Pushing zero sum to its limits?

It’s hard to encapsulate just what a transformation the West Belfast Festival has worked in its community. Newton Emerson does better than most in articulating its benefits. But he also wonders why Republicans would deny the Orange the same path in shifting their community away from a violent and atavistic past towards a particularist celebration, since the Feile an Phobail is the very project that proved the concept in the first place.

Adds: here’s a piece on the Orange proposal. Sinn Fein have denounced it as a Big-otfest.

What was once an annual orgy of youth-driven street violence has become an annual Christy Moore concert complete with sixth-form debate at St Louise’s, sixth-rate exhibitions at the Conway Mill and a poignant closing ceremony at An Culturlann, where Frances Black serenades Gerry Adams with ‘Something Inside So Strong’ while an audience of distinguished guests politely refrains from laughter.

So who are the Shinners to say that the same trick won’t work on the July fortnight? Indeed, aren’t the Shinners the very last people who should be saying that the same trick won’t work on the July fortnight? When Orange Order spokesman William Humphrey claims the Twelfth is “an event that can be enjoyed by the whole community” this is obviously self-serving nonsense – but it was equally self-serving nonsense when exactly the same thing was said in the first years of feile.

Even today the West Belfast Festival is hardly a comfortable cross-community event – some aspects seem determined to prove Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich’s dictum that all the religious big-otry in Ireland is Protestant and all the political big-otry is Catholic. But that is besides the point.

The West Belfast Festival is a lightening rod that collects negative energy and dissipates it harmlessly into the ground – leaving only positive energy behind.


  • Stephen Copeland


    I see one rather glaring difference between Feile aand the Orange marching season, and it is a difference that is key to the responses of the ‘other’ group.

    Feile may be a somewhat nationalist-inclined event – though I think many of its attractions are quite neutral (pop musicians, debates , etc). But crucially, it carries out all of its activities within a fairly limited geographic area that does not include areas inhabited by many unionists. In other words, almost no unionist is inconvenienced, let alone offended, by Feile.

    The Orange events are, however, not limited to unionist areas. If they were, then they would probably be no more controversial than Feile. By insisting on taking their show on the road (so to speak), especially the road through or past nationalist areas, and by (on occasions (Stoneyford, Castlederg, … ) deliberately seeking to offend, they ensure that their events are contentious, offensive, political, and unpleasant.

    By all means the unionists should learn from Feile – I wish they would – but lesson 1 is ‘stay where you are wanted’. Then they can work on improving the quality, safety, and family-friendliness of their events. And for the latter improvements I, for one, would not grudge then government funding. But only once they have learnt lesson 1.

  • Droch_Bhuachaill


    I don’t think government funding is appropriate for the celebrations of an association which is, fundementally, a sectarian organisation. The Unionist and Loyalist population should use the twelfth as a wider celebration of their rich history and culture, and not let it be hijacked by orangemen.

    Id like to see the Twelfth as an occasion like the Oireachtas, (which will be in Derry this year by the way) a festival which celebrates Irish Culture, by one which attracts people from many different cultures. Then maybe it would attract deserve funding.

  • GavBelfast

    “Stay where you’re wanted.”

    But where does that attitude end?

  • Stephen Copeland


    Hopefully with people realising that there are limits to behaviour, both personal and group. If you act like a bastard to people around you, then you become unwanted. Try it yourself – I guarantee it’ll work. Then extrapolate for a whole group, and you’ll understand why that group is ‘unwanted’ in the space occupied largely by a different group.

    Once you stop acting like a bastard, then you’ll probably start getting invites again, or at least toleration of your presence. It so simple.

  • GavBelfast


    I haven’t been at an Orange parade in 15 years and only watched it then because I had business that day in the old Russell Court complex. The last one I saw in person was out of window of an office in Liverpool I was working in a couple of years later.

    Maybe it’s the way you phrase things, but you come across as having a bit of an attitude problem.