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293 13 Forget 1690, Remember the Somme Ulster Loyalist Battles in the Twenty-first Century DOM I N IC BR YA N The first two weeks in July in Northern Ireland are colorful.1 Two key commemorative days take place in the calendar of people who see themselves as British, loyalist, unionist, and Ulstermen. On July 1, the Battle of the Somme, 1916, is remembered through parades, church services, and wreathlaying ceremonies, and eleven days later, on July twelfth, the Battle of the Boyne, 1690, is remembered through more parades, bonfires, church services , and political speeches held at “the field,” the destination of the parades. This is the height of the “marching season,” with streets festooned with loyal flags and bunting; commemorative Orange arches straddling roads; murals of King Billy, victor over Catholic King James at the Boyne; and curbstones painted red, white, and blue. These are the days that have become iconic in how people imagine Ulster Protestants. Whether in literature or movies, in newspapers or on television news, if you want to depict the loyalists of Ulster, you show scenes from the July Twelfth fortnight. A picture of King Billy riding his white horse over the Boyne River can lead viewers to assume that they are looking at just one place: Northern Ireland. But in recent years something strange has happened. Walk up the “loyal” Shankill Road and there are no murals of King Billy to be found. While side 1. Some of the research in this paper was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK and by the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers Office of Northern Ireland. Thanks go to colleagues on this project, particularly Gordon Gillespie, Sean Connolly , Gillian McIntosh, and Clifford Stevenson. 294 Dominic Bryan streets and housing estates contain some, but not many, King Billy murals, none are to be seen on the loyalist Shore Road and York Road, and none in other loyalist areas such as the Newtownards Road, or the Albert Bridge Road, or the Donegall Road in the Village. On the Shankill Road in July 2007, although there were three Orange Standard flags (orange with a purple star, the flag of the Orange Order), the only representations of King Billy appeared on a number of banners attached to lampposts. In fact, of the fifty-four loyalist murals that are on the main roads in Belfast, there is now only one King Billy mural left: on Donegal Pass in south Belfast, and one head and shoulders picture on Sandy Row put up in 2012. Yet on Donegall Pass there are nine flags and two murals commemorating the Battle of the Somme. Indeed, a 2008 survey of main roads revealed that of fifty-four murals depicting loyalist imagery, eleven related directly to World War I, with ten of this group also displaying the symbols of the illegal loyalist paramilitary group the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force). We can also be more specific about the Somme and bannerettes on the Shankill: there are none between Agnes Street and the city center, the lower Shankill, an area known to be controlled by the other major loyalist paramilitary group, the UDA (Ulster Defence Association). Indeed, you will struggle to find a representation of the Battle of the Somme in Tigers Bay, on Sandy Row, or the Annandale flats development in south Belfast—all UDA rather than UVF areas. It becomes immediately clear that representations of the Somme and the Boyne are directly linked to particular political organizations and their perspective on the past. Jonathan McCormick and Neil Jarman, when looking at murals in Belfast , have pointed out how many murals are not maintained, are changed, or indeed disappear (2005). Like them, I am interested in the process by which murals change. When the display of the Twelfth fortnight in Ulster is closely examined, it reveals much less about the remembering of the Ulster Protestant people than we might think and much more about the marking and control of public space by a variety of cultural, political, and paramilitary groups. So who is really remembering the Boyne and the Somme? I look here at the use by Ulster loyalists and unionists of the Battle of the Somme as a contemporary way of politically positioning Ulster’s Protestants . Brian Graham and Peter Shirlow, as well as Kris Brown, have already Ulster Loyalist Battles 295 noted in some detail the development of commemoration of the Battle of the Somme with reference to the...


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