The past is orange
Gordon Jackson writes:
The other night I dreamt I was wearing something similar to a kids pumpkin costume at Halloween; it was an orange (the fruit) costume rather than a pumpkin.
From deep within my psyche was I being reminded that The Twelfth of July was nearing?
If you are reading this in Northern Ireland you may well be thinking , ‘Is that a surprise?’ as signs of The Twelfth no doubt are all around ‘the province’ regardless of from which community you come.
The difference is I live in Hertfordshire. I have lived here since the age of twenty three, that is almost fourteen years ago.
Yesterday, 10.7.07, ‘The Ulster Scot’ the newspaper of the Ulster Scot agency dropped through my letterbox. I read in it an article by Dr David Hume examining the link between the ‘Ulster -Scot’ community and the Orange tradition in the Northern parts of Ireland and Canada. The article identified how the Orange tradition of lodges, music and parades are dominant cultural expressions of what I would call the Northern Irish Protestant ethnicity though he refers to as the Ulster Scot.
Today, 10.7.07, I picked up a copy of the Belfast Telegraph at my local supermarket, yes here in Hertfordshire, and read Cole Moreton feature on the rebranding of ‘The Twelfth’ into ‘Orangefest’.
In reading both articles, I am left with the thought that there is something of cultural expression in some things Orange.
If I am an honest, I have certainly, in the last twenty years, been reluctant to associate myself with Orangeism. I do not consider myself a supporter of the notion of monarchy and as a Christian I would find it difficult to subscribe to oaths of secrecy within the Order yet I, after many years, accept that the orange tradition is part of my ethnic make up.
As I sit on the 11th night reflecting on my childhood in Co. Armagh around this time of year my memories are not so much of politics but collecting wood for the bonfire, building a hut inside the bonfire, collecting money for ‘Billy Lundy’ (the effigy placed on the fire) to watching with my community the whole lot going up in flames.
I recall the crowds thronging to the bonfires and being mesmerised by the flames partaking in a ritual as a people who remembered the fate of our forbears. It seemed a collective statement was being made as the fire burned ‘this is who we are’ as we were surrounded by red, white and blue flags and bunting. Loyalist music blaring out from the speakers set out in the garden by a local. The teenagers drank cider and buck fast and the rest ate fish supper, or so I recall. There was a mystery about the night somehow the present touched with the past yet the future seemed insecure.
That night the sandwiches along with the flasks of tea would have been prepared ready for The Twelfth. Usually it was an early rise on ‘The Twelfth morning’ to see the Orangemen parade through the town to their buses to commute them to wherever the County demonstration was being held.
The orange was so distinctive in colour amongst the sea of dark suits. Looking up to the Lodge banners was like reading the narrative of me and my people. Music was everywhere as accordions squeezed, flutes whistled and the smell of the bagpipe filled the air, the Kilty bands as we called them.
Parade over we would all like pilgrims descend on ‘The Field’ the place were families picnicked and teenagers found new romance, or so it seemed. After a few hours had passed, a few motions proposed and few worst for the wear the parade would begin again this time heading home.
The next day ‘The Thirteen’, it would all be repeated though instead of orange sashes they would be black. It seemed a more sober affair though in County Armagh the venue was always the bright floral village of Scarva. In Scarva there was the ‘Sham fight’ (battle re-enactment) between James and William. I loved to run with the other kids as the men rode on horses and fired dud bullets.
In the months leading up to the twelfth we as kids made our band sticks ( half a brush shaft with a tennis ball on top held together and decorated with red ,white and blue tape). Kudos was to be found in who could throw the highest and catch it.
Somehow, the orange halls, the orange arches, the parades, the lilies (orange of course) the sound of the Lambeg drum are there when I remember my childhood summers. These things of themselves were rituals and culture in the making.
The tension is perhaps the Political side to it yet outside of Northern Ireland such orange displays seem innocent and take there place in a multi cultural world.
It seems there is an Orange tradition to be shared regardless of whether you believe in it or not.
For me it is about the story of rituals of youth that somehow colour my view of the world today, whether I like it or not whether others like me for it or not.