One Last Gallop

After almost a week of incompetence and dissembling from Network Solutions TPQ is back on line with a piece from John Coulter who is also returning to the fray after taking time out to grieve for his late father. Give the Orange Order one last gallop along Portadown’s Garvaghy Road this year, with Orangemen responding by voluntarily rerouting from 2020 onwards. That’s the advice from religious commentator, Dr John Coulter, in his Fearless Flying Column today.

Thankfully, last year’s Marching Season passed off peacefully, but there are still a few unresolved issues - and that includes Drumcree in Portadown.

The first Drumcree took place in 1995 with the Orange Order managing to get down the road that year, plus the following two. But it has been over 20 years since the return route was first formally stopped in 1998 - the same year the Belfast Agreement was signed.

Last year saw Drumcree 23 pass off like a damp squib compared to the first few years of serious almost civil war like rioting across the North in the mid to late 1990s.

In spite of the Drumcree debacle, 2006 saw the DUP and Sinn Fein sign the St Andrews Agreement which paved the way for the power-sharing Executive and the so-called Chuckle Brothers era in 2007.

The next major hurdle facing that increasingly stable, power sharing, DUP/Sinn Fein-led Executive at Stormont was the devolution of policing and justice authority – a power the North had not enjoyed since 1972 when the original Unionist-controlled Stormont was axed by the late Ted Heath.

Policing and justice were restored to Stormont - but since January 2017, there has been no power-sharing Executive and it seems the culture war against Protestantism has shifted from parades to bonfires. In the meantime, Ireland’s Christian Churches have largely remained silent.

But it also seems eight centuries of sectarian strife can be finally laid to rest with a simple phrase – solve the contentious parades, and the devolving of power back to Stormont will almost automatically follow.

My Garvaghy Road solution would also be a fitting permanent memorial to the three Catholic Quinn brothers who died in an arson attack on their Ballymoney home in north Antrim at the height of Drumcree Four in 1998.

July 12 past marked the 20th anniversary of their tragic deaths. Such was the air of sectarian hatred in the North in 1998 that three senior Orange chaplains - one of whom was my late father - who called on the Order to leave Drumcree Hill as a mark of respect received a joint death threat from Billy Wright’s Loyalist Volunteer Force terror gang.

Although Wright had been shot dead in the Maze jail the previous December by three INLA inmates, it did not stop his followers stooping to a new low – a Protestant death squad threatening to murder three evangelical Protestant preachers.

Could another fitting act to that Tragic Twelfth be for the LVF to formally lift the death sentence on the remaining clerics and also follow the Provos by totally decommissioning its gangland arsenals of sectarian and abandoning criminality?

Perhaps the LVF could take a leaf out of former Belfast Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Tom Hartley’s ‘thinking outside the box’ notebook.

Around a decade ago, Hartley appealed for nationalists to be able to honour Irishmen who had fought and died for the Crown, especially in the Great War.

He said:
Those from the nationalist tradition have largely felt alienated from these formal military events with all the British symbolism involved. The direct result of this has been the almost erasing from history of the sacrifices of tens of thousands of Irishmen.
The bloody battle of the Somme in 1916 has come to symbolise the greatest slaughter of Irishmen since the Cromwell campaign in the 1640s and the Williamite war in the 1690s.

But the problem with Irish politics is that not even the dead are allowed to rest in peace, as even the two sides in the Northern conflict have laid claims to those murdered, killed and maimed.

The Orange Order has staked its claim to the Somme dead in the same way nationalists view St Patrick’s Day as their time of triumph.

The opening day of the Somme in July 1916 was the most brutal – 60,000 casualties before supper, making it the worst military blunder since the Charge of the Light Brigade more than half a century earlier.

Such has been the Orange grip on the Somme, commemoration parades are often dubbed the Mini Twelfths – when Protestants celebrate the victory of the Protestant champion King William over his Catholic father in law King James at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690.

Protestant mythology has painted an iconic image of Irish-born Protestant troops bedecked in their Orange sashes bravely charging Kaiser Bill’s machine-guns.

The Order has been at pains to rightly point out the almost 6,000 casualties on 1 July suffered by the 36th Ulster Division, made up of Edward Carson’s former Ulster Volunteer Force and Young Citizen Volunteers.

These 1912 private militias had been formed by Carson to physically combat the threat of Irish Home Rule.

But in the nationalist community, the UVF and YCV have come to stand for the vicious sectarian death squads which butchered hundreds of Catholics during the Troubles.

What right thinking Catholic would attend an Orange Mini Twelfth to cheer on a so-called ‘Kick the Pope’ loyalist flute band bedecked with UVF and YCV flags or banners?

When it comes to Hartley’s ‘erasing’ observation, the Order is equally guilty of ignoring the tens of thousands of Catholics who fell at the Somme for the Crown, or the fact that the Somme lasted until November 1916 and did not end on 1st July.

How about some of these ‘Kick the Pope’ bands carrying banners honouring Catholic regiments such as the Connaught Rangers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Royal Munster Fusiliers, and the Tyneside Irish Brigade?

The Order seems conveniently quiet about the mainly Catholic 16th Irish Division which suffered 4,330 casualties in September 1916.

While the Order honours the Protestants from the 36th Ulster who fell in the first wave, the 325 casualties of the Catholic 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers who fell in the second wave on 1 July have been virtually airbrushed out of Orange history.

Maybe, too, the Order will give credence to King Billy’s elite Dutch Royal Blues who clinched the Boyne battle for the Orange champion. Then again, Orangeism might be embarrassed by the fact this special Dutch regiment was predominantly Catholic.

Pause To Ponder:

St John Chapter 3, verse 16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Follow religious commentator Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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