What does your da do? Quiet Conversations with Ex-UDR Members

Over the years different people have been talking about conversations and their place in our peace process.  Former Chief Constable Matt Baggott spoke about “quiet conversations”, Vicky Cosstick, author of a comprehensive book on the walls of Belfast, wrote about the importance of “relationships and conversations” to help bring the walls down whilst Sinn Féin Party President Declan Kearney has been promoting “uncomfortable conversations”.  Conversations, I believe are valuable, even transformative.    I would see this article as the beginning of a series of articles I plan to write about some of the conversations I have had and still have which helped me to see things in a different perspective.  Personally speaking, some of the most fascinating conversations have been with people from very different backgrounds who in trusting me have shared some of their story.

I begin the series with this reflection on conversations I have had with a number of people who served in the UDR during the so-called “Troubles” in Northern Ireland.  It is written with the agreement and encouragement of the former soldiers I spoke to.  In this short piece, I acknowledge its limitations such as not writing about how some Nationalists and Republicans experienced the UDR.  I recognise for some people from such backgrounds who had bad experiences of the UDR this will be a difficult article to read.  The main point of this piece however is to consider the human story of the cost of being part of the UDR.

Growing up in a Catholic, Nationalist home with almost no contact with the UDR (a combination of letters which used to make my blood run cold), apart from being stopped at road blocks by members of the force, I never socialised with a serving soldier never mind becoming friends with any.   That was unthinkable. From my background I have very little understanding of armies.  It is only now that my social circles have widened that I’ve met former soldiers, mostly in social contexts and have found the conversations fascinating.  In my own way, I’ve had to humanise the people who were part of the UDR.    Now that I am older and have opportunities for conversations with people, both male and female, who were in the UDR, I see things differently and for the first time am now aware of some of the impact of our “Troubles” on them.

I would have been aware that there were security risks for those who enlisted in the UDR but without hearing that directly from those served in it.  I knew such people would have been careful not to disclose widely where they lived.    What I did not know is some former soldiers are still very secretive about their background.  Unlike some of the other articles I plan to write, for security reasons, I will not name any of the individuals I was talking to, nor give any idea where they live, not so much as to protect the individuals but rather owing to their concern for their sons and daughters.   That concern centres around the fear for their sons and daughters if some of their neighbours found out their parents were in the UDR.  I thought those days were over.

As part of my conversations, I began by exploring with former soldiers why they joined the UDR in the first place.  From those I talked to, it seemed to be a very deliberate decision – they were concerned about the violence from all the paramilitary groupings, Loyalist and Republican, and felt obliged to serve to ensure that violence would not win out.  Their decision to join up brought with it considerable costs, costs which they still live with today.    In our conversations, I was keen to understand what those costs were and are.    I heard about how difficult it was for UDR soldiers to visit their family who were living in some parts of Northern Ireland which were considered especially dangerous.  They recalled some of the security that had to be put in place for them to attend the funerals of their parents.  I heard about how during the height of the “Troubles”, the deceased parents of some soldiers had to be buried in separate graves in separate cemeteries for security reasons.  The word “security” kept coming back – one former soldier told me about a conversation with a soldier from an English regiment who commented that he could return to the “security” of his barracks whereas they as soldiers from the UDR had to return to their own homes and all the dangers that went with that. The former soldiers spoke about some of the security they had to have in and around their homes.  Their decision to join also meant they were restricted where they could live and socialise.  There was also the matter of driving the car, coming out of their home in the morning, heading off for duty and returning home.  They always were on the alert.  One man spoke about the terror he experienced when turning on the ignition and realising he had forgotten to check under his car and wondering if the vehicle would explode.    Years after they left the UDR, these former soldiers like so many former soldiers still feel the impact of their service.  The nightmares haven’t ended and recur from time to time!

From my conversations with some former UDR soldiers, I now have some idea of the huge regret some of them have about having to keep the truth of their occupation from their children or encouraging their children (who knew their parents were in the UDR) to lie when they were asked in school what their parents’ jobs were – hence the title of this article.   I am aware today that serving police officers encourage their children to be very guarded about what they tell their friends.   In one conversation, I asked some former soldiers if they had any idea how many of their colleagues had been traumatized by the experience of being in the UDR.    One of them instantly replied: “100%” and another added:  “how could it have been any other way?”

As I finish, I acknowledge I am only touching on some issues for former members of the UDR.  I am also left to wonder if many of these voices will ever be heard?  It would be a pity if they weren’t.

Finally, my reason for writing this series of articles is to make a case for conversations with people we may consider enemies. In such conversations, we listen to understand other people’s stories and have the opportunity to talk to them and in doing so we humanise the other.  I believe there is a transformative power in being able to hear and understand what it is like for another person.   Such conversations change us.  I know that because they are changing me.

Fr. Martin Magill is the Parish Priest at Sacred Heart Parish, Belfast.



  • Redstar

    Good article.

    As you mentioned many of us have very different first hand experience of these people. I as a teenager resided for a period in Lisburn where Catholics suffered untold sectarian attacks intimidation and indeed murder.

    Amongst the loyalist gangs, groupings bands etc there were very few who were not in the UDR.

    As you are a priest I am sure you can imagine how many of us felt when the bands would stop outside the Catholic Church on Chapel hill to blast out their tunes and scream sectarian abuse. The real kicker was that often those screaming sectarian hatred at you that evening, would next day be waving you down at a UDR checkpoint in the town.

    Frankly for me trying to put any type of gloss on sectarian cowardly thugs ain’t gonna wash nor is sympathy for any ills they encountered.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Very different experiences all right:
    I don’t recall ever meeting or knowing of a bandsman that was in the UDR.

    I’m sure there must have been some, but, it would quite a risky thing to do from a band’s point of view; it would be the metaphorical equivalent of painting a multi-coloured circle on the back window of the bus with a sign reading ‘bomb here’.

  • Deke Thornton

    Tim Collins wrote very patronisingly about the ‘home service’ battalions of the RIR (previously UDR) compared to the ‘worldwide’ 1RIR and the ‘Regular’ (mainland) Army took a similar view. Poorly trained and given the fact that neighbours, especially in rural areas, would have known them personally, it was a bizarre situation. Most UDR men often referred to English regiments as ‘Brits’ exacerbating the gap.

  • Redstar

    I can assure you it was the norm in Lisburn
    Let’s not forget it was totally legal to be a member of the UDA and the UDR simultaneously . Indeed in Lisburn the UDA youth wing actively encouraged it in order for these thugs to get weapons training etc.

    Quite frankly at that time many of my decent Prorestant Lisburn friends looked upon these corner boys with equal disdain to myself

  • Zig70

    Is there a link to the conversations or a book to come out?

  • PeterBrown

    There were 6000 members of the UDR at its height in 1990 spread across 9 battalions so just over 650 in each battalion, with the 1/9 County Antrim UDR spread across companies only one of which was based in Lisburn so that extrapolates to 100 UDR soldiers from the Lisburn area.

    There were and are considerably more band members than that in Lisburn and I suspect considerably more UDR soldiers who were not band members than those who were but don’t let the facts get in the way of your demonstrably inaccurate demonisation…

  • Thomas Barber

    Lets face reality the UDR like the B Specials they replaced after they were disbanded were a local militia employed from the loyalist community and trained by the British to terrorise the Catholic and nationalist population. Its no secret they were the main source of weapons, intelligence and training for loyalist paramilitaries and many of its personnel were also members of the UVF just like the original RUC and B Specials, even the courts covered up the UDR membership of loyalist paramilitaries who were caught red handed engaging in acts of terrorism including murder. Im sorry but they weren’t an army they were simply a band of marauding sectarian bigots who went out to work dressed as soldiers but acted like the terrorists they were.

  • Redstar

    Correct Thomas.

    Sadly for the Peterbrowns of this world. (below) these were decent upstanding members of society…………l

  • Redstar

    Peter I replied to your post but for reason unknown it was deleted.

  • PeterBrown

    Not my doing – securocrats!

  • Redstar


    Like it

  • PeterBrown

    Like the RUC many of them were (I know of and indeed personally knew a number of them who were decent upstanding members of society some of whom were murdered, including some after they left the regiment for that very reason) – a proportion were not and we would no doubt disagree about what proportion.

    Suffice to say that it was a smaller proportion that other organisations which even national political leaders are now claiming were upstanding members of society.

    The oft quoted proportions are approximately 60/30/10 so even on the assumption that every loyalist murderer was a UDR man which I have conclusively disproved below they were not the worst offenders…

  • Zeno

    “Lets face reality the UDR like the B Specials they replaced after they were disbanded were a local militia employed from the loyalist community …”

    The whole idea behind the UDR was to make it cross community. The IRA intimidated Catholics so they couldn’t join.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I hear what you’re saying but UDA membership and band membership are not the same thing.

    In the case of the UDA it makes sense (weapons training), in the case of a band that doesn’t want some ‘mayhem’s marzipan’ strapped to the underbelly of their bus it makes less sense.

    I was uncomfortable enough having a Scout leader in the UDR (mandatory bomb-checks all the time for us children) never mind being in a band with UDR members (again, I’m sure it did happen, don’t interpret this as denial) but I’d be surprised if it was the norm.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Lets face reality the UDR like the B Specials they replaced after they were disbanded were a local militia employed from the loyalist community ”

    Mainly, but not a loyalist militia (and certainly not 1st Batt)

    “trained by the British to terrorise the Catholic and nationalist population.”

    If the B Specials and UDR didn’t terrorise the Catholic community then the British wouldn’t have had half the work to do, this thread is already showing the contrasting opinions of the UDR between the British (mainland/proper) and the NI unionists.

    Whipping up anti British sentiment was hardly to the UK’s benefit now was it?

    “Its no secret they were the main source of weapons, intelligence and training for loyalist paramilitaries and many of its personnel were also members of the UVF just like the original RUC and B Specials, even the courts covered up the UDR membership of loyalist paramilitaries who were caught red handed engaging in acts of terrorism including murder”

    I wasn’t aware that they were the main source of weapons, but, if you say so…

    IF ‘many’ (and what do you define as many out of interest? 10%? 50%?) were also members of terrorist groups then as much as that is disgraceful it is nonetheless hardly by design but also in this case (well, your case) this seemingly eclipses the instances where the UDR men were NOT loyalist killers and given that this thread is dedicated to those that were not then do you not think your comments are ill-placed?

    I’m sure there will be a UDR-bashing thread coming along soon enough, why not wait your turn and concentrate on the topic at hand i.e. the good men who lived their lives in terror?

    “even the courts covered up the UDR membership of loyalist paramilitaries who were caught red handed engaging in acts of terrorism including murder”

  • Deke Thornton

    True. In the early seventies, there were quite a few people of ‘Catholic’ background in it, and in certain areas they stayed. The main problems were twofold:
    It never won the confidence of the MoD and the regiment didn’t gel with the regular Army. Natural, given the colony mentality of elite English regiments. And the joint membership with the RUC Reserve-who had better pay-always a squaddies gripe.
    The part-time element didn’t train and treated the whole venture as money from above (London) for doing f88k all. Discipline was poor and drinking/driving a big issue. Regular Army often wouldn’t get involved.
    Despite the undoubted bravery of farmers and others in remote locations serving, it was a lost cause, especially in Belfast. I don’t think they were allowed to patrol West Belfast.? 1 RIR served in East Tyrone with exemplary record as did the Irish Guards.

  • Zeno

    I think the main problem Deke was that it didn’t suit the IRA.

  • Deke Thornton

    I take it then that the regular (mainland) soldiers were as polite and easy going as they were to us in Downpatrick! Even the Black Watch?

  • Thomas Barber

    Am Ghobsmact if anything that I’ve said above is untrue then prove me wrong, the evidence is out there in the public domain, so feel free.

  • mac tire

    I’m sure there are many experiences, good and bad within the UDR.

    I know of two men who joined the fledgling UDR – and I come from, what would be deemed a Republican community. One is my Father in law, the other – was my next door neighbour (now sadly deceased).

    I asked them why and they said they joined because they needed the money. Nothing more. Politics, to them, did not even come into it.

    Fair enough, since I understand they were thinking of themselves and their families. ‘Twas a hard time then.

    One left within a year – the other, I think, in 1973. Both gave the same type of reasons – ridicule and the feeling you were not wanted. They both have told me how they felt as outsiders and certainly not to be trusted.

    Theirs was a negative experience. And one that needs to be taken into consideration when we consider these things.

  • Thomas Barber

    Oh yeah right, is that like blacks intimidating other blacks not to join the klu klux klan ?

  • Zeno

    As I said Thomas, Did you ever consider you have a one sided view?
    Edit* I actually said that to someone else but it applies to you as well.

  • Thomas Barber

    NO, just an open mind thats been around a few corners.

  • Deke Thornton

    That’s OK . Though Army pay was a fraction of RUC pay. Which also left a friction. In more ways than one.

  • gendjinn


    “I wasn’t aware…”

    How could you not be? And your trite little dismissal is rather obnoxious. I’ve come to expect better from you.

    The entire British state apparatus – army, police, reserve, NIO, civil service, Westminster government collaborated with Unionist terrorists throughout the entirety of the “Troubles”. That you remain unaware is a choice you are making, a choice to remain ignorant.

    Remember they did it in your name and if you choose to remain ignorant and apathetic then you are the problem. Because they will do it again when it suits them.

  • Starviking

    I would think the UDR work schedule would interfere with being in a band.

  • James7e

    Not in any way like that, no.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    A bit of context please, “I wasn’t aware” was entirely in this instance wrt to Thomas Barber’s assertion that the UDR were the main source of weaponry for Loyalist terrorists.

    For that I was not aware, likewise I am not aware of where the IRA got their weapons (I suspect Libya and maybe the US but I don’t know).

    It is not AT ALL a denial or expression of ignorance wrt to the topic of collusion.

    To what extent collusion went on again I am not aware (books on the way though).

    “And your trite little dismissal is rather obnoxious

    What did I dismiss exactly? Re-read it and quote the exact parts please. I don’t believe the raison d’etre of the UDR was to explicitly terrorise the Catholic population as Thomas claims. What they ended up doing may have been quite different in practice but that does not support his initial assertion does it?

    “I’ve come to expect better from you”
    Then you don’t get what I’m about G. I abhor the instinctive tribal party lines that people automatically cling to when faced with an alternative viewpoint (and this very much goes for unionists too BTW) in this instance we have a member of the nationalist community asking that we look at the other more human aspects of a topic and not (in this instance) cling to the well worn perspectives that we are all familiar with.

    And what do we have thus far? “F**k ’em! Don’t want to hear it!”

  • peepoday

    Needless to say that I disagree with your analysis.The Ulster Defence Regiment,were recruited as part of the governments ulsteristion of security.They took the place of other British Army regiments and acted as a bulwark between republican murder gangs and the British state.They were in the majority recruited from the Protestant working class community and joined not only out of a long tradition of loyalty but often out of financial necessity when employment was hard to find.They found themselves facing a sectarian murder campaign which has left a lasting legacy.They were part of the British Army and operated under the constraints of the law.Their opponents observed no rules or laws.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    You’re the one that has made the assertions Thomas, if you had said that “the parachute regiment was set up by an ancient secret order of masonic clowns to counter the military advances of the Pixie peoples in inner Pomerania” I would struggle to prove that assertion wrong.

    As you are the one making the claims itmakes sense that the burden of proof falls on you:

    So, 1/ “were a local militia employed from the loyalist community and trained by the British to terrorise the Catholic and nationalist population”

    I’m listening, if that was their core purpose and the reason the British Government agreed to mobilise them then please show this.

    2/ “Its no secret they were the main source of weapons, intelligence and training for loyalist paramilitaries and many of its personnel were also members of the UVF just like the original RUC and B Specials”
    Some of this is no doubt true, but why don’t you clarify how many we’re talking here; 1, 100, 1000, 10000?

  • Janos Bingham

    Truly the Most Oppressed People ……..Ever!

    ‘The fools, the fools, they have left us our Fantasy Discourse.’

  • gendjinn


    first off I acknowledge is far too easy to misinterpret emotional context and intent accurately from a blog comment.

    ” but, if you say so…” this response makes it very, very, very easy to interpret negatively as the ellipsis usually equated with a dismissal, shrug of the shoulders meaning. You also have previous form on this – for example your inability to acknowledge the fact that the English/British state committed acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing multiple times in the history of Ireland, especially from Henry 7th up through An Ocras Mór.

    The reason I’ve come to expect better from you AG, is that you don’t unilaterally hue to the Unionist view of history, you are more open minded.

    If it wasn’t you I wouldn’t even have bothered commenting as there would be zero chance of getting through.

    One day you are going to realise that slaughtering tens and hundreds of thousands of civilians because of their religious, ethnic or national identity is genocide and you are going to feel very, very embarrassed for the comments you’ve made to the contrary.

    One important piece of context to remember is that throughout the occupation of Ireland from Tudors on was that the entire apparatus of the English/British state was about terrorising and repressing the native Irish. It died down somewhat after the Famine and the 6 counties revived it with gusto in 1922 until the GFA.

  • gendjinn

    There are plenty of Panorama documentaries on Northern Ireland on youtube – watch them and be revolted at what was done in your name. For further afield I particularly recommend White Terror about Kenya and know that the same people that ran Kenya were there in NI, running the BA.

  • submariner

    AG I think others are being harsh on you with this .However the evidence that the UDR could be described as a loyalist militia is out there and what’s more is the Brits knew it as far back as 1973 http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/publicrecords/1973/subversion_in_the_udr.htm

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Thank you Sub.

    I’m not denying the evidence or indeed the perception (very important in NI) that the UDR could be seen as such by nationalists and Catholics.

    What got my knickers in twist was that Thomas stated absolutely that their aim, intent and raison d’etre was from day one to be loyalist terrorist group.

    I also asked him to give a ball park figure for how many people we’re talking here.

    That document you posted the link to suggests 5 -15% depending on the area.

    The picture that Thomas paints gives the impression of a number closer to 100%.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I concede that ‘if you say so’ may be inappropriate but given Thomas’ outright unsupported claim that the UDR were set-up as a terrorist group (note: it’s important to bear in mind I’m talking about their conception, not how things panned out, those are two separate issues) it becomes difficult not to role one’s eyes and adopt an exasperated tone.

    .” You also have previous form on this – for example your inability to acknowledge the fact that the English/British state committed acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing multiple times in the history of Ireland, especially from Henry 7th up through An Ocras Mór.”

    I have form in not tolerating hysteria.

    Any attempt at reigning in some of the more fantastical nationalist beliefs of what is now entering the realms of mythology rather than history is met with howling indignation and irrationality.

    If I can’t ask people to support their claims on a forum full of educated and articulate people then where does the self-perpetuating myth making end?

    Some examples spring to mind:

    1/ In an Australian hostel I was drinking with a committed, passionate young republican.
    Not a sectarian bone in his body, he was all about republican principles, not religion or bigotry and he casually explained that TWO million people died of starvation in An Gorta Mór (as in two million plus the rest e.g. immigration etc)

    2/ Again in Oz, I was eavesdropping on this group of red haired lads from somewhere rough in Belfast who explained all manner of ‘fact’ to their captive audience about red haired people being particularly affected by the famine and that they (red heads) were singled out for rougher treatment (whatever the dickens that means in the context of a disaster)

    3/ I know of a fella in a Celtic top who was explaining to an Iranian guy on the bus all of Ireland’s woes over the centuries and capped it off with (as they passed over the Boyne) “Here’s where it all began. 900 years of oppression began here. In 1690”.

    Now, whilst some of the above examples might be more arithmetically failing than historically it nonetheless shows how low the modern bar has been set and I see no sense in allowing intelligent people contributing to such drivel.

    I am firmly of the belief thus far that An Gorta Mor was not a deliberate attempt at genocide but will gladly read the works of any objective historian who argues differently (i.e. NOT Tim Pat Coogan).

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Do these documentaries explicitly state that the UDR was set up solely with the purpose of terrorising Catholics as per Thomas’s assertions?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    A former Scottish squaddie I knew said that he considered the UDR “more of a target than a force”.

  • gendjinn


    the entire NI state and it’s security apparatus was set up to terrorise and repress the Catholic/Nationalist population.

    Look at the things you’ve learned since you’ve left NI that are contradictions of the Unionist narrative you grew up with. Do you think you’ve uncovered all of these revelations or are there more to come?

    Instead of you and me arguing about them here, I’ve pointed you towards resources that will provide you a lot of information about this and the entire sorry saga. Start with White Terror on Kenya, it will really open your eyes.

  • Reader

    Am Ghobsmacht: I have form in not tolerating hysteria.
    It’s your own fault, you know. From the moment you appeared here as a humane person of liberal inclinations, there was bound to come a moment when you would be required to swallow the republican victimhood narrative wholesale; or to refuse and to be cast back into the darkness as a supremacist strawman.

  • gendjinn

    2 million is not incorrect, in Ireland, on the coffin ships, when they landed in Canada & South Carolina.

    The Famine was genocide, the Elizabethan slaughter in the SW was genocide, the Cromwellian invasion was genocide and there were other famines in the early 1700s that were also genocides.

    Famine is genocide. End of. Stop talking to me about it.

    And stop dismissing TPC because he tells you harsh truths, you are better than that.

  • Alan N/Ards

    My late father served with the UDR and had served with the Ulster Rifles and the TA before that. I want you to know that he was no sectarian bigot! It’s very easy to tar everyone with the same brush and dehumanize them. Was every member of the provo’s a sectarian bigot?

    I’ve asked this question before and I’m asking it again: Who imprisoned the thousands of loyalist terrorists during “the troubles”? Did the fairies do it?

  • Thomas Barber

    Once again for you AG, The forerunner of the UDR were the B Specials who were recruited en masse from the ranks of the UVF, when they were disbanded ( Do we really need to go into why they were disbanded) 60% of the new UDR were former members of the B Specials, over 200 UDR members have been convicted of terrorist related crimes including murder one of the Shankill butchers was also a UDR member.

    George Hamilton the Chief Constable revealed the truth recently about the attitude of the British government “Referring to Baroness O’Loan’s claim that the security forces operated outside the rules, the Chief Constable said: “I would challenge that, it’s not actually accurate. There were no rules.”

    So there you have it in black and white from the head of the British police in this part of Ireland that there were no rules, is it really inconceivable for you to even acknowledge that a force created mainly from loyalist paramilitaries with the blessing of the British government was used solely against the nationalist population.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    You said that they were set up and trained to “terrorise the nationalist community”.

    What you said does not confirm this.

    This is what I am challenging in your statement. I am not, nor have I ever denied any wrong doing on the behalf of the UDR,state or RUC.
    I just don’t write off all the ten’s of thousands of security personnel who operated in NI as militia men or terrorists.

    You’re confusing my desire for clarification of foul intent with denying that the UDR did anything wrong or indeed that they were perceived as a militia by nationalists.

    I don’t know why you’re doing this, the two things are clearly different.

    So, now that we’ve cleared that up, please support your hypothesis.

    Otherwise I could just hypothesise that the sole reason for the existence of the UDR was to serve as cannon fodder and spare the regular British army from more harm by being the main target of the Provos and use your own framework for ‘proof’ as a foundation.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I’m sure there are more hidden skeletons in the political unionist closet.

    And yes I will watch this White Terror.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    2 million?
    Gendjinn, what are your sources on this?
    I’m truly interested as mine (few as they are) do not corroborate this.

    I’ve read enough TPC books to recognise when someone is so biased and subjective that they’re not trustworthy.

    “the Irish were in great demand for the railway in NZ due to their greater than average strength” (or words to that effect).
    Has he been to NZ?
    I’ve been working there a lot and it’s perhaps the smallest and weakest I’ve ever felt in all the countries I’ve worked in (compared to the Maori lads) not to mention his hopelessly biased opinions on the Old Firm.

    I’ve worked a lot at old Firm games as well as working nights in the town when the Old Firm have been playing, his view of all the Celtic fans being lovely, huggable, song-singing, merry-makers compared to the racist brutes of Rangers is as laughable as it is scary.
    I hate the Old Firm (both teams) but there wasn’t that much in it in terms of how low would the fans go in terms of bad behaviour, sectarianism and trouble making (at the lower end of the scale, I’m not tarring all fans like that).

    If he can’t even get these glaringly obvious things right then how can I trust him to be unbiased and objective with sensitive and polarizing historical events?
    (And that’s just off the top of my head, I haven’t read any of his books since 2009 ish).

  • John Collins

    Redstar. I would take anything Peter says with a grain of salt. He accepts without reservation very serious allegations made by Sean Callaghan, a man whose credibility has been seriously questioned by high ranking policemen on both sides of the border.

  • gendjinn

    “2 million is not incorrect, in Ireland, on the coffin ships, when they landed in Canada & South Carolina.”

    1 million would be the lower bound of the death toll, 2 million would be the upper bound. Quibbling about numbers is missing the woods for the trees. To do so in the face of such an abhorrent crime is to minimise it and it is utterly, utterly disgusting.

    All historians have biases, no historian gets everything right. TPC definitely tells history from a Nationalist perspective but having read several of his early books the facts, dates, people, events he relates are broadly accurate. There is a vast difference between getting colour commentary wrong and getting the facts wrong. I mean, it’s not like he was fabricating history like Peter Hart did.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gendjinn, while I’m usually in agreement with you, I’m finding issues here rather simplified. How did Peter Hart (whom I knew as a decent, honourable historian) “fabricate” history? Oh I know the arguments, but anyone will make mistakes sometimes, and the trajectory of Peter’s argument is accurate, and just as important as the honest outline of genocide described in the essays in “Age of Atrocity”. Simply because one agrees with someone, it does not require any of us to deny truth, no matter how painful, simply to whitewash a history in ones own favour. The IRA was sectarian in West Cork in those years.

    Also, disagreeing with someone does not necessitate questioning their knowledge or sincerity:


    I’m hardly a supporter of how the UDR was used by the extremists, but I believe AG to be trying to peal away the decent people who were involved from the extreme element, in something that like PIRA tends to be reduced to crude simplifications by those who recognise its faults and would smear every person active with them, ignoring the complexity of motive individual commitments must bring to every organisation. Anything else is reification!

  • gendjinn


    the West Cork sectarian murders, interviews with people he could not possibly have interviewed. The refutations of that work are pretty strong. I’ve seen you write off TPC for less.

    I am minded of the scene in Trainspotting with Renton and Sick Boy discussing Lou Reed. Also David Irving started off as a great historian before going off the deep end.

    Comments sections are appalling places to really have a decent conversation about these emotive and important topics. Far better suited to a winter’s night, a roaring fireplace and high quality wine and/or scotch.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gendjinn, the general outline of Peter’s work is absolutely accurate, in my opinion, and I’ve argued many of the critiques with him when he was alive to receive satisfactory answers. It’s a pity you never met him, one of a group of first rate historians (Angus Mitchell is yet another) who have been striving for honest appraisals against the momentum of conventional opinion.

    When I was working on my own Irish jacobite research I’ve met with many exiled families from the bitter years of the war of independence with credible stories myself, several even with names that resounded in Irish national history, such as Sarsfield. Few had anything solid against them other than perhaps service in the Great War and a personal choice of neutrality in the war of independence. Their stories of violence used to drive them out of farms and estates and subsequent land grabbing are a hearty corrective to any simplistic valorisation of the insurgents. The camps on both sides in the war of independence contained everything from high minded idealists to self seeking wide boys out for to settle scores and seize the main chance, just as those shrewd gombeen tradesmen who prospered during An Gorta Mór made their fortunes and improved land holdings on the suffering of the unfortunate.

    Real history, like the real life it should reflect, is rather a mess that defies any formula that requires one side to display unqualified virtue and we are always choosing the lesser of two evils, but as the late Jerry Garcia said, “constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil”.

    And yes, the red mist certainly descends, even on as civilised a site as Slugger, but it perhaps helps contextualise AGs comments if you’ve been reading him for some years and remember just how his comments have been violently handled by both sides of our local argument. Few loyalist commentators would even consider him as a Unionist even! While no one needs to have any slack cut for them, I’d believe his intentions in his comments to be utterly constructive and inclusivist, he is one of the most honest people on the site.

    But, hey, I’m very happy to take you up on the “winter’s night, a roaring fireplace and high quality wine and/or scotch” any time, so any chance of a Romanée-Conte or (most unpatriotically) a Marc de Champaigne, those “cheese eating surrender monkeys” are certainly good for something!

  • Thomas Barber

    “I’ve asked this question before and I’m asking it again: Who imprisoned the thousands of loyalist terrorists during “the troubles”? Did the fairies do it”

    Alan no harm intended but there’s two sides to every story and us Catholics have a different experience of UDR members than you would seeing as we were considered the enemy and therefore experienced first hand their unique brand of sectarianism and brutality that went on for so long without so much as a blink of an eye from their comrades or the authorities nor anyone from the unionist community. Im sure you do know how many UDR personnel were convicted of terrorist related crimes including murder. How UDR members along with RUC and UVF members of the Glenanne gang murdered up to 120 people or the fact that one of the Shankill Butchers was a UDR member who to this day is so respected that he’s given a special place in the ranks of the Orange order that involves stewarding loyalists supporters and bands past the place of worship where most of his victims attended. We all know and hear every day what Unionists think of every Sinn Fein member never mind those in the IRA and I couldn’t imagine for a second that any member of the Unionist community wouldn’t tar everyone in the IRA or Sinn Fein with the one brush.

    Yes lots of loyalists have been imprisoned during the troubles Alan but thats hardly down to the UDR was it. A better question would be how many loyalist paramilitaries they aided and abetted in their dual onslaught on the Catholic community. How many Protestants or loyalist paramilitaries have the UDR killed carrying out their duties as opposed to how many Catholics or republicans they’ve killed seeing as they were apparently created to aid the now similarly disbanded similarly discredited RUC who also armed. aided and controlled loyalist murderers in hundreds upon hundreds of murders. But of course us Catholic victims must get it into our thick heads that it was all a dream the UDR were good honest down to earth farmers and god fearing men and women who went out of their way to spread the joys of British democracy to us Irish Catholics living in this part of Ireland.

    Have a wee jook Alan Im sure you’ll notice the amazing similarities yet different timescales but both tactics carried out by the same people.


  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thomas, thinking the unthinkable (recognising some virtue in those we loathe politically) is the beginning of any reconfiguration of our centuries long social mess, and starting the long treck back into a single functioning community. I don’t think Alan is denying what you are saying in your answer, simply suggesting that many joining the UDR may have been motivated by more complex motives, something other than simple loyalist thuggery. The simplification of these issues and the larding of blame indiscriminately is the very material of atrocity as I’d pointed out some time back in a comment about the Stronge murder and its inappropriate links with the McMahon atrocity:


    We have enough people genuinely responsible for the particular horrors we have all suffered without trying to “collar them all” and dilute this proper culpability by blaming a reification such as the UDR rather than carefully examining the actual individuals at every level of the administration then who facilitated these loyalist horrors. The secondary issue of the shameful tacit support throughout both portions of our entire community for such violent methods is quite another issue, and one I’ve long commented on.

  • Thomas Barber

    “Thomas, thinking the unthinkable (recognising some virtue in those we loathe politically) is the beginning of any reconfiguration of our centuries long social mess, and starting the long treck back into a single functioning community”

    Indeed it is Seaan and I am all for reconciliation but that’s a two way street and the fact that Im pointing out the mote in others eyes should not be lost when exposing the hypocrisy of unionism. Imagine for a moment Belfast City council funding and erecting a memorial to the IRA in Cornmarket or awarding the IRA freedom of the city or even the Irish government awarding the PIRA some prestigious award even though there is an abundance of evidence that was known to the British and unionist politicians long long ago of dual membership and collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the UDR and RUC. There were not a few bad apples there was barrels of them within the two forces spread throughout the six counties yet unionism seems oblivious to this and simply brushes under the carpet all the murders and uncomfortable facts that just might tarnish the angelical image they have of the UDR and RUC.

    That image needs to be exposed.

  • gendjinn


    there was a bit on cedarloungrevolution recently on the Dunmanway interviews and this.

    I don’t doubt the accuracy of your stories of post-conflict driving out to gain land. But you don’t link it to the IRA and there are a couple of areas of the country that suffered particularly badly under British rule before WoI and during that harboured anger for a long time – Balbriggan and Skerries in north County Dublin for example, West Cork would be another.

    Sectarianism requires intent and being informers would be sufficient to warrant (not merit) execution in such a war.

    I have relatives from that area of Cork, some of whom were friends and relatives of those involved in the WoI and Ballyseedy victims. From their stories the accusations of sectarianism as the motive in Dunmanway are false.

    Remember Yeats condemnation? The slimy, weaselly, hateful and sectarian cowered in their rooms while the best of us went out and fought.

    A good Cotes de Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape will suffice, with the access I’ve become very partial to the Zins & Pinots from Russian River & Alexander Valley. I’m aiming to be through in the new year and at least now we have a good disagreement to get all het up over!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’m in agreement with you on much of this, Thomas, but with a few shifts of emphasis.

    The habit of triumphalism within the old Unionism made its adherents very ill adopted to evaluate between what can be done within the law and what can simple be done because you hold the reins of power and can ignore law, something anyone who experienced the lassitude given to Ronnie Bunting Sr and his loyalist gangs in the late 1960s, such as myself, knows only too well. I’m well aware that simply being given a uniform and weapon did not even begin to guarantee that a person would even begin to think of adhering to the law, but some clearly did feel this and this really requires some recognition from us all. As a parallel situation, most of us working within the media in London in the 1980s heard about Jimmy Saville’s exploits, but if you were working within the BBC itself (I wasn’t) there was no point in trying to do something about it, as seemingly neither the BBC grandees nor the police wanted to be confronted with this, and all you were likely to do was to loose your job. I’d imagine that any decent person within the UDR at the same period faced much the same situation.

    But it is important to go for genuine culpability of individuals, anything else is inevitably going to spread in its effect to harm the innocent and relatively innocent. Both camps in our community are all too ready to scatter-gun blame on the organised bodies within the other camp, and I think that Alan’s comments point to the need to see this as a complex rather than a simple issue. I’d also feel that AG, for example, is really hitting out against a similar tendency to simplifications in his comment above. Personally I feel that there was a strong culpability in the way that loyalist extremism was seen by many Unionists as “their” extremism, something that makes their uncompromising critique of PIRA sound hollow to me (not that I am in any way an apologist for any sides violence). But our choise, should we wish to have a future that is different to our past, is to move towards rather than away from peace, something I’d agree with you is not going to be helped by attempts to whitewash actions, ignoring the culpability of those perceived as being within ones own camp, and simply blind eyeing the need to honestly and fully acknowledge what has actually been done by individuals and the organisations they were working within.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    In whose eyes are you exposing the mote in Thomas?

    This thread was about a lesser know POV, the UDR character assassination is almost complete and it’s now evidently nigh on impossible to say anything good or human about even some of their members (which is what this thread is about) without someone throwing a hissy fit to tell us stuff AGAIN as if we’ve never heard it slugger before.

    The idea of there being any decent people in the UDR is now so sidelined and incomprehensible that it now takes a priest to write about this topic and even then it’s pretty much pooh-poohed from the word go.

    So well done, mission accomplished Thomas.