Ready for an Orange blast
These are mind-boggling times both nationally and internationally. We are almost daily seeing things we thought we would never view in our lifetimes.
Internationally, the elevation of President Obama is perhaps the most striking global evidence of this clearly different new world.
Nationally, incredibly for my generation, we have become used to seeing Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sitting smilingly together on power-sharing sofas, clearly "as thick as thieves," as the old country folk used say up there in the Six Counties.
The old order changeth for sure. Today I learned that the once so nakedly sectarian Orangemen's parade on the Twelfth of July this year has somehow between converted into what is to be known henceforth as the Orangefest family festival.
City center shops will open throughout Belfast. It is to be a big fun day out for all the families Orange and Green alike. Ye gods and little fishes!
And I never thought I would live to be able to write the sentence that follows -- I'm delighted that this is happening. Vere dignum et justum est. It is a mighty and nationally enriching development.
Being freed by that statement, I cannot wait to enlarge upon it. The facts are that the Orange parades of our high summer, when distanced from the fearful sectarianism which they generated all my lifetime, are one of the most colorful and powerful spectacles that you could see anywhere in Europe.
They have everything. They have marching bands playing warpipe skirls. They have color and ceremonial and ritual. They have that crazy touch of Celticity which somehow garnishes all occasions celebrated by either of the Irish communities.
They have passion and they have pride in identity. They celebrate an ancient battle in Ireland in which, nearly incredibly, the Pope of Rome, for then current political reasons, was actually supporting King William of Orange.
They are driven along the parade route to the field where the big speeches are made by the embedded beliefs of history amongst the ranks of Orange. They are blazingly bright to the eye and to the mind. They generated more "soul" than any 10 parades here at home on St. Patrick's Day.
If you were the little Nationalist boy I was in Fermanagh in childhood they quite properly frightened the life out of you -- that was maybe the purpose then -- but they also blazed against your blinking eyeballs with all the brightest and loudest sensory triggers there were.
I've seen many of them in my lifetime, both in the provinces and in Belfast. They always put that fear of God into me before and during The Troubles, and properly so.
But there were always a few fascinated and impressed cells that so wished to be able to watch the Twelfth parade just as a stirring spectacle. Maybe the time has come at last.
If it has, God willing, then the Orangefest on the Twelfth of July in Belfast this year will be special indeed.