By Joe Fernandez
Every July, the Protestants of Ulster celebrate the First Day of the Somme on 1 July, as well as the Glorious Twelfth in commemoration of their 1690 liberation from the tyrannical Catholic fanaticism of James II by William III, Prince of Orange. This year, the Protestant minority community in Londonderry was subjected to repeated petrol bomb attacks by Catholic fanatics who view them as apostates, just as ISIS does with Shia Muslims. The reaction of Ulster Protestants to these depredations can teach Canadians a lot about facing ongoing terrorist situations, such as Alek Minassian and the enhanced Toronto Police presence of 12 July 2018.
Some background is necessary. Until the dawn of the twentieth century, the island of Ireland was British. Just before the First World War, politicians cosseted at Westminster toyed with the idea of withdrawing from Ireland. The Protestants of Ulster, enjoying the freedom of religion guaranteed them by the Resettlement Act of 1690 (from which, incidentally, large portions of the US Bill of Rights are cribbed wholesale), did not want to live under the Vatican. Led by Sir Edward Carson
(a distant relation of mine, in the interests of disclosure), they rejected ‘home rule’.
In the Ulster Crisis: Resistance to Home Rule 1912-14, A.T.Q. Stewart reported that Canada’s Minister of Militia and Defence, Sam Hughes, offered to raise a contingent to help Sir Edward fight Rome Rule. The First World War intervened and Sir Edward’s Ulster Volunteers put on khaki as the 36th (Ulster) Division, many dying at the Somme on 1, July 1916, while the Catholics stabbed Britain in the back that Easter when Sir Roger Casement and Erskine Childers colluded with Germany.
After 1922, two nations emerged on the island of Ireland, the Catholic Irish Free State—which, according to Padraig O’Malley’s The Uncivil Wars, swiftly ethnically cleansed its Protestant population from 10% to 2%—and Ulster, which, as part of the United Kingdom, preserved the right to religious liberty won by King William in 1690.
Then came the 1960’s. With no sense of irony, given how they had lynched blacks in the New York Draft riots of 1863, and given how their American leader Louise Day Hicks was calling for racial segregation in Boston, Irish Catholic irredentists exploited the image of Martin Luther King to push their Anschluss agenda under the guise of “civil rights.” Protestants and the police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), saw right through this and fought back. The result was the 1969-2004 Operation Banner wherein mainland British units, the RUC and the locally raised Ulster Defence Regiment fought Sinn Fein/IRA (SF/IRA) bombers as well as hardline loyalist paramilitaries.
By 1993-1994, the tide had conclusively turned against SF/IRA. In these years, they killed fewer people than did the combination of the security forces and the loyalist paramilitaries, leading to SF/IRA’s August 1994 “ceasefire,” the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the winding down of Operation Banner in 2004. Public elements of SF/IRA became elected officials in government, however, it did not mean they stopped being terrorists. They simply stopped operating outside of Ulster. In 2016, they murdered Prison Officer Adrian Ismay, taxi driver Michael McGibbon and deliveryman Dan Murray.
Ulster Protestants born after, or shortly before, 1969, in other words, have lived under the threat of terrorism all their lives. This did not stop them from living and did not convert them into Bill O’Reilly-style fanatics. Colonel Tim Collins’ Rules of Engagement, Captain Doug Beattie’s An Ordinary Soldier and Colour Sergeant Trevor Coult’s First Into Sangin detail how the Protestants of the Royal Irish Regiment (the successor of the Ulster Defence Regiment) fought in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. But Ulster Protestants merely supported, as opposed to instigated Britain’s entry into Iraq. Many Ulster Protestants supporters’ social media feeds often condemning Tony Blair as a war criminal for Iraq, as well as for giving cover to SF/IRA the same way Donald Trump is friends with SF/IRA’s Gerry Adams.