Republican Flute Bands, Media Manipulation and Anti Sectarianism

Recent Republican Marches in Glasgow and the ‘Counter Protests’

In Govan, Glasgow, on the 30th August 2019 there was witnessed a splutter of so called ‘counter protest activism’ against a licensed and legitimate peaceful procession of Irish Unity marchers. A march which included the James Connolly Republican Flute Band, the first ever in Scotland, and who have been based in Govan since 1978.

In actuality, this so called counter protest is better described as being no more than a semi organised gang who were acting in the supposed interest of the loyalist community within Scotland. A community which champions ideas of religious supremacy, anti Catholic rhetoric and supports ultra conservative politics. This is in stark contrast to the Republican Flute Band community (RFBs) who are anti sectarian, care nothing for one’s religion generally and are anti imperialist in their political outlook.

This protest was neither a legitimate counter protest nor an organised piece of loyalist activism. It was a shambolic attempt at intimidation through the threat of violence by an unthinking battalion of wannabe loyalists who would sooner set ablaze wheelie bins than engage in enlightened debate regarding Irish republicanism.

Since then Glasgow has legitimately licensed two further Republican parades which both took place on the 7th September. The first of which commemorated the Scots who set sail from the Broomielaw to fight Franco’s fascism within Spain between 1936 – 1939.

Later that same day and held up by 75 minutes, again due to the presence of loyalist protesters, was the second Irish Republican march. These protesters would go on to weaponise fireworks against the legitimate Irish Republican marchers and eventually hospitalise a police officer in the process down at the Broomielaw.

This march had a presence of 600-800 Republican marchers comprised of men, women and children who marched from Blythswood Square to the Barras.

This march took over two hours to complete due to the efforts of police to stop the crowds of protesters by use of riot vans and several street closures. The march was eventually allowed to complete its journey to the tune of ‘Roll of Honour’ by both the James Connolly RFB and Wolfe Tone Craigneuk RFB as the march went north along Stockwell Street before heading eastward along the Trongate to the Barras. It finished at Barrowland Park (formerly known as Schipka Pass) where various Irish Republican groups and anti imperialist speakers made their stall before brief talks and lectures were given.

Media Manipulation?

These marches featured heavily in the national media where the narrative focussed on the troubles associated with the counter protester presence as well as the overall cost of the policing operation. 

The typical narratives from the Evening Times, STV News, Daily Record and the Scotsman consisted of the supposed ‘sectarian’ undercurrent to such marches with all of them deciding to not differentiate between the beliefs and aims of both Republican and Loyalist groups.

It would have been more appropriate for the media to speak of anti Irish racism as well as the ignorance of the Loyalist community and Scots community at large in misunderstanding the ideals and politicised aims of the RFB community in Scotland.

Instead, both of these very different groups were lumped together to help create a narrative of ‘false equivalency’ whereby neither group is more responsible nor illegitimate than the other. 

Put bluntly, the catch all phrase of ‘sectarianism’ was wheeled out and applied broadly whilst the myth that these groups represent ‘two cheeks of the same arse’ was again given oxygen.

Phrasings such as ‘sectarian factions clash’ were common among the mainstream media and served only to misrepresent the actual presence of RFB marchers and their ideals whilst parading on Glasgow streets.

This article will challenge the extent to which such a narrative is both outdated and outlandish whilst presenting a direct definition of what an RFB actually is and what it stands for.

The RFB and Anti-Sectarianism 

It can be strongly argued that the Scottish mainstream media serve only to conflate the issue of Irish Republicanism with religion and in doing so produce an inaccurate account of actual Irish Republican marching culture within Scotland.

This inaccurate reporting also offers the appropriate cover needed for obvious anti Irish racist elements which are commonly displayed within the Loyalist culture present in Scotland.

This needs to be interrogated.

Dissenters against this notion of false equivalency state that Scotland’s actual problem is in its failure to legitimately respect the presence of a politicised Irish cultural movement (i.e RFBs) whilst at the same time legitimising the presence of Loyalist flute bands and their very obvious anti Catholic affiliations which date back over 100 years within Scotland.

Simply put, it appears that Scotland is ok with its historical anti Irish racism and its legitimisation of Loyalist band culture and its obvious religious motivations but it is not ok with Scots who sympathise with issues of Irish Republicanism or its band culture, which is political, not religious.

Further, the idea that RFB’s in Scotland are motivated by religious bigotry or racism is, without doubt, a gross misinterpretation of the truth. In actuality, one of the foundation stones of an RFB is that it is, by constitution, anti sectarian. 

Indeed the cause of Irish Republicanism can be traced to Irishmen born of Protestant faith such as Theobald Wolfe Tone and James Napper Tandy, two prominent figures of the United Irishmen movement in the 18thC who were executed by the British Crown for their part in the attempted republican revolution of 1798. It should also be noted that this republican revolution included both Catholic and Protestant factions operating side by side for the greater aim of a republican nation.

The clandestine United Irishmen movement, which would be used as a blueprint for the similarly republican focussed United Scotsmen movement, did not discriminate based on one’s religion. Religious affiliation and sectarianism were scorned by these groups in the greater interest of a nationalist and republican identity.

Further, Scotland’s first RFB, the James Connolly (1976), is named after the Scottish born marxist-socialist who died an Irish revolutionary for his part in the Easter Rising (1916). Connolly, once of the British Army which he quickly came to hate, would eventually abandon the notion of organised religion altogether as many marxists do.

The James Connolly RFB, in their own words, firmly state that they have always been an open organisation where the only real qualification for ones entry be that they believe in an end to British imperialist rule within Ireland. There can be enlightened debate and disagreement over the tactics employed in the achievement of such an aim, but agreement on the final goal is where the common bond lies within the RFB community of Scotland.

The Govan Shamrock RFB, founded in 1981, echoed this view and continue to do so under their current name of Vol. Martin ‘Doco’ Doherty RFB. A contemporary band member confirmed that during the 1990’s one of the band leaders was himself a Scottish protestant. Quite simply, in respect to RFB culture within Scotland, no one cares what religion the band member is as it is a politicised and not a religious movement.

All of this thus renders the term sectarianism as a reliable term to describe RFB culture within Scotland as both incorrect and pernicious.

To both the members and followers of the RFBs within Scotland this is hardly headline making news. The notion that the RFB movement is completely anti sectarian has been a well documented fact for many years within the community. 

However, to those who are unaware of the composition or the cause of the RFB movement and its culture this often comes as a surprise. This is due, largely, to the lazy journalism of the Scottish mainstream media.

Loyalism, Orangeism and Sectarianism 

However, the same cannot be said for marching bands belonging to the ‘Loyalist’ cause as they are, by their very nature, motivated in part by religious affiliation or supremacy.

December, 2018 - Glasgow City Centre
December, 2018 – Glasgow City Centre

The fact that they are so closely linked to the Orange Order, a movement which preaches still for an end to Catholic schools within Scotland and who have been accused of religious supremacy, galvanises this argument. Indeed, in Govan on the 30th August, it was outside St. Anthony’s RC chapel on Govan Road that the Loyalist minded ‘protesters’ decided to create their largest affray. Conspicuous more than coincidental in the opinion of many.

Within the historical context, the marching bands of a loyalist persuasion have been known to exhibit anti Catholic hatred much like the marchers of the Orange Order. For example, in Partick in 1898 the Netherton Quarry Thistle Flute Band, 

‘…deliberately created a disturbance after having been warned by the police not to march through the Catholic district (Bridge St, Partick).’

21/07/1898 – The Glasgow Herald, pg. 3

Throughout the West of Scotland, typically Glasgow, Ayrshire and Paisley, there exist numerous historic newspaper reports which document ‘Orange disturbances’ whereby the nature of the music being played would consistently feature two tunes which are obvious in their anti Catholic appeal. Namely, ‘Kick the Pope’ and ‘Boyne Water’

Similarly, in the east end of Glasgow in 1879, a Mr. William John Reid of Bridgeton was charged of serious assault on James Logan, a Catholic, as he innocently stood outside St. Mary’s RC chapel at the corner of what was then Rose St (now Forbes) and Abercromby Street. The Glasgow Herald reported that, 

‘Reid, along with other members of the Orange band…set out with the intention of meeting members of the opposition band.’

17/09/1879 – The Glasgow Herald, pg. 3

James Logan was a member of no ‘opposition band’ and was rushed to the infirmary on the advice of Dr. Carran due to the severity of the anti Catholic attack which concluded in him being knocked to the ground by the heavily buckled leather belt of Reid. 

This would not be the last time that a Catholic belonging to a parish within the Calton/Barras area would be attacked for his faith by an anti Catholic bigot who is associated with an Orange or Loyalist marching procession, as Canon Tom White has testified to.

A month previous to the attack outside St. Mary’s in 1879, the same newspaper reported that Robert Neil and William Glasgow of the Bridgeton ‘True Blues’ band shouted

‘Papist bastard!’,

to a Savoy St woman who asked them to be quiet as they were causing a disturbance as the nearby Orange walk had come to an end.

Lastly

It appears almost impossible to separate religion and ideas of supremacy from the cultural DNA of both Loyalist and Orange marching tradition within Scotland. 

This is in complete and utter contrast to the cultural DNA of the RFB movement which, as stated previously, is motivated by political ideology rather than religious affiliation.

The RFBs are a politicised subculture and community of predominantly working class men and women who have mass mobilised through recent decades to express solidarity with global anti imperialism and pro Irish Republican ideals. Incidentally, they also have a reputation for weeding out and shaming any would be sectarianist within their ranks.

Yet Scotland’s media in the contemporary context, fails to distinguish between the two as they continue to perpetuate the ‘sectarian factions’ and ‘false equivalency’ narrative. This could be through ignorance, agenda or sheer journalistic incompetence.

Whatever the reason, they are culpable in allowing for the invisibility of anti Catholic/Irish racism from the Loyalist and Orange community of Scotland to persist within a 21stC Scotland – a Scotland which is, supposedly, progressive and friendly to multiculturalism and religious diversity.

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