Violence over flags should be seen against background of real disadvantage
Opinion: Working class loyalist communities in Belfast have experienced no ‘peace dividend’
He told us of his involvement with an initiative addressing the issue of loyalist culture and identity and introduced us to two loyalist playwrights, Robert Niblock and William Mitchell, who were involved in setting up a theatre company, Etcetera, dedicated to putting on plays about the Protestant working class experience. Niblock’s very successful play Reason to Believe toured community halls to capacity audiences a few years ago.
Etcetera was launched in Belfast’s Linen Hall, where extracts from Robert Niblock’s new work in progress were read. Tartan is a critical look at the tartan gangs of the 1960s and ’70s and their evolution into loyalist paramilitary groups, of which both Robert and William were members.
At our suggestion the Woodvale group was expanded to include the two playwrights and other men from the Shankill area who we knew had an interest in exploring the arts. It is now called Creative Voices. We have run a couple of workshops and are hoping to put on or show some work soon.
One of the group, an ex-prisoner who conducts walking tours of the Shankill area, wants to make a film of a dream he had. The events in the dream are situated some time in the future. The dreamer saw two opposing groups approaching City Hall. They started to taunt each other and soon there were fights and police intervention and teargas. Uproar and mayhem ensued.
But then he heard a voice, a loud wailing sound coming from City Hall and there on top of the building was a muezzin calling his fellow Muslims to prayer. Belfast City Hall had been turned into a mosque. Dreary steeples becoming minarets?
In the course of our community work we have also become involved with the actor and playwright Michael Collins. Traveller Wagon Wheel Theatre Company is a vehicle through which Traveller culture, history and current issues are explored.
Collins’s work has led him to the conclusion that what sometimes passes for culture is in fact more a response to marginalisation. What is accepted as custom may not always be culture.
Likewise, as some brave loyalist men and women set out to explore their culture and identity, might they come to a somewhat similar conclusion: that their culture could be more than flag-waving and marching? That there may well be something that transcends the confines into which they have been forced by circumstance?
Patricia McCarthy and Mick Rafferty, acting as Partners in Catalyst, are experienced community workers who have been working in north Belfast with mainly loyalist communities, doing grass-roots peace-building work.