The Big Game, the Eleventh Night and the Twelfth

The Big Game, the Eleventh Night and the Twelfth: two of the three have now passed and have left a bitter taste in a lot of mouths.

In the case of the Big Game, you could see it coming. It was a truth universally acknowledged that the England team got to the semi-finals because they played unself-consciously, unburdened by expectation and xenophobia. But then, the better they played, the more teams they beat, the good old English media couldn’t hold themselves back: It’s Coming Home, It’s Coming Home, IT’S COMING HOME! In London last night, at Victoria Station, they were handing out free St George’s Cross flags. During the game, there was hardly a human being to be seen. And then of course that first England goal went in, the crowds at various centres roared and sent their beer spraying into the sunlit air – it really was COMING HOME!! Oh dear. As Roy Keane pointed out as only he can, you have to focus on the game you’re playing, not the game you’ll play after you’ve beaten this lot. Ian Wright tried to brush the charge off, but it was true: England expects and England implodes. I felt truly sorry for the England team at the end. Sad.

Sadder still the Eleventh Night, by all accounts. This morning I read of so many emergency calls, cars and buses hi-jacked, all the old bitterness surfacing. There are a few facts we should get straight on this. Bonfires are bad for the environment. Tyres are worse than pallets, but it’s a question of degree. So while the public are urged to get a Smart Meter and conserve energy, every year we have this orgy of flame and smoke. And when the authorities had the nerve to go in with masked contracters (the Wild West wouldn’t begin to compare – the people trying to enforce the law have to hide their faces),   bonfires were started prematurely, vehicles hi-jacked, contempt of law let alone reconciliation was flaunted. So is it fair to say that bonfires are a cultural event, hallowed by time and enjoyed by families? Obviously not. Republicans by and large transformed 15 August bonfires into feile and festival and civilized fun. Unionism really needs to look at itself and speak the truth: bonfires are bad from so many points of view, the need for an alternative is urgent. And not somewhere down the road – now.

And the third leg of the stool: the Twelfth. Even the most amateur of psychologists or sociologists would know that something wasn’t right in the psyche of people who feel the need to parade their loyalties around 3,000 times a year, at public expense and inconvenience. How much do I love thee, let me count the ways? No, let’s just have one festival in one place where people can entertain each other, meet people of like mind, fly their flags and play their tunes; but not 3,000 times. As Roy Keane said of that player with 630 pairs of shoes: “There has to be something not right upstairs.”

Ever since I was a child, the Twelfth and its associated marches have managed to drive a wedge between people. There are some who hate each other all year round, but there’s no doubt that the Twelfth exerts a strain on ordinary people, who happily get along as neighbours the rest of the year. We know that. We know the Orange Order was born out of sectarian violence, fed on sectarian violence for at least the last two centuries. We know this, but we allow people who should know better to tell us this is a traditional and therefore commendable (logic flaw there) activity, and we owe it to our fathers (and mothers, presumably) to keep on doing the same thing.

We’re back to the England team. The more the need is felt to shout and bawl and sing about how great we are, the more obvious it becomes that we’re trying to kid ourselves, and the more we expose ourselves to humiliation. And as Irish people, we all share in that shame. These are our fellow-countrymen, making eejits of themselves on an annual basis. There must be better things you could with a goat than ride it.

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