It is July 12th week when Northern Ireland resounds to the pounding of the Orange Order’s Lambeg drums as they commemorate their distant victory over Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne.
The year 1690 never seems as alive as it does during Orange marching week. Bonfires, “kick the Pope” bands and displays of triumphalism all take over as the masses seek to insist that “God is a Prod,” as one Orangemen memorably remarked.
Despite best efforts in recent years to somehow portray the Orange marches as cultural rather than triumphal events, the reality of the sectarian swagger deep in the souls of the serried files of Orangemen marching is never far away.
Yes, we have progressed mightily in Northern Ireland, but in spite of rather than because of the Orange Order.
This is a group that continues to refuse to negotiate over marches through Nationalist areas, a group that most recently brought Northern Ireland to the verge of conflagration over the over the contentious Drumcree march.
They have been a massive brake on progress, unyielding and unflinching in their sense of superiority and their right to rule.
The 12th of July week is known as the marching week and Catholics fear it, knowing that every sectarian lout will take the opportunity to foist his poison on the other side.
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Years ago the croppies did lie down and the Orangemen had their day, but the Nationalist community will not accept such bully boy tactics any more.
In fairness many leading Unionists also recognize the need to change, and the power sharing government is an overwhelming acknowledgement of that.
But like the dissident IRA groups on the Nationalist side, there are still irredentist forces on the other side such as large elements of the Orange Order.
But Northern Ireland has moved on from such tribal hatreds in so many ways.
The police force is finally an integrated one, a fact most powerfully shown recently when Nationalist politicians and institutions stood up and were counted after a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer was killed by dissidents.
In addition, there have been tremendous sporting successes by Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy in particular, winning two major golf tournaments for Northern Ireland. McIlroy’s decision to embrace his Northern Ireland identity as a Catholic has caused much comment, including a major feature in The New York Times this week.
It is a symbol of the new Northern Ireland that he has successfully navigated the treacherous territory that religion and identity represents there.
Golf, like rugby, has always been an integrated sport in Northern Ireland, which has helped McIlroy’s case.
But nonetheless, there will hardly be an Irishman alive from whatever part of the land who will not be cheering him and McDowell on, as well as Dublin’s own Padraig Harrington, as they tee off in the British Open this week.
That is how it should be, and it is time that the Orange Order as well as the irredentists on both sides got that message that we have the basis for an agreed Ireland, where no one side wins, but both sides can play the game.
The Orange Order days are numbered in a new, pluralist Northern Ireland. It cannot happen fast enough.
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