Flute band named after William King, an early Protestant victim of the Troubles

‘All the rioting was going on, and then suddenly someone you knew was in the middle of it. And then suddenly they were dead’

Members of the William King Memorial Flute Band  at the graveside in Derry of William King, who died  on September 25th, 1969, hours after being attacked by rioters from the Bogside

Members of the William King Memorial Flute Band at the graveside in Derry of William King, who died on September 25th, 1969, hours after being attacked by rioters from the Bogside

 

In a Derry cemetery 10 men gather. Each is dressed in his band uniform – black trousers with maroon piping and white shirts bearing the crest of the William King Memorial Flute Band.

Two of them take out their flutes and play a hymn. The others stand, hand clasped and heads slightly bowed, in front of the grave of William King.

A 49-year-old factory worker from the Protestant Fountain estate, he died from a heart attack on September 25th, 1969, hours after being attacked by rioters from the Bogside. In Lost Lives he is listed as the 15th victim of the North’s Troubles.

“It was horrific,” remembers Trevor Mitchell. “All the rioting was going on, and then suddenly someone you knew was in the middle of it, and then suddenly they were dead.”

The British army had arrived in Northern Ireland the previous month, sent in after rioters in the Bogside fought the RUC to exhaustion.

Another band member, John Rankin, was 13; he was unable to get to school the next morning because of the barricades which had been erected around the area.

“There was the fear that they would come into the area and kill more people. The older people stayed up all night manning the barricades.”

Mitchell, who was 15 and had just left school, remembers it as a turning point.

“It was such a shock. He was just a working man, and that happened to him. That was the start of it, so it felt only right when we were starting the band that we should name it after William King.”

Fifty years on, Derek Moore is the last of the founder members who still plays the flute in the band. Only 10 years old when King died, he admits that he was “only a name to me”.

“As the significance of the band grew,” he says, “people always asked about it because they thought it was King William backwards. So we would tell the story of how his son was coming home from the Tech [technical college] and there was bother in the town so he went across and there was fighting, mobs on the street, and he died.

“It was the first death here, and it probably did focus minds in that people did start to think, is it safe here?”

Mixed areas

In the early 1970s the Protestant population on the west bank of Derry’s river Foyle virtually collapsed. As the Troubles intensified, thousands flowed out of previously mixed areas to the predominantly Protestant east bank, which was regarded as safer.

“It was a time of displacement and people were kind of getting ghettoised,” says Moore. “We rarely went outside the Fountain because there was always bother in the city centre.

“The thing about the band was it gave us something to do. For a lot of people who had moved out ... the band was the focus for young people and gave them a sense of purpose and then a sense of community. The band gave people in the area an identity.”

Sitting in the shadow of Derry’s walls and the Church of Ireland St Columb’s Cathedral, today the Fountain is the last remaining Protestant area in the overwhelmingly Catholic west bank of the Foyle.

August 12th is the biggest date in Derry’s parade calendar. The Apprentice Boys of Derry – a loyal order similar to the Orange Order – march through the city to commemorate the relief of the besieged city in 1689. They are accompanied by bands including the William King.

This year there was controversy and anger after another band marched wearing a Parachute Regiment emblem and the letter F on their shirt sleeves – a reference to Soldier F, a former member of the British army’s Parachute Regiment who is accused of committing murder and attempted murder in the city on Bloody Sunday in 1972.

“Parades are not there for people like us to make individual statements,” says Moore. “For me, personally, that wasn’t the place to do it. It’s not what the parade is about.

“The Apprentice Boys should look at it fairly strongly and they should address it, and we are in the process of helping with that.”

Stand by them

What he found most difficult about the episode was that he felt nationalists in the city did not stand by them.

“One of the biggest bothers for me was the lack of nationalists pointing out that these people [from the Clyde Valley band] were not from the city, whereas we have had seven, eight years of really good [cross-community] work in this city.”

The William King flute band is known and respected not just in Derry but across Ireland. It has won awards, and has taken part in the All-Ireland fleadh and the Pan-Celtic Festival. This year it performed at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Moville, Co Donegal.

“There’s only one thing that can destroy Protestant culture and that’s Protestants themselves,” says Moore. “The notion of being second-class citizens and under siege, I don’t buy that at all. We’re equal citizens in this city, and we have as much right to speak as anyone else, and we should be expressing that.

“I play in, as far as I’m concerned, the best band in the country, one of the most musical bands in the country, and the most expressive. And one that has done a huge amount of good for the young people coming through it.”