So it’s the week of the “Twelfth” again. That, for those of you who don’t know (I have regular readers in France, the US, Germany and Switzerland….ahem) refers to the Orange Order marches across the North celebrating the victory of King Billy (King William III Stadtholder of the Netherlands), over King James of England at the Battle of the Boyne near Drogheda in 1690.
The battle itself was, of course, part of a wider European power struggle and essentially had very little relevence to Ireland herself. It is the nature of such things though, that local rivalries were exploited and fears played upon, particularly in Ireland. In an Irish context, Protestants identified with the ideals of William who was Protestant while the Catholic Irish tended to side with Catholic King James who was fighting to regain his throne in England. Confusing? That’s only the half of it. Many Catholics fought on Williams side, his first message of congratulations after the battle came from the Pope!
Arguably the greatest effect at the time was in Scotland where the Highlanders, allied with the Irish Jacobites on King James’s side’, felt their defeat most keenly. In time, the effect was to end James’s hopes of regaining the throne of England.
And so we move forward 300 odd years to today and it’s relevance and context.
Why do Orangemen feel the need to march and march and march again? Pretty much for the whole Summer all across the North. Is it insecurity? Reassurance? Anxiety? Triumphalism? Cultural Reinforcement? Personally I think it’s all of the above with a few extra’s thrown in for good measure. Different areas have different parades and provoke different reactions from participants supporters and those opposed. For example, a quiet rural march by the local lodge threatens nobody whereas a lengthy raucous march in an area where they are not welcome may provoke riots and lengthy civil unrest.
The Language of Unionism reveals much about the mindset however, “No Surrender”, “Not and Inch”, Never, Never, Never”. This is not the confident, secure language of a people who are well led. Likewise the songs sung by Orange Bands reveal much the same mindset.
With Northern Ireland undergoing enormous demographic changes in recent years the areas of contentious parades are increasing. Crumlin in County Antrim is a case in point at present. It is now a majority Nationalist village whereas 20 years ago it was mostly Unionist. The Demographics are not just changing on the basis of Religion, however, there is a large and increasing percentage who want nothing to do with either “Tribe” and view these parades as an anachronism.
Orangeism is now a polarised entity between those, generally older, rural members, with a somewhat rose tinted view of elder days and a working class aggressive, inarticulate, often drink fuelled, sectarian element who have no idea what they are trying to achieve, only what they wish to prevent.
In the centre, there is only drift and a wish to put distance. No wonder half of the North goes on holidays for a month every year.