When the Orange met the Green

Today I attended Rev. Brian Kennaway’s second book launch of his ‘The Orange Order: A tradition betrayed.‘ The venue was An Culturlann, on the Falls Road, and the event a part of the Feile an Phobail, which is now in full swing.

The chairperson for the occasion was leading republican, Sean Murray, and Roy Garland was the guest speaker before the packed audience.

I must say I found the event very informative and refreshing, with both Garland and Kennaway using the occasion to explain their views of the Order: its history, current difficulties, personal experiences and desires. It was not a question and answer session, which did detract from the event somewhat, but nonetheless it was a positive development for which Sean Murray and the Feile organisers deserve credit. Rev. Kennaway will also regard it positively, not least because his book sold like hotcakes in the mainly republican audience, for which he showed his gratitude by providing signings as compensation for parting with £15.

One interesting aspect of the event was the use of an Orange bannerette as a backdrop (not the real one, rather a Power Point illustration, as Sean Murray explained that his efforts to secure the real bannerette for the occasion proved ultimately futile.)

The bannerette belonged to the ‘Broadway Defenders’ and it included a large illustration of the Broadway Presbyterian Church, which is now of course An Culturlann McAdam O’Fiach (so named after the Presbyterian McAdam and Catholic Cardinal O’Fiach, both renowned Irish language enthusiasts.) Roy Garland told how he once took part in the parade up Broadway and onto the Falls Road to this very venue, although that procession ceased some time in the late 1960s.

Brian Kennaway’s speech was interesting because he clearly remains a very committed Orangeman, proud of its history and passionate about reforming it to more honestly reflect what he claims are its religious- as opposed to political- roots. He also, very cleverly, employed the language of the 1916 Proclamation in his desire to not only reach out to his republican audience, but also to show how the rhetoric employed by republicans historically has often mirrored that of Orangeism.

Whilst I may have found many of the assumptions to be questionable and doubtlessly will disagree with a considerable amount of what is written in the book, in many ways that doesn’t matter. Today represented a very positive breakthrough in our political stalemate: that any strand of Orangeism would publicly come together with the Irish republican tradition can only be a positive step, which should embolden others to follow suit so that a genuine- and reciprocal- dialogue can begin.

  • skinbop

    how refreshing – and conducted in an adult civilized fashion too.

  • Anne

    I was at this today as well!

    I also was a bit dissapointed that it wasn’t a q&a, but I still got a lot out of it, and I think more sessions along these lines (with questions and answers, hopefully) would be a positive development.

  • slug

    Next time perhaps less ‘cuddly’ Orange representatives could be invited, possibly to play some music?

  • Pete Baker

    “Today represented a very positive breakthrough in our political stalemate”

    Yeah, right.. a breakthrough…

    That’s strange.. because to an objective observer it looked more like a well chosen PR moment to push the book again.

    It emboldens nobody.. it simply provides an opportunity for more book sales – and a success it would seem.. signatures included in that calculation.

    Good luck to all concerned, btw.

  • willis

    An objective observer – In Northern Ireland – Some mistake surely!

  • Pete Baker

    Well, you may think so, willis..

    I couldn’t possibly comment..

    Except to say.. they do exist you know.

  • frank

    I think the book was published prior to this years 12th of July march, but it would have been interesting to hear an orange perspective on the inclusion of an orange banner celebrating uff south Belfast commander Joe Bratty at this years 12th and the reasoning behind the celebration of a person who slaughtered dozens of Catholic civilians during the last two decades.

    I still find it strange that orange grand master Robert Saulters or Drew Nelson did not find the inclusion of a mass murderer at a ‘religious & cultural celebration’ unnaceptable.

  • McGrath

    Pete Baker:

    “It emboldens nobody.. it simply provides an opportunity for more book sales – and a success it would seem.. signatures included in that calculation.”

    Commerce trumps sectarianism. A model for the future maybe?

  • McGrath

    And post #7 is the first step in turning this tread into shite.

    Frank, this issue has been blogged to death on here already.

  • baj

    mcgrath,
    I note that you dismiss Frank’s point without deeming to answer it.Kennaway deserves credit because whilst remaining a committed orangeman, he is trying to confront the less palatable side of the Institution.
    Therefore the recent introduction of the banner Frank refers to is exactly the type of issue that undermines the positive reforms that Kennaway is tring to garner support for.
    The fact that the leadership of the Orange Order(and indeed McGrath) do not wish to deal with the continued provacative and hurtful flaunting of the Bratty Banner, does not mean that the matter should be ignored.

  • bertie

    can someone give me the link to where this banner has been discussed on Slugger

  • abucs

    Good luck to Brian with his book and his efforts.

  • dantheman

    Godd luck Brian, although I suspect you are not a ‘real protestant’ to many of your brethren. Love thy nieghbour does not appear in their version of Christ the Biography.

  • Nevin

    This year it was Ballycastle District’s turn to host the five districts that parade together on the Twelfth. A Q&A session was held a few weeks in advance and those asking questions included Sean Farren, SDLP MLA. Lavin Orange Hall was burnt down on the night before the parade and this was followed by the burning of the Catholic Church in Glenshesk and the splattering of paint on the Catholic Church in Bushmills.

  • Nevin

    Frank, I’ve read part of Kennaway’s book. He’s rightly very critical of the OO’s failure to deal with paramilitary members and symbolism in its ranks. He seems to have been unaware of the central part played by the Irish government in the debacle in Portadown in the mid 1990s.

  • inuit_goddess

    Well done to Roy Garland, Brian Kennaway and the Féile an Phobail organisers.

    We need *much* more direct republican-unionist dialogue and we need it now.

  • Garibaldy

    This was obviously a positive experience. But far from a unique or groundbreaking one, except perhaps for some of the audience, as Pete has pointed out.

    As for unionist-nationalist dialogue, takes place all the time, and has been doing so for decades.

  • Bunter

    The primary motive in all of this is for those west Belfast festival organisers to flaunt their supposed non-sectarianism.
    They go around hoovering up the dejected, rejected and plainly vulnerable within unionism, play to their ego and then put them on show. The likes of Garland who will go anywhere he thinks people might listen to his self-centred crap and take it seriously, Kennaway who has crossed everybody in unionism and the OO, Mitchell who actually thinks he’s a playwright, and sad, sad Alan McBride who believes that he can “change the world” and is busy lecturing unionism from the pages of the Sunday Life.
    They just can’t see or don’t care that they are being used in a crude compare and contrast propoganda exercise.

  • McGrath
  • Johnny Dark

    Spike Murray hosting this is an attempt to take the heat out of the marching issue as a precursor to Sinn Fein supporting the cops. Same as this year’s handling of Ardoyne. Whether this is good or bad is not the point – simply what it seems to be.

  • circles

    Bunter – surely any contact at all between republicans and unionists / loyalists than can lead to a better understanding between both camps is worthwhile, whether or not its “dejected, rejected and plainly vulnerable within unionism” or not. Its more of a sad reflection of unionism that those who do open up to this kind of dialogue are often ostracised.

    And what exactly did you mean by “supposed non-sectarianism”? Could you elaborate further on what you were trying to get at with this.

    Would have loved to have participated at this. Sounds very interesting. The last session like this I was at that was presented by Spike Murray was on the Cuban Revolution and was extremely disappointing. No Q&A that time either – so much for community participation (folds arms and huffs…)

  • BarringtonBlue

    The Joe Bratty “banner” was a small Bannerette carried by a band, not a lodge, I know the band have been reported to the orange district for carrying this.

  • Garibaldy

    Circles,

    I suspect that the reference to supposed non-sectarianism was an accusation that despite a few fig leaves like this, the naked sectarianism and communalism of the Provos remains intact.

    What has interested me a great deal in the reaction to this is that clearly even political activists who stridently maintain that they are not sectarian and that they seek to achieve the unity of the Irish people make no effort to meet people from outside their own religious group other than once a year at the Festival. It seems that unionists at these events are viewed by some as exotic exhibits at a political petting zoo. But the presence of unionists at such events allows the audience to feel good about themselves, as the debate over Brian Feeney’s recent article demonstrated, and present it as evidence of their progressive nature.

  • circles

    “What has interested me a great deal in the reaction to this is that clearly even political activists who stridently maintain that they are not sectarian and that they seek to achieve the unity of the Irish people make no effort to meet people from outside their own religious group other than once a year at the Festival.”

    I don’t think this is actually the case G. Yes for the audience this is their annual jook at a real “one of themmuns”, but for many republican activists they do have a more frequent exchange with unionist and loyalists.

    You raised an interesting point about the participants “feeling good about themselves” afterwards. I think this is because people actually want this kind of exposure to “the others”, and welcome the chance to hear this other “narrative” – and not because they get a warm glow from being a hypocrite, and sticking fig leaves over their “naked sectarianism” (you’d have to argue hard to convice me that in this case thats what was happening). Now if this is true, that there is a demand for this exchange, once or twice a year is clearly not enough, and maybe a more regular forum is needed.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Garibaldy

    The sad fact remains that, in a segregated society, there are few opportunities for genuine cross-community dialogue, particularly as most people are busy conducting their own lives for most of the year.

    Occasions like the Feile event concerned provide an opportunity for people to engage with- or at least listen to- those whose paths they normally wouldn’t cross.

    That’s the nature of our society, and consequently that is why such events are a positive development and worth replicating and reciprocating across the board.

    Most political activists I know are engaged in cross-community dialogue to one degree or another, be it through contacts in a political or community work sphere, or indeed through single issue campaigns.

    But it isn’t often that we set aside time specifically to debate and discuss the issues that divide us so greatly.

    Before going into teaching as a profession, I worked in a number of jobs for very many years, all of which involved working alongside people of all political persuasions.

    And it is a sad but undeniable fact that, for the purposes of maintaining workforce unity and avoiding awkward confrontations, the unwritten rule in such work environments was always ‘don’t mention the war,’ or as Heaney put it, ‘Whatever you say, say nothing.’

    Now, if we are to move beyond that and into a new dispensation where everyone- and not just a small group of political leaders and activists- is made aware first-hand of the diverse political opinions in our society, and is given the opportunity to debate and discuss with political ‘opponents’, then the numerous events provided by the Belfast festivals can only be a good thing.

    Feeney’s point was that unionists need to take similar steps, and I think it’s long since past time that unionists invited leading figures from within the republican community into their areas to engage directly with their communities.

    It’s not going to solve all our problems, but it would be an important first step to acknowledging and affording respect to the nationalist community.

    This particular event was important because it involved a leading Orangeman (albeit an internal critic) accepting an invitation to address a republican community in a non-confrontational manner. I make the latter point because, although I enjoy the annual ‘West Belfast Talks Back’ event, its format is of the traditional, confrontational Q and A manner- even though that is important in its own right.

  • Garibaldy

    Circles,

    I’m all in favour of people talking. I’m just bemused by the notion that it has to take place within such strict limits as a regular forum. After all, there are nearly two times as many unionists as nationalists. They shouldn’t be that difficult to meet in day and daily life should nationalists want to. This is why I make the point about feeling good about themselves. It covers up for the fact that the vast majority of people make little or no effort to move outside their ususal experiences. But by doing this once a year, they can kid themselves (consciously or otherwise) that they make an effort.

    Some nationalist political activists do have regular contact with unionists. But I suspect they are a tiny minority.

    Such meetings are positive, but they reveal more about how far we have to go than how far we have come.

    Chris,

    I’ve just seen your post after this reply to Circles didn’t post the first time. I think we’re all agreed that these things are a good idea. And absolutely there’s a culture of saying nothing. However, our segregated society depends to a great extent upon people not venturing beyond the familiar. People need to change their behaviour rather than rely on others to change things for them. After all, good step though it may be, going to hear someone who disagrees politically with you speak is not exactly a revolutionary action that will alter the segregated society we inhabit.

  • Oilbhéar Chromaill

    The primary motive in all of this is for those west Belfast festival organisers to flaunt their supposed non-sectarianism.
    They go around hoovering up the dejected, rejected and plainly vulnerable within unionism, play to their ego and then put them on show. The likes of Garland who will go anywhere he thinks people might listen to his self-centred crap and take it seriously, Kennaway who has crossed everybody in unionism and the OO, Mitchell who actually thinks he’s a playwright, and sad, sad Alan McBride who believes that he can “change the world” and is busy lecturing unionism from the pages of the Sunday Life.
    They just can’t see or don’t care that they are being used in a crude compare and contrast propoganda exercise.

    Yeah right Bunter. In the past few years, those being used in this propoganda exercise include Jeffrey Donaldson, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ken Maginnis, Lord Laird, Arlene Foster.

    The thing is here, Féile an Phobail actively promotes non sectarianism – it’s not ‘supposed’ at all. Whereas Orangefest and other like events are nothing but unadulterated bigot fests.

  • Colonel_Grim

    1. Kenaway is not a leading Orange man, he is an ordinary member very much out of the loop and on the fringes.

    2. Kenaway’s ramblings in no way represent reality. His book is a diatribe of nonsence a pathetic attempt by a pathetic little man full of his own importance.

    3. People like him and Garland are Walter Mitty esk characters who believe themselves to have importance and sway in their community when the reality is that they are dispised as pervayours of fiction and Untruths.

  • circles

    “After all, there are nearly two times as many unionists as nationalists. They shouldn’t be that difficult to meet in day and daily life should nationalists want to.”

    If only it were that easy G – up the Shankill we go, “Hello, I’m a republican – fancy a cup of coffee and a chat?”. Indeed nationalists probably used to have much more real (and often physical) contact with unionists and loyalists – but the UDR were scrapped and the RUC met Patten and that was that for a while.
    But I would see the Feile activities more from a “half full” perspective. For many people it does represent a start in reviewing old, unquestioned beliefs and to them builidng a more finely differentiated picture of what it means to be orange / british / loyal etc., whch can, block by block, start to deconstruct the barriers that we have spentgenerations putting up.

  • Garibaldy

    Circles,

    As I said above, we’re in agreement such meetings are a good thing, and in that I would share the half full. However, meeting people from the other side isn’t as impossible as a lot of people seem to think.

  • circles

    G – but if you share the half full, theres only a quarter left for ME!!!! 🙁

  • Garibaldy

    Fair point circles. I may as well have it all

  • circles

    tell you what – you can take the top half of the half empty glass and I’ll take the bottom!

  • Garibaldy

    Circles,

    I’ve always said NI would be better with a left/right split, and I think this is definitely the wat forward here

  • circles

    OK – its in the freezer!

    I want the left side!!

  • Garibaldy

    In a spirit of solidarity, I will just this once adopt the right side, despite it going against my natural inclinations.

  • MDL

    Colonel-Grim obviously hasn’t read Kennaway’s book if he considers it to in “no way represent reality”. Sadly it does represent reality and Kennaway is to be highly commended for not only trying to explain true Orange principles to a diverse audience but for laying bear the duplicity of Orange leaders, outlining why the Order has ‘fallen from grace’ and providing a particularly damning critique of the lack of internal discipline, i.e. tackling the criticisms of, for example, paramilitary links which so many contributors have rightly mentioned.