Augher, Clogher…..Slugger hits the road

When I blogged our intention to visit the Twelfth in Clogher John Robinson and Iain McClung of Glenageeragh LOL 908, a rural Augher lodge, kindly got in touch to offer some guidance and help. Their hospitality and warmth along with that of their fellow lodge members was greatly appreciated throughout yesterday.

So we started our day with a feeder parade in Augher.

According to the 2001 Census the entire Augher ward was 55% Catholic and the output area (95OO020004) including most of the village was 84% catholic.

The village from the crossroads to the orange hall was kitted out with some bunting, a number of Union flags which were almost matched by Scottish flags and a small amount of NI flags. Around 20 properties, mainly near the Orange hall, displayed flags from flag poles and about half that number had empty flag holders.

The route of the 1/2 mile parade.

The only spectators were a group of family members (20) at the Orange Hall, a small number residents around the hall standing at their doors (6) and a handful in the main street. The two lodges, their bands and some children marched the parade route to almost indifference in a nearly empty street. All in all an exercise that seemed mostly for the benefit of the participants. This parade was listed to be repeated in the evening.

Then they and we travelled the short distance to Clogher for their main district parade.

In the 2001 Census the Clogher ward was 58% Catholic. The output area that includes the village (95OO090003) was 43% Catholic.

While waiting for things to begin we visited an exhibition of old banners and various odds and ends in the Orange hall. Only two of the banners had any real age (100 years) with the others less than 50 years old. The one that jumped out was thread bare and bagged in plastic to protect it – it’s image of Queen Victoria presenting a bible to a kneeling black man (who may have been a romanticised representation of an Indian prince) was a throwback to mindsets long gone for most.

For my first visit inside an orange hall, belonging to what was described as not a particularly active lodge, I couldn’t see much role for this building in community life. It was dirty, mouldy, with peeling paint and an air of long term neglect.

The route of the 1 mile parade that took around 1hr to pass.

We had been told the parade would pass the pubs which were described by religious denominations, these supposedly had mixed clientele and they would come out to watch. One of the pubs was doing a roaring trade; it had been described as protestant. The others opened later and were very much less frequented, one being all but empty.

As the parade approached drinkers from the protestant pub were ushered back inside to comply with parading rules. The clients from other pubs did not rush outside to spectate as promised.

The parade consisted of around 20 bands and lodges. Some of the lodges are tiny with less than 10 members. The biggest wouldn’t have much more than 30. We had been told in most cases the lodge had an attached band and that many of the bandsmen would also be members of the lodge. There were no womens lodges. The most unexpected moment was a rendition of ‘Brown Girl in the Rain’.

One band that stood out amongst the pipes, bagpipes and silver was the sole Blood and Thunder flute band the Aughnacloy Sons of William – they weren’t attached to the lodge they led with some reference to a dispute between them and their local lodge made at the field.

This band as it approach the practically empty Catholic pub called for ‘Here lies a soldier’ before coming to a halt and playing a song about the UVF outside this business. Of course it could have been coincidence this tune was chosen at that moment. However, as they approached the pub on the return leg they were again belting out the UVF tune. It seemed a very deliberate choice from the flute band. When Orangemen were asked about this they didn’t really have an answer. It was a Blood and Thunder band and they’re an acquired taste. I wonder when the clients of the almost empty bar will acquire the taste and frequent the premises on the 12th?

Unsurprisingly the bulk of this band was amongst the limited number of participants that left the field immediately on arrival and headed back to Clogher for refreshment.

The lower part of the village had a sparse group of spectators. Things got a little more crowded half way up the hill. The bulk of supporters had parked and were picnicing on the country road out of the village to the field.

Absolutely no drink was to be seen along the route. Similarly there was no litter. The majority watching seemed to be in family groups.

When the lodges arrived in the field they split and went to predesignated areas. Next to none of the spectators followed the lodges and bands into the field. The lodge members, bandsmen and their families clustered in groups eating sandwiches and quaffing tea with limited entertainment – a bouncy castle, chips and ice-cream.

I’d asked why so many of the people on the route who supported the Orange order to a level they would watch the parade didn’t feel compelled to join and didn’t come to the field. While no definitive answer was given the church attendance aspect was raised as a partial issue. Though they didn’t think this would be a problem in Belfast, hinting more urban lodges may not be so focused on religious aspects. It became clear the main reason so many did not join at the field was because membership seems to be inherited – grandfather, father, son had all come through the lodge and/or attached band. None seemed to be drawn from non-lodge families.

So many people watching this parade may see the 12th as a tradition but they come from families that traditionally don’t join the Orange order – a strange thought.

After the tea had been consumed and sandwiches eaten many made their way to the platform, quite a few sat on enjoying the sun. This short walk allowed me to confirm the absence of drink yet again, apart from 4 discreetly supped bottles of Bud it was tea and juice.

At the platform before a religious service the band played a few tunes including the classic ‘My grandfather’s clock’

I had been told there were politicians at Clogher but it was traditional for there to be no politics at the field, so no elected reps on the platform.

Then the resolutions, while even SF escaped direct attack from the Order this year Alex Salmond’s SNP were singled out:

We are concerned that political parties which have as their aim the break-up of the Union are in positions of influence within government in Northern Ireland and Scotland and in the latter context we believe that the aim of the Scottish National Party to have a referendum on the Union is a dangerous and divisive road to travel.

We all stood for ‘God save the queen’ and for the curious yes that did include me; I was in a field full of hundreds of Orangemen after all 😉

The return parade followed the same route back before dispersal.

Clogher differed in many ways from Belfast and Bangor which I’ve visited previously. It is much smaller, it is clearly a family orientated day for participants and spectators, the style of bands is less hardcore (mainly), the drinking is minimal and there was nearly no litter left on the streets.

When I’d discussed visiting someone suggested vox-popping supporters and opponents with ‘What does the 12th mean to you?’. A refreshingly frank Orangeman countered with, it doesn’t matter what nationalists or catholics think – the day is neither for nor about them.

While Clogher certainly isn’t overtly threatening beyond one minor incident, it certainly isn’t inclusive and I doubt even here many or any nationalists or catholics attend at any stage. Even the supporters are separate from signed up members of the Orange.

A mainly inoffensive rural day for rural protestant unionists.

We were kindly invited to dine with the brethren of Glenageeragh that evening but declined and went elsewhere on which there will be blogs later.

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