It was a late night last night due to my usual 11th night bonfire perambulations... and that, on top of a hectic week meant that I didn't rush out of bed to go and watch any of the Orange Parades. I would usually take some international volunteers to see one, which usually leaves my head spinning with a combination of flutes, drums and incessant questions, but this year I was spared all that, as someone else said they would take them. I did, however, have to deal with one Orange parade related question.

I flicked on the BBC coverage of the Belfast parade, with its surreal commentary comparing it to various world-famous carnivals like Rio's Mardi Gras, or Notting Hill, without the slightest trace of irony. Whilst watching it, my eldest son emerged from his mini-aestivation and asked why all the Orangemen on parade had LOL on their collarettes and banners? He would, of course only use LOL in its text-speak sense of "Laugh out loud", a usage that I stubbornly refuse to adopt. So, I explained that this stood for Loyal Orange Lodge...

But it reminded me that my sons are growing up in a different world from the one I grew up in...

When I was a child the 12th was the second best day in the year after Christmas... My birthday is the 10th July, but I always looked forward to the 12th rather than my birthday... It was a day of real celebration... a day out for the whole community (we didn't get out much)... From I was no age I carried the string on the banner of LOL 1003 Harkness Memorial which belonged to No. 6 District Ballymacarrett, walking the full way from Templemore Avenue to Finaghy, where the field was at first (later Edenderry) and back... often dancing and skipping along the road, no matter what the po-faced stewards said. We were rewarded with a picnic lunch in the field: sandwiches wrapped up in greaseproof paper - cooked ham, corned beef or tongue (can't remember the time I had a tongue sandwich) or brown or white, with or without mustard, and a cup of pre-sweetened tea. Then when we got home we would adjourn to Megain Memorial Presbyterian Church Hall for a salad tea, followed by apple or rhubarb pie and cream. They were happy times. With lots of laughing out loud.

But in the eighties I gradually became alienated from it all. Partly because of my own faith journey and my studies of the history and politics of Ireland. I could not reconcile the Chrisitan claims of Orangism with the practice of most of its members, and the trappings which were not simply a celebration of Protestantism, but explicitly anti-catholic and highly political, reinforcing the sectarian divides of this land. Some of my family continued (and continue) to be actively involved, but a number came into conflict with the radicalised political direction that the Orange was taking, and the rise of paramilitary influenced (if not directly linked) bands exacerbated that sense of alienation. A 12 year gap because I was living in Scotland and later ministering outside Belfast, meant that by the time I saw the Belfast parade again it was completely unrecognisable from my rose-tinted memories. The lodges were smaller and fewer, the pipe, brass and accordian bands had almost entirely disappeared (though I didn't lament the loss of the latter of those three), and "kick the Pope" flute bands were omnipresent... Whilst the music was rousing, 2 hours of it left me feeling that it was being played inside my head! And their demeanour left me sharing the sentiments of the Duke of Wellington on reviewing his troops (in rough paraphrase) "I don't know what they do to the other side, but they scare the hell out of me!"

Anyway, the 12th will always form part of my psychological DNA, and there are certain aspects of the history and traditions that should not be forgotten, but I doubt that I will ever recover that same sense of joy that I had about this day when I was a boy.

But it would certainly help if everyone involved wasn't so grim-faced about the whole thing... Maybe it's time for the Loyal Orange Lodges to LOL...

ps. To be fair, having just watched the BBC NI news, it seems as if many of the country parades (complete with lambeg drums, pipe bands and other relics of bygone days of yore) were a lot less po-faced and more imaginative than the Belfast one has been of late. However, I'm not too sure how the Disney Corporation will take the use of Mickey (did no one see the irony here?) and Minnie Mouse heading up the Hillsborough parade with that other ripped-off cartoon character Diamond Dan or Bootleg Billy as he was known for a while... at least until the £86 rights fee was paid. You've got to laugh...




Popular posts from this blog

A Woman of no Distinction

An Epistle To Our Elected Leaders

Advent Candle Liturgy 5: Christmas