Loyalist bigotry did not arise just when the IRA came along
It was good of the UVF thugs of east Belfast to give me a cue with which to follow my column about nationalism last week (which, as it happens I had started before the unprovoked attack on the Short Strand).
For we should be clear about this: the culture of the Billy Boy tribal bigot predates the emergence of nationalism as a powerful force among the Catholic working classes of Belfast and Glasgow.
Paradoxically, the rabble-rousing leaders of these drunken louts have usually been teetotal clergymen, such as Roaring Hanna and Ian Paisley.
The compulsory Sunday closing of pubs was once a primary element of their identity — provided that their own drinking clubs were allowed to remain open.
Logic is never the strong point of any strongly-held tribal identity, but particularly so for these people, who have remained locked in a historical enigma wherein they are ‘British', although living in Ireland, and generally lawless, though they ‘loyally' support the Crown, and sober in their general political aspiration, though usually enough drunk at the time.
They have a church, too. In their illiterate and incoherent scheme of things, Calvary is probably a collective for horses and maybe Gethsemane is something mysterious that happens in a sperm-bank. No, their real religion is Rangers Football Club.
Glasgow Rangers is the sporting icon for loyalist bigots. The club's own words are irreproachably neutral.
It is law-abiding. It is patriotically British. Its outward message is of harmony and ecumenism. But to the large thug element amongst the Rangers fans, the key to their identity is almost like the Third Secret of Fatima. It is this: no Fenians here.
There is a congenial, indeed government-backed myth, in both Scotland and in Ireland, that ‘one side is bad as another’: that Sinn Fein/IRA are pretty much the same as the UDA/UVF.
This is simply untrue. There is no republican equivalent to the Romper Rooms of the UDA, wherein men were routinely beaten to a pulp by loyalist thugs and from which both the term and the practice became celebrated.
And then there was Lenny Murphy and his merry gang, the Shankill Butchers, who for years in the mid-1970s abducted, tortured and murdered Catholics — usually by cutting their victims' throats.
This culture did not emerge simply as a response to IRA violence.
It was there already. It was feckless, violent, drunken, lost, lumpen proletarians for whom a perverted tribal identity conjoined with a godlessly Calvinist sense of superiority, even as they stewed in their ghettoes of suffocating illiteracy and economic failure.
But they were, nonetheless, elevated by the insane delusion that they are the chosen people, who have been deprived of their birthright by some vast conspiracy between the Catholic Church and the British government.
This psychiatric condition affects almost an entire under-caste, thereby placing their minds and aspirations almost beyond ordinary analysis.
Last Sunday, it was 45 years since their hero, Gusty Spence, murdered the teenage barman Peter Ward and seriously wounded William Doyle in the Malvern Street shootings.
Thus the Troubles got under way. Nineteen years later, the Catholic barrister who had defended Spence at his trial — also called William Doyle — was shot dead by the IRA for the hideous crime of being a judge. And so it goes.
Now we know: these Troubles of ours haven't gone away, you know. And they're at it again in east Belfast, with a lost tribe of illiterate, paranoid barbarians wandering the bleak landscape of their own brutal imaginations, about no purpose that any one of them could possibly explain.
Except they probably know this is a period of rather enjoyable violence, before the much-loved Orange marches — plus riots, with luck — can begin.
And next comes Rangers' first match of the season, to be followed by a night of paralytic alcoholism and rounded off, no doubt, with a complete short-term memory lapse. (This is called ‘culture’, by the way.)
For once, let history be our guide. Our political classes must not be swayed by the violence of these cretins.