Redeeming the Twelfth and the Orange Tradition? Guest Post by Tanya Jones

There have been a few comments on my post of last week, ‘Twelfth Disturbances: Blessed are the Arrogant?’ For example, Rhodian asks: ‘I think it’s a mistake to associate stocki’s poem necessarily with the orange order, but that said, if they’re not irredeemable or irrelevant, what are some of the good things about them?’

First, a clarification for Rhodian – the line that you refer to from my post actually reads, ‘I am not one that thinks that the Orange tradition and the Twelfth holiday are hopelessly unredeemable or irrelevant.’ That takes in more than the Orange Order, but obviously includes it.

Second, I concede Rhodian’s point about Steve Stockman’s poem. It might not be about the Orange Order. I suppose that is the beauty of a poem – individual readers can take different messages from it without damaging the integrity of the poem. But it also appeared in a special issue of Lion and Lamb devoted to engaging with the Orange Order, so I assume at least some others shared my interpretation!

I also mentioned the summer school on loyalism that we run for our students at the Irish School of Ecumenics – in it we have speakers who, just to name a few examples, talk about the importance of the musical and historical traditions behind the Lambeg drum and flute bands, as well as traditions of Presbyterian Enlightenment, tolerance and radical democracy, often associated with the period around 1798.

Another commentator on this post, Tanya Jones (who has her own blog called Crystal Bard), reflects on the contrast between the sometimes menacing aspects of the Belfast parade (my original post is undoubtedly dominated by the Twelfth in its Belfast expression) and the Twelfth in Fermanagh.

Her post is not uncritical – like myself, she still highlights some experiences of ‘hurt’ around the Twelfth. But her post also emphasises that for many the parades really are about the music, a point we discussed at length at our summer school, where students gained – I hope – an appreciation of the musicianship of many who participate in the bands. 

Tanya Jones – Redeeming the Twelfth and the Orange Tradition?

I would agree with Gladys’ analysis and the importance of the questions she raises. I’d just like to add a couple of comments from our perspective as English Catholics in County Fermanagh. My husband is in the unusual position of being a member of a local silver band which plays on the Twelfth and at other Orange Order events and so is able to see the day from a few interestingly contrasting points of view.

The first thing to mention is that the Twelfth here doesn’t come with the weight of bitterness and conflict that it carries in Belfast. The main marches change their location from year to year and generally avoid the more Catholic towns and villages. The overall attitude among Catholics is a tolerant ‘live and let live’ one, and most, as in Belfast, simply melt away on holiday or keep a carefully low profile.

I think that there is hurt, though; I certainly feel it myself. Principally this stems from seeing what the marchers are doing in Belfast and the hatred which they are knowingly provoking. But it’s also personal. The Orange Order claim to have no animosity towards individual Catholics, only to the Church. How does that work? “I’ve got nothing against you but your faith is fundamentally in error and your collective prayers misguided (if not worse).”

Can any Christian hear that message without pain?

It’s like walking into a pub and saying to the man beside you at the bar, “I’m sure you’re a good bloke but your mum’s a bit of a slapper,” and being righteously indignant at the punch to your nose.

Fermanagh Catholics don’t do much nose-punching but it’s an odd sensation, especially when, like me, you move in mainly ‘integrated’ circles to have a few friends suddenly celebrating the highlight of their year from which the rest are excluded.

And the exclusion is real, perhaps the more so for not always being spelled out. The local tourist board includes the marches on their website though tellingly with few details. At the moment the events exist in a conveniently ambiguous space, boxed in by conveniently vague and emotive words like ‘tradition’ and ‘heritage’. To move on, they really need to become one thing or the other.

If they are genuine community festivals, then others need not simply to be tolerated but actively to be welcomed, with specific invitations to Catholic and non-Christian participants.

A model for this kind of event would be the very successful Saint Patrick’s Day parade held in Enniskillen this year, which included bands from both ‘sides’ along with the prize-winning float from the multi-ethnic, inter-faith Women of the World. If not, then this should be made clear and tourists advised that they are watching the remnant of a centuries-old grudge.

What is more, leaders of churches which pride themselves upon their fellowship and dialogue with their Catholic brethren should consider their positions – is it really appropriate to be lending credence to an expression so at odds with the inter-church endeavour?

There’s also the question of money. I don’t know how the finances work, but would be very surprised if the Orange Order paid for the policing of these events. And, if they are truly open, free, community celebrations, there is no reason why they should. But if not… As in many things, money probably matters more than we realise.

I was slightly shocked to read in Malachi O’Doherty’s piece that the bandsmen in Belfast can be significantly more sectarian than the Lodge members themselves. In the West, at least among the brass bands, this is emphatically not the case. It takes over five years to become a proficient player of a brass instrument, especially to master the co-ordination and agility required simultaneously to read music, play, march, follow directions and avoid tripping over small children and dogs.

The bands meet every week to practice, all year round, and their commitment is to the music and to one another, not to the Protestant cause. Of course some players are individual members of Lodges, but more and more are seeking out opportunities for cross-community activities and for positive partnerships mirroring those experienced by schools across the county which take part in the extraordinarily successful Shared Education Programme.

Sadly, instruments and uniforms are expensive, and the Orange Order holds the purse strings. Many, probably most, bands could not survive without their financial support. But if the Orange Order were to pay its way, public money might be liberated to support more integrated musical events and relationships.

Personally, I would like to see the inclusive option chosen and ‘Orange Fest’ become a reality. I’d like to see the Lodges follow the example set by local children, parents, schools, musicians, students, clergy, and all those who have been willing to set aside a little of their certainty in love of their neighbour. Perhaps it will happen – stranger things have. And, after all, Ulster could always do with a bit more carnival…

3 thoughts on “Redeeming the Twelfth and the Orange Tradition? Guest Post by Tanya Jones”

  1. Hi Gladys

    To say that Stocki’s poem “might” not be about the Orange Order, the Orange tradition or the 12th holiday is interesting – I see nothing in the poem that makes it about the Orange, unless you inherently link the word “arrogant” with them. Ending your post with this poem does a disservice to the poem and is an insult to the “Orange tradition and the Twelfth holiday”.

    The best you appear to be able to say about “the Orange tradition and the Twelfth Holiday” is that they are “not irredeemable”? People who find themselves within the Orange tradition will not be blind to the various (and unflattering) implications of that. Saying in a later post that you’ve had speakers (do you agree with them?) talk about “the importance of the musical and historical traditions… presbyterian enlightenment…” and that you hope students gain an “appreciation of the musicianship” doesn’t really take away from the wholly negative tone of the previous post; i imagine that anyone who feels offended by the first post would be unlikely to return for a second helping.

    It seems to me that you are placing responsiblilty for the rioting exclusively at the feet of the Orange tradition. Sorry, I just don’t see it that simply.

    Look, I don’t even like the Orange Order. i used to hate them. We went on holidays to avoid them and I deeply resented (and sometimes still do) how they get presented as the only major players in Protestant culture here. But in my work I have come to appreciate that very often people are not being different just to annoy us (*sigh* and of course i’m not trying to say that some bands aren’t being deliberately provocative – there are arseholes everywhere) – they really and sincerely enjoy their culture. Some people genuinely enjoy the 12th and aren’t doing it just to piss other people off. As my boss says, who you gonna integrate with? Only people you like?


    Ian McMillan

  2. Gladys

    I think the ‘problem’ with Steve’s poem is that I read it and I see someone else – and the trap is sprung.

  3. Glayds,

    Although I agree wholeheartedly with you i think Ian Mcmillan raises some interesting and challenging points in his post…… we honestly dislike orangeism for what is symbolically represents about our past conflicts and wish it would disappear? if so how do we deal with people who still self-identify with this tradition? For me this is an awkward question.


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