Update

As it’s been a full year since I have added anything to the site, I thought it would be a good idea to give an update on what I have been doing in the intervening period (and perhaps let visitors know that the site isn’t dead).

Given that it started as nothing more than a hobby, the site has been more successful than I could ever have imagined – taking into account the niche subject matter – accumulating almost 100,000 hits, a modest amount of notice, and most importantly leading to numerous contacts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, some of whom have become good friends.

Websites, and blogs in particular, are regarded by many as being an unreliable source of information, often with good reason, and I’ve always hoped that the research and material I’ve produced here could be collected in a less ephemeral and deprecated format. With that in mind, last year I drafted a proposal for a book which would focus on the “military” aspects of the loyalist paramilitaries: their gunrunning, bombing campaigns, structure, modus operandi, etc. Although nothing has been set in stone as yet, there is interest in the book, and late last year I began carrying out interviews. Progress has been slower than I would’ve liked due to a shortage of funds (warning for other would-be amateur historians: this isn’t something that can be done on pocket money) but has recently picked up.

The ongoing wrangle over the Boston College tapes, and any convictions that might result as a consequence, has undoubtedly poisoned the water to one extent or another for those researching paramilitaries. For my own part I have decided to restrict conversations solely to activities interviewees have been convicted of. Indeed, it would not be possible to do otherwise. Even so, these conversations have been valuable and frequently compelling. Possibly the most memorable interview so far was with the late Sam “Pinky” Austin, who agreed to meet me at his home for an interview facilitated by a mutual friend. A former OC of the Long Bar team, a one-time member of UVF Brigade Staff, and one of the organisation’s original bomb-makers (or “ATOs” as it refers to its explosives experts), it is safe to say that Austin was regarded as something of a legend within the organisation. It was a unique and fascinating opportunity, one which I would very much have liked to have repeated, had it not been for his death just a few weeks later.

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Photo credit: Greater Shankill ACT

So, headway is slowly being made. One chapter is done and the next is in progress. At this point any material I gather will be destined for the book, but I will attempt to post small pieces, on subjects outside its scope, to the website if possible. It’s impossible to put a time-scale on how long the research will take and when any book might appear, suffice to say: I’m working on it.

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2 comments

    • balaclavastreet

      Strong on Billy Mitchell, the UVF in East Antrim and North Belfast – lots of interesting snippets on Mitchell, obviously based on good access to his personal archive. Would have liked more on the 70s activities of the UVF as that’s my main area of interest.

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