A personal account of the annual Orange Order parades from Belfast to Bangor


After hearing about Slugger O’Toole’s day in the Orange, I jumped at the chance of finding out more about this annual event which brings hundreds of thousands onto the streets across Northern Ireland. As the day progressed I was converged with a mixture of emotions, soon drained away by tiredness and an element of boredom.It all started so peacefully in Crumlin village with barely a parade and a handful of supporters who probably do not even live in the area. A rather, pointless and decaying parade, to keep in line with their traditional route, with some of its participants looking as if they were born in 1795. The noisy lambeg beat gave them some air of respectability because there was no other musical instrument in sight. Crumlin has changed dramatically over the years as only decades ago this ‘village’ of around 5,000 inhabitants was considered a unionist stronghold. Now it’s more like an extension of West Belfast.

Moving onto Glenavy it appeared that loyalists have given up on Crumlin and moved onto a more picturesque village. There were more than a dozen lodges, with a few giving a blast of the Sash to the gazes of a few passing ‘locals’.

We soon found ourselves in the heart of Belfast, observing this massive showcase of every aspect of Orangeism on display from the colourful banners to UDA flags and much more. It was actually pretty much what I expected from my previous years of observation from the television. As a precaution I changed my name from Sean to John for the day.

For many, the event is a family fun day out to meet family members who they have not met in a while and to knock back a few beers in the sun. However, for others it is about promoting exclusivity and naked sectarianism. This was soon evident as we passed the bottom of the Village where a small hardcore element of ‘patriotic’ loyalists stared at anyone who looked like an ‘outsider’. Passing Shaftsbury square before the return leg of the parade was more reminiscent of a hooligan-fest with loyalists and their supporters laying waste to the area, with the PSNI riot squad appearing helpless and afraid of rocking the boat. Perhaps someone forgot to tell them that their Grand Masters in the Grand Lodge of Ireland were interested in promoting the event as a friendly and tourist attraction.

I admit that for much of the parade in Belfast city centre and in the ‘leafy’ suburbs of Bangor I didn’t feel threatened or intimidated, except for a brief moment passing the bottom of the Village in which a full chorus of the sash and chants of UDA was in full swing. Compared to the field in Bangor which really was more of family friendly event.

Indeed, I was struck by the waving of the Union Jack or ‘Butchers Apron’ as some like to say, which has given us state terrorism at home and abroad from Iraq to Afghanistan, and helped to stock up religious divisions here. Who was it who said patriotism is the last resort of scoundrels?

It is ironic that back in the day 36 Orange Lodges in County Armagh and 13 in County Fermanagh opposed the original Act of Union? Or that the Pope of Rome endorsed and even congratulated King Billy’s invasion of Ireland? Popular mythology has a lot to answer for in this wee country and that goes for both sides. For instance, King James was only interested in using Ireland as a staging post to reclaim the English crown. It is not as if he really cared about the plight of the ‘native’ catholic inhabitants. The revered Battle of the Boyne in June 1690 is of little significance, compared to the battles in Athlone and Limerick which eventually sealed King James’ fate and ended the war.

Unfortunately, we missed the Ardoyne riots due to tiredness from the busy day but from reports I gathered from observers who where non-aligned to any political group, other than the usual dissident smokescreen was the display and agents of state violence removing a peaceful sit down protest to an un-welcome parade passing a contentious area.

As I sat down in the evening to watch the evening news with a refreshing beer and to collect my thoughts and feelings for the day, I was caught between conforming with the new peace process discourse which likes to put a positive spin on everything and the day ending in misery by relying on the inefficient and incompetent public transport system in Lisburn.

That said for your ordinary punter on the street, I have always felt that there is nothing to be gained or celebrated in the idea of two rival rulers a few hundred years ago squabbling over power and land, using religion to justify their land theft.

As James Connolly was to write in Labour in Irish History in 1910, “all the political struggles of the period were built upon the material interests of one set of usurpers who wished to retain, and another who wished to obtain, the mastery of those lands.”

Orangefest is a cheap publicity stunt, to give a positive image of a deeply sectarian and counter-revolutionary institution which thrives of suspicion, division and fear. In future, I will refuse to defend the indefensible.

See WSM publication- The Orange Order & sectarianism in Ireland

First submitted for the popular Slugger O'Toole website
http://sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/a-da...ange/ as part of their 'day in the Orange' reports.