Obituary: Sammy Duddy
Belfast paramilitary and drag artist
Published 19/10/2007 | 08:54
Sammy Duddy was a colourful Belfast character who combined membership of one of the city's most lethal paramilitary groups with a career as "Samantha ", a highly suggestive drag act.
In the 1970s, he was by day a propagandist for the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the extreme Protestant group which was responsible for the killings of hundreds of Catholics. By night, however, he appeared on Belfast's limited but vibrant cabaret circuit, presenting a ribald act in loyalist pubs and clubs dressed in fishnet tights, wig and heavy make-up.
As well as appearing on stage, he also appeared in court, in 1990 serving almost a year in prison on remand before the authorities dropped a charge of possessing documents likely to be useful to terrorists. An unlikely loyalist terrorist, he was never, so far as is known, a frontline gunman or bomber. Despite his mild manner, his acceptance within this particularly butch organisation was helped by his street reputation for being handy with his fists.
He functioned in the 1970s as editor of the UDA's almost embarrassingly crude magazine, which never approached the sophistication of the material produced by republican organisations. For a time he served as one of the UDA's public relations officers. He was not seen as a leading figure within the UDA, but he was regarded as useful in a grouping which had few members with any literary bent. In 1983, he produced a volume of poetry, Concrete Whirlpools of the Mind.
He was a familiar figure at the UDA's east Belfast headquarters, working closely with the organisation's leaders when it was at the height of its activities and had a membership of many thousands. He was known as a jester within the UDA, with a ready fund of adult jokes.
He once said of his drag act:
I wore a miniskirt many a time, but it was usually a long dress, a straight black wig, a pair of falsies and loads of make-up to cover my freckles. The darker the mascara the better - and scarlet lipstick, because I was a scarlet woman.
The charge which put Duddy behind bars related to security force documents on republicans which were leaked to the UDA, and which the organisation attempted, with little success, to use to target IRA members. He later dropped out of sight but reappeared in recent years, becoming active both in the UDA and in loyalist community groups. He helped out in the organisation's faltering and so far unsuccessful efforts to develop a political wing along the lines of Sinn Fein.
In that role he became embroiled in a number of the violent feuds which have convulsed the UDA in recent years. Regarded as a moderate in UDA terms, he found himself on the opposite side of the argument to more extreme figures such as Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair. On one occasion, Duddy's home was attacked with a pipe bomb, while on another shots were fired into it. While he was uninjured, his pet chihuahua, Bambi, was hit by gunfire and died.
Sammy Duddy, political activist, drag artist and poet: born Belfast 1945; twice married; died Belfast 17 October 2007.