Stickies, Pinheads And ….Er Felties?

The Troubles broke out in August 1969.



The IRA in Belfast was in disarray. It had been involved in a failed campaign (“Operation Harvest” ) in border areas but ceased in 1962. It went…political much to the annoyance of several militant IRA men in Belfast. Worse….it had gone Marxist….again much to the annoyance of good Catholics. The IRA had a notion that it would unite Catholic and Protestant working class and establish a 32-county socialist paradise.

It dumped its guns. Members left.

And then in August 1969, found itself unable or unwilling to protect West Belfast against police and loyalist mobs attacking Catholic homes. I was 17 years old and lived in the area at the time. So did my wife, who was then just 11 years old. The “defence” of the area fell to some of the retired militants. Allegedly only eight were armed….but if you ever visit Belfast, I will introduce you to fifty old men who claim to be one of those eight.

Thats how it goes. In Republican history, the leadership was discredited and the retired men took over. This was at the end of 1969….the split between the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA.

The Official IRA was Marxist. The Provisional IRA was at heart “nationalist” with at that stage vague socialist rhetoric. For extremely personal reasons, not unconnected to a gun in my mouth and a threat. To blow my fucking brains out, I have a deep dislike of the “Officials”.

Really by the mid 1970s, they had ceased to operate….although there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. And of course the Provisionals morphed into simply being the “Provos”. And while Gerry Adams once claimed “they havent gone away you know” and then a few years ago they “stood down”, I think many elderly men who have seen it all before, believe the contrary.

We are in the same pre-Conflict mode that we were in half a century ago.

But in that strange, peaceful time behind the barricades in late 1969 and early part of 1970, the two IRAs were moving apart. The respite ended in the summer of 1970 and things got nasty. And remained nasty for nearly thirty years.

The great public symbol of the Republican “split” was the Easter Lily. Not unlike the British poppy, it is a republican rather than Irish symbol of Remembrance …originally commemorating the people who lost their lives at Easter 1916 and the subsequent War of Independence….and indeed subsequent IRA campaigns. It has never been acceptable in polite Irish society.

But of course West Belfast society at Easter 1970 was not polite. The paper lilies…..a green border around a white and orange lily sold in clandestine ways. A knock at the door and IRA supporters sold lilies and in the 1970s in West Belfast, there was certainly support for (usually) the Provos but it was always considered impolite and potentially bad for a householders health to refuse to buy a lily.

But confusingly in Easter 1970, there was two IRAs. ..each selling a version of the Easter Lily. Some years before the IRA had gone modern and adopted a peelable self-adhesive label. And these were the lilies that the “Officials” were selling. Meanwhile and perhaps its obvious, the new Provisionals had gone retro….their Easter Lily was not self-adhesive and came with a pin.

Thus at Easter 1970….the Officials became known as “the Sticky Backs”. ..and later simply “the Stickies”. For reasons noted above, I still prefer to say “”Sticky Bastards”. And the Provisionals became known as “the Pinheads”. The “Stickie” nicknamed endured long after the Officials went out of existence….allegedly. The “Pinhead” nickname never really stuck (no pun intended).

For decades only the Provos….who dont exist either (apparently) sold the Easter Lilies. Nowadays Sinn Féin do. Indeed SF leaders wear little metal lapel badges in the style of American Tea Party activists and Fux News anchors.

So while I was out on Monday….Sinn Féin came visiting selling this years Lily. Obviously we make a “healthy option” choice. Buy the Lily but dont wear it.

But an interesting design modification. Paper is obviously old-style. FELT is now the preferred material. And a comlimentary pin!!!!


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4 Responses to Stickies, Pinheads And ….Er Felties?

  1. Rowan Silverbeard says:

    Out of curiousity, when you buy a easter lily to which charity does the money go?

    • Thats a good question. Certainly in the 1970s, it was a generic “for the prisoners” and I think that was to pay for petrol to Long Kesh, cigarettes etc.
      Nowadays I dont know. I dont think its direct a charity so much as a fairly minimalist fundraising.
      I think Sinn Féin would want them “in the public eye” more than the actual money raised.
      These anecdotes..these are really “footnotes”. Its strange really. The things I tend to want to tell my sons are these stories. The headlines are all in the History books. But how we actually lived on a day to day basis is largely unknown. I think there are old married couples like Mr & Mrs FJH who tell these stories.
      I think its not really understood outside West Belfast, Ardoyne, Bogside, Crossmaglen.
      It is called the “Northern Ireland Troubles” but it is not accurate. Certainly things DID happen in Cookstown or Fivemiletown or Downpatrick or whatever (I wont minimise other peoples experiences) but the sheer intensity, the sheer unrelenting day to day existence….as an 11 year old watching the Beatles in 1963….there is no way I could have seen it all coming.
      Of course some things cant be told.

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