Chapter One Under Siege John Beresford Ash's family is one of the four oldest Protestant families in Northern Ireland. The ancestral home is Ashbrook, a graceful house of grey stone nestling in rhododendron-covered grounds between the River Faughan and the foothills of the western Sperrin mountains just outside Londonderry. John was educated at Eton from 1951-6, as were his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, and does not look or sound like most people's idea of a Northern Ireland Protestant. The family has lived at Ashbrook for over 400 years and has played a historic role down those turbulent centuries. For the past three decades, violence has been on John's doorstep since he lives only a few miles outside the city of Londonderry, or Derry as nationalists call it, where the Troubles began in 1968 when the civil rights movement first erupted into violence. In that time, John has watched the number of his fellow Protestants in the city decline as they fled what they saw as the tide of Irish nationalism sweeping Catholic families into traditionally Protestant areas. Loyalists have seen the pattern repeated all over the province in what they regard as a nationalist take-over of Ulster. The notion of siege is burned deep in the Protestant psyche. John and his family have not been immune from the Troubles, which is not surprising given who they are and where they live. John himself has faced death at least twice. The first occasion was in the early years of the Troubles, when the violence in Derry was at its height and the IRA had set up the `no-go' area of what it called `Free Derry' in the nationalist Bogside and Creggan estates. These areas which had also sprung up in Belfast were so called because they had become IRA strongholds and were `no-go' to the police and army. In Derry, the area was sealed off by barricades and patrolled by masked IRA men with guns, many of them under the direction of the young Martin McGuinness, who was then commander of the Provisional IRA's Derry Brigade. Late one December night in 1972, John found himself in `Free Derry'. His unscheduled visit was prompted not by curiosity but necessity. `I'd just listened to the ten o'clock news and I looked at my packet of cigarettes and saw to my horror that it was empty,' he told me. `I was a fifty-a-day man in those days and I thought, "Help! What am I going to do?" All the cigarette machines were being blown up or robbed, the pubs used to close at ten and there were no hotels or cafés. I was simply dying for a "gasper" so I had to go out and search for any place that was open.' Without realizing what he was doing or thinking of the danger involved, John wandered into the Bogside in his desperate quest and suddenly found himself confronted in the pitch dark by a barricade and masked men. Faced with John Ash's military bearing and Eton accent, the IRA not unreasonably thought they had captured a British army spy. He was taken out of the car and escorted through the narrow streets to a house in the Creggan estate which stands above the Bogside. There he says he was confronted by the Brigade Staff of the Provisional IRA. `It was classic. A bare room with one armchair and the inevitable naked light bulb. I was made to sit in it with two men on either side holding submachine-guns to my head. Then the Brigade Staff trooped in, all masked bar one. It was all rather unnerving. They started the interrogation by asking my name, rank and number but as I didn't have one I couldn't tell them anything. It was an extraordinary situation. Here was I, a citizen of the United Kingdom, being held illegally in part of the United Kingdom that wasn't under the control of the UK armed forces. It was totally unreal.' John told his interrogators who he was and what he was doing, that he was searching for cigarettes and not intelligence on the IRA. They probably thought it an unlikely story, but established it was true once they checked with the local Catholic population. They said his family had always been `decent with their people'. `I wouldn't say I was treated with kindness but there was a certain amount of courtesy and there was certainly no physical violence at all.' The IRA admitted they had made a mistake and told him he could go. John returned to Ashbrook a relieved man -- but without his cigarettes. As the IRA had been told, their captive was well regarded by his Catholic neighbours, some of whom he employed on his modest estate. Down the centuries, the family had never been absentee landlords who had left it to others to exploit their land and the people who worked it, and as a result they had remained largely untouched since Ashbrook first became the family home at the end of the sixteenth century. Ashbrook was originally a gift from Queen Elizabeth I to John Beresford Ash's ancestor, General Thomas Ash, in grateful recognition of the services he had rendered to the Crown in helping put down rebellion in Ireland. When the General first came to Derry in the late 1590s, he was a stranger in the hostile land then known as Ulster, the most northern of the four ancient provinces of Ireland -- Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster. The precise year he arrived is unknown as John's family records were destroyed in 1922 when the Four Courts in Dublin, which housed the Public Record Office, were burned during the civil war that followed partition. General Ash had soldiered in Ireland in the wars at the end of the sixteenth century when Queen Elizabeth was confronted by a rebellion led by the O'Neills and the O'Donnells, the powerful Gaelic chieftains who wished to maintain their independence and resisted the Crown's attempt to bring them and their tribes under central Tudor control. Her Majesty gave the warlords the choice: surrender peacefully to the new order in which their lands would be confiscated and then regranted, or fight. The earls chose the latter course and war ensued, in which the rebels were seen as sixteenth-century `terrorists'. But Elizabeth's war with the Irish rebels had a wider European dimension -- as had most of Ireland's wars -- because Protestant England's Catholic enemy, Spain, still smarting from the loss of her great Armada, was the insurgents' ally. England's abiding fear, which persisted down the centuries and through the First and Second World Wars, was that Ireland would be used as a base for a back-door attack by England's European enemies, be they Spanish, French or German. That is why the cardinal principle of British Government policy was to keep Ireland loyal and secure. General Thomas Ash served with honour in the war and Ashbrook was his reward. The rebel leaders admitted defeat and fled to the Continent, leaving behind their lands that became the Crown's spoils of victory. The ground was now laid for what became known as the `plantation' of Ulster under Elizabeth's successor, James I, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in which thousands of English and Scottish Protestants, many of them Presbyterians from the Scottish lowlands, flocked across the Irish Sea to make new lives for themselves in a new, albeit inhospitable, land. Most of the Protestants of Northern Ireland today trace their ancestry back to that original plantation and others that followed in the decades to come. From the beginning, the settlers felt under siege from the dispossessed native Catholic population whose lands they now occupied. Ashbrook was not just a gift to the General but a defence for the new settlers. `The General was a professional soldier,' John told me. `He'd been sent over to pacify and colonize this part of Northern Ireland. I imagine the local population resented these intruders coming from a foreign country and the settlers needed a certain amount of protection. Thomas Ash was the fellow who provided it. It was essential from England's point of view to virtually own the place.' The ruins of the old `bawn', the fortified enclosure that all landowners were legally obliged to construct, are still visible today in the kitchen and deep cellars at Ashbrook. The area around Derry, the city's original name taken from the Gaelic word `Doire' meaning `place of the oaks', was especially rich and potentially profitable with fertile soil, rivers teeming with fish and forests thick with the oak trees that were in great demand for building ships. General Ash, an entrepreneur as well as a soldier, cut down thousands -- and unpatriotically sold them to the Spanish. Derry became a natural magnet not only for the settlers but for the merchant companies of the City of London who saw its mouthwatering commercial opportunities. `The plantation was a successful effort by the British to exploit the natural resources of this part of Ireland and a natural opportunity to make money,' say John. `It was started by the "Young Turks" -- the merchant adventurers. I suppose one would have said, as with the Wild West, "Go West, young man!" There were fortunes to be made and that's how Northern Ireland was colonized. The settlers had this thing called the Protestant work ethic and they made the thing a great success.' Soon, three-quarters of the inhabitants of the newly settled parts of Ulster were Protestants with no previous ties, interest or connection with the original inhabitants of the land they now worked. Another ancestor, Sir Tristram Beresford, from whom John takes the Beresford part of the family name, became the first land agent for the London merchant companies, looking after administration as their interests as well as providing protection for the new settlers. In 1613, when the Royal Charter was granted enabling the merchant adventurers to colonize Ulster, the name of the city was changed to Londonderry. John thought it was to make the settlers feel at home. `I think it was to give some encouragement to the people working here because rather naturally they found it rather unpleasant. They were constantly being attacked and never being paid. It was a sort of bribe to make them think that they were doing something for their own home town.' A contemporary account of the plantation records that revolt was inevitable as the dispossessed Catholics withdrew to the woods from where they became the scourge of the settlers `upon whom they descended when the occasion offered to plunder and assault'. In 1641, the 22,000 Protestants of the now well-established colony saw their enduring nightmare come true as embittered Catholics attacked the settlers. The rising was part of a wider rebellion by Catholics throughout the country who had seen the new Puritan parliament in England pass a decree suppressing the Catholic religion in Ireland. The Great Rebellion, as it became known, marked the beginning of the English civil war, which claimed the lives of about one-third of the native Irish Catholic population during the eleven years in which it raged on both sides of the Irish Sea. What began as a political uprising by Irish and English Catholics throughout Ireland -- the English had settled in the other three ancient provinces long before the plantation -- descended into an orgy of sectarian killing in Ulster where 4,000 settlers were murdered in Portadown. Catholics were massacred by Protestants in reprisal. The events of 1641 reinforced the idea in the mind of every settler and his family that they were defenders of their faith in an alien country besieged by hostile natives who would shrink from no atrocity to retrieve their lands. Fifty years later, in Derry, the siege became real. To defend the Londonderry plantation and their commercial interests, the merchant companies had fortified the city with huge walls designed to keep even the most determined enemy at bay. In 1689 they served their purpose dramatically during an epic siege of the city by the army of the Catholic King James II during the war for the English throne. Ireland was caught up in the wider European power struggle in which Catholic France and Protestant Holland were the superpowers and deadly rivals of the time. Fearing that England was becoming a Catholic satellite of King Louis XIV of France, the Dutch Prince William of Orange invaded England, chased King James from the throne, became King William III and proclaimed the `Glorious Revolution' of 1688 in which the Protestant faith and succession were assured. In panic, James fled to France and then with his French allies came to Ireland to attack England from the rear -- which is how his Jacobite army (the word for the supporters of King James's Stuart dynasty) came to be laying siege to Derry. The city which had a peacetime population of around 2,000 was swollen to an estimated 30,000 as families from the surrounding countryside sought refuge within its walls from the advancing army of King James. `My family was living at Ashbrook,' John recalls, `and there was obviously no security at all in a private house. You had to have a full-scale castle to survive those sort of troubles. So they did what everybody else did, they went inside the walled city and rode out the siege as best they could.' The siege began on 7 December 1688, when thirteen young Protestant Apprentice Boys closed the gates in the face of the enemy after the Governor of Derry, Colonel Robert Lundy, decided that resistance was futile and proposed to negotiate terms of surrender. Lundy was deposed and smuggled out of the city as cries of `No Surrender' echoed from the walls. As a result, the word `Lundy' entered the loyalist vocabulary as a term of abuse for anyone prepared to betray Ulster. Conditions during the siege were horrendous, as another of John's ancestors, Captain Thomas Ash, recorded in a famous contemporary diary. On 26 July, almost eight months into the siege, he wrote the following entry: God knows, we never stood in such need of supply; for now there is not one week's provisions in the garrison. Of necessity we must surrender the city, and make the best terms we can for ourselves. Next Wednesday is our last, if relief does not arrive before it. This day the cows and horses, sixteen of the first, and twelve of the last, were slaughtered; the blood of the cows was sold at four pence per quart, and that of the horses at two pence ... There is not a dog to be seen, they are all killed and eaten. Other contemporary accounts describe unburied corpses being devoured by rats and the rats then being devoured by desperate humans. Everything had its price: a dog's head was two shillings and sixpence; a cat was four shillings and sixpence; a rat was a shilling; and a mouse, sixpence. Fifteen thousand men, women and children are estimated to have died through starvation, malnutrition and disease. The day after Captain Ash wrote that entry, two ships loaded with supplies -- the Protestant fifth cavalry -- broke the `boom' that the besiegers had placed across the neck of Loch Foyle to prevent re-supply of the besieged city. The captain of the flagship of the squadron, the Mountjoy , was Michael Browning, who was also coming to the aid of his wife, Elizabeth Ash, who had taken shelter with her mother inside the walls after Ashbrook had been overrun by the advancing Jacobite army. But Captain Browning never saw his wife or mother-in-law. `It was rather sad really,' explained John, `because almost within sight of the walls of Derry, he stopped a bullet and so never had this joyful reunion.' Captain Thomas Ash recorded the scene in his diary: Captain Browning stood upon the deck with his sword drawn, encouraging his men with great cheerfulness; but a fatal bullet from the enemy struck him in the head, and he died on the spot. King William did his widow the honour of tying a diamond chain round her neck, and settled on her a pension. A copy of a famous painting, The Relief of Derry , now hangs in Ashbrook showing Governor Walker (who replaced the disgraced Colonel Lundy) surrounded by joyful citizens, pointing to the Mountjoy as the ship broke the `boom'. Elizabeth Ash is depicted in the foreground tending the sick and the dying alongside her mother and son, the diarist Captain Thomas Ash. Elizabeth is unaware of the fate of her husband, Captain Browning. The siege of Derry became one of the most powerful symbols in Protestant history. `They were hard men in those days and even harder women and they stuck it out and became national heroes,' said John. `The notion of Derry, the "Maiden City" -- because her walls were never breached -- has been built up and built up to commemorate what would have been a catastrophic defeat.' The Apprentice Boys became the symbol of Protestant defiance, the name `Lundy' synonymous with treachery and `No Surrender!' the battle cry of loyalists down the centuries. The siege remains living history today, as every year the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Brotherhood founded at the start of the nineteenth century to cherish their memory, commemorate the siege by burning a sixteen-foot-high effigy of Lundy to mark its start in December and march round the walls to mark its relief the following August. It was the Apprentice Boys' parade on 12 August 1969 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the lifting of the siege that provoked the rioting that led to the deployment of British troops and the effective beginning of the current conflict. The Protestants' victory was sealed a year later on 11 July 1690 when their champion, King William III of Orange, defeated King James II's army at the Battle of the Boyne. The Protestant succession to the English throne was now secure and `Remember 1690' entered the handbook of Protestant slogans alongside `No Surrender!' The Orange Order was founded over a century later in 1795, following a skirmish with Catholics near the village of Loughgall in County Armagh, to sustain `the glorious and immortal memory' of King William and the Boyne. The huge parades throughout areas of Northern Ireland on 12 July every year celebrate `King Billy's' famous victory, traditionally seen by many working-class loyalists as a victory of the `Prods' over the `Taigs' (a traditional term of abuse for Catholics), which is why marching is such a politically sensitive issue today. With the siege of Derry over and King William III now firmly established on the throne of England, John's family returned to Ashbrook and rebuilt the house that the Jacobite troops had burned. More than a century later, another of his ancestors, John Beresford, who was a minister in the Irish parliament in Dublin that ran Ireland on behalf of the Crown, achieved lasting fame by writing the Act of Union of 1800 that created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. After another rebellion in 1798 had underlined not only Ireland's instability but its vulnerability to foreign invasion, once again at the hands of the French, William Pitt, the English Prime Minister of the day, decided that Ireland should be brought under direct control. The Irish parliament in Dublin was to be abolished and Irish members were to be elected to the House of Commons at Westminster. `John Beresford was Commissioner of the Revenue in Dublin, a Privy Councillor and the power behind the throne,' John explains. `In fact he was known as the "uncrowned king of Ireland". He was a member of the Irish parliament and had a finger in almost every pie there was. He was also an extremely forceful character. There was tremendous opposition to the change among the British aristocracy over here and the Anglo-Irish gentry because they rather naturally thought they could run the country to their own advantage far better without interference from London. But he finally managed to cajole the landowners into voting for the Act of Union, the principle being that the island of Ireland would be far better governed by a parliament in London than a parliament in Dublin. My ancestor, John Beresford, actually wrote the small print of the Act of Union. The significance of the Act was vast. It was of tremendous strategic importance to have Ireland under British control. We now had garrisons here and troops to defend the place.' But despite -- or perhaps because of -- the Act of Union, Ireland was never at peace. The nineteenth century was marked by constant political agitation as social, economic and constitutional grievances forced their unwelcome attention on successive British governments faced with the growing emergence of Irish nationalism and widespread violence and civil unrest. The greater the nationalist menace, the more determined Protestants became to resist, fearing for all they held dear should the constitutional position of Ireland be changed and they become thrall to the Roman Catholic Church. Sectarian riots in Belfast and Derry broke out in decade after decade in the second half of the century, often fuelled by the inflammatory speeches of the Reverend `Roaring' Hugh Hanna, a nineteenth-century fundamentalist preacher who was one of the Reverend Ian Paisley's predecessors. By the end of the century, the Irish Question continued to dominate British domestic politics with parties at Westminster taking sides on the issue. The British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, who recognized that Ireland had a separate national identity, twice endeavoured to solve the Question by introducing bills in 1886 and 1893 to grant Home Rule, a form of semi-independence, to Ireland, but both bills were defeated -- the first in the House of Commons and the second in the House of Lords. Gladstone finally resigned, defeated by Ireland as most of his successors also proved to be. In the process he had split his own Liberal Party and forged the alliance between the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionists from which the Conservative and Unionist Party finally emerged. The Conservative champion of the unionist cause at Westminster was Lord Randolph Churchill who bequeathed to loyalists yet another historic slogan, `Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right'. But the cause of Home Rule did not die with Gladstone. His Liberal successor as Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, who was John's aunt's grandfather, also took up the Irish challenge and in 1912 attempted to push a third Home Rule bill through parliament, this time with every chance of success as veto by the House of Lords had been removed by the Parliament Act of the previous year, under which their lordships could only veto legislation from the House of Commons three times. Now it was no longer a question of if Home Rule would be introduced but when. With that realization came the critical question for Asquith's Government: would Ulster Protestants resist and if so, how? The question was soon to be answered. In 1912, a new champion emerged for Ulster loyalists, beleaguered yet again, in the form of Sir Edward Carson, a Protestant barrister from Dublin who was also a unionist MP for Trinity College Dublin in the Westminster parliament. Even before Home Rule became an issue once again, Carson had acquired a high public profile by his acclaimed defence of the Marquis of Queensbury in the 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde. In 1910 he became leader of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary Party and spoke eloquently against the third Home Rule bill, but he came into his own two years later when he led over half a million Ulster and Irish Protestants in signing the Solemn League and Covenant against Home Rule. It was the climax of eleven rallies held over ten days in September 1912 in what became known as the `Covenant Campaign' (imitated by Ian Paisley in his `Carson Trail' of 1981), in which Carson addressed cheering crowds all over the North, having warned Asquith's Government, `It is you who are prepared to break the law and it is I who am prepared to resist you when you break it.' On 28 September 1912, Carson marched through tens of thousands of cheering loyalists thronging Belfast's Royal Avenue and Donegal Square and into the foyer of the magnificent City Hall, to sign the Covenant with a special silver pen. To Protestants, the Covenant was the equivalent of England's Magna Carta or America's Declaration of Independence. It set out Ulster's position in one extremely long sentence. Being convinced in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the empire, we, whose names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of his gracious Majesty King George V, humbly relying on the God whom our fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn covenant throughout this our time of threatened calamity to stand by one another in defending for ourselves and our children our cherished position within the United Kingdom, and in using all means that may be found necessary [author's emphasis] to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule parliament in Ireland. John's grandfather and grandmother both signed Carson's Covenant. All those who did so also pledged to refuse to recognize the authority of any Home Rule parliament that was set up. But it was the scarcely veiled threat in the phrase `all means that may be found necessary' that caused greatest concern to Asquith and his Government. Effectively Ulster Protestants were threatening rebellion against the wishes of the sovereign parliament of the United Kingdom. The sentiment was to be often repeated at various stages in the present conflict by Ian Paisley and other loyalist leaders, who believed the British Government was bent on selling them out to a united Ireland. Carson was Paisley's hero. `He was the man that taught the people of Northern Ireland the traditional unionism that I have espoused and fought for all my political life,' he told me. `He's the founding father of our state.' The paradox of loyalism is that although many who would describe themselves as loyalists have always professed loyalty to the United Kingdom and Crown, their first loyalty has been to the preservation of their own position within it. That is why the British Government and loyalist politicians frequently clashed. Carson's speeches put into words what the Covenant did not. The word was force. `We have one object in view and that is the object of victory, and we are going to win,' he told his audience. `As you [the Government] have treated us with fraud, if necessary we will treat you with force.' By 1913 Carson had raised a private army of around 100,000 men between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five, drawn exclusively from those who had signed the Covenant -- proof positive that `all means that may be found necessary' meant military resistance. It was known as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and given the blessing of the Ulster Unionist Council, which was -- and still is -- the governing body of the Ulster Unionist Party. Finance was never a problem since it was underwritten to the sum of over a million pounds by the Ulster business community. Regiments were raised all over Ulster, some trained by former British soldiers in Orange Halls and fields across the province. In the words of one partisan historian, class distinctions were set aside. Such was the measure of their commitment that after a hard day's toil in the fields or the factories, men walked for miles to attend parades and drills. Social distinctions were forgotten. Gentry cheerfully obeyed orders from their tenants and company directors from their employees. The UVF itself was commanded by an illustrious senior officer of the day, Lieutenant-General Sir George Richardson. Carson raised the temperature and the anxiety in Downing Street still further when he announced that he had `pledges and promises from some of the greatest generals in the army, who have given their word that, when the time comes, if it is necessary, they will come over and help us keep the old flag flying'. He criss-crossed Ulster inspecting Volunteers drilling with wooden rifles, telling them they were `a great army' and asking for their trust with the assurance that `we will select the most opportune methods, or if necessary take over ourselves the whole government of this community in which we live'. It was seditious talk, but nothing was done to stop it. There were even plans for the Ulster Unionist Council to become a Provisional Government with Carson at its head. Moreover, at the beginning of 1914, there was a further development that gladdened the hearts of Ulster loyalists. In March, sixty British cavalry officers based at the Curragh camp near Kildare resigned their commissions rather than face the prospect of being used to coerce Ulster unionists and take on the UVF. The War Office refused to accept their resignations and declared that it did not intend to undertake any military operations against recalcitrant Ulster unionists, but the assurance was given without the authority of the Cabinet and the Secretary of War and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Both were forced to resign. Nevertheless, the message was clear: there was no guarantee that British soldiers would obey orders should they be called upon to put down a loyalist rebellion in Ulster. Initially the English press made a mockery of Ulstermen drilling in fields with dummy rifles, but soon began to take them more seriously once the wooden guns became real. In a daring plot approved by Carson, 35,000 rifles and 3 million rounds of ammunition were secretly smuggled into the port of Lame from Germany on board a freighter called the Clyde Valley . The consignment was landed during the night of 24/25 April 1914 and its contents distributed to the UVF throughout Ulster, much of them being stowed away in the roofs of Orange Halls. The chief gun-runner was one of Carson's lieutenants, Major Frederick Crawford, who had signed the Covenant in his own blood. But battle was never joined as, just over three months later, on 4 August 1914, Britain was at war with Germany. The showdown was postponed. The Ulster Volunteer Force did go to war but not against the enemy it had expected. Three days after the opening of hostilities, the newly appointed War Minister, Lord Kitchener, said, `I want the Ulster Volunteers.' He finally got them and 10,000 new uniforms were ordered from Moss Bros. in London. The Volunteers went into battle not as the UVF but as the 36th Ulster Division, but as long as the word `Ulster' was in their title, few of them complained. Thousands of Ulstermen enlisted to fight for King and Country, answering Lord Kitchener's famous poster call `Your Country Needs You!' Many never returned. John Beresford Ash's family paid a heavy price. Seventeen of them were either killed, gassed or wounded during the course of the war. On 1 July 1916 -- the original calendar anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne -- the 36th Ulster Division was thrown at the German lines in the Battle of the Somme. Some are recorded to have rushed from the trenches with cries of `No Surrender' and `Remember 1690' into a barrage of enemy shells and deadly machine-gun fire. Many wore Orange ribbons and one sergeant wore an Orange sash. The loss of life was awesome. Two thousand Ulster Volunteers were killed and over 3,000 wounded. The West Belfast battalion of the UVF, known as `the Shankill Boys', was 700 strong when it left the trenches. When the slaughter was over, only seventy were left. John Beresford Ash's father was a professional soldier and fought at the Somme as a junior captain in the Royal Fusiliers, not as an officer in the UVF which was made up entirely of volunteers. I asked John why the Somme had such an emotional place in loyalist history. `Don't forget, they were volunteers,' he said. `They were not regular soldiers. They had joined out of love of their country and they really believed they had a higher duty to perform. They were fighting against the evil of Kaiserism. In all, nearly 100,000 men from all regiments were lost that first day. I think 20,000 were lost in the first hour. They always say that patriotism died on the Somme. People just did not believe that such carnage could take place.' The memory of the Somme remains still fresh in the minds of loyalists today, especially those who became members of the reincarnated but illegal Ulster Volunteer Force in the present conflict, whom successive British and Irish governments branded `terrorists'. Augustus `Gusty' Spence became the legendary leader of the modern UVF and served a life sentence for murder. His father was a member of the original UVF and he says he took in the history of loyalism `with his mother's milk'. Today the study in his small bungalow off the Shankill Road stands as a shrine to the Somme and his fellow Ulstermen who made the ultimate sacrifice. `There was something like 5,200 casualties,' he told me. `Now one can imagine in a place like Belfast -- or as small as Northern Ireland -- that the telegrams and lists of the dead and wounded, the killed and the missing, had a profound impact. The whole province was plunged into mourning. We were born and reared with the sacrifice of the Somme.' Nineteen sixteen was the great watershed year in both loyalist and republican history, marked by two dramatic events that were to condition the paths the two traditions were to take for the remainder of the century. The Somme was one. The Easter Rising was the other. On Easter Monday 1916, republican who were the forerunners of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) seized the Post Office in Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic. With the country at war, the rebellion was seen as a stab in the back and Britain executed the leaders of the Rising for treason, thus creating martyrs and the notion of `blood sacrifice'. Just over two months later, loyalists made their own blood sacrifice at the Somme. When the Great War was over and the Ulstermen who survived returned home, they discovered that the issue of Home Rule, which they had initially volunteered to fight, had not gone away. They now saw the old enemy, Irish republicanism, with a new name, the Irish Republican Army, fighting a savage guerrilla campaign to force Britain to leave the whole of Ireland. To Irish nationalists it became known as the War of Independence. The British would have regarded it as a war against `terrorism', although the British auxiliary forces known as the `Black and Tans' indulged in savagery every bit as vicious -- if not more so -- than that of their enemy. After two years of bloody fighting, a compromise was reached and a Treaty signed on 6 December 1921 that recognized the partition of Ireland under which Britain was to withdraw from twenty-six of Ireland's thirty-two counties. The Treaty did not give Ireland her independence but what the IRA's leader, Michael Collins, called `the freedom to achieve freedom' in the form of the semi-independent `Eire' or Irish Free State. Eire had its own parliament in Dublin known as Dail Eireann and no longer sent MPs to Westminster. Even today the term `Free State' is still used disparagingly by many loyalists despite the fact that `Free State' became the Irish Republic in 1937. The partition of Ireland that had been ratified by the Government of Ireland Act before the signing of the Treaty, divided the country and created for unionists the state of Northern Ireland that was to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. Partition was brought about because of the continuing threat of a loyalist rebellion that had not been diminished by the intervention of the Great War. But from the outset, the division was artificial. Only six of the nine counties of the ancient province of Ulster were excluded to guarantee Protestants an overriding two-thirds majority within the new state. Northern Ireland's new parliament at Stormont was regarded, with good reason, as a `Protestant parliament for a Protestant people'. From its birth, Northern Ireland was a state under siege born amidst widespread sectarian violence, in particular in Belfast and Derry. In the first two years of its existence, 557 people were killed in inter-communal rioting -- 303 Catholics, 172 Protestants and 82 members of the police and British army. Belfast witnessed the most vicious sectarian rioting of all that led to mass expulsions of Catholic workers from the Protestant-dominated shipyards and engineering works. It is estimated that around 10,000 Catholic workers were put out of their jobs and 23,000 Catholics were driven out of their homes. The IRA was active too, trying to destabilize the state from the very beginning and complete the business that partition had left unfinished. To most loyalists, the minority nationalist population was seen as the IRA's sleeping partner as it shared the same aim of achieving a united Ireland. Nationalists were regarded as the enemy within, a Trojan horse for the IRA and the Dublin Government that loyalists were convinced was plotting with its allies to bring about the downfall of their state. Partition and the violence that came with it only reinforced Protestants' siege mentality. The civil war that followed partition between the pro- and anti-treaty forces tore the new Irish Free State apart between 1922 and 1923. The bitter fighting, in which family was set against family and Irishman against Irishman, left almost a thousand people dead and confirmed Northern Protestants in their conviction that they wanted to have nothing to do with the South. The defensive `wall' of the new state was a formidable security apparatus that consisted of an armed police force and draconian laws against subversion. The new police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), reflected in its name the allegiance of the majority population and was aided by an armed force of special constables known as the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). The largest and most effective arm of the USC was the `B' Specials, a unit of 16,000 men who volunteered their services one night a week, on the understanding that they were only to be used in an emergency. Many of them were former members of the original Ulster Volunteer Force. They were unpaid, armed by the state and exclusively Protestant. The `B' Specials, whose job was to keep an eye on potential subversives in their areas, were hated by nationalists, who saw them as a nakedly sectarian force, and revered by loyalists, who saw them as the defenders of their community and their state. Today loyalists and their politicians still speak warmly of the `B Men' whom they fondly remember as their bulwark in a golden age when the their state was secure and the IRA kept firmly in its place. They also lament the ending of the Special Powers Act, the statute that gave the Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs sweeping powers to fight subversion without any undue concern for civil liberties. It was introduced in 1922 to combat the violence and was intended to last for only a year but finally became permanent until its abolition in 1972. It gave the Minister unprecedented powers to ban organizations, impose curfews, make arrests without warrant and intern suspects without trial. This was the state in which the young John Beresford Ash grew up. When he returned to Northern Ireland and the family home at Ashbrook in 1959 after Eton and a brief spell in the army in accordance with the family tradition, he was not happy at what he found, in particular in his home town of Derry where, although nationalists were in a majority, the electoral boundaries had been so gerrymandered that unionists ran the city. `It was an extraordinary situation,' he said. `There was blatant discrimination against the Roman Catholic population. They were kept in certain wards so that regardless of their numbers, they could never have proper representation at local government level.' John also saw that however hard they tried, many Catholics found it difficult to escape the poverty to which they had long been consigned because of the discriminatory nature of employment. Although in Derry itself there was work for Catholic women in the shirt factories along the banks of the River Foyle, there was little work for their menfolk, and what jobs there were were largely taken by Protestants. `I was the only Protestant person who employed Catholics here and so they were kept as a financial underclass. Consequently they never had any money and they couldn't buy a house. The only housing they could get was public housing and that was all concentrated in one ward of the city. So they had a genuine grievance.' John saw trouble coming a decade before it erupted and, on his return to Northern Ireland, warned the Young Unionist Council of which he was a member that `if the Protestant people didn't make some normal, reasonable concessions to normal, reasonable requests from the Catholic population, there was going to be big trouble ahead and they were riding for a fall'. To most unionists in those days, such thoughts bordered on treachery. John was told he was a `blow in', did not know what he was talking about and should keep his mouth shut. Disgusted by the response and the clear indication that neither attitudes nor the situation were going to change, he gave up politics altogether. He did not even bother to resign but simply stopped going to meetings, as he watched violence flare in 1968 and Northern Ireland slip ever closer to the abyss. His prophecy came true and, almost thirty years later, John Beresford Ash narrowly escaped death for the second time. In the small hours of 15 August 1997 John and his French wife, Agnès, were asleep in bed when they were awakened by the tinkling of breaking glass. As they were having repairs done to the outside at the time, John thought that one of the chandeliers in the hall had fallen down. He remembers the tinkling going on for about five seconds before he heard `a tremendous bang' as a concrete block was thrown through one of the windows in the hall, followed by a petrol bomb. `Suddenly our bedroom was bathed in brilliant white light. We rushed down the main staircase and found five fires in the hall which we managed to put out before they really got hold.' Six months later to the day, on 15 February 1998, there was more blinding white light as the fire-bombers struck again, once more in the middle of the night. This time it was a more calculated attack. A window in the dining room was smashed and a petrol can dumped on the window seat which was then ignited with paraffin and more petrol. Fortunately for the family, the petrol can had leaked so the `bomb' never properly went off. Had it done so the Beresford Ash family and Ashbrook would probably have been finished. As John fought the flames, coughing and choking in the dense billowing smoke, he could see around him the portraits of his ancestors looking down from the walls. `I thought to myself, "Don't worry, chaps. I'm here. I'll put this bloody fire out." I felt really quite emotional. I also felt that if I died, there was no better place to go.' But that was not the end. Four months later, on 12 June 1998, the fire-bombers struck for a third time, but now in a more sinister way. Again, John and his wife were asleep in bed when they heard a crash, but it was not followed by the sound of breaking glass. `We followed our by now set routine. As I came down the main staircase, I could see there was a tremendous glow of fire but this time it was outside the house not in. I flung open the door and to my absolute amazement saw five little fires in a semicircle about ten yards from end to end. I immediately realized what it was. We'd recently had a family photograph taken outside our front door for my sixtieth birthday that had been in the local papers. There were five of us there, my three daughters and my wife and myself. I assumed this was meant to represent the five of us being burned.' I suggested that most people who had been fire-bombed three times in ten months would want to move; was not he minded to do so now? `Good Lord, no!' he said, looking horrified at the thought. `We're devoted to our house. This is our family home. I shall never leave.' I asked him if the bombers had ever been caught. `No,' he said, `and they never will be.' Today, John Beresford Ash and most of the Protestants of Northern Ireland still feel themselves a community under siege. Copyright © 1999 Peter Taylor. All rights reserved.