On the significance of dissent through the Troubles…

When I wrote a profile of Ian Paisley for Prospect magazine a few years back, what struck me most was just how close the big man was sailing to the wind for much of the sixties. As a young man, Roy Garland followed Paisley in his church and in his politics. But he claims that the disillusion which set in after the Troubles had thoroughly kicked off created a dissenting set of opinion on both sides of the community from whose work the peace was eventually built:

The community moved inexorably towards violence but beneath the surface of trauma new foundations were laid and a new beginning contemplated in unlikely circles. Many senior loyalists and republicans knew that sectarian violence was futile and, despite the darkness, seeds of new life were sown. Ancestral voices were challenged and a new framework for a better future was being built – not by the great and good but by ordinary people who knew where we were heading and rejected the dark scenario.

Many unsung loyalist heroes were later castigated by fellow unionists as Lundys, Fenian-lovers and Communists. They faced seemingly insurmountable difficulties but refused to let common sense be overrun by fear and hatred. In the end they won the battle for peace even if the battlefield remains to be cleared of debris.

  • OC

    From the movie “Full Metal Jacket”.

    A US Marine is being interviewed about how he felt about fighting in the Vietnam War.

    He says, “If you ask me, we’re killing the wrong gooks.”

  • United Irishman

    “On the significance of dissent through the Troubles”

    Of more significance are the decent citizens from all walks of life, and from all religious/political persuasions, who exerted influence at a very local level – perhaps even on a one-to-one basis.

    Lets face it, while the forces of Law and Order did their best to contain the situation, the fact remains that if the population as a whole had got caught-up, Beirut or the Balkans may have looked a picnic.

    1969 was still that time when most people had respect. The teenager, antisocial behaviour and sectarian attacks, particularly on places of worship or Orange and Hibernian halls were infrequent – if at all.

    Individually, people were in general more “God fearing” and would have found it difficult to square in their minds the Gospel message of love with doing something that harmed a neighbour.

    But, on the other hand, there was the power of the mob. To illustrate, I remember, as a young student, in Belfast witnessing a small crowd congregating (not organised in anyway) get excited and change into a mob. When someone suggested “breaking windows” at the top of the Shankhill, off the mob set. Fortunately my friend and I walked away – not because we had sense – but because we were county yokels, new to the big smoke.

    However we were surprised, even shocked, at people we knew in the mob – they were acting totally out of character to say the least.

    At that time the unionist community felt between a rock and a hard place. Most still felt threatened, real or imaginary, as a result of the IRA campaign which had recently ended.

    Most Protestant/unionists viewed nationalist agitation as part of an overall pan-nationalist perhaps even RC inspired agenda to subsume them into a united Ireland. The Ecumenical movement was viewed as another wing of this agenda.

    The ordinary working class protestant felt used by “big house” unionism and because of the “cold war” did not lean towards socialism. Ian Paisley filled the void to challenge and break the status-quo.

    Paisley is rare breed, a one off phenomena. Absolutely convinced of his position he challenged all around, broke all the rules. Over the years many a political commentators wrote him off. In the early days even bookies lost money. Like him or loath him, he could not be ignored – a mistake Trimble among others made.

    Personally I suspect that deep down Paisley is “radical Presbyterian”, at least in some aspects of his thinking, who I think would have no problems with an all Ireland arrangement so long as it was democratic and free from external influences such as the RC church.

    If I remember correctly, Bernadette McAliskey claims to have met Paisley for support at the start of the civil rights campaign but he wanted to carry the Union Jack.

    Your “portrait: Ian Paisley” contains the statement “the Free Presbyterian Church had tailed off, finally stabilising at about 12,000 members, who remain the core of the DUP today” Is this based on any academic study? If so I would be interested in the source.

    Of all the FPs that I know, very few are in the DUP. I suspect that the FPs/DUP elected to public office (local or otherwise) would represent at least 75% of all FP who also are also members of the DUP. It has always been a very small number, which is even smaller now following the defection of disaffected members to DUPed-Alistair.

    The pivotal moment in the DUPs success was when Jeffery Donaldson et-al jumped ship.

    Up until this point the Lagan valley and Fermanagh were solidly UU where the DUP could make no progress.

  • “Many senior loyalists and republicans knew that sectarian violence was futile and, despite the darkness, seeds of new life were sown.”

    Where’s the beef?

  • bill


    How about Spence, Ervine, McMichael, Mitchell and even Hutchinson just for starters? Northern Ireland is very, very far from perfect but it wouldn’t be where it is without them.

    I’m sure others could list numerous individuals from the republican ‘side’.

  • John O’Connell

    Personally I suspect that deep down Paisley is “radical Presbyterian”, at least in some aspects of his thinking,

    In the sense that his unionist community in its entirety has an Old Testament value system, essentially rejecting Jesus’ message of love that creates community and living, they say, as individuals, then Paisley is a false prophet in the Old Testament context of prophets.

    He has created division in the community he says he loves by splitting further the political world, the Church world and the loyal orders by setting up his own version of each of these institutions. A prophet unites the individuals as others have done such as Carson but a false prophet undermines his own individualistic people.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    John O’ God has awakened hungry and emerges from his lair …………..