1947 (age 66–67)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Employer||British Merchant Navy
Ulster Defence Regiment
|Known for||Ulster loyalist, Christian pastor|
|Ulster Independence Movement|
|Movement||Formerly Ulster Defence Association|
Kenneth McClinton (born 1947) is a Northern Irish pastor and sometime political activist. During his early years McClinton was an active member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). He was a close friend of Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader Billy Wright and was the main orator at his funeral following his killing by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in December 1997.
McClinton was born in the Shankill Road area of Belfast and raised initially in a Nissen hut. His father, a coalman, was an alcoholic and frequently spent time in prison. His parents' marriage broke up whilst he was a child and as a result of the ensuing poverty his mother moved around a lot with the children whilst McClinton himself spent three years in a borstal.
He left school in 1962 and briefly worked as a labourer before enlisting for a spell in the Merchant Navy. McClinton was regularly involved in violence during his time away at sea and left the Merchant Navy with 200 stitches in his body from the knife fights in which he had participated. Following his return to Belfast McClinton found himself involved in further street-fighting and heavy drinking until in 1972 he enlisted with the Ulster Defence Regiment. McClinton lasted only the six months basic training in the UDR, feeling that the regiment was too restricted in what it was allowed to do. In particular he complained that he had to fill in sixteen reports if he shot at rioters.
McClinton joined the UDA after leaving the UDR and, with his military background, was soon added to the ranks of their Ulster Freedom Fighters elite squad. He became commander of several UFF active service units and through these was involved in a series of what he later admitted were particularly brutal attacks. McClinton however has refused to reveal any details of these events, despite admitting his involvement in this type of activity, as he has never been charged for them. Martin Dillon would later uncover a confession given to police by McClinton for a number of other crimes in 1977 which police had agreed to strike clean.
McClinton was ultimately to be charged for two later murders. In March 1977 McClinton murdered Catholic civilian Daniel Carville. The attack took place as Carville was driving his son down Cambrai Street, which links the Shankill and Crumlin roads, on St Patrick's Day.
During the failed 1977 second strike by the Ulster Workers' Council McClinton boarded a bus on which he shot dead Harry Bradshaw, the driver of the bus and a Protestant. Following the killing the UDA wrote to his widow Sheila Bradshaw stating that they were sorry for the murder and that they believed her husband to be a Catholic. A ten pound note was included with the letter. However according to Martin Dillon the attack was ordered by James Craig who knew that any Citybus driver on the Crumlin Road where the attack took place would be a Protestant. Craig wanted to send out a message to other Protestant bus drivers that their failure to support the strike as they had done in 1974 was not going unnoticed.
Following this killing he went to work on a plan to send hollowed-out books containing bombs through the post to Catholic targets. As McClinton would admit in later life at this time he wished to behead Catholics and place the severed heads on the railings of the Shankill's Woodvale Park and told the UDA leadership that he was prepared to do so in order to provide a rival to the Ulster Volunteer Force's Shankill Butchers. Craig however began to fear that McClinton, whose own alcohol abuse as well as his extreme suggestions about murder, was becoming too much of a loose cannon and so he contacted members of the police he knew in order to give McClinton up to them.
Arrest and imprisonment
On 27 August 1977 McClinton's home on Rosapenna Street was raided and he was taken into police custody where he confessed to the murders of Carville and Bradshaw. When he came to trial however McClinton retracted his confession and changed his plea to not guilty, appearing in court naked in what he claimed was a display of contempt for the trial. He was convicted of both killings.
Initially held in Crumlin Road Gaol McClinton's successive violent outbursts saw him transferred to the Maze prison where he went 'on the blanket' in protest at having to wear a prison uniform. He retained his reputation for violence in the Maze although he also took to writing poetry, which generally dealt with the theme of anger at his and other loyalists incarceration when he felt they were simply supporting British rule through their actions.
McClinton had an appeal heard before a Diplock court chaired by Lord Justice Turlough O'Donnell in February 1979. He argued that his confession had been extracted under duress but judge found no evidence to overturn the conviction and, describing McClinton as a "cold-blooded assassin", gave him a life sentence with a minimum of twenty years advised.
According to McClinton he spent the few months after his failed appeal embroiled in inner turmoil until 12 August 1979 when he called upon God and told him that he accepted His word. As a result McClinton became a born-again Christian. He announced his conversion to fellow inmates the next day, a move which initially earned him scorn and saw his reputation, which had been based on his extreme violence, plummet. Seeking to change his ways, he undertook various programmes of study, obtaining a degree in criminology and social sciences from the Open University as well as a correspondence course in theology from the Emmaus Bible School in Liverpool.
During his time in prison McClinton started his own Christian Fellowship and converted 24 inmates to Christianity, including Robert "Basher" Bates of the Shankill Butchers. However eight of the converts would later drift from Christianity. According to McClinton he and Bates even performed baptisms in a tub in prison.
McClinton's conversion saw him chosen by prison staff to begin an attempt at integration of prisoners and in 1982 he was sent to work in a workshop on the republican wing of the prison. The experiment was abandoned on 24 March 1983 when McClinton, who had been ostracised by the republican prisoners, was attacked and badly beaten.
McClinton was released from prison in 1993 and was soon baptised a pastor by a Texas-based Christian ministry founded by Charles Colson. It has been noted that even at this stage McClinton was preaching a particularly hard-line form of fundamentalist Protestantism.
Nonetheless following his release the "saved" McClinton became a regular on Northern Irish television discussing his conversion. He soon became a widely reported figure in the media and used his comparative fame to establish "Higher Force Challenge", a youth scheme that sought to initiate dialogue between young people from the two communities. He initially returned to the Shankill where he worked for the Stadium youth project.
Taking advantage of his contacts in the United States, McClinton also established his own Ulster American Christian foundation which provided funding for his own ministry. However it has been claimed by Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack that McClinton's American contacts were largely made up of fringe white supremacist churches active in the American south. Martin Dillon has also claimed that McClinton facilitated meetings between representatives of these groups and Mid-Ulster UVF leader Billy Wright; he went on to claim that a strong strain of anti-communism that ran through the thinking of both McClinton and Wright had come from contact with these far right American groups.
McClinton holds three postgraduate "degrees", a Masters in Theology (gained in 2002), a PhD in Philosophy, which he was awarded in 2003, and a further doctorate in Literature which he was awarded in 2004, all from the Birmingham-based European Theological Seminary and College of the Bible International. The Seminary however is not officially recognised as having degree-awarding status and has been portrayed as a diploma mill.
Return to political activity
After a time back on the Shankill McClinton moved to Portadown and it was here that he returned to activism. McClinton's Shankill home had been attacked by UVF members and he sought to resettle outside Belfast, with Billy Wright inviting him to Portadown. According to Wright's sister Angela the Portadown loyalist leader had met McClinton in prison and their friendship had been cemented by Wright's fixation with the Shankill, an area he recognised as the bulwark of loyalism. This was sparked by the Drumcree conflict which erupted in 1995 and which he sought to portray as a threat to Protestantism in Northern Ireland from Catholics. McClinton became a regular face at the Drumcree stand-off and frequently in the company of the Orange Order leaders on site. He also wrote poetry in praise of Billy Wright for the role he played in the Drumcree conflict.
As well as his conversion to Christianity McClinton also became an advocate of Ulster nationalism, endorsing the establishment of a Calvinist state. McClinton joined the Ulster Independence Movement and began to produce pamphlets for them in which he called for Northern Irish Protestants to be allowed to bear arms and use them against "Fenian rebels". He further argued that Catholics who did not honour the Union Flag and other traditional Protestant and loyalist symbols should be denied citizenship of Northern Ireland. He was a candidate for the UIM in the 1996 elections to the Northern Ireland Forum in West Belfast and in Upper Bann for the 1998 Assembly election. Like the rest of the UIM McClinton was a strong opponent of the Good Friday Agreement and was involved in the "no" campaign.
McClinton became a close associate of Clifford Peoples, a Shankill-based former Ulster Volunteer Force member who was a leading figure in Families Against Intimidation and Terror. According to McDonald and Cusack McClinton and Peoples were close to a British intelligence agent known as "the Pastor". The three men were involved in a propaganda campaign against the Progressive Unionist Party and Ulster Democratic Party aimed at destabilising the Northern Ireland peace process. They further claimed that the three helped to convince Billy Wright to split from the UVF and establish the Loyalist Volunteer Force by convincing the Mid-Ulster leader that they intended to establish an evangelical "army of God". Wright's hand was ultimately forced in this matter when the UVF Brigade Staff expelled him from the movement. McClinton's public attacks on the pro-peace process loyalist parties included his taunt that UDP stood for "Ulster Drugs Party" as part an allegation that UDP members were leading figures in the illegal drugs trade.
McClinton had been close personally to Billy Wright and was the main orator at the Loyalist Volunteer Force leader's funeral following his killing inside the Maze Prison by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in December 1997. As a result he served as a spokesman and mediator for LVF prisoners.
McClinton served as the liaison between the LVF and John de Chastelain's Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. Following the LVF ceasefire David Trimble, who hoped to achieve LVF decommissioning, called on Sean O'Callaghan who in turn knew a prison guard who had been close to McClinton during his time in jail. Through this channel it was revealed that the LVF would decommission guns in return for recognition of their ceasefire and a promise of early prisoner releases. The ceasefire was recognised officially by Mo Mowlam on 12 November 1998 and 25 prisoners were made eligible for early release. As a result of the initiative on 18 December 1998 9 guns, 350 bullets, two pipe bombs and six detonators were given to de Chastelaine. Criticism followed however as many of the devices were crudely home-made or very old, including a Steyr-Daimler-Puch weapon that had belonged to the original Ulster Volunteers. McClinton invited select journalists to watch the destruction of some LVF weapons.
Although there was no indication of any direct link McClinton's name appeared on a list of people issued by Johnny Adair's C Company of the UDA as part of an attempt to initiate a loyalist feud with the UVF. McClinton was listed along with Peoples, Jackie Mahood and the already murdered Frankie Curry as examples of dissident loyalists that C Company accused the UVF of trying to kill.
In 2005 McClinton was warned by police that his name was on a UVF hit list after the organisation killed four men with LVF connections. Commenting on the alleged death threat McClinton told the Sunday Life newspaper "if I am killed by the UVF, then it is only an opportunity to meet the Lord, and I will accept that opportunity".
- Martin Dillon, God and the Gun, London: Orion Books, 1997, p. 20
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 22
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 24
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 25
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 26
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 27
- Dillon, God and the Gun, pp. 51-53
- Susan McKay, Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People, Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 2005, p. 79
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 28
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 29
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 19
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 30
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 31
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 32
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 33
- Dillon, God and the Gun, pp. 33-34
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 35
- Dillon, God and the Gun, pp. 37-38
- Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack, UDA - Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror, Dublin: Penguin Ireland, 2004, p. 282
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 39
- Dillon, God and the Gun, pp. 41-42
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 43
- McKay, Northern Protestants, p. 80
- Henry McDonald, Trimble, London: Bloomsbury, 2001, p. 275
- Dillon, The Trigger Men, p. 90
- Profile on McClinton's Ulster-American Christian Fellowship site
- The European Theological Seminary from British Centre for Science Education website
- European Theological Seminary under investigation
- Chirs Anderson, Billy Boy: The Life and Death of LVF Leader Billy Wright, Edinburgh: Mainstream, 2007, p. 69
- Martin Dillon, The Trigger Men, Mainstream Publishing, 2003, pp. 32-33
- Dillon, God and the Gun, pp. 46-48
- McKay, Northern Protestants, p. 139
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 48
- Dillon, God and the Gun, p. 49
- McDonald and Cusack, UDA, pp. 282-284
- John D. Brewer, C. Wright Mills and the ending of violence, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, pp. 127-128
- Tom Hayden, Irish on the Inside: In Search of the Soul of Irish America, Verso, 2003, p. 231
- Eva Urban, Community Politics and the Peace Process in Contemporary Northern Irish Drama, Peter Lang, 2010, p. 109
- McDonald, Trimble, p. 274
- Kieran McEvoy, Paramilitary imprisonment in Northern Ireland: resistance, management, and release, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 339
- McDonald and Cusack, UDA, p. 315
- Alan Murray, "Loyalist preacher Kenny McClinton on UVF hit list", Sunday Life, 21 August 2005