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The Battle Of The Somme And ‘An Englishman’s Betrayal’….

As most readers of this blog will know, tomorrow, July 1st, is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, perhaps the bloodiest and most pointless occasion of slaughter during the First World War.

For the North’s Loyalist community, this date is on a par with the Nationalist celebration of the Easter Rising, to be celebrated with pride and militaristic manifestations. July 1st, known in Belfast as ‘the Wee Twelfth’, regularly witnesses some of the most rumbustious Orange parades of the marching season.

The months-long Somme ‘battle’ saw the wholesale butchery of some one million British, French and German troops and on the first day of conflict, July 1st, nearly 5,000 were killed, mostly members of the 36th Ulster Division.

The 36th Division was, of course, Carson’s Ulster Volunteer Force by another name, whose formation to oppose Irish Home Rule in 1912 – and gun-running – caused Nationalists to organise the Irish Volunteers in imitation, a precursor, arguably, of the IRA.

Formed to oppose Home Rule with force of arms, the UVF was ‘volunteered’ by its leaders to fight on Britain’s side when World War I broke out in August 1914.

Swathes of working class Loyalist Belfast families were plunged into mourning when the news of the carnage at the Somme filtered home from the front. Fathers, sons and brothers were lost.

A terrible price had been paid for this loyalty.

But loyalty is a tricky word to use when discussing the world of Loyalism and it is really impossible to understand Loyalism without also grasping the simple reality that Northern Protestant loyalty to Britain is far from being unconditional. In fact it is entirely conditional on Britain being loyal to Protestants.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that deep inside the breast of every Orangeman beats the heart of a nascent Irish republican. It just means Loyalism is a complex phenomenon.

I came across a compelling, and to me entirely novel example of this conditional loyalty while reading a preview of Gareth Mulvenna’s fascinating exploration of early 1970’s Loyalism, ‘Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries: The Loyalist Backlash’, which will be published this September.

Mulvenna refers to the sense of betrayal at the hands of the British felt by returning UVF soldiers in 1919 and 1920 when they discovered that as a consequence of the political deals done with their leaders by Lloyd George, three counties of the historic province of Ulster – Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal – were to be ceded to the new, ‘independent’ Irish state.

An angry song was written about all this and I was able to find it on YouTube (below). Listen carefully, dear reader, to the words. Especially the last verse. Enjoy:

So, come gather round my comrades all, this First of July morn,

When Ulstermen are proud and glad of the land where they were born,

And we’ll never more be led away for to fight in a foreign land,

Or to die for someone else’s cause, at an Englishman’s command.

Or to die for someone else’s cause, at an Englishman’s command.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ob04EzSnlQ

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