From Belfast to the Somme (and back again): loyalist paramilitaries, political song, and reverberations of violence

Stephen R. Millar*, Evropi Chatzipanagiotidou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
167 Downloads (Pure)


During the Northern Ireland conflict (1968–1998), paramilitary groups were supported and sustained by a sociocultural apparatus that helped legitimise their position within the community and disseminate their political message. From the use of flags and murals, to loyalist and republican parades, working-class vernacular culture revealed who was in control of various districts within the Province. For many working-class Protestants, loyalist songs were a key component of this culture, connecting the past and the present. Unlike the better-known marching band scene, which is a huge public spectacle, the loyalist song scene is much more private. Performed in a closed setting, within local bars and clubs, loyalist songs are reproduced for internal consumption rather than outward expression. Yet, in addition to celebrating a particular loyalist culture, such songs also serve an important function in authenticating and legitimising paramilitary groups, connecting them to older organisations, whose legacy they draw upon. This paper focuses on one such song, exploring how ‘The Ballad of Billy McFadzean’ is used to connect the Ulster Volunteer Force of the 1960s onwards, with the 1913 organisation of the same name. In so doing, the paper attempts to illustrate the political utility of song and how songs can be used to launder and legitimise conflict, as well as those engaged in political violence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-265
JournalEthnomusicology Forum
Issue number2
Early online date10 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 04 May 2021


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