Who stands for an Irishness that includes the British of Northern Ireland?

Heard about the one about the Catholic priest who watched the Twelfth and thought it wasn’t Protestant enough? Here’s the News Letter reporting on Fr Martin Magill’s piece in the Irish News…

“One of the Orangemen I met told me he had carried a Bible in previous years but didn’t this year because he was afraid it would get wet. For me, this was a parable of what is missing in the Twelfth — people living by the Word of God.”

He could be quoting from Benedict’s Faith and the Future “the church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning”.

There’s an interesting point here beyond any curio value. From the little I saw of the Belfast parade the bands far outnumbered members of the lodges, elsewhere (like Markethill) the proportions were reversed, which implies significant variation in the tradition.

All human traditions are invented. They often change without those involved being aware of the nature or implications of such transformations. Most national traditions are rooted in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Some even argue that they have provided ‘a great healing function’ at times of change.

The Britishness that Chris describes is as much an invention of those times as anything else. County councils were a very late Victorian civic invention, but only in the Republic does this ‘British’ tradition remain almost wholly intact.

Ironically the British part of island has long since moved on. There have been no ‘Counties’ in Northern Ireland for much of the last forty years. [So you’re saying it’s really ‘the Six Shires’ eh? – Ed]. No. But we do get along in our day to day enmity by ignoring such awkward consonances and contradictions.

Writing back in 1921 Roger Chauvire writing in the Revue de Paris and Le Correspondant noted of contemporary Irish revolutionaries that…

“…there is between justice and might, not a harmony to be realised in the long run, but immediate and substantial identity, [they are] millenarians as sure of their triumph as of the rise of to-morrow’s sun.”

Locking down Northern Ireland’s armed conflict is one matter. But evolving beyond the exigencies of war is quite another (and worth greater time and thought than given heretofore). In the Peace Process™ era the annual ‘battle of the Twelfth’ has become just the latest expression of that ‘immediate and substantial identity’.

In the process, we have old institutions grappling with divergence in the way things are. The Orange coming to terms with the fact of its long declining influence with the governing elite and the sheer embarrassment of those compromising bonfire icons.

And republicans who cannot quite bring themselves to love Meagher’s 1848 tricolour (its modern use began as an ‘Easter Week’ flag, when it became a ‘craze’) because of the enervating presence of the Orange in its primary colours.

One unionist friend told me of several conversations he’d had with Republican friends and acquaintances in which he had asked them if their definition of Irishness included him as a British citizen. In both cases they promised to get back to him.

When we last spoke on the matter, neither of them had…

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