your victims and halting this project now before we have people taking out judicial reviews etc as to why it shouldn’t/should go ahead .The only outcome I see is to hold a poll , quite simple , who is for , who is against , a simple yes or no , bring your Id to your local council office , register and vote for or against redevelopment , winner takes all so to speak , the message is quite clear from the Unionist community , tear down the Maze now , I actually believe that the Maze shrine has always been Sf’s agenda and they opposed the national stadium being there so they could have what we’ve ended up at today , a shrine to the IRA cause . In closing, i refer to the words of David Ervine, quote,  ” Bulldoze it, too much pain, too many victims, it is a blot on the landscape. Lets bring down the curtain on this part of our history”.




Harryville Heroes

                 Monday is the 1st July and marks the 97th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. A huge number of Ballymena men answered the call to war and joined many different regiments. The main army unit was the 12th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles , the Mid Antrim Volunteers. Men from Harryville joined the 12th Battalion, trained, drilled and then left these shores to go to a country they knew nothing about. This piece is about two young Harryville brothers who went to war and never returned. 

In 1911 the Mc Gowans lived at King Street in Harryville. The street is long gone and now is Kens car park. They, like the rest of Harryville, were poor, plain, ordinary people. The two brothers would have had little education and by 1911 John was aged 15 and James 13. At this age John was a ‘doffer’ in the mill and James was a general labourer.  Despite working at this young age the two brothers would have played in the Braid river,  fished and swam and maybe went for walks out the Larne Road as far as the fields of Pennybridge. The countryside would have started at the end of Larne Street. On a Sunday they would have been packed off to the Presbyterian Church and no doubt Sunday School. Life would have been hard and poor. There now was an opportunity for excitement, pay, travel and the chance to do their duty for King and Country.  How did their parents William and Jane feel? Pride or a deep fear?  There were no pensions or state benefits. The whole family contributed to live. Children worked and earned money for buying food.
By 1914 the political scene conspired to create the armies of Carson and in the south Redmond. The outbreak of World War 1 prevented a bloody civil war and soon the Ulster men, instead of facing the British army, would become a division of the British army, the 36th Ulster Division.  The two brothers would have gone through training together and soon the time came for them to leave. The picture below is from 1914 and shows the Antrim volunteers marching in Queen Street, Harryville. They are probably walking  to the train to depart for Belfast and further afield.  The flat curved roof can still be seen today at Arbuckle and Calderwoods.
Did the Mc Gowan family go out to cheer their loved ones? It would be a moments’ walk from their King Street home to Queen Street to see the lads march by in uniform.  John would be 18 and James 16.  What did the eldest son, Hugh (19) think as they walked away?  There were younger brothers and sisters. Hannah was 14 when they left and Sarah was 11. Young William was 8 and maybe Samuel, aged 6, was too young to really know what was happening. They would never see their brothers again. Undoubtedly the two lads had never travelled far. Belfast would have been a strange and alien place never mind the towns of rural France. They would have got off the ship from England at Boulogne in October 1915. By train or foot they would have made their way to Pierrgot, Fonqvillers,  Mensil, Hamel and Martinsart. The two lads could read and write. Did they spend some time writing home to Harryville to say they were well,  little knowing what was ahead of them?

There were many Ballymena men together and so they would not have been lonely.  There would have been much talk about Railway Street and Larne Street and Galgorm and the gossip from the Braidwater Spinning mill who gave up so many of its workers.  But the war rumbled on and got bloodier by the month. Soon in June 1916 the brothers would be preparing to go over the top. They prepared, as thousands did, for the big push that would start on July 1st 1916. They were based down in the Ancre valley that had, ironically, a mill. They had suffered months of shelling, filth, hunger, cold and fear. Soon they, with all the young Ballymena men, would charge their respective German lines to gain some ground.

At 7am the whistles blew and the mid Antrim volunteers rose from their trenches and walked into a wall of machine gun fire. They suffered huge losses. One of the brothers was shot and wounded. The other brother went to his rescue. He was shot. Both died on the marshy battlefield of the Somme. It was hell on earth. Men crying, bleeding, shrapnel in the air decapitating people. Limbs blew off. Did they die clean and quickly, or did they, like so many, spend the day mortally wounded and succumb sometime in the night? Worse was to come. The Ulster men had done well but suffered grievous losses. Men where left on the muddy ‘no man’s land’. The two brothers were never found. There is no known grave. They are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. A massive  monument to those thousands of young men whose lives, then bodies, were lost for ever.
And what of William and Jane Mc Gowan when they received a letter or telegram informing them of their loss? They, like the Cooke’s of Larne Street, the Wallace’s of Gilmore Street, the Mc Nieces of Queen Street and many more, would soon learn about the true horror of World War 1.  And when did the realisation set in that they would never see their sons again? They had no grave to grieve over. They would not have earned enough to travel to France. Plus the war would last another 3 years. How did the family adjust to the two empty chairs at a Sunday dinner table?
The 1st of July 1916 was when Ulster was proud of the bravery of its sons, but at what a price.  So this 1st July remember the Harryville men who went away and never returned. Remember all the Ballymena men who fought and died. Remember the families who lost so much.

Gaudeamus Igitur







Loyalism: The Protestant Working Class and Popular Culture: Gareth Mulvenna

Some thoughts on Loyalism and the Protestant working class (and popular culture!)

The recent series of articles written by ex-prisoners about the music and books that they consumed while in Long Kesh and beyond made for intriguing reading. If some of these thoughtful recollections got the wider audience they richly deserve some of the well-worn stereotypes and preconceptions surrounding Loyalist prisoners might receive the challenge they so desperately merit. One of the delightful (but economically dangerous) aspects of these pieces was that I felt compelled to make a list of yet more interesting books to buy. I have books that I bought in 1998 that I still haven’t looked at. It’s music however that has always had a special place in my life. Indeed in 2002 or thereabouts I was told by my girlfriend at the time that I was like the character ‘Rob Fleming/Gordon’ in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I’m still not entirely sure whether that was a compliment or an insult – I’ll err on the latter…with a degree of slightly bruised pride.

I think music is crucial to experiences and memories, and the ‘Who Put That On?’ articles show that particular songs and LPs are central to the oral/written life histories of the ex-prisoners who wrote those articles. One of the problems with the otherwise excellent histories of Northern Ireland’s conflict that have been written by academics is that we don’t get the whole picture of the people who were involved; either as combatants, security forces or civilians. Of course it’s totally unreasonable to expect a survey of everyone’s musical and literature preferences and the stories behind them, but I’ve found the excellent book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose to be an encouraging reference point for some of the work I’m trying to do.

We know that working class people on both sides of the sectarian interface in Northern Ireland became involved in the conflict, so why has the Loyalist experience of popular culture and the ‘intellectual life’ been reduced to the two sad reference points of pornography and the gym? When looking through the photographs on LKIO last summer I was struck, but not surprised, by the picture of a Loyalist prisoner’s cell with a copy of Neil Young’s Harvest in the shot. Generally I’d imagine when Joe Bloggs thinks of Loyalists in prison they don’t automatically imagine a young man queuing up for the record player to hear introspective songs such as ‘Old Man’ or ‘Heart of Gold’; pumping iron in the prison gym while listening to the Bay City Rollers (or rave music later) is probably the knee-jerk image. That is what has been fed to people – that is what has put Loyalism in the dock of popular culture. The recent articles by G.I. and Billy Joe put forward the case for the defence, and do so convincingly.

Interestingly the embarrassing stereotype and the more reasoned reality dovetail in the examples of two Shankill Road bands. I noted how Billy Joe mentioned that punk wasn’t a big thing in Long Kesh due to the falling number of new prisoners in the late 1970s. In the recent hagiography of Terri Hooley, Good Vibrations, the Protestant working class are lambasted and stereotyped as being right-wing and unthinking. Two ‘Shankill Skins’ apprehend the ‘loveable’ Hooley (played by Richard Dormer) in his record shop and after thrusting a demo tape into his hands demanding that he sign them the two youths whale into Hooley and beat him to within an inch of his life. To the initiated we are left in no doubt that the two skins are meant to be Johnny Adair and Sam McCrory and the demo tape is that of the lamentable Offensive Weapon. Offensive Weapon was Adair and Skelly’s homage to renowned fascist Ian Stuart’s band Skrewdriver. Hugh Jordan may not be the most popular journalist around these parts but I can guarantee his opinion of Offensive Weapon is 100 per cent accurate – they were awful (I have heard the tapes)!

At the same time there was another band from the Greater Shankill called Ruefrex. They were borne from the same overall punk roster that rubbish like Offensive Weapon emerged from but were an articulate and musically superior band who were also fiercely proud of their working class Protestant heritage while being non-sectarian. Paul Burgess, the band’s drummer and songwriter, grew up in Jersey Street – beside a certain William Hutchinson! In 2005 he wrote about the band’s experiences in the late 1970s and early 1980s:


We evoked the wrath of both communities, although it was probably more politically incorrect and damaging to be portrayed as the ‘Prod’ band as opposed, say, to That Petrol Emotion as the “oppressed” RC one. You’ll still find – in regard to arts and cultural undertakings – that the Ulster Protestant community must overcome these initial prejudicial comparisons with the perceived cultural oppression of South Africa, Israel and the like. You can only sing with credibility about your own experience and culture. Or, of course, reject it and adopt some bogus stance.


Paul interestingly blew away the myth of the Harp Bar as being some kind of cross-community mecca for the youth of the day. He remembers the band being subject to sectarian abuse and even threatened by a shadowy figure wielding a gun (all for the crime of once playing a cover of ‘Ulster Boy’ by Sham 69!). Of course the fact that they were staunchly non-sectarian mattered little to some of these bigots. Again it also seemed to boil down to the fact that they didn’t fit into the punk scene – they didn’t dress like punks (so much for the individualism of punk!) and were accused of being ‘spider-men’. Elvis Costello was so disgusted by their outlook and background that he unashamedly branded them “Orange bastards!”

Unlike some other bands of the era Ruefrex didn’t shy away from singing about the contemporary situation and reassessed various strands of their Ulster Protestant culture. Anyone who is interested in the contemporary history of Belfast’s Protestant working class and Loyalist community should recognise the importance of Ruefrex in describing and shaping that history.

Of course Offensive Weapon are going to loom larger over accounts of the Troubles owing to the fact that the majority of the personalities associated with the band went on to become notorious paramilitaries, but it is worth remembering the stories that were going on in the background. Ruefrex’s struggle to be heard is perhaps microcosmic of the overall struggle of the Protestant working class to be understood in terms of popular culture. Loyalist ex-prisoners are an integral part of this story. People would rather concentrate on the jutting, strutting hulk in the gym than the more nuanced characters that made up many of the young men in Long Kesh during the 1970s and 1980s.

Ultimately I think there is more to our recent past than what has been written. There is a need to add layers to the stories of individuals and get past the assumptions.





Here are links to two Ruefrex songs that might appeal to the broad issues being explored on this website: the first link is a song called ‘The Fightin’ 36th’ – I don’t have to explain what that is about! I made a very basic video for it. The second is ‘Days of Heaven’ which describes ordinary working class life in the vein of Graham Reid’s Billy trilogy.


The Fightin’ 36th:

(quote from Geoffrey Bell, included in album sleeve notes:

They are not bitter at the slaughter of their own people,


in a battle judged necessary by those not of their class,


not of their country. They are not angry, not bitter, do not protest, they are proud.


Such is the tragedy of the ordinary Ulster Protestant.)



A silence fallswith front line dawn,


and Private Samuel Dodds


needs God to lean upon.


The sun shines down,


the gas clouds clear,


the Woodvale cricket club


are keeping quiet their fear.


The shells pour down,


the whistles blow,


the Cloughmills L.O.L.


have nowhere left to go.


Through hell fire’s rage,


with bayonets fixed,


the cry was “no surrender”


from the fightin’ 36th.







Days of Heaven:


A burned out pub, a playground for the bored,


a Cyclops skylight offers sanctuary.


A boy peeps through the corrugated iron,


from his safety of his world within a world.


Far away from sirens in his shell,


days of heaven, nights of hell.


Little fortresses of common love,


footballs burst on glass-topped backyard walls.


‘Johnny 7′, ‘Hunts’ and ‘Hide ‘n Go’


“Best prices paid for copper and for lead.”


But with darkness the stones and rubble fell,


days of heaven, nights of hell.


A generation built from red-bricked streets


all proud, and hard, and honourable men.


One same purpose, that of right and wrong,


family and jobs their main concern.


Another side the newsmen seldom tell,


days of heaven, nights of hell.




Who Put That On –Again? Billy Joe

Who Put That On—Again?


Another great lead from Gaudeamus following on from his recollection of books.  It is hard to know where to start in regards of forming a list of albums—or LP’s as they were commonly known back in the day.  I was an avid album collector before incarceration at the start of 1973 and always tried to develop my collection during the time spent in prison.
I had built up quite an anthology by October 1974 but sadly like the rest of my possessions they disappeared in a puff of smoke—and many flames—during the Long Kesh fire.  Many of the albums I lost at the time were later replaced and of course added to.  As a young man my taste was fairly eclectic.  Normally if I liked something I played it or listened to it—often to the dismay of friends—many of whom I found had a certain air of snobbishness around their musical preferences.  However, I like to think I stopped short with the bubblegum and saccharin sweet pop that seemed to abound in the early to mid seventies.
My early heroes or heroines were Neil Young—The Faces—Rod Stewart went down in my estimation after the Smiler album of 1974—Joni Mitchell—Van Morrison who was one of the universally liked artists throughout the compounds—and bands like Creedence—Lynyrd Skynyrd –and most of the West Coast stuff that seemed to be the legacy of the sixties cult.  I had favourite albums for all of these stars—Harvest—Every Picture Tells a Story—Blue—Astral Weeks—Pendulum and Pronounced.
In my time the record player had to be booked.  There were notebooks for everything then—Doctor—Welfare—Governor—Visits–Growing a Beard—and the record player.  In theory you may have had to wait quite a while before you got your turn.  Especially if one of the Big D merchants got on to it before you!!  These guys tended to be married—had kids—were prolific letter writers and all round Sad Sacks.  They hogged the Dansette big style.  If you heard the wail of Charlie Pride asking if Anyone was Going to San Antone—or indeed Patsy Cline telling us all repeatedly that she was Crazy—or Porter Wagoner declaring his undying love for wee Dolly—then sure as shit you were in for a real downer of a night.
January 1975 in Compound 18—not long after the Fire and we had been relocated to a decent compound.  Our hut OC was Jackie Whitten.  A great guy—very popular—smashing sense of humour—but an aficionado of Country and Western music.  Then it was possible to book the record player for the full night.  That covered from tea time to around ten o’clock.  Earphones didn’t exist so basically everyone could hear what someone else was playing.  The record player held around six LP’s and once one was finished the next one dropped.  So this particular evening the rest of the hut were suffering while Jackie wallowed in his country reverie and overdosed on Johnny Cash and Slim Whitman.  The yodels were echoing off the timbers.  Luckily Jackie needed to go to the toilet.  It was the chance we were waiting on.  Quick as the proverbial flash I nipped into his cubicle while he was in the toilet.  I removed the top three LP’s and slipped in one of my own.  Monty Python’s Flying Circus—Live at Drury Lane.  Jackie returned and went back to the letter writing and Slim was telling us all about That Silver Haired Daddy.  The record ended and we—all ten of us gathered in the next cubicle—listened to the mechanical sounds as the next record dropped…First track on the B side—Spot the Brain Cell—John Cleese..” Hello, Good evening and Welcome….”  Cue–Mayhem!!   There was no muted mutterings from Jackie—just a loud explosion with all conceivable bad words thrown in.  Of course I got the blame but he couldn’t prove anything.  In the absence of proof Jackie done what all OC’s would have done—he gave the ten of us a half hours fatigues each!!
Of course as anyone will tell you it would be extremely difficult to choose one LP over another and rate it as your favourite.  I had too many that I liked to have one that I would have played more than another.  You had your favourite at a certain time that rapidly changed upon the release of another.  Everyone had their own genre that, in general they stuck to.  Older guys had easy listening or country music.  Punk occurred at a time when there weren’t too many new people coming through the gates so to me that style had a limited following.  Some of the bands that emerged out of the Punk era certainly had their followers—The Clash—The Pistols and The Jam being the best examples.  I had a fondness for The Jam and latterly Paul Weller.  Albums also did the rounds.  As Gaudeamus pointed out the up tempo ones were used for the gym and he points to a good example.  Records that I remember being passed round the most included Bad Company—Running With The Pack—The Eagles—Band on the Run by Wings.  We all had our favourite albums for leaning on when writing letters and mine was Bad Co.—the first album.  It had a million little marks on it from thousands of letters over the years.
I could write a list of my ten favourite albums right of the reel and come back tomorrow with a completely separate list.  Music played a huge part in everyday life within the compound system—if it wasn’t listening to your LP’s it was watching Top of the Pops and for the younger ones the Old Grey with Whisperin’ Bob.  I remember a programme that was aired for a short period of time—Revolver—and it was here that we witnessed Dire Straits for the very first time.  They played Sultans of Swing and blew everyone away to the extent that we all phoned out on Monday morning–no mobiles mind you–by using the Welfare facilities– to have the LP sent in with our next parcel!!  Writing this short piece has whetted my appetite to go out and listen again to many of the albums that I would eventually replace with CD’s from the early Nineties on.  I feel guilty for leaving many great albums out here and will no doubt be reminded by others about that.  But over the years the albums that would have given me the most pleasure were—and bear in mind for each artist I could list their full catalogue—briefly as follows…..

Led Zeppelin—Physical Graffiti
Ry Cooder-Borderline
Bob Dylan-Dylan—cover versions
The Stones-Exile on Main Street
Talking Heads-Stop Making Sense
Nine Below Zero-Live at the Marquee
Paul Simon-Gracelands
U2-Rattle and Hum
This list goes on and on, and may in fact be revisited soon!!


Billy Joe



Who Put That On?

One of pleasures of the compounds was being able to have a few LPs. However listening styles in the late 70s were slightly less advanced than today. One of the Nissen huts which held up to 30 men had a single record player such as pictured . Whatever you put on could be heard by the whole hut. A queue operated so if you were in first then your record was on. There was a hut radio but some days we just wanted music we could select. There was one record player in the gym hut which was very welcome but used mainly to play suitable ‘up tempo’ music for those doing boxing training or weights.
This is a piece about some of the more memorable LPs that would be heard often floating through the ether especially on a sunny day.  I entered in the late 70s and stayed throughout the 80s so the selection is slanted towards that period. I wonder how many of us still have the LPs or are they all gone and replaced by digital versions. Although I see vinyl is making a bit of a comeback.
Punk had come out of nowhere in the mid 70s and one group that came along new wave and one was Blondie. Now despite the fact that they had a very glamorous lead singer the music was lively, classey and sounding fresh. The album ‘Parallel  Lines’ went to number 1 in the UK charts in 1979 and had many excellent tracks. These include Heart of Glass, One way or another, Sunday Girl, etc. While I did not own one I recall asking to borrow it from different people.
I include Mr Cohens album for one reason and one reason only. This was the most depressing music I heard in prison. Usually when this went on the hut record player there was a strange compulsion to leave the hut and go for a long walk.
There was also a great urge to ‘lose’ each copy. During the playing of the album all razorblades were put away.  As a sneak catch up on the album (in case my memory played tricks) I called up ‘Suzanne’ on YouTube. It still sounds as depressing now as it was then! Not one of my albums but one that has stuck in the memory.
In complete contrast was ‘Bat out of Hell’. Who was this rather large American? And what a stupid name. Who cared. Great music and showmanship. I recall one summer day when the record player in each of the 3 huts was playing that album. The album was amazing. It went platinum 14 times over? Has sold mega millions. It was recorded in 1975 and 76 but released in 1977. After a slow start to made it to only   9 in the British album charts and 22nd in the all-time chart sales?   I would not pick out any particular tracks because I like them all. I seen Meatloaf live in the Odyssey, Belfast when he toured in 2005. He was escorted onto the stage by two lovely nurses because he had recently taken a heart attack. Great show, great sound.
Another classic album which was heard many times around Long Kesh was Rumours  by Fleetwood Mac. Pure magic and genius even if some of the band were clean mad. Another album that was released in 1977. It was a cheer me up type album which could be listened to anytime. It has great tracks like Don’t Stop and Go your own Way.  While Albatross was not on this album I recall it playing when the funeral service for Billy Mitchell had finished. A sad time but a very iconic memory of the music of the compounds.
I could not cover the albums we listened to without mentioning Mr   Zimmerman. There  were  a couple of real ‘Dylanites’ in the camp so we had plenty of scope for listening to classic tracks like Hurricane,  Blowing in the Wind, etc.      The stand out album was ‘Desire’ with greats such as Joey, Sara and Mozambique. This was released in 1976 and ‘Rolling Stone’ named it as  number 174 in the all-time 500 great albums. I also recall one of his follow up albums ‘Slow Train Coming’ when he was in his Christian phase. Some good tracks. I have never met Dylan but did meet Van Morrison. Their joint singing of ‘Knocking on Heavens Door’ in 1998 is great.
Another great band to rise in the 70s and actually change popular music in so many ways was Queen. The problem with Queen was that they had changed so much from their early work which was on the edge new and at times quirky.  By the mid-80s they were giants, very commercial, and  established.         The album I recall the most ( and there was one real Queen freak who we all know) was Night at the Opera.
Another amazing  band of the 1980s who helps usher in one of the great changes in popular culture was Dire Straits. A very British (Newcastle) band,  it was their track ‘Money for Nothing’ (about MTV)  that indicated the changes happening in the music world. Of course MTV meant very little to us. We had Top of the Pops, fair enough, but were lucky to get colour TV in the 80s.This album was popular with the budding guitarists in the compound. I suggest a few wanted to be the Knoppler of their time.

 The idea of a concept album had been around for some time but the one that stood out for most of us had to be Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’. I had the original LP and have the Special Edition,  double CD set sitting on my table as I type this.Released 1978 in  it was different in so many ways.
My partner and I went to see the stage showing of the album in Dublin’s Point theatre. Amazing.  It still sounds great today.
Last but by no means least,  is the greatest album of all time. They were a British group who had many great hits. Grossly underappreciated their music helped me through the gym, through studying, through writing letters through my entire time there. Starting with their mix of classical orchestra and electronics
The main album, from many, was ‘Out of the Blue’. This had everything you needed. The group included the likes  of Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lynne.
I have to ask;  was the 1970s the greatest decade ever for the release of good music? Yes the ‘80s was OK with many big names and then a slump in the 1990s. The ‘naughties’ just don’t count and this decade doesn’t look too promising yet.







Redefining A Culture: Jason Burke

Redefining A Culture

Posted by on Jun 19, 2013 in Politics N. Ireland | 0 comments

Thia article first appeared on

Republicans (specifically Sinn Fein) have continually posed a question to the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist community; “What is your culture?”. The PUL response over the years has been far from convincing. Within the nationalist community a perception exists that unionism/Protestantism is void of any substantial cultural heritage, and this belief has led some individuals to ask a similar question of themselves; “What is our culture?”. This has occurred to such an extent that northern unionists have almost brainwashed themselves into believing that they possess no tangible culture, and it continues to this day as PUL’s will readily tell anyone who will listen that they are in some way lacking a cultural identity.  The PUL community can be assured that an identity is within their grasp, if only they could be brave enough to embrace it.

Today it appears that PUL culture can be narrowed down to Ulster-Scots, Orangeism, Loyalist marching bands, and historical achievement/sacrifice.  These four strands are at times inextricably linked which can hamper any potential exploration of diversity and in turn cements the pigeon holes in which we are placed.  It is important to note that not every unionist has an Ulster-Scots background, nor is he/she a member of the Orange Order, or has sufficient free time to play in one of the 700+ marching bands in the province.  Does this mean that these people do not have a cultural identity? Surely not.

Politicisation of the languages (amongst other things) by Republicans, and also by mainstream unionists, has created an entrenchment of cultures in Northern Ireland, whereby unionists are almost being force-fed Ulster-Scots as ‘their’ culture and being scaremongered into believing that everything Irish and Gaelic is to be resented and feared.  These same unionists need to be aware of their own history when it comes to the Irish language, as it was in fact Ulster Protestants who were the principal custodians of this language until the movement was infiltrated and hijacked by revolutionary republicans, namely the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  It could be said of the 18th and 19th centuries that the Irish language belonged to the educated Protestant people as it was they who comforted it during it’s hour of need. Ironically, Catholics in those days were forced by some churches to say their confessions and mass in English as Gaelic Irish was not acceptable.  Today the East Belfast Mission are providing Irish language lessons on the Newtownards Road.  Linda Ervine (wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine) is the Irish Language Development Officer at EBM and deserves immense credit for her foresight and bravery in ensuring that this programme continues.


In terms of music the PUL community will forever be associated with it’s marching bands fraternity, where without doubt the talent is above and beyond what any outsider can ever imagine.  The myth that these bands simply ’kick the Pope’ and exist to intimidate Catholics could not be further from the truth.  I recently conversed with a Catholic school teacher who plays a flute in Loyalist band, this individual was happy to endorse my argument that the marching bands do not exist simply to offend others, and if anything quite the opposite is true.  Many scores of music have crossed the political divide and are used by Loyalist bands,  recently I have heard bands play Rakes of Kildare, Dear Old Donegall. When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, Lough Erin’s Shore, and The Gael amongst many others.  It leads me to assume that a process has already begun whereby Irish traditional music can be more widely accepted into Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist culture, whether knowingly or unknowingly this is a progressive step which will only add further ingredients to the PUL culture.   There is no shame in admiring music that belongs to a shared island, that music is as much yours as mine.

It is often mentioned that Northern Ireland is working towards a shared future, but it must also be remembered that we come from a shared past and unfortunately some have taken a greater share than they are entitled to.  Republicans will continue to apprehend particular elements of the past which are not ’rightfully’ theirs, Saint Patrick is an important example, the 1798 rebellion is another, but that should not scare off anyone wishing to engage in associated events.  Saint Patrick’s day tends to be met with some hostility from unionist quarters due to the flag waving antics of those who participate, but the only way this can be changed is by taking part and actively re-claiming a share of the Patron Saint who was nether Protestant, Catholic, or even Irish. Imagine a St. Patrick’s day parade where the magnificent Dunloy Accordion Band could lead the procession through Belfast… Why not?


With regards to the 1798 rebellion Belfast Protestants honoring Wolfe Tone at Bodenstown in 1934 were attacked by nationalist Tipperary IRA men who seized their banners.  One of these proclaimed “Wolfe Tone Commemoration 1934 – Shankill Road Belfast Branch – Break the link with Capitalism”. The resulting melee was described as “A Day of Shame”.  Two men carrying the banner, William Tumilson and Jim Stranney, later died in the Spanish Civil War.  Fifty years later in 1984, socialists, including some from the Shankill Road, returned to re-enact the parade. Protestants/Unionists/Loyalists should seek to re-engage with those episodes of the past which have eluded them more recently.

Shankill Road workers at Bodenstown

Imagine loyalists combining the language movement (Irish and/or Ulster-Scots), with music (traditional Irish and/or marching bands), Orangeism, Protestant faith, shared history (including British History), and the various strands of Ulster-Scots/Irish culture, the result is a new redefined culture with an undoubted substance for the PUL community to buy into. Ulster Protestants are in a remarkably fortunate position, for they are able to identify themselves as both British and Irish.  Some folk from around the world would give anything in order to be able to label themselves one or the other but Ulster Protestants have turned their noses up at the chance to embrace both identities thus far.

It leads me to believe that the PUL community has a wealth of cultural attributes in it’s midst while accusations that this community is void of culture is nothing short of psychological belittlement.  It is my belief that the unionist people can successfully set about a process of redefinition and reclamation which will lead to a healthy, confident future for PUL culture.



State schools areclass act: Obama’s ‘integration’ talk is nonsense


(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

Stop wasting cash on the integrated education myth and pump the money into the well-run existing Catholic and State schools.

If I was a Yank, I’d be an avid Tea Party campaigner, but even I had to commend the well-composed Waterfront speech by President Barack Obama – until he went off the deep end on integrated schooling!

If integrated education was the solution to the Irish conflict, surely someone over the past 800 years of sectarian strife in Ireland would have thought of it by now?

But Obama has gone home, and life in Fermanagh has returned to normal – except all the swivel-eyed loons and trendy lefties under the sun will now be screaming about ‘integrated schooling’.

We already have had an outstanding integrated education system operating successfully in our Northern universities and colleges of further education – affectionately still known locally as the ‘Techs’ – for over a century.

So why do we need to waste millions of taxpayers’ hard-earned cash building new ‘integrated’ schools as if by the wave of this magic wand, all the bitterness and hatred will mysteriously disappear?

Waken up and smell the coffee! The reason many integrated schools are successful in the North is not because they bring Protestants and Catholics together – it’s because they have very good teachers.

As an education journalist, I travelled the length and breadth of the North and found dozens and dozens of examples of terrific quality teaching and facilities in Catholic and State schools.

But it’s time to face a reality check on the way forward. The key to ‘integrating’ our Protestant and Catholic young people in the classroom has been achieved by the ‘Techs’ and our magnificent universities. That’s the model to follow.

The red tape body, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, should be disbanded immediately.

Shoving Catholics and Protestants together in a single classroom is not the solution. The answers lie in who does the teaching, and what is taught, not where they are taught.

Faith is still important to many families in the North. There is the real danger that oddball secularists and militant atheists will hijack the ‘integrated’ education bandwagon to eradicate Christian teaching in our schools.

The Catholic Bishops need to put down their foot down hard and fight to retain the Maintained sector.

In State schools, Christian morning assembly and prayers form an inspirational start to the day.

Many ‘Techs’ and the universities have thriving Christian Unions. Stormont has plans to create a single education authority for the North.

That’s fine, provided it does not mean that our existing Catholic and State schools will be left short of good teachers and physical resources.

What is needed is an integrated curriculum so that students can learn about their history and culture from their teachers.

Sectarianism can only be contained; the bitter medicine is that it will never be fully eradicated.

Is the legacy of Obama’s G8 visit that we will have to listen to a bunch of self-appointed ‘do-gooders’ preaching to us on the merits of ‘integrated’ education?

These people need to remember the maxim – if it ain’t broken, why fix it?

Leave the Catholic and State schools alone and let the teachers get on with what they do best – teaching, not healing the rifts of eight centuries! That’s the politicians’ job.

June 25, 2013________________


This article appeared in the June 24, 2013 edition of the Irish Daily Star.