And so it is that the Twelfth of July rolls around again, and once more we find the Orange Order trying to enhance its image to fit in with our New Dispensation. The most visible sign of this is the effort being put into cleaning up the famously rowdy, boozy and sometimes violent partying that goes on at Eleventh Night bonfires. Nowadays the Eleventh is supposed to be a family fun event, characterised by children’s face-painting and bouncy castles.
Needless to say, some Orange traditionalists aren’t keen on these modernist innovations. I noticed in particular a reverend from somewhere up the country who was holding forth on Radio Ulster. The subject of the reverend’s wrath was an Orange lodge that, in a fit of multiculturalism, was planning to include a Chinese dragon in its march. The reverend argued that the Orange Order was supposed to be a Christian organisation, and demanded to know where these Orangemen got off parading a pagan idol. Meanwhile, I would guess that not for the first time the local Chinese community was left scratching its collective head.
Actually, this brings back some memories for me. Back in the 1980s I used to know a woman who taught in one of the better Protestant grammar schools. Conscripted into taking a PE lesson, she figured she might introduce the girls to yoga. You can guess what happened next. Half the girls in her class showed up with notes from their parents excusing them from this ungodly activity. If memory serves, the initiative actually came from some fundamentalist pupils who had got it into their heads that the teacher – a churchgoing Protestant herself, by the way – was involved in some insidious plot to turn them all into Hindus, and their souls would be endangered by taking part in this “yoga”. Nice to know that attitudes have moved on.
Back in the present day, I note that the Union Jack shop on the Newtownards Road has been doing a roaring trade in Irish tricolours – or “fenian flags”, as they’re tactfully labelled. These have been on sale for the express purpose of burning, and are clearly marked “to burn” for the benefit of loyalist customers who might have thought otherwise. Still, at a fiver a pop, there would be a deal there for any nationalist bargain hunter intrepid enough to venture up the Newtownards Road.
Finally, a loyalist band in Castlederg has taken the unusual step of taking out a half-page ad in its local paper, assuring the broad masses that it has cleaned up its act and got rid of band members who had been involved in sectarian or anti-social behaviour. This has me genuinely puzzled. I thought those were the main reasons people joined loyalist bands in the first place.