1946-50, Irish Politics, Part 1

When deciding to live in Ireland I should have done my homework. It is surprising how completely ignorant I was of the traditions of this country, even though I had lived and worked here for fifteen months. During the war local differences did not seem of the same proportion, dwarfed by the greater disunity. In fact, today, with all the publicity the Troubles have received, the average school child in England probably knows ten times what I did then, so I was unaware of how easy it was to give offence, especially in regions of political correctness. During the war, there had been little time and no real enthusiasm for the panoply of sectarian display and so I had never seen an Orange Procession until 1946. To write about Orangism or Hibernianism has taken others tomes to compile and they are still at it. This outline of my progress in my own education on the subject would appal the Worthy Master of any Orange Lodge.
The members of the immediate family I had married into were not Orangemen and women, they were Unionists and that was all. They had been brought up in those traditions and so every Twelfth of July, known cryptically as the Twelfth, it was imperative they went to the City Centre to watch the Orangemen march off to what is termed the ‘Field’ where they have a rest, a few noggins and an harangue from their leaders, before marching back. What this family of mine did not tell me was the long list of do’s and don’ts surrounding the Order.
For example, in my ignorance I looked upon them in the light of my experiences with the Scouts and the Salvation Army, a group of like minded people, dressed in uniform because it made them feel more like a unit and marching behind a band because it helped to keep them in step. I could not have been more wrong. I looked upon them as flamboyant curiosities, especially when I saw some of the Mace-Bearers cavorting like banshees at the head of the column – wrong again. I equated them to some extent to the Trades Unions when I heard their rhetoric. Wrongggg! I therefore made a number of mistakes from which others told me I could have died and it was a wonder I had got away unscathed.
The processions really are unique for the colour, the sheer numbers taking part, the disparate dress each lodge chooses, from the black bowler hat, black double breasted suit and black shoes, white shirt, white gloves and rolled umbrella, with the leaders carrying an unsheathed sword at the address, down to those in bright blue peaked caps with bright blue pullovers and trousers and tennis shoes. Most lodges carry incredibly beautiful banners on two poles, with staying strings of woven coloured rope held by small children. They often depict King William the Third on a white horse at the battle of the Boyne. This latter specification was mistake number one. In our family, because King W. was at the Boyne, quite naturally therefore he was called Billy the Boyne in our family.
On the day of the first Twelfth I was to see, we all went down to the centre of Town, to Donegal Place, and watched as band after band, banner after banner, passed; the music from one band momentarily mingling with the next. I always wondered at what point in the procession it was impossible to keep in step because of the cacophony from both bands. But I digress.
Linda, now a little over a year old was seated in a pram at the kerb with Sophie behind her, while I was at the back of the crowd because I was tall enough to see over most people and it would have been churlish to have stayed at the front. Suddenly, before I thought of what I was saying, I saw the most beautiful banner of King William on his white horse, and you’ve guessed it, I shouted to Linda to look at ‘Billy-The-Boyne and his white horse. For a second nothing happened and then with one accord most of the people within earshot turned to look at this creature who was blaspheming from the back of the crowd and they were like Queen Victoria, they were not amused. The following year I learned to my cost that one does not cross through the procession even if it does take over an hour to pass one spot, a large pogo-stick is needed, that or a helicopter.

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