Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Day of the Tartan - A New Ulster History

Ulster Tartan Gangs, Northern Ireland, Ulster Troubles, Gareth Mulvenna

Just a brief year-end flag-up to one of the most interesting books I have read on Irish history for quite some time that was published earlier in 2016.

Gareth Mulvenna's work on the loyalist Tartan gangs of the early Seventies is a genuinely revelatory study of both the development of the Northern Ireland conflict and the significant role that working class loyalist youth played in Belfast's urban disorder in the very early days. The book clearly emplaces the Tartan phenomena against wider British teenage culture of the period  -  by way of glam rock, Richard Allen's scary Skinhead pulp novels and football hooliganism etc - and the road to subsequent paramilitary involvement.

Since the qualified peace in Ulster took hold in the Nineties there has been nowhere near enough left-field material of this quality coming on board. This aside from research firewalled behind expensive academic press prints that by all rights and all commerical logic should be widely accessible. I am thinking of the extraordinary Black Magic and Bogeymen: Fear, Rumour and Popular Belief in Northern Ireland 1972-1974 by Richard Jenkins to that end in particular.  I read this slack-jawed at the British Library in acknowledgement of the fact that this fantastic book was going to have to be a very expensive Christmas present to myself.

One other recent study of paramilitary loyalism in this context is retailing for a mere 82 pounds sterling on every digital bookselling outlet. Even though Mulvenna's work references a full-scale firefight in my own granny's street in North Belfast in 1971 I would not have paid that much money to read about it.

Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries is complemented by Geoffrey Beattie's autobiographical We Are The People and Protestant Boy memoirs about my own childhood locale (1992 and 2004) and the fascinating posts on the Belfast Stories blog - both offer highly recommended insights into barely contained Irish civil war, class fractures in Protestant Ulster, the long violent outplay of the British in Ireland and now decimated Northern British industrial communities.

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