I was doing a bit of writing the other night and was listening to an interview I carried out with the late Billy Mitchell in June 2006. I only got to talk to Billy that one time as he sadly passed away the following month.Billy was the author of the seminal document ‘The Principles of Loyalism’. Written in 2002 it is essential reading for anyone wishing to gain an insight into the social, political and paramilitary loyalist thinking which emerged from within the UVF.
This is what I wrote (please bear in mind that this is only a draft and forms part of a substantial book chapter)…
Billy Mitchell was taken aback somewhat when asked the question ‘What is loyalism?’ His response highlighted both the class and community dynamics which he perceived to be at the core of loyalism and working class Protestant culture in Belfast: ‘What is loyalism?! For me it’s about…loyalty to the state…its working class unionism – that’s the way the media have defined it. Unionism is about civic unionism, loyalism is about the working class. Loyal to your community and the democratic wishes of your community…that’s basically it.’ When pushed further on what loyalist identity meant to him he stated,
‘Identity transcends the boxes, you know? For instance in cultural stuff I was brought up in an era where Irish culture had absolutely no problems for me – I would regard myself in that respect as an Irish unionist. I’ve no problems with Irish culture; I’ve problems with the provisionalisation of it. I have some affinity with spoken Ulster Scots but I have very little time for the politicisation of it. We grew up with the hamely tongue or the language of the hearth – it was bate out of us at school. My musical taste…I have no problem with Irish music whether its ‘diddly-dee’ music or traditional Scottish music. Basically if you’re talking about culture, my culture in music is blues! Blues, and strangely enough classics – the like of Katherine Jenkins. I have a problem with people talking about your cultural identity…I have problems with people trying to piegeonhole me; because I’m as comfortable playing the bodhran…as I am playing ‘The Sash’.’
Mitchell’s musings on his identity were telling. As a working class Protestant who had been heavily involved with the UVF and progressive loyalism one might assume that he would have been keen to speak at length about what loyalist identity meant to him and reinforce his political convictions. It was notable however that he used the opportunity provided to talk about loyalist identity to instead describe the layers of his own identity. Loyalism was a big part of Mitchell’s life, of that there can be no doubt. It was, however, only one part. The other interests he described were as normal to him as they might be to other working class Protestants. To what extent then does loyalism inform the Protestant working class in Belfast?
A biography of Billy Mitchell: http://www.longkeshinsideout.co.uk/?p=1358
The Principles of Loyalism: http://www.pupni.com/index.php/features/pup-history/principles-of-loyalism