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Fingers pointed at 'wrong' red hand on loyalist Somme flag

Loyalist leaders Jim Wilson and Jackie McDonald at the unveiling of the Somme flag by the Loyalist Communities Council last month. Picture By Mal McCann

FINGERS are being pointed at a new loyalist flag marking the Battle of the Somme amid claims it has the 'wrong' red hand.

Backed by the three main loyalist paramilitary groups, the flag is intended to replace UVF and UDA displays along arterial routes this summer.

It has already been flown from lampposts in some parts of Northern Ireland and is on sale from several loyalist memorabilia websites for £10.

While some loyalists have shunned the design and persisted with paramilitary flags, the Shankill Band Shop posted on its Facebook page that it was in high demand and had sold out on pre-orders alone.

However, the centenary flag - which commemorates loyalists who fought in the 36th (Ulster) Division in World War I - shows a left hand at its centre.

While the division's insignia featured the Red Hand of Ulster, in loyalist tradition this was always a right hand, while the left hand was adopted by the Ancient Order of the Hibernians and Irish Citizen Army.

In all previous UVF or 36th Division flags, bannerettes or badges, either historic or modern, the right (dexter) hand has been used.

The Northern Ireland flag also displays a right hand, as does the Ulster and Tyrone GAA flags.

There have been claims on some loyalist online forums that the Loyalist Community Council has "botched" the Somme flag and it does not represent the men of the Ulster Volunteer Force who made up the 36th Ulster Division.

The council was formed last year with the backing of the UDA, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando and revealed the Somme design last month as part efforts to ease tensions over contentious flags.

Historian Éamon Phoenix said the left hand had always been part of Gaelic tradition.

"Legend has O'Neill chasing someone for possession of an island and with his sword in his right hand he chopped off his left hand and threw it onto the island.

"But it does vary - even in Belfast's buildings you will find left and right hands so it's not definitive".

Ken Wilkinson of the Progressive Unionist Party, who is also a keen First World War historian, said the issue is a "point of controversy".

"On all UVF badges it would always be a right hand and that has always been my understanding, but there are differing views on that," he said.

"At the Unionist convention of 1892 there was a left hand used. Even in the Ulster Hall there are crests with a left hand.

"There are different opinions about which hand should be used and I suppose just as some people say the Irish tricolour is green, white and orange while other say it's green, white and gold, when it comes to history and flags there are always different viewpoints.

"It's not that it's wrong, but I can imagine it will be a controversial point and open to much debate."

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