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What is Frontline Ulster?

The legacies left behind following any conflict can be far-reaching. While we may not always have been on the conventional frontline, events in ‘our wee country’ have had a considerable impact on the landscape and our lives. Through my research, I hope to reveal the wide variety of defensive structures and sites that sit on the north of this island.1 Much of our military history happened before and during the time of partition, so I have decided to focus my research on the historic region of Ulster as opposed to the relatively recent Northern Ireland, from Martello towers built to repel a Napoleonic invasion in the early 19th Century to the huge temporary camps set up to prepare soldiers to fight on the frontline in two world wars. And finally, and in living memory for many of us are the scars left by the infrastructure constructed in support of the fight against Irish terrorism.

I will try to present material in as impartial and accurate a way as possible, in particular for those areas which may still be sensitive, but I aim to focus on the physical and not deal with the complex personal stories surrounding these sites. Please enjoy this site and I hope you will share and come back to keep updated as it continues to grow.

Ulster: It’s complicated

With under 2 million inhabitants, Northern Ireland is a region of six counties on Great Britain’s periphery and part of the United Kingdom. Ulster, one of four provinces in Ireland, is made up of a further three counties part of the Republic of Ireland. Partition in 1921 saw the creation of a geographic border separating what is now Northern Ireland from the Irish Free State (1922). For what is a relatively small island, we have more than our fair share of military history and conflict archaeology to discover.

Once a thriving region on what is geographically the first port of call for traders crossing the Atlantic to the West, Belfast was once host to the world’s largest shipyard, ropeworks, linen-producing centres, and tobacco manufacturing. Plantation, famine, and decades of civil violence combined with major world events have added to the difficulties faced by the determined population, however; the Irish are a warrior race, albeit a divided one. Estimates2Irish Times are that over 206,000 men of Irish birth fought for the British Army in the First World War, while at home in Dublin violent rebellion against the British state broke out. Two decades later in what was to become the Second World War, top British Generals such as Montgomery, Auchinleck and Brooke all had firm roots in Ireland, and it is suggested that almost every US serviceman who served in that conflict set foot in Northern Ireland en route to mainland Europe.

Attempting to set what is a complicated political situation aside for this project, I aim to look in detail at the rich military history encapsulated in the north of this ’emerald isle’ spanning the twentieth century. When you look closely enough you will discover that we are surrounded by clues to our past, and in many rural areas, some of the unique sites have been left almost untouched since the day the doors were closed and forces withdrew.

Why Ulster? I have chosen the region of Ulster to represent this site given the relative immaturity of Northern Ireland as a region, established less than a century ago, and also to represent the historic ties of Ireland to Britain, peaceful or otherwise. Paying testament to this are sites such as the seven ‘Treaty Forts’ on the shores of Lough Foyle manned by British troops even after the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, and the air corridor granted to the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

The Ulster Flag represents the nine counties of the ancient province of Ulster and is one of the four provincial flags of Ireland. The flag is based on the crest of the O’Neill Chieftains of Ulster, who were renowned for their strong resistance to English rule, hence the flag is regarded as being Nationalist3Historic flag description from the Conflict Archive on the Internet website

The Ulster Banner is based upon the St. George’s Cross and has similarities to the Province of Ulster Flag. In 1953 the ‘Ulster Banner’ was adopted as the flag of Northern Ireland by the Stormont administration. The administration was prorogued in 1972 and following the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, this flag ceased to have any official standing. This particular flag of Northern Ireland is seen as staunchly Loyalist because of the Crown, the Star of David, and the Red Hand of Ulster4Historic flag description from the Conflict Archive on the Internet website