Booze and the Twelfth – inextricably linked?

It’s good to hear the PSNI plan this year to crack down on public consumption of alcohol at Twelfth of July parades, to confiscate it, to make arrests; good too to hear that the Orange Order supports this stance. But what did you expect them to say – we’ll go soft on drinking and look the other way,  we think booze consumption is a traditional part of the Twelfth and let them go at it?  Since its inception over 200 years ago, the Orange Order has had alcohol and public disorder march in step  alongside it. For those who doubt this, check the facts in Andy Boyd’s excellent Holy War in Belfast. 

Orange Order spokesmen like Drew Nelson will tell  you that alcohol abuse is a society-wide problem and they’re right. But alcohol abuse and the Orange Order have been buddies for hundreds of years. Having the 3000+ Orange marches that characterize life in the north every year is like holding a marathon series of parties where a good excuse for drinking is on offer, and then acting surprised when people start falling around in your living room.

The implication behind the emphasis on rooting out alcohol from Orange parades is that if the booze problem could be cracked, we’d have a fun day (days/weeks/months) out in which all the family and all faiths could share. Uh-uh. Like it or lump it, Orange marches publicly celebrate the triumph of Protestantism over Catholicism. So remind me: how does that contribute to reconciliation? And what does the Orange Order’s refusal to engage with the Parades Commission tell us about its desire for a bright new tomorrow?

But let’s not despair. In his book The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed Rev Brian Kennaway five years ago suggested that the Order’s numbers had collapsed from a high of around 100,000 to something more like 30,000. It’s hard to pinpoint particular reasons for this, but I like to think it’s because  sensible Protestants with more civilized views on alcohol, triumphalism and sectarianism have walked away.

Look, we all need some colour, music, fun in our lives. But these delights don’t have to be built on the back on an organisation that celebrates the victory of one side over another, and does so in places where it’s not wanted. Most people who can arrange to get out of the north during the Twelfth period, do so. For most people, Catholic and Protestant, the spectacle of pugnacious sectarian drunks unbuttoning their flies in front gardens doesn’t appeal.  

4 Responses to Booze and the Twelfth – inextricably linked?

  1. Ryanm29 June 30, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    Jude.. I’ve commented on your blog before, so you know the views I have.

    But I think you are overestimating the 30,000 or so (thugs/braindead fools/idiots) who are in that organisation. I highly doubt they are in that organisation for triumphalism, I would sincerely doubt 30 of them even known enough Irish history to know the first thing about the events in the 1600’s.. I think you are giving them an unnecessary compliment by suggesting that it is in some way calculated.

    I would suggest that alcohol abuse is a defining Loyalist trait, the image of the average Loyalist during the troubles (at least from my liberal unionist upbringing) is of a drunken, bumbling idiot who wants to kill ‘taigs’ and doesnt really know why. They were certainly not a trained ‘army’ of killers in any sense, more often than not (and there are exceptions) you have botched operations where guns jam etc.. can’t say I’m a fan of the IRA by any means but they at least were ‘professional’.

    I have some ‘delightful’ neighbours who every twelfth, put their big loyalist flag up in our delightful mixed development of not inconsiderate worth, lowering the tone, they light their bbq at 10am (even if it is in their garage) and they drink, certainly not even Harp or Guinness, must be Tenants or Tenants Super if they can get it, they drink until they are sick and fighting with each other making a mess and generally pissing off their neighbours of every other hue forgetting they have to live with them for the other 364 days of the year!

    I think it takes a certain degree of courage to hold grudges, hate an entire community while being nice as hell to my catholic wife and catholic neighbours. When you are a brain dead loyalist thug who hasn’t got a clue,( cant say I blame them per se.. blame the parents who put them down the factory at 16 instead of giving them an education.) that courage can only be found at the bottom of a big warm can of Tenants Lager at 9am on an otherwise normal day.

    To tackle the alcohol you need to tackle the twelfth and there is no stomach for that in stormont.

  2. Jude Collins June 30, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    Ryan – thanks v much for the considered and detailed response. I think I’d disagree on the triumphalism thing: historically those at the bottom of the heap look around for someone lower than them to piss on – the Irish were rather good at it in the States in the nineteenth century. There’s also – or certainly used to be – a sort of temporary sectarianism which deepens as the Twelfth approaches, then dwindles as it recedes. There’s a class thing and an urban/rural thing involved as well, which makes it v. complicated. But at the heart of it, it’s 1690 and we bate youse and here’s a reminder. That’s not good, particularly when it’s thrust in the face of those seen as the vanquished.

    Again, many thanks for your thoughts – that’s what makes writing these things worthwhile.

  3. Kilsally June 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    Not sure where you live Jude but The Twelfth is not that way West of the Ban in the more rural areas especially not triumphalism – the first parade of the year for me will be our Church parade this Sunday in the middle of nowhere, there will be a neighbouring parade on 1st July to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. The Twelfth parades are about the Glorious Revolution not Protestant triumph over Catholicism. Declining numbers have a direct correlation to Church attendances and membership of things like Sunday Schools, Boys Brigade, Scouts all of which have declining numbers and can be directly attributed to secularism which went through the rest of the UK in previous generations. Loyalist bands have integrated with the drinking culture we now have across these islands – indeed whilst Orange membership is ageing and shrinking, Loyalist bands are growing with young people. The Order takes in a wide demographic and wide denominations, indeed their was a heated discussion at our last meeting regarding the bar being opened or not during our upcoming Ulster-Scots evening

  4. Jude Collins June 30, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    Thanks , Kilsally – that’s informative. I think your thing about West of the Bann and rural is what I touched on in an earlier response. I don’t think alcohol is as big an issue in smaller country areas – it is in Belfast. I don’t think I’d go with you on the non-triumphalism – it kind of looks like that from the outside, I must say. And the Glorious Rev was surely about the triumph of Protestantism in the person of William of Orange over, well, guess what… I think you could add “Desire to distance self from drunken yobs” to things that led to declining numbers. As to the Order taking in a wide denomination…There was a time when Quakers, Methodists and a few others faced barred doors, not sure what the situation is at present, you can probably enlighten me there too. But there ain’t much doubt about Catholics joining, nor on how Catholicism is seen by the Order. That really flies in the face of tolerance and respect.