Anthony  D  Buckley

Fighting and Fun: Stone Throwers and Spectators in Ulster Riots

Fieldwork by M C Kenney with A D Buckley

 Anthony D Buckley and Mary Catherine Kenney Negotiating identity: rhetoric, metaphor and social drama in Northern Ireland. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. Chapter 10

Riots in Northern Ireland are often carnivalesque. They usually arise out of parades and other public celebrations, and they develop through the interaction of the divergent aims of the participants, marchers, police, bands, stone throwers and spectators.

Through this interplay, actions, which would ordinarily defy norms, are reframed and redefined. A riot, like a theatrical event or a pageant, is therefore a 'keyed' frame (Goffman 1975), bracketed off from ordinary life. Rioting is a playful, dramatic form of social interaction, but within it, participants enforce the norms peculiar to that frame.

Riots often arise out of serious social conflict over both macro  and micro territorial claims. A riot, by its nature, is brutal. There are injuries and sometimes deaths. Nevertheless, there is also, in rioting, a strong element of macabre fun. As with the most active participants in a real carnival, the stone throwers in a riot express the disorder perceived to be inherent in daily life. They also reverse roles and become 'king for a day'.

This discussion of rioting returns to a subject raised in Chapter 5. It also continues the theme of playful rebellion explored in the last chapter. In the riot, there is the same relation between the actor who misbehaves and his audience who gives him active or tacit support.

In the riot too, there is the same dramatization of social relationships. Only seldom in the riot is there a serious attempt by the rioters to win a battle or to defeat an enemy. Seldom, for example, is territory gained or authority defeated. Instead, through dramatic means, the riot makes a statement about the identities of the participants. This statement is set in the broader frame of social and political relations. This framed statement is, of course, heavy with rhetoric.

Like Pentecostal ritual, but in a very different way, the most surprising but most obvious feature of the riot is that it is fun. Despite the brutality, the real violence and the injuries, the rioting is, quite visibly, for both stone throwers and spectators, a form of play. Not only does the riot often arise from a 'carnivalesque' (Burke 1978,190) event, but rioting itself is an extension and enhancement of a carnival atmosphere.

This fun element of riots has been observed in public disorders elsewhere in the world, even where these involved serious injury. During the American urban race riots in the 1960s, for example, the public authorities denounced the 'carnival spirit' which marked some of these disturbances. There was a mood of exhilaration, so intense as to border on 'jubilation' (Fogelson 1970). Marsh (1978) has described the similar phenomenon of 'aggro', the ritualized and recreational aggression found in the football matches of the British Isles.

Studies of carnival show that pugnacious and libidinous activity is also a feature of carnival and 'carnivalesque' festivals throughout the world (Burke 1978,190). Abrahams and Bauman (1978) say, however, that, in such situations, norms are broken only by specific segments of a community, often by a small minority. Both these observations help an understanding of the riots, both Catholic and Protestant, which occur in Northern Irish community festivals.

Not all parades in Northern Ireland are riotous. Nevertheless, rioting is predictably - one may say traditionally - associated with community festivals and parades. The most famous of these undoubtedly belong to the Protestants, but Catholics have a comparable, if less elaborate cycle of parades and public rituals.

Nearly all these take place in what the press calls 'the marching season' between March and the end of August. In addition to regular demonstrations, there are also occasional ones organised by the political parties, or by such bodies as the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys' clubs. Increasingly too in recent years, there has been a tendency for bands of musicians to hold their own parades independently of the ones organised by the different associations.The so-called 'band parades' often have a stridently ethnic or political flavour.

The two authors attended, sometimes together, sometimes separately, riotous assemblies in Belfast, Cookstown, Holywood and Portadown, between 1985 and 1986. Here we focus on examples which we regard as typical, viz :  riots by nationalists in the Falls Road and Ardoyne in Belfast respectively on 17 March and 8 9 August 1985; and loyalist riots in Woodhouse Street and Obins Street in Portadown on the Twelfth of July 1985. In all these cases, several individuals threw missiles, usually stones, bottles and occasionally petrol bombs at soldiers and policemen while other people stood and watched.



Parades, bonfires and the riots that sometimes arise from these events usually mingle with questions of territory. These issues exist at both a macro and a micro level, the one being similar to the other. At the macro level, as we have seen, loyalists typically feel under siege in their province, subject to the imperialistic ambitions of the South. Nationalists believe their country to have been invaded. Each side, therefore, informs the rhetoric of its political aims with images of siege and invasion.

As Chapter 5 outlined, in some parts of Ulster, these macro territorial images translate into much more local concerns. There are many neighbourhoods and districts in Northern Ireland which people describe as 'mixed' or 'neutral'. There are also many which 'belong' either to Catholics or to Protestants (see especially Boal 1982; Boal and Livingstone 1984).

The definition of such areas is, in large part, decided by the ethnic affinity of the majority living there. Sometimes, a minority from 'the other side' can be tolerated. In other cases, where the ethnic identity of an area is in dispute, there can be consternation when somebody of the other side comes to live locally. There have been in recent years very many instances where people have been intimidated from their homes. Commonly, such aggression is intended to reduce an ambiguity in the composition of a particular street. There is often a further definition of the area as 'belonging' to one's own group by means of graffiti, painted kerb stones or more elaborate and often quite artistic wall paintings (Loftus 1990).

Processions and bonfires too have a similar territorial implication. One of the things which a procession or bonfire asserts is the right of the ethnic group to march or build a bonfire in a particular area. It is this aspect of such public demonstrations which makes them likely to become violent.

Micro territoriality is what links rioting in Northern Ireland with non political violence in other societies. The rioting itself is mostly an activity of working class teenagers ostensibly in defence of often exceedingly local boundaries. It therefore invites comparison with teenage gang violence in American and British cities.

Suttles has studied ethnic neighbourhoods and street corner gangs in Chicago (1968). He shows that this type of territorial action is a non pathological phenomenon found in 'street corner society'. Patrick (1973) describes violent gang rivalries and maintenance of gang territories in working class Glasgow.Some of these teenage rivalries have Ulster related 'sectarian' aspects. Marsh et al. (1978) show that in English football violence territorality has a significant place. In this case, the territory in question may only be a small piece of football terrace. Gill (1977) reports rioting of youths against police in Merseyside that closely resembles rioting observed in Belfast. White (1971) discusses similarly territorial street corner gangs, locally called 'mobs', inBirmingham. In all these studies of youthful working class violence, neighbourhood territorality is a major theme.

In the particular riots described here, there was no attempt to drive anybody from their houses, though such activities were going on throughout the period under discussion. Here, the dispute was over more symbolic issues, namely over the diacritical markers that defined whether a territory was Protestant or Catholic.

The Falls Road incident arose out of an annual St. Patrick's Day parade. Here, a group of people began to throw stones and bottles near what seen as an intrusive police station in the nationalist area of Andersonstown. The Ardoyne incident took place at a communal bonfire on the eve of the parade remembering the anniversary of 'internment'. The nationalist riots described here, therefore, have almost a routine nature. Not only are the processions from which the riots arose built into the calendar, but also this kind of riotous activity has become almost woven into the fabric of life in these particular districts.

In contrast, the loyalist riots arose out of more specific political circumstances, though these too were associated with periodic festivities.

In Portadown, it had long been the practice on the Twelfth of July, and similar occasions, for Orangemen to 'walk' (ie process) through Obins Street and Woodhouse Street towards the Portadown town centre. This practice had not ended despite the building of a housing estate occupied by Roman Catholics.

In 1985, this 'traditional' route was prohibited to loyalist processions. The prohibition allegedly came from an agreement between Dublin and London in the context of the Anglo Irish Agreement of the previous year. Police built barricades both at Obins Street itself on the outskirts of the town, and atWoodhouse Street in the town centre. Orangemen who set out on the Twelfth of July, therefore, found their route impeded.

The local Orange lodges, together with musicians, families, friends and onlookers camped themselves close to the Obins Street barricades in the early morning. Other local lodges paraded through the town centre. At both places, rioting developed. The Woodhouse Street riot lasted for only two hours; that at Obins Street continued on and off until night fall.

As the nationalist riot dramatized the iniquity of the British invasion of their country and locality, so the drama of the Orangemen's situation echoed their sense of being besieged. The ostensibly peaceful parade by Protestants was through a territory which 'traditionally' had been 'theirs'. Now it belonged to the opposition. One public figure claimed that an Ulsterman 'had the right to walk down his own thoroughfare'. He said there should not be any nationalist areas.

Both the prohibition on parades and the Anglo Irish Agreement from which it allegedly came had the same implication. This was that the Lundy like authorities were giving nationalists, and more especially Dublin, too much influence over Ulster's internal affairs.

For the loyalists here, the police were not really intruders: such an idea was inappropriate. Nevertheless, the siege image persisted. The police were at best 'Lundys' who, since they were perceived to be Protestants themselves, were traitors to their own people.



In most of the cases we saw, and all those described here, the rioting arose out of an ostensibly peaceful demonstration. Individuals or small groups then acted to change the situation, giving a new set of actions and interactions a new defining frame.

This new riotous pattern was frequently unstable. It tended to lapse back into a peaceful demonstration. Individuals could sometimes keep the riot going, but, at other times, the riot simply petered out. Sometimes, it was transformed further, as respectable participants left the scene. Then, with little difficulty, policemen could arrest the handful of stone throwing youths, and bring the riot to an end.

The parade among both nationalists and loyalists is the most common form of political demonstration in Ulster. Its structure is inherently quite simple.There are marchers, often, but not always, the members of specific organizations, and there are bands, sometimes hired for the occasion. Watching, and giving explicit or implied support, is usually a crowd. Such a crowd usually comprises a good cross section of the relevant ethnic group, and it will often include marchers' relatives.

Bands of musicians have a special importance. These are a major vehicle for youth and female participation in what is, particularly on the Protestant side, often a formally adult and male event. Among the various types of bands are Scottish style pipe bands and accordion bands. Protestant marchers are also likely to be accompanied by silver (brass) bands and 'part flute bands' (involving several sizes of flute). Bands such as these are often hired for the occasion. In a precisely similar manner to bands in the rest of the British Isles, their members are mainly people who enjoy playing music.

There are also to be found unison or 'melody' flute and drum bands. As the name suggests, these play only the tune upon their flutes, accompanied, however by exuberant drumming. These, usually made up wholly of youths and young men, have a more direct political orientation. On the loyalist side, the members of such bands, sometimes called 'Kick the Pope bands' or 'Blood and Thunder bands', were formerly dressed in distinctive sweaters and plumed berets. Increasingly, they now wear more elaborate uniforms, some carrying their own expensively painted small banners. {1} On the Catholic side, the favoured costume is a quasi military battledress.

Unlike other groups of musicians, these melody flute bands have a distinctively aggressive style. They frequently attract roving groups of teenaged supporters who mingle with the watching crowds. Such young people (and especially poor young people) are frequently among those who translate the symbolic challenge of their stirring music into more direct action by starting stone throwing episodes. The formal and aggressive role of these exuberant teenage flute bands in the parade is a major factor in attracting youthful thrill seekers who begin riots (cf Bell 1985).


The Riot in Woodhouse Street, Portadown

The loyalist riot in Woodhouse Street in Portadown began as an essentially peaceful procession. It moved down the main street where it passed the police barricade which blocked the opening to Woodhouse Street. Across this street, the police had tightly wedged a row of their land rovers. Behind this they stood, wearing helmets and other riot gear, and carrying batons.

At first, the procession captured the the attention of the crowd lining the main road. Early on, however, a knot of people gathered round the opening to Woodhouse Street. Gradually, almost imperceptibly at first, empty bottles were thrown high in the air. They landed on or behind the barricade of land rovers.

The crowd took more interest in these developments. More people gathered round. They began to cheer whenever a bottle shattered in an especially spectacular way. Despite this activity, it became apparent that the police would not retaliate.

One policeman, in ordinary uniform, ambled over from elsewhere. He fell into casual chit chat with an acquaintance in the crowd who was watching the bottle throwing. The bottle throwing began to die away.

During this lull, three somewhat intoxicated young men traversed the open space, immediately in front of the barricade, to talk to the policemen. A senior officer (both in rank and age) engaged them in amicable discussion.

A fourth young man joined the others. He could be described as a 'comedian'. As he sauntered across the empty space, his hips waggled, his eyes rolled and he grinned at the crowd. His hands waved in imitation of a black faced minstrel. The comedian remained with the 'negotiators' for a minute or two, and then he returned making similar gestures. His antics raised considerable cheers from the crowd.

Despite the comic intrusion, mock discussions with the senior policeman continued to go well. Then, however, one of the young men placed an inebriated but affectionate arm around the policeman's shoulders. The policeman became suddenly irritated and shrugged it off. The young man repeated his affectionate gesture three or four times. Each time, the policeman repelled it by a show of annoyance. The conversation continued for a while. It seemed as relaxed as before.

Suddenly, however, tempers flared. The affectionate young man grasped the policeman's head with his arm. Then, with his other hand, he punched the policeman several times, very hard, full in the face.

This overt show of anger changed the atmosphere in a moment. There was a joyous shout from the crowd. Everyone surged forward and occupied the space which, until this moment, had existed in front of the police barricade.

There followed a rather uneasy pause. Nobody seemed to know quite what to do. The barricade was impenetrable, but the closeness of the police inhibited the throwing of bottles.

Once again, the situation changed. Somebody hurled a bottle high against a nearby wall showering the crowd with broken glass (and incidentally causing some injury). With another shout, the crowd returned to its original position some distance away from the police.

From here, the situation continued much as before. The number of bottles and, more occasionally, stones being thrown gradually increased. Then it settled down.

A number of people went off to buy hamburgers and soft drink. Gradually the bottle throwing became rather boring to watch. From 200 or 300 people near to Woodhouse Street, the numbers dwindled to no more than 50. Only about a dozen youths remained, still throwing the occasional bottle or stone.

Suddenly, out of a side street, four land rovers drove dramatically towards Woodhouse Street. Several policemen, clad in riot gear, climbed out and took up rehearsed, formal positions. Two policemen ran towards a young man who was confused by the new events. A policeman tapped him firmly on the head with a baton and he was put into a land rover. This little flying squad then drove away. Soon, two land rovers drove up and down the main street, their noisy engines blaring defiance.

This arrest did not exactly disperse the crowd. Nor did the sight of policemen driving up and down the street in a noisy low gear. But somehow, the spirit of excitement and of fun had gone. Everyone looked rather depressed and bored and began to wander off.


The Riot in Obins Street, Portadown

In Obins Street in Portadown, a pattern occurred which seems still to be mainly, but not exclusively the preserve of Protestant demonstrators. This is the use of music as a symbolic form of aggression. Here musical instruments, classically Lambeg drums, but also other kinds of music, are played at the policemen (see Glassie 1982, 272 273).

Here again, there is the problem of preventing a riot from becoming boring, or from sliding back into a merely peaceful demonstration. Buckley arrived from Woodhouse Street in the early afternoon. There had already been much stone throwing. Policemen had already rescued some journalists from violent attacks and established them safely behind the large police barricades. Now, however, the events had settled down.

Lunches had been eaten, and Orangemen were conversing with the policemen in riot gear. They were trying (or pretending to try) to persuade them of the error of their ways. There seemed no question of the police taking retaliatory action. Only an occasional stone was being thrown.

A religious service then began a little way off from the barricade. Its sermon was based on Ephesians 6 ('... take unto you the helmet of salvation; and the sword of the spirit ...'). Despite the military imagery, it had a depressing effect on the general excitement and this depression continued after the service had ended.

It was in such circumstances that Buckley watched as a man persuaded a young female drum major to form up her accordion band of young teenage girls.Following the man's suggestion, the band marched off. It turned around a rough traffic island until it came face to face with the police cordon. The girls played some delicate little tunes for about five minutes, and then moved off.

It was perhaps a little odd to choose an accordion band for such a task. Accordian bands are hardly the most aggressive of Ulster's bands. This band was made up of small girls in drum majorette type uniforms. Nevertheless, the impact on the crowd was considerable. Immediately the band had marched out of the way, stones and bottles began once more to fly.

Inspired by the accordion band, a 'melody' flute band marched to the edge of the crowd. There it reassembled and returned with a swagger towards the police barricades. With a clatter of drums, it played for some minutes at the police until it too turned to march away, allowing people to throw stones.

Another similar flute band followed this example. On and off, for over an hour, the two flute bands took turns to play at the policemen. One one occasion, the two bands formed into one massive procession.

As these activities developed, the stone and bottle throwing continued, intensifying with each symbolic assault by the bands. Soon the bands were leading a largely female crowd of cheerfully capering teenagers. Missiles showered over the heads of the bands on to the helpless policemen beyond. The excitement came in waves, in turn with the movement of the bands. Between each pass there continued to be a great deal of missile throwing.

In the midst of this new found enthusiasm, somebody spotted a group of people in a very distant housing estate. They seemed to be holding up an Irish tricolour. This drew the attention of several people to the rear. Here were also spied groups of policemen, no doubt strategically placed to stop sorties in that general direction.

One small group of policemen was especially vulnerable. Soon it was attacked by a group of small boys (6-8 years old). At first the policemen crouched in a group, covering themselves skilfully with their shields. Then, they released themselves from this ingenious but undignified posture. They rushed at the small boys who scampered off. These were soon replaced by older teenagers who continued this minor battle well into the evening. In this vicinity, policemen fired an occasional baton round (plastic bullet).

The main event continued as before, until the approach of 5 o'clock. It then became clear that many members of the crowd were going home. Mothers began to collect their children and to clear up the picnics. This general stirring was accelerated by a sudden and fierce shower of rain which stimulated large numbers to move off towards where buses and cars were waiting.

At this point, Buckley also joined the movement homeward. The fighting had by no means stopped. He judged, however, that once most of the spectators had disappeared, the police would gird themselves for attack. Sure enough, about an hour later, the radio said there had been baton charges. He heard too a leading unionist politician, employing a familiar rhetoric, complain of the 'brutality' of the police.


The Riot in the Falls Road

The St. Patrick's Day parade on the Falls Road, Belfast began as an inherently peaceful demonstration. There had, however, already been some exuberance among the younger members of the crowd who threw snowballs at each other and at the procession from its beginning.

Kenney attached herself to a small group of working-class teenaged boys (14-18 years old) roaming along in the wake of the parade. Many of these wore 'skin head' fashions, with shaved or close cropped heads, paratrooper boots, old jeans and short nylon 'bomber jackets'. Some of them were carrying stout sticks made from sawn off broom handles painted with an Irish tricolour motif. Several also carried bottles of cider or cans of beer which they tipped with a flourish into their mouths. They were all excited and cheerfully boisterous.

At the top of the Falls Road there stands a massive fortification, the Andersonstown police barracks. As they passed this edifice, one of the skin headed young men suddenly smashed a full cider bottle on the window of the jutting observation post. He celebrated this deed by laughing, jumping and dancing.He clenched his fists and turned his face up to the sky with an expression of pleasure and excitement.

Then, with the aid of his friends, he climbed up on top of the observation post where, with two other boys, he jumped up and down on its corrugated metal roof. Presumably, there were police inside, receiving this noisy challenge.

Someone then passed the boy an Irish tricolour flag. With it, he climbed up a further precarious 15 feet. There he tried to stuff the tricolour into the wire mesh stretched around the top of the fort. Meanwhile, a crowd was peeling off from the parade and gathering in front of the fort to watch the boy make his ascent and to cheer him on.

After he had climbed down, a few bottles sailed through the air and smashed on to the front of the fort. This initial volley suddenly erupted into an extremely dense bombardment of stones and bottles fired by a crowd of about a hundred boys and young men. This lasted for five or ten minutes.

Then the big double doors of the fort opened and a convoy of grey police landrovers rolled slowly out to confront the crowd. Battle was then joined and the stones and bottles flew. The considerable crowd which had gathered to watch began rapidly to disperse, leaving the stone throwers to fight it out. Kenney too retreated at this point. News broadcasts later reported that the crowd had thrown petrol bombs at the police.


The Riot in Ardoyne

Although not all riots start in this way, there is a general need for someone to sieze the initiative and create activity if a riot is to begin and continue. On 'Internment Eve' in Ardoyne (8 August 1985), this role fell to a convoy of police vehicles.

Here, there was a huge bonfire bedecked by union flags and flags of Ulster. (Orange bonfires on the eve of the Twelfth of July similarly have a branch of greenery, an effigy of the Pope, or an Irish tricolour). There were some 400 people nearby, waiting for the lighting of the fire scheduled for midnight. This gathering was peaceful except for the sporadic appearance of three police Land Rovers. They drove repeatedly around the bonfire site in close formation and at great speed.

In precisely the same manner as had happened at Woodhouse Street in Portadown, they 'buzzed' the gathering. In the context, they could only have hoped to provoke a reaction. Increasingly, as they zoomed around the corner, boys and young men chased after them on foot, hurling bricks, bottles, sticks and insults.

Between passes, the youths waited until the Land Rovers came to receive another volley. As they drove past, a roar would arise from the crowd. Members of the crowd were heard to say, 'Here they come', or 'They'll be back' as the Land Rovers sped to and fro.

Someone told Kenney of a 'little Molotov cocktail factory' behind a nearby row of houses. Sure enough, later, in the darkness, when the Land Rovers sped past, about five young men in their late teens bombarded the policemen with home made fire bombs. When eventually the bonfire was lit, its damp state required that it be ignited by some half dozen Molotov cocktails.

Thus it was that policemen had a major part in this particular game of territorial assertiveness. There were policemen staked out at night on the edge of the Ardoyne area, it being presumably too dangerous to undertake normal patrols. The mobile convoy perhaps had to enter the area for the rhetorical purpose of asserting the territorial claims of the state. Perhaps too they hoped to localize the likely conflict, diverting attention away from more vulnerable groups of policemen. Whatever the reason for the police's assertive actions, these were integral to the development of the event. The tantalizing movements of the mobile convoy undoubtedly stimulated the stone and petrol bomb onslaught.

In each of these different incidents, the initiative of individuals produced a riotous framework out of an otherwise peaceful gathering. Even here, however, a riot tended to settle into a rather dull shower of stones or bottles on to an unresponding line of policemen. When this happened, it became obligatory for someone to take the initiative and restore the excitement. In one case, the initiative was taken by the police. In the others, venturesome youths fulfilled this function. And among Protestants, bands have a special responsibility for starting and maintaining a riotous situation. In nearly all cases, however, the spirit in which the riots began and continued was one of ribaldry and fun, not of anger.



In the earlier discussions of play, considerable emphasis was placed upon the role of an audience. Here too, the actors at a riot can be differentiated from the spectators. Apart from the police, a major distinction can be drawn between those people whom we call 'stone throwers', and the rest who watched them.

The number of stone throwers tends to vary somewhat with the ebb and flow of excitement. Some individuals who begin in the role of spectator get caught up by the drama of the situation and engage in aggressive and destructive acts. Such people, when the attack recedes, will fall back into the more passive role of spectator. Such individuals thus switch from one category to another. Others remain consistently willing to throw missiles. Still more, however, remain spectators throughout.

At no time, at least while we were actually present at the different riots, did the number of stone throwers exceed that of the spectators. The overwhelming majority of people present never threw a stone, bottle or petrol bomb. They only watched.

The stone throwers themselves were all young, in their teens and early twenties. Most were male. Often, it was clear they had been drinking. One reason for this is the need to drain a bottle before one can throw it. Young rioters were often seen urgently passing round litre bottles of cider so that they could then throw the empty bottle.

The young men engaged in this sort of activity were usually of an easily identifiable type. They were young, lower working class men, of the kind known generally in Ulster as 'rough'. They also included those especially aggressive individuals called 'hard men'. Their attitude to the police in all the observable riots was only sometimes overtly aggressive. Rather, in hurling their missiles, they were engaging in a display of braggadocio.

The police here are not really unwelcome enemies to the stone throwers. This was most clearly displayed at the Ardoyne bonfire. They play, rather, a more ambiguous role as adversaries. Without them there would be no thrill seeking, and no opportunity to act out the aggressive, half comic drama.

Many of the police themselves come from urban working class backgrounds. For them, no doubt, the game is already quite familiar. In part, rioting among both loyalists and nationalists is part of the ritualized animosity towards the police which goes on in poorer working class neighbourhoods throughout the British Isles. It is a dramatization of their 'honour' or self esteem against authority, but it is simultaneously a dramatization of their 'ethnic honour' (Wallis 1986 et al).

This formalized hostility is intertwined in the wider context of the United Kingdom by the bravado surrounding football matches. Particularly at loyalist demonstrations, therefore, one can see youthful spectators wearing the scarves and insignia of football teams. It was comic, but not wholly unexpected, to hear a loyalist crowd confronting policemen at an inherently similar riot in Cookstown. They sang the football chant 'Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool'.

Again, many of the activities associated with the riot are done for dramatic rather than quasi-military effect. We have described how a man climbed with an Irish tricolour on to that symbol of British power, the police station in Andersonstown; and that another engaged in drunken 'negotiations' with a senior policeman in Woodhouse Street. The aim in these cases was less to injure the policemen than to discomfort them, to make them laughing stocks. Even in the nationalist riots, the police appeared not so much as enemies but as targets.

One must wonder too whether many actual murders by paramilitaries are not also symbolic or dramaturgical in their intent, an idea that makes them seem even more bleak and horrific.

There is, in the riot, a strong element of what the last chapter described as 'wrongfooting'. The police are compelled to withstand taunts and showers of stones, broken glass and burning petrol. They are trapped by the need to maintain decorum and to avoid injuring those (women, children, old people) whom the press might define as 'innocent'.

The spectators, being by far the largest body of people present were also the most highly differentiated. Here too there were young lower working class men, but other types of people were also present.

There were, for example, in all the different locations, many old ladies, some very elderly indeed. There were young couples with toddlers or with babies in push chairs or prams. It was astonishing to see in a Cookstown riot not only a disabled child in a wheelchair, but even a middle aged blind woman carrying a white stick.

The polarity between active stone thrower and usually passive spectator corresponded in part to their proximity to the police. This was true at the Falls Road and Ardoyne, but it was most obvious in Woodhouse Street, where the flow of occasional traffic forced spectators to organize themselves into distinct layers.

Those on the furthest pavement were that type of quite ordinary lower class citizen who spends much time standing on street corners. These people were interested in this new form of excitement, but only casually, and they did not disperse even when the riot had completely ended.

Those standing on the traffic island in the middle of the main road were more agitated. Though they generally supported the stone throwers, they also made disinterested comments upon those more actively involved. One young man in this group said that a petrol bomb would be needed to shift the police.He believed that oil mixed with petrol was particularly effective. His neighbour replied, with an equal detachment, that she could not see why the police did not come out and arrest the stone throwers.

Even among the people standing on the nearest pavement clustered around the junction in Woodhouse Street, by no means all of them were throwing missiles. Most were simply standing there. These, however, expressed a more direct excitement, and they gave a more obvious encouragement to the throwers, cheering their more accurate shots in the manner of a tennis crowd.

The atmosphere at Obins Street was very similar, but here the crowd was even more highly differentiated. Here it was possible to look away from the front line and quite literally believe oneself to be at a church garden party.

Because this was a Twelfth of July procession, many participants were well-dressed in Sunday suits or summer dresses. Scattered around were family parties eating picnics and buying food or soft drinks from impromptu roadside stalls. The atmosphere was very much that of the 'field' at the close of an ordinary Twelfth of July procession. The women sat and chatted to each other, gave out food and looked after children. Individual men sauntered around, renewing their acquaintanceship with 'brethren' from other lodges.

In one direction, there was a relaxed, family atmosphere including, for a time, a religious service. In the other, there were riot-policemen defending themselves with shields against stones and shattering bottles. It was all a bit surreal.



The form of activity and atmosphere described here is remarkably similar to that found in carnival. In carnival, staid and respectable individuals do not throw off their respectability to do outrageous and extravagent things. Rather, people who ordinarily behave outrageously, but behind closed doors, or in secluded streets and bars, are allowed in carnival to exhibit themselves and take centre stage (Abrahams and Bauman 1978).

Those who riot are like those who take part in carnival. They are, so to speak, custodians of a kind of culture. This culture may comprise only an ability and willingness to be foolhardy and aggressive. It can, however, be occasionally useful to a wider community.

The ordinary peaceful parades from which riots commonly develop are, of course, not merely like carnival. They actually are a type of carnival, if of a politically motivated kind. Around these parades, there are ordinarily clusters of teenagers indulging in exuberant if mild misbehaviour. There are also adults behaving and dressing in an unusual and mildly flamboyant way. The teenage melody flute bands, in particular, have here a setting where they may display, in a controlled if taunting way, an aggression normally kept hidden away. When the parade develops into a riot, however, the social control exercised over the younger, wilder people is eroded even more.

In the riots described here, the individuals who throw stones and bottles are not the pushers of prams, the old ladies or the married couples. They are the young men who are to be seen fighting and drinking and being rowdy on Saturday nights when the public houses close down. What distinguishes their behaviour in the riot from that of their more ordinary existence is the social framework. In the riot, the people who would ordinarily object to them throwing bottles at, for example, policemen, give them sometimes explicit, sometimes implict permission. Social control over the young men has been relaxed.

This relaxation of social control takes several forms. First, the people around the stone throwers give implicit permission. Most obviously, there are people nearby who cheer whenever a bottle smashes sensationally, or when a stone makes a particularly good hit. The atmosphere in this context is like a sports tournament where spectators applaud good play. This kind of direct encouragement usually comes from the peers of the stone throwers, from young people, and teenaged girls in particular.

Less obvious, but, we feel, more important is the more tacit approval given by older, or more respectable people. This approval takes the rather passive form of not voicing disapproval, or of otherwise not interfering. Minimally, it consists of not walking away from the situation.

In the riots we attended, the refusal of the majority to discourage riotous behaviour was highlighted by the exceptions. Occasionally, there were protests.

In such circumstances, we feel that women are particularly well placed to intervene. Kenney has seen women intervene to stop destructive activity in west Belfast. Their success was because the criticism of 'rough' behaviour is an accepted part of the female role. Partly too women are effectively shielded from retaliatory violence by the general prohibition upon hitting women.

A woman tried to control events at the Falls Road disturbance. A woman urgently pushed away a pram, as the police loomed from their barracks to confront the ranks of stone throwing teenagers. She shouted in disapproval at the rioters, 'Oh, see what you've done. Haven't youse done enough?'

There was a similar case at Obins Street in Portadown. Here, a middle aged woman, obviously distressed at the ferocity of the attack upon the police, rushed away from where she had been standing with her small child. Looking for a sympathetic ear into which to pour her anger, she shouted out, 'There was a policeman over there. He had blood pouring down his face.' The group of women to whom these remarks were directed were dispensing soft drinks to their children. They undoubtedly heard what she had said, as indeed, did many other people, but they pretended not to.

In these particular instances, the pleas of the women for peace were ignored. The respectable people present quietly watched what was going on and did not take steps to prevent the action or to walk away. And this allowed the riot to continue.

At a disturbance at Holywood outside Belfast on 4 January 1986, politicians intervened to end a riot. Here, unlike the riots we have focussed on, there seems to have been more direct paramilitary involvement. The politicians had initially given speeches from a nearby platform. When the rioting began, they first urged the rioters to cease their more extravagant exploits. They then asked respectable onlookers to withdraw their effective support by going home. Here, as elsewhere, once the crowd had gone, the remaining, comparatively few stone  and bottle  and petrol bomb throwers could be dealt with efficiently by the police.

Even, however, within the continuing riot, there are sometimes successful attempts to exercise control and to moderate behaviour. At one riot, a man threatened Buckley with violence if he did not immediately leave the scene. Another man, overhearing the exchange, interceded. He took the heat out of the situation by, nevertheless, politely advising Buckley to leave.

Of course, the major constraint upon riotors are the police. Part of the thrill and enjoyment (both to stone throwers and spectators) is to escalate the riot to inconvenience or embarrass the police. There is hovever, a risk of pushing the police too far. They may then give up a tolerant posture and react with more dangerous force. The police can show directly that, while they will provisionally accept some types of bad behaviour, other forms are to them less tolerable.

We came to believe that there was an unspoken rule that one does not throw missiles directly at policemen. The tacit agreement, only sometimes broken, is that rioters will only throw stones and bottles high in the air. In this way, the policemen can clearly see the missiles and deflect them with their shields.

In Obins Street, when excitement was at its height, one stone thrower, instead of aiming the usual high lob, threw a stone at a policeman's shin. The policeman quickly lowered his shield. A second man, seizing his opportunity, threw another stone directly at the policeman's briefly exposed throat.Fortuitously, the policeman's visor saved him from injury.

His fellow policemen clearly disapproved of this type of stone throwing. From casually and good naturedly fending off missiles, the policemen excitedly and fiercely began to point. Wagged their forefingers in rhythmical unison, they indicated to each other the culprit.

The man who had thrown the stone became very agitated. He was, as it happened, extraordinarily noticeable, since he was wearing a bright, almost incandescent, new Orange collarette. Immediately, an older man who appeared to have some authority with the crowd, began to intercede. He urged both the man to behave himself and the policemen to stop pointing at him.

The meaning of the policemen's gestures had been clear. If there was to be a baton charge   as seemed plausible at that moment   the man would have been a target. He floundered. His pride would not let him retreat, yet his fear would not let him stay. His situation transmitted a clear message about the inadvisability of over aggressive stone throwing. By such means as this, within the difficult bounds set by their situation, the police could impose restrictions and rules on the crowd who were pelting them with stones and bottles.

At all events, the police stood, without retaliating, sometimes for hours at a time, while a crowd hurled bottles and stones at them. Only when the spectators had drifted away, and when a few comparatively isolated individuals were still throwing bottles would the police move in. Then, often with great suddenness, they would bang them on the head, and bundle them into a vehicle for later prosecution.

One reason for this iron discipline is clear. This is the presence of the press, for, it is alleged, the police are less scrupulous when the press are absent. On the Catholic more than the Protestant side, a prime aim of the rioters is to discredit the police. This they hope to do by tempting them to behave badly.

The press are usually welcome at Republican demonstrations and riots. First, in a general way, they draw attention to the Republican cause. Second, the demonstrations and riots dramatize the supposed conflict between oppressor and oppressed (Briton and Gael) which they wish to claim is the dominant frame. If the police can be persuaded actually to misbehave in front of the press, then this is an added bonus.

In the Protestant riots described here, the situation was a little more confused. The police were, for them, representatives of the law and order which loyalists usually claim to uphold. It was only in an immediate and local sense that the police had become their opponents, because they had impeded their 'right' to go into their 'traditional' areas. Their aims in demonstrating were to illustrate their opposition to an immediate injustice, not to present themselves as rebellious in any general way to a legally constituted authority. Many rioters, therefore, resented the press for portraying them in precisely the same light as comparable Catholic rioters. In consequence, during the riots in 1985, there were direct and violent attacks upon journalists. Loyalists did not especially want to have their conflict with authority depicted on a world stage. For them, this was a private quarrel. It was intended to instruct not the world press, but the government and the police themselves.



As in the last two chapters, these various incidents illustrate a symbiotic relationship between actors and spectators. In this case, we have discussed the relation between those who attack the police and those who condoned the attacks.

Each group of people in a riot has its own distinctive goals. Both stone throwers and spectators, no doubt, liked to see the dramatization of the territorial rights of their own 'side'. But the young rioters were also engaged in the pursuit of thrills and danger, and with the joys of embarrassing and attacking their more general opponents, the police. The spectators, however, took a more vicarious pleasure in the sight. They, were pleased to see a forceful expression of their viewpoint acted out before their eyes.

This scenario, of course, contains a constant danger that the stone throwers, especially when directly influenced by paramilitary organizations, might act wholly beyond the expectation of the more passive onlookers. This, however, never seemed to happen in the riots which we witnessed in 1985.

Rioting, we have argued, is often a playful form of activity, comparable to certain kinds of carnival. Indeed, it is out of carnival like occasions of loyalist and republican festivals that many riots actually develop. We suggest that the framework of a playful carnival is partly responsible for the frequency and pattern of rioting in Northern Ireland. Here, as elsewhere, norm violating behaviour by working class youths receives a tacit permission and social value. In these festivals, and in the riotous behaviour that sometimes evolves from them, non violating behaviour by working class youths receives a tacit consent and a social value.

At these times, socially inferior and insignificant individuals become 'king for a day', achieving a brief leading role in the eyes of their social superiors. Here, as in the theatre, they act out scenes for their approving audience, which reflect a broader rhetorical truth about social and political realities.



1 The fine distinctions between these grades of band are sometimes difficult to follow. A young man came to Buckley's door, before Christmas 1993, collecting money for instruments.

'Is it a melody flute band?' he was asked.

'No', came the reply. 'I was in a melody flute band but now I've changed. Now I'm in a blood and thunder band.'