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Ulster loyalism is a militant unionist ideology held mostly by Protestants in Northern Irelandmarker.Alan F. Parkinson(1998), Ulster loyalism and the British media, University of Michigan Press, ISBN 1851823670 Some individuals claim that Ulster loyalists are working-class unionists willing to use violence in order to achieve their aims. However, others, such as Garrett Fitzgerald, argue that loyalism is simply "loyalty to Ulster not to the Union with Britain and it is mis-described as unionism."

Unionists support the continuation of Northern Ireland's status as a constituent country of the United Kingdom and oppose any joining with the Republic of Irelandmarker in a united Ireland. However, whilst loyalist groups seek to maintain Northern Ireland's position within the UK they are not defined by this aim and some, such as the Ulster Defence Association, have openly supported the idea of Ulster independence. Unionists also believe in achieving their aims through purely constitutional means, but are willing to use violence to defend the constitutional process. However loyalists support the use of militant methods as the primary means to reject amalgamation with the Republic of Ireland. Consequently, anti-Unionists and anti-Loyalists frequently use the term loyalist to describe illegal paramilitary organisations.

Upon the partition of Ireland in 1921, six of the nine counties in the province of Ulster were excluded the independent Irish Free State (later the Republic of Irelandmarker). These counties, four out of the six having Protestant majorities , remained a part of the United Kingdom. Two other Ulster counties also remained part of the UK, despite having nationalist (pro-independence) majorities . Both unionist and nationalist communities have allowed or encouraged sectarianism among Protestants (associated with unionism) and Roman Catholics (associated with nationalism) to further political aims .

The difference of opinion between Northern Ireland's Nationalist Catholic population (which mostly supports leaving the UK in favour of uniting with the Republic of Ireland) and its Protestant Unionist population (which mainly supports remaining as part of the United Kingdom) has led to a long-running bloody conflict known as The Troubles. However, the majority of people who live in the region do not support paramilitaries of any ideology .

Political parties

In Great Britain, a small number of right-wing parties have expressed support for loyalist paramilitaries, and loyalism in general. This includes the British National Front (who registered to stand in Northern Ireland) and the British People's Party (who formed a Northern Ireland branch called the "Ulster British People's Party").

Bigger parties like the Ulster Unionists (UUP) or Democratic Unionists (DUP) have actively sought to distance themselves from loyalist paramilitary activity. However, Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist Party have been involved with Ulster Resistance and worked alongside loyalist paramilitarys such as the UDA in the 1974 Ulster Workers' Council Strikes and the 1977 Loyalist Association of Workers strike.


Paramilitary groups

A UVF mural in Carrickfergus
A UDA mural in Belfast
Name Initials Operational
Loyalist Volunteer Force LVF 1997–2005
Orange Volunteers OV 1998–
Red Hand Defenders RHD 1998–
Ulster Defence Association
Ulster Freedom Fighters
Ulster Young Militants



Ulster Protestant Action UPA 1956–1966
Ulster Protestant Volunteers UPV 1966–1969
Ulster Resistance UR 1986–
Ulster Volunteer Force
Red Hand Commandos
Young Citizen Volunteers



Umbrella groups

  • Protestant Action Force (PAF) – used by the UVF
  • Protestant Action Group (PAG) – used by the UVF
  • Loyalist Retaliation and Defence Group (LRDG) – used by the UVF

Other organisations


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