If It’s The Fourteenth…It Must Be The Thirteenth.

So welcome to Monday 14th July 2014.

Or as we call it here the Thirteenth.

The Twelfth is really a three day event. The Eleventh Night Bonfires, the Twelfth Parades….and the Thirteeth is the big day for the Royal Black Perceptory. Dont ask me what makes them so different from the Orange Order. I think they are not just good Christian gentlemen…they are ELITE good Christian gentlemen. I think membership is by “invitation” but to be honest I know as little about them as I need to know.

And all I know is that around these parts, they have a big day out at Scarva House …about seven miles away and for as long as I can remember BBC and UTV have had news footage of the Sham Fight…the highlight of the day.

Two men on horses dressed as King William of Orange and his general Schomberg confront two other men on horseback, King James and General Sarsfield. About a dozen men in orange shirts and another dozen in green shirts carry carry noisy imitation firearms. There is an Orange standard bearer and a Green standard bearer.

At the end of the Sham Fight, King James yields to King William. And the Green Standard is shot thru in front of a baying mob, including many children.

For this is TRADITIONAL. This is…CULTURE.

Being strict Sabatarians, the Thirteenth is never on a Sunday.

Yet oddly the Thirteenth, I remember most is Monday 14th July 1980. Then I was living in Dungannon and had just been in Dublin to pick up my tickets etc to fly to Moscow for the Olympic Games, a week later. I had spent the weekend in Dublin because ….well it was a good chance to get out of the North for all the Twelfth crap.

One of the items I picked up in Dublin was a Green, White and Orange airline bag. And at about 4.30pm on Monday 14th July, I got off the train in Portadown and walked down the station steps to Woodhouse Street at the entrance to the Tunnel …to find I had a reception committee. Crowds of Orange supporters on either side of the narrow street and all seemed to be staring at me…and the airline bag. Worse to my left…a parade was advancing.

To his immense credit, a veteran member of the RUC came over to me and simply asked me if I was a stranger and I said I was going to Dungannon and he personally escorted me to Fair Green, the badly named waste ground that served as a bus “station”. Being a Bank Holiday, there was no Dungannon bus until 6.10 pm and I spend a very uncomfortable ninety minutes sitting on my overnight bag and airline bag, while occasional, drunken Orange followers roamed about looking for Taigs.

The Parade had just got off the coaches from nearby Scarva. And were exercising their traditional right to march thru the Tunnel (officially called Obins Street), the small Catholic ghetto in Portadown. I dont know if there was trouble on that day but certainly on many occasions in the 1080s and 1990s as Catholic Residents became less submissive and more vocal, there was occasional violence…eventually leading to the Parade being banned from the area. This was probably the first Parade that the Orange Order “lost”.

And Garvaghy Road….also in Portadown came later. On Drumcree Sunday…a Church service is held at Drumcree Church of Ireland Church. The Sunday before the Twelfth, local Orange men claimed the right to march along the “Catholic” road on their return from Church.

Progressively in the 1990s, Garvaghy became a scene of stand-off and violence but it no longer became a sustainable argument for Orangemen when roads were closed all over Norn Iron and on occasions, people were murdered. Including a local taxi driver, who I vaguely knew. But the deaths of three young children, the Quinn Brothers, victims of a petrol bomb attack on their home (1998) ended any prospect of the Orangemen getting down Garvaghy Road again.

The Garvaghy Road is probably a turning point in Orange History. They miscalculated that the Government or Gobvernment created body like the Parades Commission, would respond to Orange pressure by simply folding. Indeed Garvaghy and Ormeau Road (parades now similarly banned because of Orange misbehaviour and arrogance) which are behind Orange outrage that their CULTURE is under attack from Nationalists.

They have “lost” The Tunnel. They have “lost’ Garvaghy Road. They have “lost” Ormeau Road in South Belfast. They have in the past, played Ardoyne badly. I suspect that the Norn Iron Office, Parades Commission, PSNI want to throw them a bone. I would expect that there are….ahem…intermediaries (academics, churchmen) who are involved in negotiations.

Watch this space.



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