Today I accompanied one of my oldest friends Andy Tyrie to the opening of his Interpretive Centre on the Newtownards Road. Andy was born in Belfast, one of the seven children of an ex-soldier and a part-time seamstress. He was brought up in a two-bedroomed house in the Shankill Road. He was educated at the local Brown Square school and found work as a gardener with Belfast City Council, His family lived in both Ballymurphy and New Barnley, beside the Shankill Adamsons, but were forced out of both heavily Catholic areas in 1969. The family returned to the Shankill.
Andy’s surname is an ancient Scottish clan name of Cruthinic or Pictish origin; his ancestors migrated from Scotland to Ireland in the early days of the Ulster Plantation. They first went to Dublin, however, before settling permanently in Ulster.
Andy’s first involvement with loyalist guerillas came in 1967 when he was sworn in as a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), although he did not stay long as he felt that the UVF was doing too little about Protestants being forced out of Catholic areas, such as his own family. He eventually joined the Shankill Defence Association (SDA) upon its foundation in 1969. His power base within the SDA grew and he was a relatively high profile figure on the Shankill when it was absorbed by the UDA in 1971.
In March 1973 Andy was created leader of the organisation. His new-found role of leader was bolstered by the events of the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike of May 1974 in which he played the leading role, having been a shop steward in his council days.
In The Break-Up of Britain Tom Nairn has concluded that: “It was the working class that made the Ulster Nation. Its 1974 general strike defied, and defeated, three bourgeois governments and the British Army. Although they will never concede the fact it relegated the claims of the I.R.A. forever from that historical archive from which they should never have re-emerged. It was, without doubt, the most successful political action carried out by any European working class since the World War.”