The Duke of York is in the news again with accusations of impropriety coming from USA. A spokesman for Buckingham Palace has made a statement refuting the allegations and assuring us of his innocence. That's good enough for me, but I'm baffled as to why the refutal has not been backed up by any Norn Iron politicians, given that Prince Andrew has been here on many occasions and is Colonel-in-Chief of our own Royal Irish Regiment.
On the other hand I might be wrong, because I remember that in June 1991 Defence Secretary Tom King announced in the House of Commons that the Ulster Defence Regiment was to be scrapped and the Royal Irish Regiment formed to link up with the Royal Irish Rangers to serve mainly in the north of Ireland and also with one battalion to serve overseas. Despite Prince Andrew being named as Colonel-in Chief, some of our local politicians were not amused.
Peter Robinson, then deputy head of the DUP, declared: “Who is the Irish Regiment going to defend? Only three per cent of the people of Ulster would allow themselves to be called Irish. To call the province’s home grown regiment ‘Irish’ is a throwback to pre-partition days. They feel that the sacrifice of the UDR has been ignored and betrayed.”
DUP security spokesman William McCrea weighed in with a few choice comments. “As with the Ulster Special Constabulary and the UDR, I am sure that we will see some vocal opposition to the Royal Irish Regiment.”
Then he changed tack to demonstrate his loyalty: “I will do everything I can to assist the new regiment and make sure it tackles terrorism, but you can be sure that once it gets to grips with terrorists the same old propaganda will start. I just hope they are prepared for it.”
He then admitted his fears that the regiment might start off as the UDR did, with a sizeable number of Catholics before they were intimidated out. “Does anyone think that Roman Catholics who join the RIR will be more acceptable than they were in the UDR? I don't think so.”
The Duke of York attended a service in St Anne’s Cathedral on June 1, 1992, just a month before the UDR and the Royal Irish Rangers were merged into the Royal Irish Regiment. Dr Eames paid tribute to the UDR members who lost their lives. He also referred to the failure of the few. “I can testify to the disgust of the vast majority when confronted by the failure of the few...”
Over 100 UDR members were jailed for serious crimes and at the time of the disbandment 19 were in jail for murder. Probably the most notorious of these was the Miami Showband Massacre on the road from Banbridge to Newry in which three band members were shot dead and two of a five-man UVF gang killed when a bomb they were placing in the minibus exploded. Their plan was to load the bomb in the back, unbeknown to the Miami members, and to allow the band continue. When the bomb was to explode the story would emerge that it had happened prematurely and that the band were terrorists. Three of the UVF gang were members of the UDR. Thomas Crozier, James McDowall and John Somerville were convicted of murder and given life sentences.
In May 1978 UDR man Robert Davis was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of 71-year-old Protestant farmer Samuel Millar. Davis had visited Millar's farm to persuade him to retract a statement he had made saying he had seen Davis and two others change the number plate of a car shortly after a Post Office robbery in Castledawson carried out by the South Derry UDA. When he refused, Davis hit him over the head with an iron bar and then reversed his car over him. He buried the body on the shores of Lough Neagh and was caught only after an accomplice made a confession.
The UDR came into existence on April Fools Day 1970 and was disbanded on July 1, 1992, the 76th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Over 2,000 members of the B Specials joined and, surprisingly, 22 per cent of the force were Catholic in its first year. By the time of its disbandment 97 per cent of its members were Protestant. An average of 14 million man hours were clocked up each year and about half the force, which numbered between 6,000 and 8,600, were part-timers.
On average four million cars were stopped each year. One of their favourite places for road blocks was Glenshane Pass. In the days before Sunday opening a group of Glengormley men headed off to Derry every Sunday morning. They spent the day just across the border. One morning they were stopped on the Glenshane by a UDR patrol.
The driver, Mick Coogan, gave his licence and when asked where he was going to he replied, “Derry.”
“You mean Londonderry.”
Half an hour later the UDR man asked the front seat passenger where he was going. Ken Craig, a native of Rathcoole, stated Derry. At half-hour intervals two back seat passengers gave similar answers about their destination. After more than two hours the fifth passenger, Paddy Healy, was questioned. “Where are you going?” Paddy blurted out “S. S.Strabane.” They were on their way within minutes.
Two brothers, John and Gerry Edelston, were stopped at Glenshane on their way from the Larne ferry to Gweedore, their mother’s native place. Her name was O’Doherty and the brothers are known as Eoghan Hudaí. They gave their destination as Derry. “You mean Londonderry? Where are you coming from?”
“Londonglasgow.” They reached Gweedore five hours later.
In the early 1980s a group of us were returning to Glengormley from a GAA tournament in Armagh. We were stopped by the UDR on the Upper Hightown Road. On searching the boot the soldiers found an O’Neills football in a kitbag. He inquired what it was. When told it was a football he asked what kind of football. He seemed surprised to learn that it was for kicking. He then asked for names and addresses. Then he came back from his Land Rover and asked for occupations. He wrote them all down, plumber, electrician, joiner, unemployed. When my turn came I told him I was a preceptor.
“What is a preceptor?”
“Um, well, a preceptor.”
It was nearly 7am when we reached Glengormley RUC barracks where we made a complaint. The desk sergeant took copious notes and assured us he would get back to us. We’re still waiting. Oh, for the days of the UDR. The RIR keep a low profile. You wouldn't know they were there. I have a hunch the Duke will be with us soon to make some important presentations. They might change the name to the Royal Ulster Regiment. In the post-Christmas depression that would give us all a lift and take our minds off those silly stories coming from America. There's nothing like a handsome prince in military garb and beret, backed up by our local dignitaries.