As 12 July 2012 fades into history, two events stick in my mind. The first was the Kesh-Orange-banners-in-a-field-world-record-attempt: once remembered, it takes some forgetting. The second was the Shankill loyalist band pirouetting outside St Patrick’s Church, playing the Famine Song. That three-minute clip did more to lay bare the dark side of Orangeism than a hundred academic papers.
Back in 1968, an RTÉ camera caught the moment at a civil rights march when a senior RUC officer, baton flailing, pursued with vicious intent a young civil rights demonstrator. That moment, over forty years ago, taught much to many people about the nature of the state north of the border. To record the moment took heavy equipment, a professional cameraman and time.
Now in 2012, there’s no need for skill or time. One man and his phone – that’s all was needed to expose the diseased heart of Orangeism and show it to a waiting world. Which raises the interesting question: where were our official news-gatherers – UTV, the BBC – when this Famine Song performance was being thundered out? The video clip had been doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter for several days before the BBC website got round to picking it up. Until then, an outsider viewing the Twelfth through TV coverage would have assumed the whole thing was a good-natured family day out, much-loved by one and all.
What makes that myth unsustainable today are the new media. Everyone who has a phone has a camera: one false move and you’re on Youtube. So what was going on in the heads of the Shankill band when they started to pound and shrill out their insults? Presumably they wanted anyone and everyone to know what they thought of Catholics and Catholicism; Nelson McCausland may argue in an alternative universe that the band could as easily have paused outside a fish-and-chip shop, but a moment’s glance tells you these men marching outside the front door of a famous old Catholic church know exactly what they’re doing. And yet, when they noticed the man with the phone, the beefy Orange blades with sticks got upset. How camera-shy can one band get?
One woman on Facebook, an American, wanted to know why the band was playing the old Beach Boys’ number ‘The Sloop John B’? And why the chagrin when they spotted the phone-filmer? Wasn’t banging the drum outside a Catholic church the whole point?
Who can be sure? The thought-chamber of the Orange Order is a deep dark place littered with memorabilia and jumbled thinking. On the one hand, band members wanted Catholics to note their contempt for them as they circled to the strains of The Sloop John B aka The Famine Song. On the other, they protest the importance of presenting themselves as a modern-yet-centuries-old culture which welcomes everyone, including Catholics and tourists, to its day of fun. Where beefy men with sticks effing and blinding fit into that isn’t quite clear.
But here’s the hard bit: those effing and blinding beef-heads are our fellow-countrymen. If we honour the tricolour, then somehow we have to make room for the Orange. The size of that challenge clicked into sharp focus outside St Patrick’s on the Twelfth. What to do with such people?
Some say they are living proof that evolution is indeed only one theory on the development of mankind. Others that these people reject their Irishness and we should let them get on with it, none of our business.
Well, I’m afraid it is our business and calls for the application of what loosely might be called the stick and carrot. It’s true a police officer rescued the phone-filmer from an attack by Orangemen, but they didn’t get round to intervening until some fifteen minutes of drum-thumping, flute-playing sectarianism had been acted out. Doesn’t the Good Friday Agreement talk somewhere about the right of everyone here to live free from that kind of harassment? And isn’t our police service charged with the duty of seeing to it that this aspiration becomes reality?
And the carrot ? Mmm. A guy coming at you with a stick isn’t easy to embrace. But if they’re our fellow-countrymen, somehow it must be done. Maybe we need to start by rising above the meanness and insecurity so evident at St Patrick’s. It may call for gritted teeth, but we need to help these people out of their mental cul-de-sac. Give them a chance to see that sectarianism is a poor tired form of culture and that marching round in circles really does get you nowhere. (You can see it all on