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Beloit College

Publication Date

Spring 2006

Program Name

Ireland: Peace and Conflict Studies

Abstract

The decision to undertake this specific project was relatively easy for me. I came to Ireland ready to learn more about the conflict, but quickly realized I hardly knew about, let alone understood, an entire element within it, that of the Loyalist paramilitaries. As I learned more through classes, lectures, and meeting individuals who had been involved with these groups, or had dealings with them, my knowledge grew along with my curiosity. Who were these people who were so willing to fight, kill and die for a cause, the preservation of a union with Britain, which I found hard to understand? I also became interested in with the use of violence, rather than politics or non-violent means, to achieve a particular set of ends. Northern Ireland was a fully functioning government, a subset of the United Kingdom, one of the oldest and most successful political structures in history. Why then had Northern Ireland crumbled into a state of unbridled violence when political structures existed which seemed capable of creating such change while minimizing the loss involved? The act of questioning my expectations and preconceived notions has developed into a theme of my time in Ireland and Northern Ireland. To view these countries through textbooks, video, the media and occasional speakers is to receive only part of the story. However, I certainly formed opinions and pictures in my head in relationship to what I took to be the whole picture, as I am sure many others do. My time in Ireland and Northern Ireland has forced me to step back from what I believed to be “true” and take in often times conflicting information in an entirely new context which would challenge those old truths. As is so often the case, the truth is almost always more complicated than it seems. But this paper is not about the truth. I would be truly bold and more than a little rash to claim that in my short time studying violence in Northern Ireland as it related to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) I had some how stumbled across any truths, let alone the truth. What I have done, and what I set out to do, is compile together a set of experiences, opinions, and stories which all relate to the truth and recount personal truths. I will also offer my own analysis of this compilation not in an attempt to prove anything conclusively, but to suggest and encourage that my work is but a tiny part of what has been done, and what must continue to be done, in the search for understanding Northern Ireland, the Troubles, the UVF, politics, and violence. It would be easy to simply pass judgment on a group such as the UVF, and dismiss, embrace, or ignore it accordingly. The actions of this group, especially to those from outside the Northern Ireland context, and especially the Loyalists communities from which many of its members come, are seemingly incomprehensible, selfish, selfless, cruel, kind, and immensely meaningful and meaningless almost simultaneously. What is created is whirlwind of confusion which further encourages one to simplify and generalize. However, such action prompts one to declare truths and make judgments in an attempt to slow the vortex of confusion. What should be remembered is that another method of examination and exploration exists. It is one which embraces this very confusion and heterogeneity by seeking to gather in the various parts for closer analysis in comparison to their partners. Although not easy, and seemingly against logic and nature at times, I do believe this process can lead to greater understanding and a better ability to draw conclusions which are well based and highly accurate. Only through such analysis and gathering the multitude of experiences and opinions can we hope to develop better understandings of such complex and changing, yet important topics. The reader should take this paper as an open invitation to criticize, challenge, confirm, accept, and/or deny any of what it contains. The only request I make is that it is approached with an open mind, and that the reader them self endeavors to find the same understanding I am searching for in creating this work through similar methods. I hope to stay true to the same expectations and creed in my writing.

 
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