Twelfth parades – tourist attraction or sad travesty?
10th July 2004
The marching season reaches its climax on Monday when thousands of Orange Order members and supporters take part in parades across Northern Ireland. Here, Lord Laird, former chairman of the Ulster Scots agency, tells why for him, it is a day for celebration, while disillusioned former Orange man Paul Malcomson explains why he will be escaping the 12th.
Former Orange man Paul Malcomson
The Twelfth of July stirs up completely different emotions within me today than it did a few years ago. For years it was the epicentre of my year and the very embodiment of everything that made me proud to be an Ulster Protestant. The pomp and pageantry, the noise and the colour, the crowds and the atmosphere, were enough to excite the passions of even the most liberal of Unionists. It was the one day of the year when you really felt Protestantism had led all its theological and political differences aside and was actually marching in step to the one drumbeat. The DUP man walked in unison with his UUP opponent, the Presbyterians did the same with the Methodist. The countryman was at one with the townie, and the shipyard worker was on the same level as a Protestant gentry.
The Twelfth was indeed a profound symbol of Ulster Protestant unity. There was also a dignity about the Twelfth that caused even strangers to watch with admiration. The parade was always sober, yet highly impressive. Even those brethren prone to the bottle stayed temperate for the duration of the day. It was a prevailing mindset among all Orangemen: “don’t bring any vestige of discredit upon the colours with any damaging antics.” Even those brethren that didn’t enjoy deep religious convictions were still disciplined, law-abiding and largely God-fearing. To be otherwise would have caused their immediate expulsion from the ranks of the order. One always felt a tremendous sense of security, belonging and pride when marching on the 12th; after all, we believed we were a choice people.
So what happened?
The Orange Order today is imploding – because mainly from a marked spiritual decline. This fact is seen in the unprecedented wave of bars being introduced into Orange halls throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom. This is naturally resulted in a stark drop in the standard of behaviour of many of the Orange brethren on the Twelfth walk – especially in the greater Belfast parades. One only has to stand at the Sandy Row on the Twelfth and observe the state of the brethren returning home from the field to see how greatly things have changed. Many Orangemen are barely able to walk straight, dignified and in step, due to a day of alcohol intoxication.
We have also seen the growing influence of the paramilitaries within the Order, especially in city areas like Belfast, Liverpool and Glasgow. Moreover, the Drumcree debacle and other similar events have brought the militants to the fore.
All these unrestricted developments have caused the more respectable elements within the institution to abandon an order they once loved dear.
On top of this, there has been a growing evangelical opposition to the highly degrading ritualistic practices of the Royal Arch purple and the Royal Black institutions within the Orange over this past number of years. This has resulted in the resignation of many hundreds of good evangelical Christians from the Loyal Orders, including ministers, lecturer and “Worshipful Masters.”
The impact of this exodus has been felt at Lodge, District, County and Grand Lodge level. It has affected both the Orange and the Independent Orange institutions. A cursory comparison between the number of men walking back 15 years ago and now was sure start decline in overall membership. The Orange Order is indeed an institution in terminal decline.
While many Protestants still enjoy the spectacle and colour of the Twelfth day, many others that would previously have enjoyed the same, join the mass exodus from the province to sunnier climes over that period – something that was the exception rather than the rule. 10 years ago.
The dark, imprisoned feeling of the Twelfth–week–blockades (and the anarchy that ensued) of a few years ago, orchestrated by the Orange Order, is still indelibly written upon the minds of most Protestants. This lost the Orange a lot of respect among its own people.
It is fair to say, the Orange Order has lost as much credibility among the Protestant community today with its religious hypocrisy as the Catholic Church has among the Catholic people through the same.
Many people in both communities in Ireland are beginning to realize that salvation is not in the Lodge, in a church or in a set of rules religious and regulations, but in a personal faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9: “for by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Only Christianity that is built on the expressed teaching of Christ can be trusted, and have the ability to change Catholic and Protestant alike.
Most of what is performed in the name of Christ today on our island is a total anathema to Him. The only reason the majority on both sides don’t realize this is because they don’t have a personal relationship with Christ, nor do they read the Bible for themselves and find out for themselves.
Paul Malcomson is a former Orangeman and author of Behind Closed Doors, his website is: http://www.evangelicaltruth.com/