Belfast ‘Orangefest’

Orange marching season in Northern Ireland has its climax on July 12. People leave the country to avoid riots that inevitably follow this provocative Protestant tradition. Parades organised by the Orange Order (est. 1795) of tens of thousands march in towns and Belfast’s nationalist (Catholic) areas.

July 12 commemorates defeat of Catholic King James by nephew & son-in-law William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. On July 11 bonfires are lit in Protestant areas and young loyalists gather ‘trophies’ like posters & flags from republican areas to burn.

A banned Orange march in Belfast last year led to rioting, 60 injured police and millions in damages. This year was calmer, but in Portadown 21 police and several soldiers were injured; in Ardoyne water cannons dispersed hundreds of youths throwing missiles and 10 police injured; in Armagh petrol bombs were thrown at police; and a man shot dead in Larne, Co Antrim.

In this generations-old conflict, descriptors used for the two enemy tribes are a revelation: loyalist-protestant-orange vs nationalist-republican-green.

In Belfast, Ballyaneigh District Lodge was barred from marching into a nationalist area due to fears of public disorder and steel police barriers erected. Chaplain Rev Hoey said Orangemen were offended by the ‘obscenity’ of the barrier, blaming the UK government for buckling under threats of violence from the nationalists, and ’pan-nationalists’ for not flying the Union Flag that day on government buildings. Sinn Fein councillors accused Orangemen of wanting to lay siege to nationalist areas.

So it goes: blame and counter-blame in an archaic ritual of tribal enmity in this northern enclave. Authorities have allocated a hundred thousand pounds to ”promote ’Orangefest’ as a fully inclusive, family friendly event, improve community relations, promote Belfast in a positive light, and encourage visitors to watch the parade”. Are they serious?

Maybe if God decided whether he’s on the Catholic or Protestant side, his Irish followers could finally settle their primitive differences and give the nascent peace process a chance.

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