Unionism: Bourbons with Big Drums

Can you hear it?

We’ve bridged the months to July, the rather expensive bonfires (but only for ratepayers!) are under construction and the once faint but now increasingly detectable sound of the Big Drum beating can be heard far and wide.

In Dervock, they hear it, and so did the parishioners of the Church of Our Lady and John the Evangelist where local loyalists erected a flag inside the grounds of the church before painting the gates and kerbstones at its entrance in Her Majesty’s colours. The local UPRG representative informed The Irish News that young lads had done it “out of frustration and anger.” Sure how else are our youth to express such feelings other than by engaging in acts of sectarian intimidation against the minority catholic population of the area?

In Loyal Moygashel, they hear it, and so did any member of our ethnic minority community unfortunate enough to have seen the carefully stenciled hate threat, warning local landlords that the crime of ‘leasing property to foreign nationals will not be tolerated.’

In East Belfast, it’s loud and clear, and its impressive repetitive strain has been heard over the years as summer solstice gave way to preparations for cultural expression (who can forget yesteryear’s invasion of Short Strand and the tea & biscuits with Peter at Stormont that followed?)

The non racist picketing of a house of a man who coincidentally happened to be black and not from ‘up the country’ was followed by the erection of KKK flags in a part of the city now very familiar with news bulletins reporting the aftermath of race hate attacks. But will they burn the flags of the Poles again next week, or will that honour be reserved for the nearer- and even less dearer- neighbours?

Over in North Belfast, the Pride of Ardoyne Flute Band hear it.

The band has been at the centre of the Crumlin Road parade dispute. Its banner depicts the names of deceased UVF members. A photograph, believed to be at Twaddell recently, shows its banner being carried by a member wearing a Combat 18 shirt.

A number of band members were questioned by the PSNI last night in Tennent Street PSNI Station over alleged Parades Commission determination breaches.

The DUP were prominently represented along with loyalists of all hues, with Minister Nelson McCausland and MLA William Humphrey in attendance. The latter even addressed the crowd after meeting with the PSNI to determine how long the men would be questioned for.

One of the band members got in a spot of bother last year when proclaiming that he was praying for the violent deaths of every child, woman and man in Ardoyne.

Along with his fellow band members, it is his inability to parade through a catholic area in Belfast’s most sensitive sectarian interface which has led the DUP and UUP to leave political talks and threaten a ‘graduated’ programme of protest which can have but one outcome- to make the drum beat even louder.

Think on that for a minute.

On the Lisburn Road, they hear it. Leading loyalist Billy McBride, of the UDA-aligned UPRG, couldn’t have been clearer with his threats once the PSNI had the temerity to challenge loyalists erecting flags the length of the Lisburn Road (no doubt to shared gasps of horror from the affluent residents- Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter- of that part of the city.)

Says Billy of the prospect of the PSNI stopping loyalists from said practice, “They’re going to see more and more [flags.] If it comes to the bit we’ll do everywhere.”

The flags went up. The drum beat ever louder.

Ulster’s leadership cabal, now helpfully united beneath the pathetically crude PUL abbreviation, continues to struggle with our new dispensation, and in the process performs a modern interpretation of Lundy’s role, betraying a proud unionist people requiring guidance to the promise of a shared future.

Loyal Ulster’s Groundhog season is decidedly warmer and spicier than the late winter version celebrated in Hollywood, but it is no less predictable.

A quarter century has passed since Cork professor, JJ Lee, wrote of the necessity of unionism engaging in a process of self-examination to escape “from the paralyzing shackles of supremacist thinking.”

A quarter century from now the elusive dream of a British Ulster will be forever shattered as the shades of green finally blend equally with those of orange.

Tick tock, tick tock. It matters little.

As Talleyrand said of the Bourbons, “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

History’s march is as unrelenting as it is unforgiving of those foolish enough to ignore its lessons.

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