Posted By: July 15, 2013

Tom Kelly. Irish News (Belfast). Monday, July 15, 2013
RECENTLY I created a sort of 'bucket list' including a motorcycle ride in India,
teach in Africa, learn Irish, write a book and perhaps even have a go at
hanggliding. Then I remembered something closer to home that I had never done. Now
coming from Newry, the Twelfth celebrations are about as alien to me as a Muslim
feasting on pork. In my youth I was bemused to watch the Mullaglass Brethren walk
more than two miles from their lodge through nationalist Newry to get to their
buses. So with an open mind and more than a degree of trepidation, I decided to
attend the Twelfth in Belfast. There is a Native American proverb, which says "don't
judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes" but in the case of Orange
demonstrations it's impossible for a Catholic to truly walk in their shoes.
Nonetheless I did walk from Sandy Row through to York Street and spent the day in
town. Recently the Twelfth rebranded calling the three-day event Orangefest but it's
a half-hearted effort, as Orange leaders know this is no inclusive celebration. No
amount of PR guff will ever make it like Bastille Day. This year's Orangefest was
launched by the Deputy Lord Mayor Christopher Salford who hoped people from other
traditions would approach the Twelfth "open-minded" and "to learn". He outlined how
being an Orangeman was rooted in his family going back generations. Moreover he made
an impassioned plea for Orangeism to define itself by what it was for rather than
what it was against. Unfortunately a leading Orange cleric was ranting on the BBC
about all the things he was against and calling for ill-defined protests. I got cold
feet just listening to the roaring reverend.

Even more so seeing the images of a defaced statue of the Virgin Mary on one bonfire
and an effigy of the late Fr Matt Wallace on another. I did not much fancy being the
first Catholic martyr in 300 years. When the DUP's Arlene Foster saw my Facebook
post about the Twelfth, she said, had she known, she would have invited me to
Ballinamallard. As I stood looking at the crowds around the Oak Bar my mind turned
quickly to the thoughts of Fermanagh's grassy knolls and the prospect of tasty tray

Families had lined the streets to see their sons, dads or grandads march proudly
behind various beautifully decorated Orange banners. Most of the bands were in
resplendent uniforms. Some uniforms reminded me of the movie The Music Man. A few of
the bands wore T-shirts and Union decorated plastic hats. The crowds were
enthusiastic and appreciative. Some ladies were decked out in festival Union
hair-bows, while the more saucy, wore patriotic coloured under-garments such as bras
and knickers.

People came for the long haul bringing with them their own picnic seats and cooler
boxes. I envied those people. The music was predictable enough but not
over-sectarian. Obviously the sectarian repertoire is reserved for areas where it
can give the most offence. It struck me as bands approached the Garden of
Remembrance how reverently they stopped their music and removed their hats as a mark
of respect and I wondered why they don't do this when passing all places of worship?
Looking down Royal Avenue I could see the irony of the Orangefest banner being
framed by the Feile flags from within City Hall's gates. Most of Belfast was closed
and it certainly was not a normal day of trading. Bemused visitors had little to do.
Hotels had extra security.

The atmosphere at the Belfast Twelfth changes quickly between family day out and
Millwall supporters on the rampage. The scale of on-street drinking by hundreds of
young and not so young supporters is literally staggering. It was bizarre to watch
lager louts run alongside very dignified and mainly elderly Orangemen in collarettes
following temperance banners. The drinking went unabated for hours and was unchecked
by the police. The entertainment by Belfast Festival of Fools was a welcome relief.
There was an inevitability to the violence which occurred given the amount of
alcohol being consumed by inflamed supporters. The Orange Order could do well to
look to their country brethren in terms of improving their image - certainly the
Belfast Orange is their weakest link. Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy texted me to
thank me for going along to the Twelfth - it was a welcome message but if I ever go
again it will be to Ballinamallard.