An Untraditional Route

I live in a leafy suburb of East Belfast (although I largely work in a slightly less leafy loyalist housing estate further east) and it is a rare day that the sound of Orange parades is to be heard here, in contrast to my last manse, which was practically on the route of the largest Twelfth Parade in Ireland. However, today, I have no doubt that I will hear more than a few flute bands as what is predicted to be the biggest parade of loyal orders (and others) for many years arrives at its destination in the Stormont Estate, just across the road. They are coming there to share in a family fun day celebrating the Centenary of the Signing of the Ulster Covenant. Due to its scale there are multiple "feeder parades" which will merge at Belfast City Hall where there will be a number of re-enactments of the initial signing of the Covenant, before the long haul out to Stormont and back again. The choice of Stormont as the ultimate destination is an interesting one, given that whilst it was once reputed to be the seat of a "protestant parliament for a protestant people" (in what might be said to be a "popular misquote regarding an unpopular political entity") it is now the seat of a power-sharing executive that would have had the original signatories of the Ulster Covenant drafting a contemporary version (which would not have looked like the one offered in yesterday's post). But that is echoed in the irony that as the Parade makes its way up Prince of Wales Avenue it will be greeted by the giant statue of Edward Carson, who, whilst the first signatory of the Ulster Covenant, never wanted a separate Northern Ireland that left Unionists in the rest of Ireland outside the United Kingdom.
Whilst this part of the Upper Newtownards Road is not part of any so-called "Traditional Route", I doubt there will be too many protests, nor will there have to be a Parades Commission determination to take into account the sensitivities of the citizens of this part of town (so long as the flute bands do not interfere with any TV coverage of the Ryder Cup... if that happened there is no telling what the citizens around Stormont would do... they might go so far as to write a strongly worded letter to that Stephen Nolan fellow). There has been a determination on other parts of the parade however, and all reasonable-minded people hope that the parade will go off peacefully all along its route. But there are more than a few unreasonably-minded people on both sides of our sadly divided community here, and there will need to be good leadership on both sides to make sure that there are no repeat of the provocative actions or unnecessary violence that have accompanied other parades throughout the summer, especially when the bands accompanying the Royal Black Institution's Parade in Belfast on the last Saturday in August ignored a legally binding determination of the Parades Commission. It might be argued that resisting the determination of the parades Commission is small beer compared with the ironic actions of the "loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V" signing a Covenant where they promised to support each other in resisting the will of His Gracious Majesty's legally elected government "imposing" Home Rule on those loyal subjects, but such is the persisting complexity of Ulster loyalty. Indeed, another irony of the destination of today's parade is that the last time such a huge crowd gathered in the grounds of Stormont was to catch a glimpse of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II on her diamond jubilee visit, whilst here they gather to celebrate what might be described as an act of defiance against the crown if not outright treachery.
Recently, the Belfast District of the Methodist Church made this statement at its autumn synod sitting in Knock Church Centre, a mere hundred metres from the parade route today:
Synod recognises that for many people in Northern Ireland it will be important to mark the centenary of the signing of Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant. While acknowledging the right to do so Synod is clearly of a mind that this should be done sensitively so that it will not provoke a negative reaction from those who would not be in sympathy with the sentiments of the Covenant.
Synod understands that parades will form part of the commemorations and insofar as parades are concerned Synod makes the plea to all those responsible for these parades to ensure that they take place with dignity and respect for others. Synod also calls on parade organisers to take responsibility for the actions of their members and also ensure that accompanying bands behave with dignity at all times but especially in interface areas where insensitive behaviour could result in inter community strife.
Synod further recognises that other centenaries will be marked over the coming years and would make the plea that all such events be characterised by dignity, sensitivity and respect.
Personally I doubt that there are many within Orangeism today who listen too much to what the Methodist Church might say, despite the fact that Methodist voices were some of the loudest in support of the Ulster Covenant, and indeed in laying the groundwork for it a hundred years ago. But we've moved on from there, and we trust and pray that this province will move on too. The organisers of today's parade may not pay much heed to a few Methodists meeting in the leafy suburbs of East Belfast, but it was good to see two out of the three nouns which close that statement "dignity, sensitivity and respect" being echoed in the statement of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland in response to the Parades Commission Determination:
"The institution will do everything possible to mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant with respect and dignity."
Two out of three ain't bad... And I trust that they will be the watchwords of all that happens today. Although it might be interesting to see some of those parading to set aside their dignity on getting to Stormont and have a go on some of the entertainments I saw yesterday being set up for today's fun day...
An Orangeman on a bouncy castle... Now what would Carson make of that!?

ps. As an alternative perspective on the Ulster Covenant check out Patrick Mitchel's personal sketch.


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