Monday, 21 July 2008

Orangefest For Dummies, Part Two

Following last Saturday's local festivities, I have been asked to elaborate on the purpose of our annual celebrations, for the benefit of those who have not been brought up in this fair land and remain uncertain. I initially refer you to last year's post, by way of introduction.

But seemingly some people (Alex, namely) are still confused, or hungry for more in the way of information, or something, and of course WhyNotSmile is always happy to help.

The main thing to understand is that "The Twelfth" (as we shall refer to it for now, but we'll come back to this) is an Important Religious and Cultural Commemoration, and involves much in the way of Religion and Culture. If this is not readily apparent, it is likely to be because you are not drunk enough, and you should probably go and consume a few gallons of cheap cider and get back to us. For those who like finer details: it commemorates the Battle of the Boyne, which was won by William of Orange; the pertinent facts about him are that he was Protestant and not, we repeat, not, Catholic. This battle was in 1690.

Since the commemoration has gone on for so long, it has, naturally, evolved a range of traditions, and we now turn to these.

We begin with the name of the event. Formerly it was known in common talk as "The Twelfth"; the more grandiose way to refer to it was "The Twelfth of July" or "The Twelfth Day of July", although the latter is more of a literary term. It has also been "The Glorious Twelfth", not to be confused with the English event of the same name, which takes place in August, has to do with killing animals for sport (I think), and from which we nicked the term (again, I think - I should point out here and now that I am typing this off the top of my head having done no research whatsoever). Occasionally it is known as "Orangeman's Day", although frankly I have only ever seen this used by my ex-colleague, Living By The Loughshore, who added the date to our work calendar as such; this may indicate that it's a Carrickfergus thing, or that Living By The Loughshore made it up, but he does strike me as the kind of chap who'd know more about this than I do. And now we are trying to rename it "Orangefest", because it sounds cheerful and maybe tourists will be fooled into coming.

The participants in this day are known as 'Orangemen' and they look like Mr Benn before he went into the changing room. It is possible, though unlikely, that Mr Benn was an Orangeman. The uniform is a black suit, white gloves, black shoes and a bowler hat, all topped off with the all-important sash, of which more presently. Women have only recently been admitted, and are known as 'Orangewomen'. They wear a black skirt, black shoes, white blouse, and the sash. The collective noun for 'Orangemen' and 'Orangewomen' is a 'lodge'.

'The sash' is a key element, being an item of clothing, a symbol of the day, a song, and in many cases a hand-me-down from generations of fathers. I believe I have in fact seen the sash my great-great-uncle Robert wore, although as to where it is now, I couldn't be sure.

And so to the main event itself - the parades. At these, the various lodges come together, get themselves some 'bands', and march around a bit. Eventually they arrive at 'the field' where they partake of refreshments, a chance to sit down, and sermons (if they were unfortunate enough to sit down in the wrong place). Then they get themselves together and walk back. There is a big parade in Belfast, and lots of little ones in various towns and villages (the latter tend to be more on the respectable side of things; the former, not so much). There are various types of bands: good, bad and terrible; they generally play hymns and a form of what we might call folk music, unless they are passing a Catholic Church, in which case they just bang the drums really loudly.

Of course, The Twelfth has had its rougher years, but more recently, the main concern is for the toursits. Belfast shuts down for anything between 2 days and 2 weeks, in the middle of the summer, mainly for the purpose of accommodating a blatently sectarian parade, but also because everyone's on holiday, so the tourist board have had their work cut out in trying to convince people that it's still worth coming, and have come up with the grand old wheeze of just pretending we're all having a great time here together at our Orangefest thanks, and why don't you pull up a bottle of cider and join us?

That two of its biggest supporters are Ian Paisley and Iris Robinson gives you an idea that there may be no need to delve any deeper (although, technically, Big Ian is not actually an Orangeman, but is a Free Orangeman, which is different in some Important Respect that has no business taking up inches here).

While we're on the topic of Iris Robinson, I almost wish I had voted DUP at the last election, so that I could write angry letters telling them I was withdrawing my vote. Come to think of it, maybe I will still write angry letters. It's just not as convincing when the only contact you've had with a party was 5 years ago when a lady turned up on your doorstep, offered you a leaflet and said 'Will you vote DUP?' in a not entirely normal questioning way, and you said 'No', thought 'Not if you were the last party on the planet' and closed the door.

Then there is The Eleventh, but I think we'll leave that for next year.


Alex said...

I have questions!

1690 was a very long time ago - could we not celebrate something that happened in 1960 which might have a little more cultural relevence?

I also want to know about the 11th, is it glorious too? why do they light fires? could we move the festival to say January when some homeless people might benefit from their warmth?

How did Iris become an MLA?

Who voted for her?

Should they not be sectioned under the mental health act 1690?

these and other questions must be answered


whynotsmile said...

Well, you see, what we do is we add on things that happened more recently onto the banners. So, 1690 was the foundation, and then there have been other things and they get added in.

I will explain the 11th next year. I think it could not be in January, though, as off licences may not have fully recovered their stocks of WKD in time from Christmas and New Year.

I did not vote for her; I think people who did should be shipped to a desert island with Iris and her husband, Peter. I did not vote for him either, and I had opportunity to do so.