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Ulster Volunteer Force

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The Ulster Volunteer Force is the name of two separate loyalist paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland at different times in history. One organization by that name was a main loyalist paramilitary force in Ulster in the early decades of the twentieth century. The second was a new organization formed by Gusty Spence in 1966, taking the same name just before The Troubles began, as a nod to the earlier group.

In September 1912, 470,000 people in Northern Ireland signed a Solemn League and Covenant to oppose the introduction of a Dublin based Home Rule devolved government. The overwhelming majority of these people were Protestant and Unionist, ie, in favour of strong ties with the London based government in Westminster. Whereas Nationalists to the south desired a measure of independence, Unionists throughout the country were vehemently opposed, culminating in the foundation of the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913. It is also commonly referred to as the Ulster Volunteers.

An organisation devoted to resisting the implementation of Home Rule through violent measures, the UVF grew rapidly, bringing its numbers to almost 80,000 by the end of the year. Arms and ammunitions were imported, and they made sure it was much easier to drill and train with real weapons than their counterparts in the south, the Irish Volunteer Force, a militant group devoted to protecting the implementation of Home Rule in Ireland. The Ulster Volunteers exploited a loophole in British law that allowed them to drill with weapons so long as it is in the expressed defence of the British Empire and the British crown. Furthermore, Unionists more often than not tended to be in powerful positions as magistrates in Ulster, hence allowing these local organisations to be granted licenses to drill and train.

The level of support for the Ulster Volunteers amongst the British armed forces in Ireland became apparent when General Sir Hubert Gough, Commander of the Third Cavalry Brigade based at Curragh Camp (the traditional headquarters for the British military in Ireland) and many of his officers refused to march against the Volunteer Force to defend the implementation of Home Rule. This so-called Curragh Mutiny resulted in 130 officers resigning their commission - sending a shock wave back home to Westminster. It was obvious the British government couldn't rely on the army to force Home Rule into practise in Ulster, and so the official urge to accommodate the Ulster intransigents, rather than confront Civil War, was further strengthened.

The Ulster Volunteers formed the bulk of the 36th (Ulster) Division which fought particularly bravely at the Battle of the Somme, and modern Ulster Unionism continues to remember this on their annual July 1st marches. The Ulster Volunteer Force was founded as a new organisation using the same name in 1966.[1]