Horizon: a short piece by Glenn J Bradley

September 14, 2020

I recently participated in 2 public digital events and I thought I would elaborate on those for my piece in this Shared Ireland creative writing article.

In Scéalta I was interviewed by Joe Austin during which Joe referred to me as a “Peacenik”.

I don’t believe there is a date in my life’s journey that I recall becoming a peacenik.

I think it is safe to state I was born a peaceful baby and that the socio-economic-political environment of the day swamped me growing as a child and a teenager in the Ainsworth area (that’s the west Belfast side of the Woodvale Road) in Belfast. Violence was heaped on our community daily and was in general an almost daily multiple of armed events in west-north Belfast. Growing under such conditions led me to worship at the high alter of violence, it was a norm, a conditioning, which as I write today I now know was a completely avoidable environment.

A young boy stands beside a British soldier on patrol (Image: Getty)

A young boy stands beside a British soldier on patrol (Image: Getty)

That is not to excuse my own moral or ethical responsibility as an individual – like most Belfast teenagers I rioted but no one coerced me to, I engaged in sectarianism but no one coerced me to and at 16 I volunteered to join the British Army and no one coerced me to. My motive in 1984 was naively simple: get the best training possible and come back home to kill Irish Republican aggressors.

The Army took me away from the goldfish bowl of Northern Ireland and my world view received a short, sharp shock from my Belfast inheritance. As my service in the military continued I remodelled from the 16 year old sectarian bigot I’d been. Later, as I re-entered a civilian-life I became a local political activist and was an Officer of the Ulster Unionist Party during the negotiations that led to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. Politics was a brief staging in my transition from being an institutionalised solder adjusting to ‘civi-street’ and by 1997 a whole-time professional career developed that involved travel as my world view continued to change with me learning daily, oft in diverse and hostile global environments.

As outlined, I don’t believe there is a specific date when I became a Peacenik but I do know that today I have peace in my heart and I refuse to let the behaviour of others destroy my inner peace.

Personal trauma was prevalent in life with suffering that always had me questioning “who am I?” in the truest sense of “me” and that journey brought me to the door of Buddhism by 2003.

I am still changing, each day evolving, striving to make this day better than the last, trying to constructively and positively improve quality of life for all whether it be family, friends, work colleagues, community, society, our Island, our mother Earth.

As outlined, I don’t believe there is a specific date when I became a Peacenik but I do know that today I have peace in my heart and I refuse to let the behaviour of others destroy my inner peace. I try live life in a practice that exemplifies parity of esteem, respect, indeed love as I bridge between me and everyone else with a genuine affection in my heart toward our shared humanity as fellow Citizens, in this day.

I wholly believe that if your actions do not prove the truth of your words, then your words are nothing but lies and I find a meaningful silence always better than meaningless words, particularly in this modern era of social media platforms with unfounded ridicule or unqualified criticism by nameless, faceless trolls who operate to deny individual thinking or freedom of expression.

Yes, I am a peacenik and unapologetic Irish peace-processor but, in truth, I wouldn’t wish the life’s journey that brought me here on anyone else. I am simply, me.

In “West Belfast Talks Back” I shared a platform with Julie-Ann Corr, Louise O’Reilly TD, Conor McGinn MP and it was chaired by Allison Morris. I’ve been participating in Féile events for many years usually in my capacity as a member of Veterans for Peace or as a commentator who hails from the Unionist community or the GFA politic era. It was thus nice to be asked to participate in this year’s Digital Féile as a Businessman who works to try improve lives with me talking largely from my 36+ years working life experience.

Post the recording I was chatting with Allison, a friendship I cherish, and we briefly chatted on all things border poll and potential subsequent timelines and events. Allison outlined her consideration that in event of a border poll win for Constitutional Change that such change would be long in years and Allison used the example of British withdrawal from Hong Kong as an example. I disagreed, and it got me thinking of how and why there is a need for serious change management planning.

I suppose I could begin at any time in Ireland’s history since the Island rose from a sub- tropical shallow sea but for the purpose of this exercise I’ll commence in 1801 and so I sum up considerations:

Act of Union

Act of Union

The Act of Union in 1801 created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland i.e. the 4 “nations” making the Kingdom were Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. In 1920 the Fourth Home Rule Bill or the Government of Ireland Act 1920 politically partitioned the Island of Ireland creating “Southern Ireland” and “Northern Ireland”. Despite all they stood for before 1920, Irish Unionists, Landlords and Industrialist of the era living in the powerhouse of the North-East counties of the Island were content to see the proud province of Ulster itself partitioned with Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal falling into “Southern Ireland”. The most casual observance of the Act indicates partition was a temporary measure however then, not as now, His Majesty’s Government (HMG) held a vested interest in the industrial north-east of Ireland which helped enable UK exports and manufacturing as “Great”.

Yes, back then, the British Government held a serious strategic, economic and selfish interest in this Island and so the Act came into effect in 1921 creating a new state called Northern Ireland through quite artificial interpretations (even for those days) granting the region a devolved Government and which constitutionally would remain in Union with Britain.

As events took over, the Home Rule envisaged for the new state of Southern Ireland did not go as planned with the Irish War of Independence being fought and concluding in the political negotiations which created the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922.

A politically imposed partition became complete with physical, economic and customs separation forced upon the people of Ireland with the threat of “all out and terrible war” by the British Government of the day thus establishing the Irish Free State for the 26 counties of Southern Ireland which in turn became the Republic of Ireland in 1937 while the institutions established for Northern Ireland continued to function until stopped by the British Government in 1972.

…two bastard States created on one Island by the imperialist action of partition: one created focused on religious rights to dominate and one created focused on marching rights to dominate.

Two temporary shelters created on one Island by an imperialist action of partition. To be fair to Britain what they did here wasn’t new. Borders and territories across the world were being redrawn as dwindling Empires, either forcibly or with the threat of force, adjusted natural or historical borders and peoples by arrogantly drawing lines on charts without consideration of the cause or the lasting effect.

Perhaps I should write two bastard States created on one Island by the imperialist action of partition: one created focused on religious rights to dominate and one created focused on marching rights to dominate? Let’s face it, the politicians who evolved out of the era did absolutely nothing to improve quality of life for the ordinary people on this Island. If we look at the leadership of Craigavon or De Valera, each were narcissists specialising in trivial
difference indulging in petty one-up-man-ship contests, one increasing influence of the Catholic Church to create a pseudo-Theocracy and one increasing influence of the Orange Order to create a gerrymandered-One Party Quandary. Each State cementing into Law these highly irregular and peculiar influences to be enforced by both their respective Police Forces of the day. Many in the police ranks were drawn from the Volunteer movements of the day – “jobs for the boys” if you will – the newly created RUC and Garda Síochána swelled with Statelet pride to enforce each Statelets version of “the law”.

In the intervening 100 years violence by one armed group or other has prevailed. The IRA has existed in one guise or other as have the UVF. I oft grimace when I hear Republicans (and it seems to be younger Republicans) today use the UVF killings of 1966 as an excuse for later PIRA violence during the period of recent conflict here (1969-97). To those Republicans it’s as if the IRA English Campaign of the 30s or the IRA Border Campaign 1956-62 never happened.

I also grimace when Unionist politicians laud Lord Edward Carson yet neglect his warning to Unionists not to treat the minority community in their midst badly. I laugh out loud when I witness Unionists laud Churchill oblivious that on more than one occasion, Churchill offered unity to De Valera during WW2 and it would have happened but for the Republic of Ireland choosing continued neutrality. For goodness sake, Political Unionism of the day even rejected the NHS in 1948 because it created medical equality for all.

Selective amnesia seems to be a recurrent condition for many on this Island.

Selective amnesia seems to be a recurrent condition for many on this Island. When sectarian internecine fighting and civil uprising began in 1969, it had as it’s foundation stone Empirical partition, and 48 years after ticking the Ireland box as done (despite not considering cause or effect since 1920) the British Government found itself having to rethink its role in Ireland, again.

When the British Army arrived here in 1969 it made many horrendous errors (and I say that as someone who proudly served my notion of Nationhood in that same army). Used to fighting insurgency and counter-terror operations throughout the Empire, someone clearly didn’t get the memo that Northern Ireland was constitutionally, at least, an integral part of the UK, a western European country and that tactics deployed in Malaya, Borneo, Aden should not be adopted on the streets of Belfast or Derry.

Operation Banner British troops arriving in the North of Ireland

Operation Banner

For my own part, I saw soldiers unfurl banners on the Shankill Road written in Arabic (and expect people to know what it said); soldiers wearing arctic warfare dress in winter on the streets of Belfast; my own grandmother grabbed by the hair and trailed out of the Mayfair bakery by soldiers for no obvious reason (Welsh to be precise); funerals of innocent people who were family acquaintances killed by soldiers in highly suspicious circumstances (Ritchie McKinney and Rabbie Johnston); my great-Uncle John Smyth knocked down and killed by a Saracen in Caledon Street with no soldier driver ever charged and that’s me, someone from the loyal Irish community, witnessing these things!

Given my later training and operational experience in the British Army, I am being very kind when I say the Army under Freeland, Erskine-Crum, Tuzo was very badly advised by London and / or the RUC of the day, pathetically managed and completely ill prepared for serving on operations within western European where sectarian pogroms had taken place and where a civil uprising was happening. There was a fundamental failure to see cause or effect.

Throw into that toxic counter-insurgency bullishness the ongoing armed campaigns of PIRA, the UVF and other emerging newer paramilitary units and it was “the” recipe for the violent chaos that engulfed many of us for decades leaving a legacy of suffering, hurt and post- traumatic stress on an industrial scale.


…. I had paused in writing this article because of professional commitments. Today it is Saturday 29th August 2020 and later today my family and I will go to Pizza on the Square to celebrate my Grandson Bobby’s 3rd birthday. His birth date is 31st August, and Bobby was born 250 years to the day of Henry Joy McCracken’s birth date. Bold Henry-Joy, that infamous United Irishman and local leader of the 1798 rebellion, captured, court-martialled and hanged.

Henry Joy McCracken

Henry Joy McCracken was born in High street, Belfast into two of the city’s most prominent Presbyterian industrial families. He was an Irish Republican and a founding member of the Society of the United Irishmen

In the intervening period of days from stopping writing to picking up the keyboard again I’ve witnessed the incredulous derogatory comment regarding victims by Martina Anderson MLA; the golf-gate debacle in the south and the shenanigans of some in FF and FG to keep office; the unfair pressure heaped on 10 year olds to privately test them within our multi-layered unnecessary system of education and ongoing inconsistencies by Minister Peter Weir MLA; the Irish Language still being considered contentious while injustice against the language, it’s speakers, it’s promotion prevails; another guise of the IRA being taken to task by MI5; BREXIT shadiness ongoing etc, etc.…. And I think how incredibly fucking frustrating it all is!

When will improving quality of life for Citizens of this Island come first?

I think of the United Irishmen and I think of what partition cemented, like a festering cancer, on this Island. I think of how this two-state imposed “temporary solution” of 1920 and 1922 utterly institutionalised sectarianism, social injustice, inequality, domination, economic depreciation, irrational and imbalanced dependency. I think of the British Government claim of no selfish, economic or strategic interest in Northern Ireland uttered since 1993 and yet 8% of the serving British Army is derived from people of this small place while British Government property assets litter across Northern Ireland. I think of Stormont, the pantomime that delivers nothing in regard to quality of life improvement for ordinary working people here while many of the politicians, their army of advisors, hangers-on and confidantes milk the gravy train. I want to cry. I want to laugh. I want to scream. Only we here, alive, today, can deconstruct the sectarian institutionalised life we all inherited. Will the politicians of Stormont and the Dáil ever get this? When will improving quality of life for Citizens of this Island come first?

Finally, I think of bold Henry-Joy. I think of my Grandson. He’ll not be court-martialled nor hanged but I certainly hope he is a revolutionary for change. I pause and reflect I have peace at heart. I am a peacenik. I breathe and smile, onwards to the revolution of change, over there, the close horizon.
Glenn J Bradley,
29th August 2020.

Glenn is a friend of Shared Ireland and has done a podcast with us previously along with his friend Danny Morrison. It is highly popular and is worth checking out here.


Glenn BradleyGlenn Bradley, b. 1967, west Belfast joined the British Army aged 16 years. Post military service he was an Officer of the Ulster Unionist Party before entering the international commercial world of business. Today, Glenn is a supply chain leader within a leading private Company. He is Chair of the Northern Ireland Business + Human Rights Forum and a Trustee of the Community Foundation NI. Glenn remains an unapologetic Irish peace-processor and his humanitarian work remains focused to the vision of evolving & promoting business models that do not degrade human beings or the environment within their supply chains. Glenn is a member of the Institute of Directors (Ireland); a member of the Institute of Freight Professionals and a member of the Institute of Export and Trade.

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One comment on “Horizon: a short piece by Glenn J Bradley

  1. Hi Glenn,

    Great article.

    Just to point out that Ireland was declared a Republic in 1949. 1937 is the year the current constitution was first adopted. Ireland remained a member of the Commonwealth until 1949.