Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Causes for Twelfth conflict still remain the same

Ardoyne's battle-scarred history suggests that, while flashpoints may differ, the underlying reason has not changed, writes Henry McDonald

History of violence: Trouble at Ardoyne shops last year

In the early-1980s, on the way to band practice in the attic of our guitarist's home in the lower Ormeau Road – of the post-punk/indie variety, rather than flutes, drums or accordions – there was a visible sign of the people who had fled.

Our lead guitarist lived in the final street before the Ormeau Bridge, which back then and still today is a de facto sectarian boundary between the Catholic lower and the (ever-decreasingly) Protestant upper part of the Ormeau Road.

Just before you came to his home was Artana Street, which, even in 1983, had the fading outline of a mural dedicated to King William of Orange on a gable wall.

The disappearing painting was a relic from the near-past; a reminder that this street was once mainly Protestant, but had since changed hands as the early Troubles brought about sectarian demographic shifts across Belfast.

The old King Billy mural came back to mind when thinking about another sectarian flashpoint more in the news these days than when the lower Ormeau was a focal point for communal grievances and territorial battles throughout the 1990s.

Ardoyne, or, more accurately, the shops along the Crumlin Road close to Twaddell Avenue, will today be the major testing-ground for moves to defuse marching season tensions.

It could be argued that this area has undergone the same demographic shifts that the Ormeau Road is still undergoing 40 years on and that this, in a sense, is why it has become one of the two main flashpoints on the Twelfth.

There is clear evidence of population-shift further up the Crumlin Road, with an expanding Catholic populace. Conversely, the loyalist presence contiguous to republican Ardoyne (or, as it was known to unionists, Upper Ardoyne) has sharply reduced over the last 20 years.

The small loyalist enclave of Torrens was virtually evacuated by its Protestant residents during the parade-linked battles of the post-ceasefire era.

Population-shifts within the Protestant/loyalist community in north Belfast also had an impact on community relations in Ardoyne in the first decade of this century.

One of the side-effects of the UVF/UDA feud, which Johnny Adair and his gang engineered in the summer of 2000, was the expulsion of supporters and families in the greater Shankill.

In the mid-Shankill, anyone suspected of links with Adair's so-called 'C company' was driven at gunpoint from their homes by the UVF.

Many of them were forced to relocate to the Glenbryn area in Upper Ardoyne, a maze of drab streets and run-down public houses north of Alliance Avenue.

According to Catholic residents on Ardoyne Road, their presence radicalised the local Glenbryn community and was the malignant driving force behind the blockade of Holy Cross primary school, which became an international news story and a major embarrassment for mainstream unionism and loyalism.

Catholic Ardoyne residents labelled the Adair-linked newcomers as "the new kids on the block", whom they blamed for starting the Holy Cross dispute – although local loyalists claim they were reacting to republicans allegedly "invading" their area before the controversy erupted.

However, recent population changes alone cannot explain why Ardoyne shops are such a neuralgic pressure-point during the marching season.

The territorial clash at this corner of north Belfast, where Ardoyne meets the greater Shankill, has been running for decades – arguably even centuries.

Further down the Crumlin Road, at the start of the Troubles, Hooker Street was synonymous with rioting and sectarian strife in 1969/70, as its Catholic residents defended themselves against loyalist incursions.

The older residents of Protestant Twaddel Avenue will recount years of having their homes bombarded with bricks, petrol bombs and other missiles from youths launching attacks out of Ardoyne.

The Ardoyne shops themselves were an often-favoured hunting ground for the UVF and UDA, with drive-by shootings, such as the 1989 killing of local man Paddy McKenna. Within minutes, one of the gunmen – UVF member Brian Robinson – was then gunned down by undercover Army intelligence officers further along the Crumlin Road on returning from the murder.

This potted history of a small section of history-tortured north Belfast suggests that, while the battlegrounds move around, the cause of the conflict remains the same.

This was the case with the parades disputes that turned Portadown into a war zone during the mid- to late-1990s.

Drumcree was not the first contentious parade in the Co Armagh town. Back in the 1980s, nationalist residents were penned into their homes in the Tunnel area, as the Orange Order paraded past.

A long-standing residents' campaign that preceded Sinn Fein's controlled involvement in marching disputes later resulted in a ban on the Tunnel march. This, in its turn, triggered loyalist riots and the death of local Protestant protester Keith White from a plastic bullet wound in the mid-1980s.

Even if, as the overwhelming majority of people in north Belfast and all over Northern Ireland hope, the parade past Ardoyne passes off relatively peace fully, the deep-rooted causes of territorial conflict remain.

Ardoyne today, maybe somewhere else (Glengormley, perhaps?) tomorrow.

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