Trevor Ringland is wrong about loyalists

A flag is unveiled by the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. From left Jim Wilson, Winston Irvine, David Campbell, Jackie McDonald. 
Picture By: Pacemaker Press.
A flag is unveiled by the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. From left Jim Wilson, Winston Irvine, David Campbell, Jackie McDonald. Picture By: Pacemaker Press.

Trevor Ringland does an injustice to Loyalists and the soldiers of the 36th (Ulster) Division in his letter (May 23).

In the late 1980s I had the privilege of managing the Farset Somme Project on the Springfield Road in West Belfast. We employed both loyalists and republicans on a cross-community initiative to research and promote the Irish contribution to the Great War.

Needless to say those from a loyalist background were immensely proud of the memory of their relatives who served in the Ulster Division and rightly so, because much of the rest of society in Northern Ireland had forgotten them.

It might interest Trevor to know that the few dozen surviving veterans of the Ulster Division were regularly visited and their memories recorded by young loyalists.

The first ever computer database of the Irish fatalities of the Great War was constructed by a loyalist life-sentence prisoner whom we employed as part of his resettlement into society. He learned computer programming (then an early science) whilst in the Maze prison.

Perhaps more importantly, it was the lobbying from the loyalist community which ensured the restoration and rededication of our national war memorial – The Ulster Tower at Thiepval, after it lay neglected and forgotten by ‘middle Ulster’ for twenty years or so.

This work led to my founding of The Somme Association in 1990 and the construction of the Somme Heritage Centre at Conlig, the building of a Visitor Centre and the purchase of Thiepval Wood in France, and the purchase and saving of Craigavon House in Belfast.

None of this would have occurred without the support and encouragement of the broad loyalist community and it has also forced nationalists and the Republic of Ireland to recognise the important role their soldiers played in the Great War.

The Loyalist Communities Council unveiled its Somme Centenary Flag as a positive alternative to the flying of paramilitary flags. This has been broadly welcomed.

Just because someone has a paramilitary past does not remove their entitlement to remember their relatives who served and died with the Ulster Division. They have every right to proudly remember just as I remember my own great-Uncle who rests on the Western Front.

I have known Trevor for many years and work alongside him on the Board of Co-operation Ireland.

I have long respected his views but his letter is astonishing and plain wrong!

David Campbell, Chairman - Loyalist Communities Council, Founding Trustee of The Somme Association