The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Fest or Flop

Political journalist and Unionist Revisionist Dr John Coulter assesses how the Orange Order should spend its £100,000 grant so that Orangefest does not become Orangeflop

Dr John Coulter • 27 July 2006

Orangefest looks set to become Orangeflop unless the Order uses its £100,000 Government cash to implement a root and branch re-organisation of the movement.

The uphill struggle facing the Protestant Loyal Orders comes hot on the heels that the organisers of the Apprentice Boys' Maiden City Festival in Derry have called off this year's event because “endless layers” of bureaucracy delayed the festival's funding.

And there could be more trouble ahead for the Orange Order with rumours that Protestants want to abandon the Order in favour of the more overtly religious Royal Black Institution.

The Marching Season has now reached its halfway mark where Protestants swop their Orange sashes for Black collarettes in the build up to Black Saturday – the last Saturday in August which officially brings the traditional season to a finale.

While this year's Twelfth passed off relatively incident-free, Orange bosses still need a massive charm offensive with Protestantism's middle class if Orangefest is to avoid the pitfall of becoming a huge family flop leaving the Order's leadership either red-faced with embarrassment or purple with rage!

Why? Because the Order will fail to take account of the cultural differences between Belfast Orangeism and rural Protestant Ulster Orangeism.

The Black Institution has largely been able to sidestep much of the parading confrontation which has befallen the Orange, leading to questions if it is possible to join the Black without having to be in the Orange first.

At present, Orangemen have to hold the Order's highest degree, the Arch Purple, before they can be considered for membership of the exclusively male Black.

If rules were changed so that Protestants could join the Black only, it could trigger a mass exodus from Orangeism.

Indeed, the best way for the Order to spend its £100,000 gift is for Orangeism's ruling body, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, to study the success of the annual Orange parade in the tranquil Donegal coastal village of Rossnowlagh.

For generations, Southern Orange members from the Ulster provincial border counties have held their traditional Boyne commemoration in the peaceful, isolated village on the Saturday before the Twelfth.

Given the Drumcree saga in Portadown, which has been rumbling since 1995, and continued confrontations between Order members and nationalist residents' groups across the North, the annual Rossnowlagh 'Dander' has become a haven of rest for middle class Orangeism.

Southern middle class, rural Orangeism has succeeded in developing a true Orangefest where urban, working class Northern Orangeism has failed.

The popularity of the Rossnowlagh Orangefest is built on a number of factors, with the anchor being an emphasis on family fun on the beach. Its the roaring of the waves, not the thunder of the Orange drums which has primary importance for the organisers.

Other factors include – the short route of just over a mile, making the commemoration a gentle dander rather than a demonstration march.

Pride of place is given to pipe bands and silver marching bands rather than the deafening beat of the popular Blood and Thunder Northern flute bands, often dubbed Kick The Pope bands in Protestant folklore.

Hymns and religious tunes are mostly played by the bands instead of the traditional ear-shattering renderings of the Protestant party tunes, such as The Sash and Derry's Walls. Likewise, there is a frowning on anyone – especially Orange or band members – smelling of alcholol.

More importantly, there are no political speeches at Rossnowlagh. It is a religious event which commemorates the best aspects of the Biblical Christian faith – not the triumphalism of political Protestantism bashing the Good Friday Agreement, the Blair Goverrnment, Dublin, the Ulster Unionists and any politician who talks about power-sharing with republicans.

During the Home Rule crisis at the start of the 20th century, Orangeism was the social cement between the ruling Unionist aristocracy and ordinary Protestant working class families.

However, a century later, there are two clearly defined types of Northern Orange member – the rural, middle class religious Unionist, and the urban, working class secular Loyalist. The latter dominates Belfast Orangeism.

Before it even dreams of making Orangefest a cross-community celebration, the Belfast leadership must come up with a plan to attract middle class Protestants back to the Order. Belfast Orangeism needs to implement a Rossnowlagh Solution.

Even the smaller, pro-Paisleyite Independent Orange Order has managed to wipe the eye of the Mother Order by staging two peaceful marches at the River Boyne itself – both a far cry from the planned Love Ulster march in Dublin earlier this year which was marred by large-scale city centre rioting.

Ironically, the Orangefest organisers have set themselves a task almost as difficult as that faced by King Billy trying to get his troops across the river Boyne and up the steep banks to attack the Jacobites.

Could the solution be to implement the success of Rossnowlagh? This would include:

  • break up the enormous Belfast demonstration into smaller parades;
  • move the Twelfth out of the city to isolated rural areas;
  • ban alcholol;
  • get the Kick The Pope bands to play hymns;
  • dump politicals speeches and focus on purely Biblical commemorations;
  • axe banners or flags with perceived paramilitary emblems.

Before invitations are even considered for the Catholic community to participate in the Twelfth, Orangeism needs to firstly win back the trust and confidence of the Protestant middle class.













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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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3 August 2006

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Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 1
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High Noon
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Fest or Flop
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Irish and Republican Music
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Qana Massacre again: Foreign and Domestic Enemies of our Constitution
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Israel Murders UN Observers
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4 Horsemen
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The Evil That Men Do
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Chris Petit's Secret History: The Psalm Killer
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Soldier of the Legion of the Rearguard
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The Letters page has been updated.



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