Monday, 9 July 2007

Why Orangeism isn't my culture.


Despite strenuously attempting to avoid remaining in Belfast over the course of this Twelfth week, it looks like circumstance has conspired to ensure otherwise. A certain trepidation therefore, may colour these few thoughts that I share about the imminent parades and bonfires.

I may be a unionist, but to be completely candid, the Orange Order, bands, the twelfth of July – none of these things means anything much to me. The Twelfth represents a day off work, and a rather anticlimactic one at that, given that every amenity in the country closes down for the day. It is also a difficult holiday on which to travel, due to the number of traffic restrictions caused by demonstrations.

I am aware that the character of parades differs immensely around Northern Ireland. My limited experience of the Belfast parade specifically (having happened upon it by accident on a couple of occasions) is that it attracts a great number of drunken youths, leaves a very great quantity of smashed glass and rubbish and that many of the marchers would cause you to cross the street in avoidance were they not walking directly down the middle of it.

The eleventh night bonfires, to the best of my knowledge, comprise rather sectarian open air parties. Whatever fun these deliver is somewhat offset by the paramilitarism, sectarianism, hooliganism, vandalism and environmental damage which can accompany the events to a greater or lesser degree.

Now this Orange philistinism isn’t an attack on either the Twelfth demonstrations or the previous night’s reveries. I fully acknowledge the validity of the culture from which they spring and I defend the right of that culture to express itself in these ways, unhindered as much as possible, within the confines of the law and within reasonable boundaries of nuisance and risk.

This post merely contains my own personal relationship, or lack of it, to an event which some would say was an integral part of my culture (given that at least on one side of my family there were many Orange Order members). I don’t regard this as a legacy which I have unfortunately lost. I view my ambivalent reaction to Orangeism as representative of a large and silent section of the unionist and nominally unionist community.

It is not really for me to expedite conclusions from the existence of such attitudes. That is the challenge for Orangeism itself. Perhaps they might conclude that a large section of mainly middle class unionists have collapsed into a cultureless mulch. Perhaps they may conclude that sections of society have simply moved on and can never be recaptured. Perhaps they may conclude that the festivities are severely flawed and must be reformed, repackaged and represented to provide a better advertisement for the organisations behind them, their culture and values.
Regardless I move toward Thursday pleased to be enjoying a day off work, slightly irritated that I may be curtailed from using the day how I would chose and with little intention of paying the parades much attention.

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