What Loyalism Means To Me
This is my reflection of being a young Prod in the early ‘70s, born in the centre of Belfast and growing into a teenager at the height of the troubles.
Loyalism was about colour. The Red. The White. The Blue. The Ulster flag with six pointed star. The Crown over the Red Hand. The flag going out before the twelfth. Pride on seeing the street festooned with bunting. An arch. Loyalism was about the badges – oval and round. Our identity worm on the lapel of our wrangler jacket or the black lapel of the green pilot jacket. Multi shaped badges. Orange Widows badges each year. Collect them all. It was about clean clothes. Wearing shirt and tie to church and to funerals. Sitting in church on Sunday morning. Sunday school at the halfway mark. Being polite to our elders.
Loyalism was clean and crisp Wrangler jeans. Clean and shining shoes. A freshly ironed Ben Sherman shirt. My loyalism was about a growing realisation of my identity. Britishness and all that was entailed. My family immersed in the British army. The fighting and the dying. Loyalism was about sacrifice. The Somme. Loyalism was a realisation that our identity- mine- was under threat from violent republicanism. Loyalism was about being a part of the local tartan. Out walking on the streets. The parades to Stormont. Supporting the boys. Loyalism was about standing up for what we believed in. Even having a general strike.
Loyalism was about working hard. Loyalism was collecting the boney, the big 11th night and the big walk on the 12th. Easter and down to Bangor. Hail, rain or shine. Loyalism was about the dances in the local orange hall which we got dragged to. Belonging to the BB. Loyalism was about defending our wee streets. Loyalism was about the Crown. Our Queen. A long and proud history of belonging. Loyalism was about pride and meaning. Loyalism was about decency and not getting blocked at every minor excuse. And soon loyalism became joining a paramilitary group. And doing what was required.
Loyalism is a different animal today. I’m a different animal today. Over a decade in the Kesh. Asking questions and discussing points. Having people like Gusty, Mitch and Davy to talk with. Looking behind the superficial. Facing uncomfortable truths. If loyalism was about decency and fairness then what about some of things that were committed in the name of loyalism? Some of the things I done. Times have changed but history is history. I grew up in glory days. Simpler days. Even as the bombs exploded and the shots rang out across the rain soaked Belfast evening.
I’m still a Brit. But the teenager is long gone. I’m a lot older and I hope a lot wiser. Loyalism today? The vast majority of people I meet, loyalists , republicans and others are decent people. Wanting to get on. Loyalism today is about respect for others even for those I disagree with. Loyalism is about learning and being able to argue/debate with anyone. Loyalism is convincing them why I follow my way if life and why I think it’s the best.