There is a pastime in Northern Ireland that involves going through the history books and excavating every little bone of evidence that shows how different we Ulstermen are.
As a rule, people of a Catholic background just cut to the chase and regard themselves as Irish, leaving the Ulster room vacant for others to occupy.
As such, it is fair to assume that anyone who introduces himself as an Ulsterman is likely to be a Protestant Unionist.
To be fair, I understand this. I don't necessarily agree with it (in the context of "NO! I'm not Irish! I'm from Ulster!") but I see where it comes from.
If you've grown up watching people who have killed your friends, family, neighbours (or at least tried to) take pride in their IRISH(!) identity then that which they cherish most could be turned by the machinations of spite into that which you hate the most.
i.e. If it's good enough for Gerry it's certainly worthy of contempt.
|Irish man (Ulsterman)|
|Irish man (Ulsterman)|
|Ulsterman (Irish man)|
So from this tragic version of 'Simon Says' we have a cultural demarcation. "If Mr X is Irish then I'm the polar opposite", in the ironic case of Northern Ireland, the perceived idea of the polar opposite is the identity that has been intertwined with Irish identity for centuries, British.
During the lifetime of the Empire dual nationalities were a common theme if not a necessity. Nearly everyone was British (some more British than others, as is still the case today) so everyone had to have another label, be it Irish, Scottish, Bengali, Australian, Gujarati... (even Ghandi was a proud Brit for a while and James Joyce never ever owned an Irish passport...)
|Ghandi: Formerly a proud Brit (not an Ulsterman)|
After the painful severance of Ireland and the UK this dual mask was discarded. Although picked up in the North by some, it rotted and festered with each passing year.
With each political convulsion that passed the mask weakened accordingly. It would seem that the death blow was dealt when the troubles kicked off.
Another great irony of Northern Ireland, that the Provos' campaign to 'free' Ireland from the British resulted in the sudden appearance (conversion?) of hundreds of thousands of Brits where previously there had only been Irishmen.
Since then we have staggered along tightly embracing our identities, conveniently hacking off the parts that where too similar to the other sort. The taigs get Irish music, the huns get lambegs and decent marching bands. Nationalists get the Gaelic games and the Unionists do as the British do and stick with rugby and football, thank you very much.
The nationalists get the Gaelic languages so any Protestant who understands leprechaun-speak must keep their head down and officially no longer exist. Historical significance be damned. As for you lol. 1303, well, look how you ended up...
The fact that most of these elements were shared within living memory matters not a jot, it's all about sticking to the ideas of identity that have been salvaged from the rubbish tip of Imperial Ireland.
What may have facilitated this demarcation was a particularly Northern trait, one inherited from Scottish settlers (or so I imagine), that of straight talking.
I've fallen afoul of it numerous times in my teenage years. Aspirations, dreams and plans have all suffered the inevitable fall to earth after a small word from an elder relative or neighbour.
At least one knows where one stands with an Ulster Presbyterian.
Or at least one did.
Now they're more vague.
Despite repeated questions about why drunken unchristian behaviour is tolerated so much in SOME OO events (and related events) the straight talking becomes awkward zig-zagging, ducking and back tracking.
There has been a flurry of internet activity in Northern Irish political circles since the dawn of Willie Frazer and Jamie Bryson.
Willie, understandably has an axe to grind and all things considered I can't blame him. I haven't suffered a fraction of what he suffered. Indeed, the teenage Willie Frazer is ironically a blue print for an ideal of how Northern Ireland could be; a Northern Irish Protestant with a military family background who plays GAA games with no insecurities about his political or religious allegiance.
However, the IRA did what they say they needed to do and Willie's life trajectory changed accordingly.
|Willie Frazer: What could have been...|
I myself have a go at Willie now and again as I believe his retro mash-up version of unionism that comprises of imperial era Unionist sloganeering & imagery, fear mongering and fleggery (not to mention a spot of Islamophobia) is doomed to steer mainstream unionism further right when it needs to be not only going left, but doing a U-turn, backing up 100 miles and then just hanging around for a while.
With his way unionism will go the way of Protestant Belfast's most famous export (the Titanic, keep up ffs).
By far and away the most articulate, creative, funny and indeed inspirational critic of Willie's silliness is Loyalists Against Democracy (if you're reading this then you've definitely heard of them, unless you've made a Google error...).
Recently they published a piece by Brian John Spencer, a writer, artist, banjo enthusiast, contributor to sluggerotoole.com and God knows what else.
It is a fantastic piece that is peppered with frustration at the caricature that Loyalism and indeed Unionism has become.
As such, I saw a criticism of this piece.
What struck me was the formulaic fashion of the criticism: "(he is) intolerant to the fact that parades are not all about drunk yobs but they provide a positive role in communities"
Not a mention on the points of the blog. No. What BJS DIDN'T say out weighs his criticism. He has no capital to pay for his argument as he had no disclaimer.
This is not an isolated example, Northern Irish politics and debates are so infused with deflective arguments and defensiveness that the term 'whataboutery' was coined.
So, without further ado and whataboutery, I shall offer some criticisms to Unionism and I say this as someone who has grown up in their orange nursery:
As a baby and toddler I was taken to parades, as a teenager I joined a pipe then flute band, walked with the Order in the years outwith that period, painted the Orange hall as a summer job, had a cassette collection of flute band tapes (like many teenagers my first purchase was 'Blood and Thunder'- Pride of the Village, Belfast).
Hardly a CV that will have the powers-that-be in Schomberg House cancel their lunches but certainly one that shows I know how they think. Or at least thought.
I am forlorn at the death of the straight talkin' Protestant and the subsequent frustration that has been borne from the unanswered questions posed by liberal types, rebels and Lundys alike.
So, in the fashion hinted at by the critic of BJS, I shall attach an unnecessary disclaimer and acknowledgement to each question/criticism to alleviate myself of any notion of ignorance.
1/ The 12th.
I know that the 12th is supposed to be a family day out. It is an endearing sight to all those in the community who will see 3/4 generations of the same family walk (or travel by hired cars) in the lodge together. Octogenarians with 5 year olds and all those of the generations in between. It's difficult to see the malice in such a picture.
Add to this the religious aspects of worship at 'the Field', the community efforts involved in keeping the lodges and bands fed and watered and the satisfaction of a job well done (especially as the rural lodges will be sacrificing productive hay baling time), well, it's easy to see why they would take resentment in such criticism of a rural idealistic picture, a picture of family interaction and sobriety.
I remember it all fondly.
What I don't fondly cherish is nearly being done in at a Glasgow 12th by a drunkard for 'looking too fenian'. I don't fondly cherish the memory of seeing a shaven headed young man in Belfast drunkenly staggering about with blood spurting from his head.
That's not how it's supposed to be.
I don't fondly like the atmosphere of Belfast city centre on the 12th. It is in stark contrast to that OTHER Orangefest, the jovial Orange day in the Netherlands when they celebrate their monarch's birthday. Properly and without affront
|Red. White. Blue. Crown. Sound familiar?|
|The Dutch version of 'the Field'|
|Orangefest, Dutch style|
|NOT the River Lagan|
|Queen Beatrix. Their Queen participates!|
|Not an inflatable Union Flag hammer in sight...|
aware that the majority of Christians in the Netherlands are Roman Catholics and not by a small margin either, greater by some two million souls or there abouts.
Given the contempt with which some God fearing Ulster Protestants hold the 'liberal and morally loose' Dutch is it not a delicious irony the differing levels of drunkeness, violence and public disorder between the two Orangefests?
And that the moral looseness of NI's (minority of) drunken followers and hangers on is forgiven if they make their way to support the next place of contentious parading and civil disobedience against the state?
All that L.A.D, BJS and other 'unprincipled liberals' ask is why then is the drunkeness and bitterness at SOME (not ALL) parades tolerated at all let alone NOT clamped down on?
"A bit of crack" doesn't sell.
These parades are organised.
The have direction, procedures and people to complain to.
There is a hierarchy.
Yet the drunkenness continues unchallenged.
No one will be reprimanded for singing "what shall we do with the fenian bastard".
A lodge full of Christians can be seen walking behind a band that flies the name/colours/standard of a group that used to actively hunt and kill people.
Why is this tolerated?
Are Christian principles satisfied?
Sometimes a defence will start with the enfeebled words of "but themuns do..."
Since when did independently minded Protestants start acting in accordance with an inferior guide to morality? Is the Bible no longer good enough? Has the word of God been replaced with "well, Paddy did this so we can do that..."?
Why is there never an official release from the Orange Order or indeed unofficial releases from lodges, Protestant groups and bands explaining exactly why the drunken aspect (that clashes with Christian principles and a family atmosphere) is tolerated?
Why are there no (or at least very few) directives from above declaring that there will be punishments for any one/band/lodge found guilty of sectarian singing or chanting?
The great 'get out of jail free card' of what 'themuns' do is always lurking in the background ready to suffocate any chance of a decent debate as demonstrated by OrangeMOPE Jamie Bryson who recently stated that the song 'the Billy Boys' is no more offensive than 'the Fields of Athenry'.
What the inarticulate cretin could have said to give his argument 'some' substance was that when considered from a binary aspect of offensive - non-offensive then both songs are unappealing/offensive to people on the 'other side of the fence'.
What he ignores is the implication of sectarian murder in the Billy Boys 'hidden' in the lines "we're up to our necks in fenian blood..." (either it implies murder and killing or a ghastly unexplained event that has come to pass in a Catholic blood bank).
The fields of Athenry contain no such inferences.
However, from Jamie's point of view, an offensive song is an offensive song is an offensive song and that's that.
There are no levels of offensiveness, it is only digital.
How he can be so digital when the song he defends openly celebrates sectarian murder I don't know but I imagine that he is not alone in that regard.
|Jamie Brysom: Downhill ever since this peak...|
A great source of deflection for the controversy surrounding OO parades is the GAA. Although never officially admitted would one be unfair by concluding that the OO et al feel they have no case to answer until themuns (the GAA) 'get their house in order' (as in make it more inviting to people of a Protestant and Unionist background)?
Again, why do Christians have to wait on some one else to act before they set to the task of enforcing their own principles?
Also, if one looks at the trends over the years it would imply that in 100 years there'll be hardly any Orangemen left and the GAA will be huge. So why do the GAA have to do anything? From their point of view they have time on their side. And IF making changes in the GAA results in a stronger Orange Order then why would they bother changing anything?
Is it in their interest to see a stronger Orange Order?
So, perhaps the OO should use a bit of initiative and NOT wait on themuns to 'do something' first (if that is indeed what they are thinking, mere speculation on my part)
2/ Flegs (and some more parades...)
Unionists see the other sort having their flags.
So naturally, Unionism has its own flags.
Loads of them.
On one solitary lamp post it is not beyond the realms of possibility that one could see a Union flag, an Ulster flag (redundant as of the early 70's), an Independence flag (by definition NON-Unionist) and an Israeli flag (a state that gained independence partly through a murder campaign directed against British soldiers. Irony any one?)
|NOT the Netherlands...|
Many people outside the harder fringes of the Unionist movement see the plastering of flags all over the place as a turn off.
Outsiders, as in foreigners/potential tourist pounds agree.
It is overkill.
This tourism-pound argument is ignored or palmed off simply as a concern for money rather than 'culture'.
Again ironic, as one of the key arguments for Northern Ireland's retention within the UK was economic based.
Indeed, even now it is cited as a key argument against unifying the land with our bankrupt neighbour down south.
Yet somehow it plays second fiddle to parades and fleggery.
As some one who used to carry various flags at various parades over the decades I would like some one to explain to me how we've went from cherishing our flags to having them adorn the waists of drunken louts who lob projectiles at the police and why we should allow this to continue?
Of course most Unionists don't behave in this manner but when some do there is very little in the way of criticism for these idiots who humiliate Unionists in the eyes of their counterparts in the rest of the UK, indeed, just the opposite, there is always some sort of fumbled defence.
What, pray tell, is the plan for when more and more areas achieve a non-unionist majority?
|"Faugh u Allagh"?|
The more vocal and active parts of the Unionist community have a choice to make the Union flag a flag for all or just 'are fleg' and risk making it an unofficial flag of the underclass.
What benefit is there to the maintenance of the Union by forming an association between the Union Flag and hard line Loyalism?
With such a perceived links are Catholics more or less likely to resent the Union flag?
|The 12th, Co Donegal|
Would a town suffer by NOT having shredded, weathered flags flapping around in the winter gales?
If I'm missing a bigger picture and it is the case where drunken louts, sectarian songs, the disregarding of basic Christian principles, the burning of religious and state emblems ARE actually necessary to the survival of a culture that has spawned liberals, rebels, generals, frontiersmen and presidents then I welcome the opportunity to be enlightened and to have someone explain why exactly we require or at least tolerate this cancerous underbelly.
If my points can be conceded as having some merit (not necessarily a lot) then please follow in the steps of your ancestors and go against the grain.
Take one on the chin, offend those who need offended by defending the truth and write to the Order, the Apprentice boys, your Unionist representatives and inform them that no longer will you tolerate your culture being trailed down by those who don't respect it.
You'll not be thanked for what you do but then nor should you.
After all, rebelling, truth-telling and defiance were once upon a time the most 'Protestant' things that one could do, unlike now.
The contact address for the Orange Order is firstname.lastname@example.org
|NOT. CRITICISING. THIS.|
|DEFINITELY. CRITCISING. THIS.|
If you think I'm wrong and that these points don't need addressed then please enlighten me as to why I'm wrong only explain the matter on its own merit without resorting to comparisons of other groups or associations.