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The Twelfth would like to thank William Thompson from Canada for providing this article.

The Twelfth of July: Carnival or Catastrophe?


FOR MOST of us, our earliest memories of something always help to shape our thinking about it. Some of my earliest memories of the Twelfth of July have remained with me right into adulthood.

In those days, the Twelfth was a truly magical time for us children, who were being brought up in the back streets of the Woodvale Road in the shadow of the ever-present "Troubles" during the "seventies".

What lingers most in my memory is the excitement leading up to the day itself, the ever growing pile of wood ready for the celebrations on the eleventh night and the children's prominent role in it's growth. The women of the area went from house to house seeking contributions in order to stage a party for the children and they were never turned away empty handed.

Everyone was united in a true spirit of community, joined in a common goal of making this a special time for all. The excitement reached fever pitch when the fires were lit at last, the night sky glowing as each one tried to be the biggest and the best ever.

I can truly say that as children we did not regard this as any kind of political statement or sectarianism. We were really too involved with the process of enjoying ourselves as a community of people, celebrating and remembering our past and bringing it right into the present.

When the Twelfth morning itself dawned, it should have been difficult for us to get out of bed because of the previous night's celebrations, but somehow we always seemed to manage. Us children were always up early, resplendent in new outfits, shiny black shoes polished to death and white socks gleaming.

I can still feel the anticipation as we waited impatiently to see the "bands." For us, it was not about Protestant versus Catholic or Republican versus Loyalist it was simply a day to have fun. The Twelfth was not about hatred but instead was a splash of colour and pageantry in a city which undoubtedly was drab and neglected.

At the time I felt that everyone shared in the events of this day, I didn't realise until much later that some felt excluded from the celebrations.

For me, someone who has never been a member of the Orange Order, the Twelfth was and is, a non-threatening family day out. The bands thrill us with the music which is part of our history and culture, the noise reaching a
seemingly impossible crescendo as they pass. The children stand at the roadside waving their flags and attempting to copy those who head the individual bands as they toss their batons ever higher into the sky, catching them against all of the odds.

We happily wave at those of our family and friends who are taking part in the procession with pride in our hearts. That is what the Twelfth is all about, it gives my community a sense of belonging and being part of a "whole."

Far from being a "triumphalist coat-trailing exercise," whatever that syntactically invented phrase may mean, the Twelfth, for me, is a day of being with people to whom I belong. Nothing more sinister than that.

It is sad that such a happy time has been cruelly fractured by a systematic and deliberate attempt to introduce damage and controversy. Such a deliberate campaign could not have simply happened by chance and must be regarded as much more than an attack on the trappings of my culture.

The celebration I remember so clearly from my childhood is sadly now little more than a distant memory. I feel saddened by the fact that it has become surrounded by such controversy and intolerance. As someone who teaches history in secondary school, I despair at the fact that we continue to pick and choose the parts of our history which we feel that we can relate to and disregard the rest.

On the Twelfth of July, my community celebrates the momentous events towards the end of the seventeenth century, often referred to as the "Glorious Revolution."

This Revolution laid the foundations of our constitutional monarchy and our parliamentary democracy. It is a thanksgiving for the triumph of civil and religious liberty and only for a very few, is it regarded as a political event.

It is nothing short of ironic that the day is also centred on the personality and beliefs of William of Orange. Ironic because although William was of course a devout Protestant, he displayed none of the rancour and intolerance which was so prevalent during that part of the seventeenth century and which, sadly, continues to rear its ugly head in the present day.

William was a man of great tolerance, being the product of the Dutch Republic, the centre of civilisation in Western Europe. Indeed, it is sad to think that so little is really known about the man who played such a prominent role in our history.

It is realistic to expect that every society needs to have a certain amount of tolerance and that a country like ours which is searching for a peaceful end to a terrible conflict, needs it more than most.

In fact, what we are seeing is total intolerance towards the whole concept of the celebration of my protestant culture and my Britishness. The problem is one of intolerance within the Republican community and it is clear that there is a strong and strident campaign of destruction which has been in operation for quite some time.

This, of course, is totally contrary to the Republican community's stated objective of seeking to live in harmony with my community.

As I celebrate on the Twelfth of July, I do not seek to offend anyone. I respect those who do not share my views and hope that they can learn to show respect for me and how I choose to express my culture. I wonder if my own children will in fact be allowed to express themselves as British Protestants when they are adults and I am saddened at the things that as British subjects, my community has already lost.

My culture has been reduced to nothing more than a pawn in a political game. If we lose the right to express ourselves in a non harmful way of our choice, we will all be losers, not just the Protestant community. Is this dilution of civil liberty what we really want?

I doubt that any one of us could regard this as any sort of victory or as a legacy we would want to leave for our children.

Our country has been through enough. Perhaps its time for us to live and let live and to drown out the strident voices of the minority who find this impossible.

Carolyn Howarth

The Twelfth would like to thank William Thompson from Canada for providing this article.

 

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