Anthony McIntyre remembers a friend from the Orange Order who died in October.
Orangemen and the Orange Order never had much traction on me. A penchant for tramping over people and the attachment to a domination ideology had long alienated me from their world view. Kevin Haddick Flynn seemed to have nailed them in his comment:
We are the masters here and you are Fenian scum - we will march where we wish and you are powerless to stop us … we are your superiors: we dare you to do something about it; if you don’t you confirm your own inferior status’.
Having hailed from the Lower Ormeau Road where in 1992 members of an Orange parade danced and jeered outside the bookies where five nationalists were slain by the UDA while having a flutter on the horses, I found little to annoy me in the view of the British secretary of state that their behaviour ‘would have disgraced a tribe of cannibals.’
Brian Kennaway broke the mould. Originally from the Shankill Road, the Irish Times got the essence of the man in its comment that "he was loyal to the Orange tradition but highly critical of the Orange Order leadership."
He had enough service with the Order under his belt, having joined it in 1964. Its intolerance didn't make his time in it a comfortable one but he was never one to shy away from grasping the nettle, turning up at Harryville in the 1990s to support Catholic churchgoers being blockaded by bigots.
He developed into a prolific writer whose pen was not restricted to Orangeism but would venture into the wider political arena as well. If he had an intolerance it was towards the shallowness of much political commentary and dedicated his own blog to challenging it:
We live in world where, unfortunately, many people are satisfied with the ‘sound bite’, which does not reflect the substance of the story, and may even constitute what is popularly known as ‘fake news’. The purpose of my writings is to give substance to many of the issues in religion, politics and social affairs facing us today.
I would meet him each year in Oxford or Cambridge where we both attended the British Irish Association conference. He was an erudite man, cerebral in the way that Dawson Baillie most certainly was not.
Saturday afternoons in either university town were used for going out on the pontoons, during the hiatus in conference proceedings. It never interested me, nor Brian seemingly. Walking through the streets of an English city with him, discussing politics, when he asked if I wanted coffee, I looked at him as if he had two heads while giving a curt response: No, Brian, beer. His attitude was no bother, I'll buy you a beer. Which he did. He wasn't one of those spitting fire and brimstone at the consumers of the devil's buttermilk. In fact he wasn't judgemental in his interpersonal dealings with people at all. Although an ordained minister, he took no umbrage when I kicked up at the communal dinner table at one of the BIA gatherings about grace before meals being rendered. Apparently the Catholic priest who offered prayer was more annoyed.
Once I met him in Belfast city centre and this time he did buy me coffee. The Linen Hall Library didn't do beer. He was with a fellow leading Orangeman whose name I no longer remember. His friend was certainly not put out by my presence and I think the curiosity got the better of him.
When I attended the launch of Brian's book The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed at Union Theological College in Belfast 14 years ago, where David Trimble was the guest speaker, I was asked by the BBC in an interview, never broadcast, why I would turn up at such an event. It wasn't an impudent question but one designed to tease out and explore nuance. My response was that apart from being friends with Brian, I regarded him as someone who dissented from his own stable and in that I found common cause with him.
I once commented to him that I admired his liberal view. He looked sternly without being angry and told me he was most definitely not a liberal, quite conservative in fact, but that he had an obligation to see the face of Christ in everybody he encountered.
The only time I had seen Brian approach something regarding anger was when we were discussing a prominent unionist politician about whom rumours had been circulating. I expressed some view about them being of dubious provenance and asked Brian if the politician was that bad. Brian muttered much worse as his face darkened.
Brian Kennaway believed the duty of a writer was to tell people what they would rather not hear. He was more than willing to disturb their complacency and offend their opinion with his own. A man of faith who ultimately demonstrated the power of reason.