It is the 11th of July, and tomorrow is not just the 12th; it’s the ‘Twelfth’. And with the Twelfth comes the annual reams of highly predictable media and social media commentary. The world will be told that the entire occasion is a sectarian hate fest. A ‘throw back’. An anachronism whose participants are nothing but unintelligent Neanderthals with a criminalist bent intent on tramping over all those that dare to disagree with them.
The truth beyond the agenda driven diatribe however is vastly different. Orangemen are normal people. They hold normal jobs and raise normal families. They are decent, ordinary and hard working. They are Orangemen because their fathers and grandfathers were before them. They are Orangemen because it means something to them. It is not JUST about some battle hundreds of years ago. It is about community, and heritage and identity.
When looking in at tomorrow’s events from the outside there are a few statistics that should be remembered. Today in Northern Ireland the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland can boast of a membership of some 35,000 men. That doesn’t include the members of the junior and female branches of the Order, or indeed the majority of members of the hundreds of bands who will join them on parade tomorrow.
In excess of 12% of all those eligible in Northern Ireland are members of the Orange. In some rural areas such as Markethill in County Armagh and the Mournes’ it rises into the high 30’s! This is not some extremist sub-culture- this is a massive part of our society.
The headline for July 2016 Northern Ireland is not the decline or failings of the Orange Institution. The headline is that against tremendous odds, against unending attack, and against the pattern of similar movements across the world; the Orange Institution not just survives, it is thriving!!!
For tens of thousands the Orange is a very relevant and living part of their lives.
Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter- get to a venue tomorrow and enjoy the colour and music and atmosphere. Don’t search for something that isn’t there.
Unashamed Ulster Loyalist. Marching band activist and band member for over 25 years. Contributor for the Belfast Newsletter and currently studying History at QUB.