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A look at Ligoniel True Blues LOL1932

THE FIRST TIME I saw Ligoniel True Blues was in 1963. They were walking up the Ligoniel Road making their way from their start point, Ligoniel Orange Hall. This was located on the main Ligoniel Road at the corner of Lime Street.

From the Orange Hall they would walk to Dickies Corner, adjacent to Curtains Avenue. Why? This is a question that some may well ask, seeing that the field at Finaghy was in the opposite direction! Maybe the answer is tradition. Maybe it was to annoy the people of Ligoniel - the majority who was then Catholic.

This is not the case and nothing could be further from the truth. The lodge would walk to Dickies Corner in order to allow the people of Ligoniel see the lodge and their band. They would then turn for the long walk via the Crumlin Road to Carlisle Circus to join with the district and on to Finaghy Field.

In fact, the Lodge received complaints from the people of Ligoniel in the early sixties saying it was wrong for the lodge not to walk up the front of the road (as it was known then). The strange thing is that the majority of the people who lined the Ligoniel Road were Catholics! Every Twelfth of July morning they would be there to wish the Orange well. The remarks made by onlookers would be "hope the sun shines for you today lads" or "have a good day, enjoy yourselves". Or, on an individual basis, you would hear something like "sore feet tonight, Tommy".

Is this a tall story I'm telling? Or is it a case of fact being stranger that fiction?

So there I was, six years of age standing at Dickies Corner. I was holding my mother's hand waiting for the Lodge and their band, the Ligoniel Silver Band. In the distance I could hear the beat of drums and the sound of bugles. That sound made my heart race a little. The sense of excitement was fantastic. Then it got a little louder and then louder still. Some of the older children were moving down the road to see the band. My mother let go of my hand and said "go on, off you go".

I ran down the road with the others as far as the Methodist church. This is when I first got to see the Silver Band. Even today when I close my eyes I can see them. They were magnificent - a sight of wonderment. The Bandleader was at least nine-foot tall, although sometime later my mates and me reckoned he might have been even taller! Well, I suppose that is what all small six-year olds would think, even today.

We would follow the band up the road pretending to play a drum or blow a bugle. Some of the older boys would be at the front of the band with sticks painted red, white and blue. I suppose this is typical of many areas in Northern Ireland. The picture I paint is not much different from what other six-year old Protestant boys of the early sixties would remember.

The thing is that the older boys were Catholics. I remember the likes of the Tollands, Donnelleys, McShanes, McGuires, O' Neils, McCluskeys, Finnan's, Scullions and many others who would follow the band. They loved it!

Although they were a little older than I was, they were still only children and therefore had the air of innocence about them. The Twelfth was a day we all looked forward to, both Catholic and Protestant children.

A few years later I became a member of the Ligoniel Lodge. As a Junior I did the long walk to Finaghy Field. And as before, we would walk up the Ligoniel Road to the sound of the Silver Band and of people wishing us well on the day. When I hear people say that Protestants and Catholics can't or won't live together I know this is not true.

As the years rolled by, the Ligoniel True Blues were to suffer many set backs perpetrated by republicans. The first incident was when stones and bottles were thrown at the lodge as they passed the old scrap yard and wood mill at the end of the whitewashed houses on the front of the road.

Worst was to follow. Members of the lodge and visitors were to be murdered by republicans as they left the Orange Hall. Republicans later destroyed the hall. The perpetrators of these crimes had no idea how important and respected the lodge was to the people of Ligoniel. Needless to say the lodge had to relocate to the ‘turn of the road’.

Over the year's the Ligoniel True Blues were to suffer at the hands of republican sectarian bigots. The newly acquired lodge building was set on fire on more than one occasion. Undaunted, they would clean and rebuild and set a standard for all to follow. The True Blues also sent a message to those republicans who need to hear it most of all. The message is a simple one – ‘No Surrender!’

The traditional route for the Ligoniel Orangemen is to walk down the Crumlin Road. And throughout the years, they have been steadfast in their belief that they have the right to walk the Queens highway. The True Blues epitomise all that the Orange institution stands for in terms of Belief and Rights. Destroying an Orange Hall by bomb or by fire will not - and will never - destroy a lodge. Murdering lodge members will not - and will never - destroy a lodge. The True Blues have a belief in themselves and in their lodge that is beyond the understanding of those who wish to separate them.

It matters not how many times their lodge hall is set on fire and destroyed, they will just simply clean and rebuild. Even if acts of

republican terrorism force them to relocate to other premises, these Orangemen will go on. To be a True Blue doesn't mean that you have to be a member of the Ligoniel True Blues. But it does mean you have to adopt their attitude and mindset. You need to be loyal and dedicated. You need to be sure in your beliefs and steadfast in your defiance.

Over the past few years the True Blues have been subjected to abuse from the republicans as they past the Ardoyne shops. In fact, the True Blues are so unbelievably popular, republicans have resorted to bussing in protesters from the Falls and Andersonstown! This organised excursion (paid for and controlled by SF/IRA) is a clear indication that the republicans have less support in the Ardoyne than they'd have you believe. If this were not the case, why the need to organise busloads of supporters?

I understand why the republicans need to bring in protesters from other areas. For the truth is that local people are not that bothered about Orange parades. It takes about twenty seconds for the Ligoniel True Blues to pass the shops, which are normally closed early in the morning. This means that anyone wishing to be ‘offended’ by church hymns would need to be an early riser and travel some distance to accomplish this.

Everyone knows that the so-called ‘Concerned Residents’ groups are politically motivated. These groups have nothing whatsoever to do with the rights of local residents. They are the product of the sectarian and bigoted attitude of republicans.

The Catholic community generally has no problem with Orange parades. It is the republicans who have a problem. It is the republicans who cause the conflict and keep the troubles in perpetual motion. It is they who have the aspiration for an all embracing ‘one size fits all’ Catholic Gaelic culture. It is they, who through their blind hatred to anything that is not Irish and everything that is British, have failed to realise the world has moved on.

Hopefully, the press will be able to see through republican propaganda. Then they might realise how, over the years, they have been duped by scenarios, planned and perpetrated by republicans. Maybe this year the truth will finally be shown to the world.

It is we, through our Belief and Rights, who will hold steadfast. Just as the Ligoniel True Blues have done, despite the burning of buildings and the murdering of our beloved people. Such actions cannot - and will never - destroy us.

The rain can be caught and corralled. It can be held and redirected. But it can never be stopped. Neither can the Ligoniel True Blues. As we pass from this world to the next, I would be honoured should one of those left behind take it upon themselves to say of me, that I was many things, but above all, I was "A True Blue."

Dave Smith


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