Loyalist band numbers at new high

Northern Ireland has more loyalist bands now than ever before.
Northern Ireland has more loyalist bands now than ever before.

Northern Ireland has more loyalist bands now than ever before.

The organisations include almost 30,000 members and represent a growing movement, a campaigner said.

A report has found young band members believe they have been demonised by a combination of negative headlines and a lack of understanding from nationalists.

Quincey Dougan, a marching band activist, said: “This body is not going away anywhere soon. Like all aspects of our society that have controversial elements, it is incumbent on us all to make efforts to educate and understand as opposed to give uninformed blanket condemnation.

“For the detractors of bands - it is not enough just to ask for explanation. You have to listen.”

There are at least 640 bands in Northern Ireland, an all-time high. Although the vast majority of parades, typically alongside loyal orders, are peaceful, some have ignited controversy.

Members of the Young Conway Volunteers were filmed playing a contentious song and marching in a circle at St Patrick’s Catholic Church on Donegall Street in Belfast on 12 July last year.

But Mr Dougan blamed the media for associating bandsmen with paramilitarism, sectarianism and violence.

“In truth bands are about expressing identity, about celebrating heritage,” he said.

“They educate their members and instill discipline. They perform a role uniting small communities, providing entertainment, opportunities to socialise, and most of all give something to motivate and to be proud of.”

Mr Dougan contributed a foreword to a 36-page report by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum - Sons of Ulster - which aimed to inform the public about a culture which has become “marginalised”.

It highlighted negative stereotyping but found young people regarded bands as a useful way to reduce the level of anti-social behaviour and improve confidence and communication skills. Members met friends, saw new places and developed new skills, the research added.

One young person said: “I play in a football team and we have never been able and never will develop the sense of team that exists within the band ... it also provides you with a sense of responsibility, self-discipline and pride.”

Mr Dougan said for two centuries the Protestant, unionist and loyalist people of Ireland had expressed themselves musically through the marching band, a legacy of that community’s historical ties and connections with the British military.

“In fact, its foundation in Ireland and its continual development here arguably gives it the right to call itself Irish traditional music, more so than any other musical genre,” he added.

The report will be formally launched at Stormont on Monday night and will include a band performance.