Loyalists get it right in left red hand debate

Loyalist Communities Council member David Campbell (left) at the launch of the flag with Jim Wilson, Jackie McDonald and Winston Irvine

Loyalist Communities Council member David Campbell (left) at the launch of the flag with Jim Wilson, Jackie McDonald and Winston Irvine

The head of a World War One history organisation has declared that a loyalist group was entirely right to have used a left-handed version of the red hand of Ulster on a commemorative flag.

The director of the Somme Association confirmed that this was indeed the symbol of the 36th Ulster Division, following discussion in the media about whether the Loyalist Communities Council had incorrectly used it as the central emblem on a new flag.

Symbol of the 36th Ulster Division, taken from the Somme Association website

Symbol of the 36th Ulster Division, taken from the Somme Association website

The flag was launched last month, with the intention that it will be displayed on the Province’s streets as a more acceptable alternative to paramilitary symbols.

It had been unveiled by Jackie McDonald of the UDA-linked UPRG, Winston Irvine of the UVF-linked PUP, and Jim Wilson, who has described himself as a former Red Hand Commando internee.

This is contrary to the right hand which appears on the Ulster Banner; the commonly used flag of Northern Ireland, which features a crown above the red hand.

The provincial flag of Ulster (the yellow flag with a red cross and red hand in a white shield) likewise uses a right hand as standard.

A plaque dedicated to the division at the Ulster Memorial Tower at the Somme uses a right-hand symbol, too.

The question of whether the left or right-handed version is correct formed the basis of an article in the Irish News, and also formed part of Friday’s BBC Talkback show.

Somme Association director Carol Walker told the News Letter: “The Ulster Division hand was a left hand, different to the red hand that’s on the Northern Ireland flag or the Ulster flag as we know it today.

“The flag that they [the Loyalist Communities Council] have produced, they have looked into it, they consulted, and it is correct.”

She said the red hand has been a symbol of Ulster since before the Battle of the Boyne.

Asked why the famous emblem appears in different forms on different flags, she said: “We can’t seem to find any definitive reason.”

The right variety was more common at the time of World War One, and she said the division may have chosen the left hand “maybe just to make themselves a little different”.

Winston Irvine said their flag had been produced with the help of a donation from a benefactor.

He would not name the individual or say how much they gave.

He said: “The usage of both left and right hand of the red hand of Ulster is actually accurate, depending on its context.”

Trevor Ringland, a member of the NI Conservatives, had used the letters pages of the News Letter to accuse loyalist paramilitaries with “demeaning the memory of soldiers” after the Loyalist Communities Council initiative was launched.

He wrote: “There should be wariness about loyalist paramilitaries attempting to take a leading role in commemorating the Somme, either through erecting flags or other initiatives.

“Many of those who died during the battle came from working-class areas of Ulster, but that’s where any similarity with modern paramilitary groups ends.”