Parading towards a “Carnival” atmosphere?

Drew Nelson, Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, continues with his charm offensive with an interview in the Guardian. He highlights how the problems of the Notting Hill Carnival were overcome and believes the same can be true of the Twelfth parades.

“Only the Notting Hill carnival can beat it in the British Isles. Notting Hill has overcome its problems of drugs, [policing and] deaths. We can overcome our problems.”

The Notting Hill Carnival has its roots in Catholic tradition. OO delegations have attended the Carnival and a number of events in Europe and met the respective organisers. The article also notes the new approach to engagement adopted by the Order.

  • aquifer

    Its a bit of a spectacle, that’s for sure. The bands and banners, the military-style uniforms from previous centuries. Loads of tourist potential.

  • Rory

    I have just finished listening to Drew Nelson on Radio 4’s P.M. immediately before the six o’clock news. He extended an invitation to all communities (and “Most certainly, yes, including the Roman Catholic community”) to join in the carnival in which the parades (not “marches” he emphasised) were to culminate.

    While I offer my thanks to Mr Nelson for his kind invitation,I have consulted with my wife who is Protestant from a Plymouth Brethren background, and we must regret that we are unable to take up
    this invitation. We have both consulted our diaries and find that we are already committed to watching the paint dry on our garden fence which is to be painted that morning. Otherwise, naturally we would be only too happy….etc.

  • Crataegus

    So this twelfth we can look forward to a wider selection of bands? That Samba beat feathers, sequins and “shaking that ass.” In such a scenario I may well turn up to watch the Young Defenders. God it would be a hoot. Bowler hats and buttocks. What’s more I can’t imagine anyone having the will to object the sight would be the biggest and most surreal pick me up I could imagine and would instantly disarm.

    Go for it, want a donation? Let’s see what would I look best in Orange feathers and thongs all round sounds about right.

    Seriously if they can pull it off good luck to them and lightening up would be a big improvement and there is real tourist potential.

  • kensei

    And I’m afraid I must also decline on the grounds they are an anti Catholic and agressive organisation.

  • pith

    Any chance of getting those orange fellas up on floats pretending to be big dragons? Prize for best collarette – all that sort of thing? Perhaps we could offer tourists a package – Orange carnival in July and Notting Hill in August.

  • Drew would not be a bad successor to Bobby Saulters.

  • Crataegus


    they are an anti Catholic and aggressive organisation

    I agree and there in lies a problem that they need to address.

  • pith

    “Drew would not be a bad successor to Bobby Saulters.”

    …and what a hard act to follow.

  • puff

    Sounds great !!

    The paramilitary bands could wear multi-coloured balaclaves and play sectarian tunes to a samba beat.

  • pith

    Does Notting Hill have a trailer in a field with a row of toothless old boys shouting things like “Ulsher shays no-oh” through tiny tinny amplifiers? Does it have cheese sandwiches made with pan bread? Does it have couples making out in the ditches? No? Well it’s not all that then is it?

  • Daithí

    Well, I’m a southern catholic, I went up to the Derry Day parade last year, basically out of curiousity, and I really thought it was great – there wasn’t any trouble at all, at least not where I was, and I can definitely see the tourist potential angle – lookin’ on five or ten years down the line.

    There was loads of colour, and some very skilled bands with great music abilities and it was just all felt really interesting for me to ‘go through the looking-glass’ like that. It truly was fascinating.

    The flip-side though was the train ride back to Belfast where I have rarely felt so terrified in my life. The whole train was taken over by drunken, drinking loyalists bellowing out the most horrible vicious songs. I was petrified lest anyone talk to me and discover my southern accent. The NIR staff didn’t seem to care, and there wasn’t a policeman in sight. I pretended to be asleep the whole way to Belfast and I think I was lucky I wasn’t caught out.

  • wild turkey

    Spectacle? Undoubtedly
    Skilled Bands? Probably

    A tourist attraction? Daith hit the the bulleyes.

    Isn’t there a slight problem with the xenophobia inherent in these events?

    For example, I am sure I’ve only imagined hearing stories of the uninformed, quite often tourists, being threatened for having the effrontery to attempt to cross the street during a march/parade (what is it anyway?)

    A simple strap line for tourist board, DCAL, the order, whoever

    Shakin that ass? Want it kicked? Why not c’mon to our wee province and celebrate the twelfth?

    When a Donegall Pass band marches with the Chinesse Welfare Centre, thats a spectacle I’ll gladly support and attend.

    Do away with the PERCEIVED undercurrent of xenophobic threat and they might be onto something. Until then, get real.

  • Carson’s Cat

    Fair play to Drew – getting out there and explaining/promoting the Orange culture. He’d be a worthy and a more than able successor to Bobby Saulters.

    Interesting that there seems to be a mix of reactions from nationalists. For some it just doesnt seem to matter what would be done – it will never be acceptable to them. I wonder does that count as ‘intransigence’? Others attempt to deride any culture by comparisons with other carnivals.

    Why on earth should NI try to copy a Rio, or even Notting Hill carnival. This isn’t Brazil in case you haven’t noticed, and its not organised by people from a majority Afro-Carribean background. Why cant there be a mix of a carnival atmosphere surrounding the main parade. That can mean floats in the parade etc etc.

    What it comes down to is that some people seem very p*ssed off that the Orange Institution has got an articulate spokesman and may finally start to market the benefits which this culture brings to Northern Ireland.

  • Aaron_Scullion

    Well, every time the Notting Hill Carnival comes around, I get held up in pointless traffic jams, I feel intimidated by the low level crime, there’s a ridiculous police presence, so I just the area.

    I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this..

  • Aaron_Scullion


    “so I just avoid the area.”

  • Bemused

    “What it comes down to is that some people seem very p*ssed off that the Orange Institution has got an articulate spokesman and may finally start to market the benefits which this culture brings to Northern Ireland.”

    Those benefits being?

  • slug

    Drew Nelson was also on Radio 4’s PM news programme today, with the same kind of message. In a nutshell, a more carnival type idea with the emphasis on parading rather than marching. He said the 12th was INDEED about a celebration of the ulster protestant people, but that he wanted to make its enjoyment as a spectacle open and accessible for the catholic community.

  • duffy

    It’s a fairground hall of mirrors trick – making the narrow appear broad. The reality is different.

  • Drew Nelson : should bring a few bands over from West Africa, where the LOL is strong & dump the local boring flute bands.
    I might just get a sleepin on 12th morning.

  • frank

    Is Drew prepared to throw out 90% of bands who take part in orange order parades, they all have paramilitary links.

  • friendlyCreggan

    The bottom line is that this place (NI) needs to GROW UP and move with the times!

    PARADE numbers are over the top and it doesn’t matter who you are and what you believe is your ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’, there are far too many parades here in this wee sad place!

    I drove to Portrush a few week’s back for the first time in years; my family had just sat down in a chippie there for a bite to eat and lo and behold a Loyalist parade started making its way through the very centre of Portrush!

    Now, to most of the Loyalist and Unionist people that were in Portrush that day (as well as the tourists) I’m sure that it was very valid and a worthwhile event (with no doubt loads of ‘history’ attached to it) but to the ‘outsiders’ like ourselves I can tell you that it was a very intimidating and off putting experience.

    A Loyalist band followed by many ‘hanger-ons’ bedecked in RANGERS tops chanting all sorts is hardly a ‘welcome’ to Portrush is it?

    Then the experience at BARRY’S, 80% of the people there wearing RANGERS tops? Grown men and women. What’s that all about?

    I’ll never be back there, either Barry’s or Portrush.

  • Harry Flashman

    Actually what is not often remarked upon is the origin of the Notting Hill carnival, it emerged as a celebration of West Indian culture in the late 1950’s. More specifically it came after a vicious battle between immigrants and natives which the newcomers won. They decided to celebrate this victory with an annual parade (I’m not making this up by the way).

    So what we have is a large parade, a triumphalist expression of one culture celebrating the fact that they are here now and not leaving despite the antagonisms of the original population. This parade was notorious for violence during the 1970’s and led to widespread disturbances. Thankfully it has cleaned its act up now and the media will always go out of its way to put a favourable spin on the occasion even though crime and disorder are still endemic among the parade goers and the policing bill and local disruption is huge.

    So here’s my point, the demographics of Notting Hill have changed alot since the days when it was mainly an immigrant area. Now it is mostly middle class white people who live there. Many of the residents there now look forward with dread to the annual end of summer parade and book their holidays to ensure that they and their families are well away from what they regard as a threatening, unpleasant experience. Of course they can’t complain as the prevailing political climate does not allow any criticism of the parade and the police are rather keen to be seen to take sides with the parade organisers.

    Sound familiar? So what if local residents who were fed up with this annual disruption and influx of undesirable outsiders into their area decided to form a Notting Hill Concerned Residents Group? What if the people they chose to front this group were members of the BNP, many of whom had convictions for racist attacks in the 1970’s on black property and people? Would the bien pensants here automatically tell the parade organisers that they must consult with these people before they plan their parade? Should the BNP people have the right to veto the parade route? Should they be able to decide which bands and which music are played during the carnival?

    Suddenly it’s not so clear cut is it?

  • Crataegus

    Harry Flashman

    Interesting perspective, well put.


    Another good point that applies to both communities. Masses of people dressing in one particular tribal way and acting as a pack degrade many of the parades. It is one of the reasons Unionists complain about St Pat’s.

    Those organising all parades really do need to take responsibility not just for the parade but also for the attitude and behaviour of spectators.

    Pity we couldn’t invent a common identity and common symbols or at least make a start at trying.

  • Chris Donnelly

    “Paramilitary activity is incompatible with membership of the Orange Order,” Mr Nelson insists before adding: “We can’t always tell who are [paramilitary] members.”

    What nonsense. The Orange Order knows many amongst its number belonging to loyalist paramilitaries. We have had public admissions from former senior Orange figures that loyalist paramilitaries steward Orange parades; in Belfast, Stoneyford and across north Antrim, loyalist membership and Orange membership goes hand in hand- and that’s only the cases I am personally aware of.

    If Mr. Nelson is serious about changing the Order to make it more inclusive and acceptable to all communities, then the proof will be for all to see.

    Will the Order disassociate itself from Eleventh night bonfires- viewed by the Order as the precursor for their parades- which burn effigies of the leader of the largest Christian church in the world? Will the practice of burning effigies of nationalist political leaders, of mocking suicide victims from catholic parts of Belfast, and of singing grotesquely sectarian songs be condemned by the Order?

    Of the day itself, I would make a number of recommendations. A truly outward looking Order would be sensitive to the concerns of its neighbours, particularly if it were seeking their attendance at parades!

    Therefore, seeking to march through areas where you may not be welcomed would not be a good start. Organising riots and road blocks to intimidate people you would like to attend your ‘carnivals’ would similarly not count amongst the smartest options- that is, if making the parades an ‘inclusive’ event was really your motivation.

    I fear Mr. Nelson is engaging in yet more spin for the benefit of the Parades Commission, which has shown itself to be more than willing to adopt an Order-friendly bias, as was feared by nationalists when its composition was unveiled some months ago.

  • Different Drumer

    ‘ threatening, unpleasant experience’

    Yes Flashman having lived in Nothing Hill I can well remember the type of campagin you describe in actuality by the residents against the Carnival in 1976. There is a very well known photo of the then police commander for the area holding up a huge petition from the select area of Kensington and Chelsea residents against the Carnival. The ‘compromise’ that the police agreed with the residents group(s) was that the Carnival be policed more effectively.

    Again I can remember the result – one image in particular stays with me even now – its of a steel band comprising of women and children moving through a side street on its own – they were I believe part of the Children’s Carnival which is held before the main Carnival. This band also had a tight police ‘envelope’ around it that was only open at the front where one senior police officer who was leading the band according to the route he had on his clip board.

    This he glanced at it and indicated with with one of those little batons that they carry to denote his rank (the larger ones came out later).

    “I think we are going down here now’, he said pointing to his right at which point the band did not move to the right but moved forward none of the the women or the children were listening to him.

    If this was the way the carnival was going to be policed – I knew then that there was going to be trouble.

    The ‘Police Carnival’ has never been attempted again. But if Mr Flashman believes that the Police were right then perhaps he should start a similar campagin to have ALL marches policed like this here….

  • Rory

    A different perspective surely, Flashman, but a skewed one perhaps. The race riots inspire by British Empire Loyalists (forerunners of the NF and BNP) did not end in “victory” for the West Indians under attack. But they did put up a stout-hearted resistance that demonstrated they were having no more of it and would stand up. The authorities then decided it was time to step in – a bit like Belfast and Derry in 1969 really, if we inlude the RUC along with Loyalist gangs, as the counterpart of the British Empire Loyalists.

    The carnival resulted from the attempt to build a new peace and has largely been succesful. The difficulties of the 70’s which were not all that serious were, I would argue a reminder by a younger generation that improvement in police attitudes to blacks had not improved sufficiently nor fast enough.

    Your description of the changing demographics of the Notting Hill area is largely correct – the younger Tory cabal around David Cameron, the Notting Hill set, are composed of the independently wealthy and trustafarian brigade who have settled in the refurbished neo-Georgian properties that once were crumbling overcrowded rental accomodation for the poor.

    Now I for the life of me cannot conceive of this group appointing the socially inferior (by their lights) and thuggish BNP to represent their interests in any negotiation, much less one relating to their very living environment. And indeed given that they will often have the leading figures of the Metropolitan Police round to dinner or to lunch at White’s, why would they bother?

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    “Paramilitary activity is incompatible with membership of the Orange Order,” Mr Nelson insists before adding: “We can’t always tell who are [paramilitary] members.”

    Even while trying to put a positive spin on hate marches the lies drip off their lips with ease.

  • Harry Flashman

    Rory and Different Drummer make valid points about the history of the Notting Hill Carnival, however they miss my point. I agree that policing in the past may have been a problem and I accept that it is unlikely that the yuppies of W2 would be fronted by the BNP.

    However I was using this analogy to draw attention to why the Orangemen were so reluctant in the past to engage with the residents groups and think it is perfectly fair to compare asking OO people to negotiate with SF in order to be allowed to express their culture with the reaction that would come from liberal circles if Notting Hill Carnival organisers were told they had to negotiate terms with the BNP.

    I do not say the two situations are exact analogies but merely point out some uncomfortable double standards.

  • Millie

    In no way shape or form can the Notting Hill carnival be equated to the 12th of July. The carnival’s origins were very small and humble indeed, the first parade was a few hundred people but it’s become the biggest street festival in Europe, in spite of racist policing and political opposition.

    It’s primarly a celebration of West Indian culture, from the parades to the music to the food, but it doesn’t stop there, you can find sound-systems and floats from the Indian sub-continent, house music, trance, techno, even alternative. It isn’t political, you don’t have to be black to attend, and it’s TWO DAYS of the entire year. And considering almost 2 million people attend over the 2 days crime is comparatively low-level, if compared with the Reading or Glastonbury festivals which attract a tenth of the crowd at Notting Hill but witness mini-crime sprees every year and a lot more arrests than 10 carnivals put together. But no-one talks about that cos festival goers are mostly white so obviously that doesn’t count as crime.

    Yes i can see it’s a nuisance for the residents who live there – or they could just join in with the other million or so and enjoy themselves. In fact the only way it could be compared with the 12th is if it was solely a celebration of ‘white British’ culture – whatever that is – complete with banners and flags celebrating the Empire’s victories over its former colonial subjects.

    If the OO want to make the 12th a carnival event they’ll have to jettison the politics and address their own sectarian make-up and agenda, but then you’d probably be left with nothing.

  • George

    Harry Flashman,
    while your analogy interesting, it has one major flaw from what I can see:

    Those in Notting Hill were looking to celebrate their own culture in their own areas, they didn’t hop on a tube by the thousand and set up somewhere else where.

  • 50%+

    “We’re up to our necks in fenian blood”……..
    oops!! sorry
    “We’re a merry bunch of trobadours”

  • Different Drumer

    “I do not say the two situations are exact analogies but merely point out some uncomfortable double standards.”(Flashman)

    -That’s was my point you cannot use what happened in Notting Hill to legtimate your appraoch/argument about the Orange Order’s right to roam/not to ‘negotiate’.


    However, one culture is coming to an end and that is Belfast Agreement Culture – the project of appearing to construct a level playing field so that the marching issue can be solved as matter of ‘equality’.

    For if there is an anology with Noting Hill and the West Indians to here it is one of Power and how that is *mediated* through Culture.

    To compare an oppressed minority attempting of to assert itself in this case West Indians – with a powerful and influential Northern Ireland group like the Orange Order which is now *re-asserting* that power – is absurd.

    Orange Power – Is NOT Negotiable as it is functioning as part of the State as we know it.

  • Harry Flashman

    I am not equating the two situations, I am pointing out that hypothetically the residents of Notting Hill could legitimately oppose the Carnival on exactly the same grounds as residents in Garvaghy Road or Springfield Road (ie demographics have changed and we don’t want the noise and disruption) and the residents could demand that the Carnival negotiates with whomever the residents put forward as their public representatives, no matter how distasteful they may be.

    It’s not really a complicated point I’m making but it seems to escape several posters here. An example is Millie who seems to believe that just because she likes and supports the Carnival then it’s ok to disrupt the lives of residents who have no connection with the Carnival and who object to the open criminality and drunkeness associated with the hangers on who are not actually residents of the area. (I love the idea that the most politically correct police force in the world, the London Met are racists when it comes to the Carnival, she clearly hasn’t seen the annually stage managed picture for the BBC of the big bosumed West Indian lady dancing with the cop and wearing the peeler’s helmet that is produced each year. Nor has she seen the cops turning several thousand blind eyes to the open drug trading at the Carnival).

    Furthermore because Millie supports the political ideals of the Carnival then she believes the residents should just shut the f**k up and learn to live with it, an argument remarkably similar to that of the Loyal Orders.

    It’s this hypocrisy to which I object

  • Crataegus


    The points you make, are clear and the analogy is sound. Your not making any excuse for the Orange Order, or saying or inferring they should or should not march, just comparing two sets of circumstances. OK they are not identical but the comparison is interesting. People don’t see because they don’t want to see, but that’s the nature of hypocrisy. We live in a place where MY RIGHTS always have priority.

    I thought it interesting and I am no fan of the OO.

  • Millie

    Mr Flashman

    The residents groups in NI don’t object to parades because of the inconvenience, they object to them because of the sectarian triumphalism and intimidation. There are no political agendas on display at Notting Hill, no attempt to rub residents noises in it, no quasi-military marches by paramilitary linked bands, no anti-white/British oaths for parade participants.

    And what criminality do you refer to? The number of arrests are miniscule compared with the number of people who attend, and hey it wouldn’t be much of a street party if there were no drugs or alcohol so why London should be any different to the rest of the world in this regard I’ll don’t know. And didn’t you know a gathering of 10 of more black males represents a criminal conspiracy.

  • matt
  • slug

    Interesting discussion. Its interesting that the are discussing this possibility of a more carnival-type atmosphere. 10 years ago the was discussed by others outside of the OO and dismissed by the OO. The fact the OO have now internalised that discussion, at least to the extent of talking to the Guardian and Radio 4 about it, and even meeting the Catholic Church recently, is a positive sign. It remains to be seen of course whether the OO can take the steps that will bring about that carnival atmosphere.

  • Different Drummer

    Crataegus & Flashman

    Yes – it’s not about ‘individual rights’, it’s about how much Power you have and why the OO has that Power ‘as of right’.

    In the words of the song it’s a Power liberals cannot and will not tame – others have tried and failed. It will only end when the state itself ends.

  • Interesting posts by Harry. For all the dissent, I think you’ve made an excellent point. Republicans will disagree, but if they want to understand a unionist point of view, they’d do worse than look at Harry’s analogy – it’s not as if Prods haven’t had theire fair share of negative comparisons lately.

    Thought this critic of Harry’s deseved mention:

    while your analogy interesting, it has one major flaw from what I can see:

    Those in Notting Hill were looking to celebrate their own culture in their own areas, they didn’t hop on a tube by the thousand and set up somewhere else where.

    Err… no. A plane, train or ship maybe, but not the tube, it having its origins in West Indian culture. OK, we could argue that most people at the Notting Hill carnival are actually native now, but couldn’t you say that about the Orange Order too?

    On a whim in 1999 or 2000, I emailed whoever was the (Grand?) Secretary of the Order suggesting a more carnival-like approach. The reply was a rather brief acknowledgement, but maybe they listened after all(!) Anyone know who would have been Sec back then? Can’t remember.

    Someone else said: “This isn’t Brazil in case you haven’t noticed”…

    Could be something in that. I feel a song coming on. Let’s see… “We’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland…” (To the tune of “Glory, glory, Man United.”)

    But to get back to the point, if the Order wants to become more “carnival” like (and, for that matter, if the Belfast St Pat’s Day Committee want to become more “inclusive”) then they have to appeal to a wider audience, not just the “other” side, but those of no particular persuasion, immigrants, tourists, the middle classes and so on.

    At the moment, whether through lack of funding or whatever, the Twelfth, like the St Paddy’s Day event, is pretty disappointing as a day out for the average not-entirely-loyal-but-prepared-to-give-it-a-try punter.

    Facilities are the Twelfth and on St Paddy’s day are medieval. Poor sound systems, primitive ‘loos’ (thank God I am not female – ladies, you have my sympathy), lack of litter bins, tatty stalls, poor crowd management and occasionally woeful acts.

    By all means make them more inclusive, but please, just make them worth going to…

  • Follow The Money


    Yes – We could really ‘draw in punters’ if we could amalgamate Gay Pide The 12th and The festival of Fools – with a certain X member of the DUP as Parade Marshal!

    Then you’ve got all bases covered and now even more money to pay all those very special people – the media consultants to help make it sound really genuine like.

    Meanwhile the second biggest fan of similar progressive perversity in West Belfast is looking at a serious cut in his public grant to his own planned event.