When I was small, every 12 July my sisters and myself used to go half-way out our lane, moving carefully from tree-trunk to tree-trunk to avoid being seen. That was because the Orange bands were marching up the Derry Road towards Omagh and while we were keen to see this blaring, thudding procession, we didn’t want to be seen by the Orangemen. Why not? Because it might suggest we were spectators who APPROVED of their Twelfth bands, and being nationalists, we didn’t. After the bands had passed, we’d go back home and my mother would maybe give us ice-cream and jelly or swiss roll or something nice. This wasn’t in honour of King Billy – it was because the Twelfth was my birthday. Then, in the late afternoon, we’d hear the first stones begin to thud against the back of our hayshed that abutted on Watson Park, the Protestant housing estate. Gradually they’d increase, along with shouts about the Pope’s sexual proclivities and assertions that This was Sandy Row Where the Fenians Never Go. We’d soon get a few stones and insults gathered and return the compliment, with descriptions of the Queen’s relationship with her horse and other witticisms. When our throwing arm got tired, we’d go into the house, tired but happy.
Memories of those days come back each year as the Twelfth approaches. Sinn Fein have said they’re fed up busting a gut to keep nationalist areas quiet when Orange bands parade close by or even through them each year. The First Minister Peter Robinson has said that shows a lack of respect and understanding of Protestant culture. So let’s get a few things straight. The Orange Order exists as an anti-Catholic organisation. Its official documentation makes it clear that it sees Catholicism as the work of the devil, and it declares that anyone who marries a Catholic or attends a Catholic service is not worthy to be an Orangeman. Each year there are over 2,000 Orange marches, all of them commemorating the Battle of the Boyne in which the Protestand King William defeated the Catholic King James. To claim the organisation is purely cultural is like saying Harold Shipman was a family doctor. The whole raison d’etre of the Orange Order is to keep fresh the triumph of Protestantism over Catholicism, of unionism over nationalism/republicanism, and it seeks where possible to remember these things in a nationalist area where the maximum possible offence will be given. When unionism decides that this coat-trailing exercise X 2000 seeks to demean nationalists but in fact demeans unionists, and that they’re scrapping the whole sad antediluvian mess, then nationalists will know that unionists are serious when they say they want to create a better tomorrow for all the people living in this corner of the island. Until then, I’ll try to concentrate solely on the slightly less depressing fact that it’s my birthday.