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FROM THE CRADLE TO THE PARADE
Born in Newry in January 1972 into a family of three brothers and a sister, I was brought up to respect my neighbours and attend Sunday school. As I grew up I started to remember different times of the year to look forward to. Times like my birthday, Christmas and " The Twelfth". When I think back my first thoughts of the Twelfth would be the sight of my dad and grandad in their best suits, well-polished shoes, the famous bowler hats and the most eye-catching thing, the sash!
The night before was always busy for my mum who was making the sandwiches for the long day and getting blankets out for us to sit on while eating in the field. Also brought out were the blue gas stove and two frying pans that would cook the sausages and burgers for the whole family along with the massive pump pot full of hot water for the tea. The build up to the Twelfth was not only in the house but outside as well. As children we used to form a makeshift band with buckets as drums and toy plastic recorders, toy accordions and even toy trumpets and tried to play around the small housing estate where I lived. Not all liked to hear this first thing in the morning but we didnít care, it was rough but great.
The sound I remember hearing was the flutes and drums of South Down Defenders while parading on the Twelfth morning. They passed down the Belfast road behind our house from their hall three to four miles northside of Newry leading the Orange lodge to meet the rest of the parade on the Downshire road. I knew the time was getting close.
With the car packed we set off the one-mile journey to let my dad and grandad meet the rest of their lodge. The sound of drums, flutes, accordions and pipes filled the air and the sight of banners and flags was amazing. As I got older I started to understand where all the lodges paraded from that morning; from north, south, east and west of Newry, they all walked from their halls to meet the rest of the Newry district before parading throughout the heart of "our" town to the bus station. There they would board the buses and head off to the main parade.
I joined the local junior Orange lodge along with my friends where it became like another Sunday school; reading from the Bible, praying and not to forget the sweets after. Before all this my first ever part in the Twelfth was to hold the rope of the banner for an Orange lodge which was led by the Common Silver Band where a friend of mine was a member. I wanted to join the band. Yes, even though it was a silver band I wanted to join. After joining the Juniors, I walked with the Altnaveigh lodge behind the pipe band. At the end of the day the sound of pipes rang in your ears. When I was younger I had to stay with my parents during the break in the parade. Thatís when we met at the car that was parked with many hundreds of others in the field. How we found the car was an amazement! After we finished eating I always looked forward to the few pound my grandad gave to me and so it was a case of getting back to the main fields that were packed with stalls full of water guns, flags and any other toys you wanted.
As time moved on I took the decision that I always wanted, "to join a band". The band I joined was the one I always remember hearing on the Twelfth morning Ė South Down Defenders Flute Band. I was now part of something that would become part of me for many years to come. At the age of about thirteen I was learning quick that not everyone respected you. A day out in my home town usually ending up getting chased by a group of Catholics. It was a case of dog eat dog. If caught, fight as hard as you can or get a kicking. What for? Being a prod!
As time went on I started to realise the problems Orangemen and bands had walking from their own areas in their part of town on the Twelfth. Soon the Juniors were not allowed to walk that morning and had to wait at the main starting point for the lodges to arrive. It was getting too dangerous.
The band I was now in met outside Newry where we led the Sheepbridge Orange lodge every year. The feeling you got that morning was unreal. When travelling up to the hall the news would come on the car radio with the words "this is the news on the 12th July." It give you butterflies just thinking about it. While at the hall the sound of the flutes and drums, the sight of car after car arriving full of band and lodge members was a feeling that will never leave me. Standing there and then you hear "Okay, can the band form up please?" the nerves of excitement was a weird feeling.
After a short prayer an order was shouted, "Band, by the left, quick march." The bandmaster did this and we were on our way. After walking the three to four miles to meet the main parade all eyes turned to the other bands and lodges who had to walk through areas where years before there was never any bother until things were starting to be tensed up. Little did we know that this was the start of a hate campaign against the smaller number of Protestants living in this area? There were always some problems but never on the scale that was to be seen all over the country.
After years of abuse and threats my decision was made to move. This was after meeting my future wife who I met through attending band parades. We have been together now for coming on 19 years. When I got married I was to move away from the town that I loved to hate. I still love going back to Newry and every Twelfth morning I think "howís things in Newry this morning" even though Iím parading with Pride of the Hill, Rathfriland. When I look back at the Twelfth, I see families getting together, friends meeting, the look of people being proud of their culture in their own town and even the start of relationships.
THE THREATS AND ABUSE STILL GOES ON BUT ITíS BECOME A CASE OF BE NEITHER SEEN NOR HEARD...
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