Loyalists - a lost people trying to find home using signposts nobody else recognises

Loyalists - a lost people trying to find home using signposts nobody else recognises

THE comedy show that the DUP made of replacing one leader with another is probably not going to seem quite so funny when the marching season gets in to full swing.

But then one thing loyalism has never excelled at is appearing humorous.

Tying up the swings in the playground so there’s no unholy playing on the Sabbath is not going to make people believe you are all about the good times.

Okay, I know loyalism and unionism are different things but for the sake of simplicity loyalism will do.

Loyalism. Just what can we make of loyalism?

Now it has always been easy to throw certain assumptions around about loyalism.

A political standpoint without any politics. A mere reaction against republicanism.

A fig leaf for naked sectarianism. Simple bigotry.

Ulster says no. And beyond no something that has a pretty limited vocabulary.

Unfortunately most of those assumptions have been fed by loyalism itself rather than the misguided beliefs of others.

In an age saturated with PR and image loyalism leaves itself bare.

We remember the old adage about the Troubles because it is true. Republicans went to jail and got degrees. Loyalists went to jail and got muscles.

Looking in from the outside, though, loyalism is a strange beast. It is full of contradictions.

For instance, what is the core tenet of loyalism? The Queen? The Royal Family? Westminster? Britishness?

After all, these are all things that it would make sense for someone of a certain identity to be loyal to.

I don’t sing or salute God Save the Queen but I don’t find it strange that a British person would.

I don’t fly the Union Jack. But it is not odd that a British person might.

The symbols loyalism clings to make sense if your core identity is British. So why then does Loyalism still seem so odd?

Take Boris Johnson, for instance.

Johnson is undoubtedly a man with an unrivalled lack of principle.

Johnson’s only loyalty is to himself and his own dull ambitions.

Don’t we all remember, after all, the unpleasant scenes of young DUP members whooping with joy around Johnson as he promised them his loyalty and don’t we all remember thinking, that won’t end well.

A vow, a promise, from Boris Johnson is like a glass hammer.

It’s only a matter of time before it breaks and sure enough the DUP watched as Johnson sold them out.

What is most telling from that is not the British Prime Minister’s character.

That is a matter of recorded fact.

This is a man willing to see a certain number of people die if he can open up the economy. If he can win Covid like he won Brexit.

What is most telling is that even the people who loyalists might believe they can most rely on, the Conservative and Unionist parties, have little time for them.

In all honesty loyalists know this.

Republicans long fretted that the British had some kind of strategic interest in the North. That they didn’t want to give up that portion of this island.

And perhaps in the dark days of the seventies and eighties that might well have been true.

It is not hard to believe that the British Army might have seen the advantage in young troops, unemployed lads from Sunderland and Preston, being bloodied in frontline combat.

That’s not really the case in 2021.

It seems fairly obvious that the British would love to offload the North. Even Brexit would be easier without it.

The sentimental and emotional attachment loyalists have to Britain does not go the other way. British people, both politicians and general society, have no gra for a place they know little of and visit even less.

British stag parties might go to Dublin or, maybe, Galway. They don’t go to Belfast.

Do loyalists know this, I wonder?

Deep down do they realise their love is unrequited?

They love, are loyal to a Britain that, if it ever did exist, certainly doesn’t exist now.

The undermining of their position is inherent in their position.

And it is those inherent contradictions that have led them towards the dead ends they so often march to.

They are a lost people trying to find their way home via signposts nobody else recognises.

So what can we make of loyalism. I don’t know.

The problem is I don’t think loyalists do either.


Joe Horgan’s book People That Don't Exist Are Citizens of A Made Up Country is available here.