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Friendship is a wonderful thing

WHEN THINKING about this, I realised how much I could write. Putting it down in words is something completely different. The 12th doesnít just mean July to me. It never has. It goes back to my motherís family who moved from Belfast to Airdrie many, many years ago.

All the family members bar one were members of the Orange Order in Airdrie. They were very active in LOL 6. As all families in olden days, they were large. I think theyíre was nine children, all churchgoers. My family also attended church each week. It was happy time in our household at this point. Going to Sunday school sets you up for life.

I remember at school a boy was in the Juvenile lodge in Rutherglen and he spoke very highly of it. My brother and I asked our mother if we could join. Surprisingly to us she said no. Obviously we were very disappointed at this. Her reason for this was "the Orange Order isnít the same as when she was in it". Looking back on this I suppose she was right. We are in a Christian organisation and how many people donít even bother attempting to go to church? Iíll let everyone think about that one.

I was never one for following the main Glasgow Parade in early July. In fact Iíve only ever been to one before joining the Order. That was in 1984 when the venue was Queenís Park. My friend had joined up earlier in the year and asked me to go with him. We were up early on the Saturday morning and went to one of the memberís house to meet up. I was very excited even though not a member. The butterflies in my stomach started when we arrived at Inglis Street Orange Hall. Itís a feeling Iíll never forget. This is when I decided I should join up. I realised the Orange Order had been in my blood all my life.

Come November I have been in the same lodge for 20 years. Itís something Iím very proud of. Iíve held various positions, namely, Auditor, Marshal, Secretary, (twice) and to cap it all, Worthy Master. Iím also very active within the District, holding the position of Secretary for about 8 years.

The parades held in Glasgow are a great affair. I never miss one if possible. Too many members donít show enough commitment towards these. Church Parades are a classic example. Those who are in the Order in Glasgow know what Iím talking about here.

You can see the difference on the Boyne Celebration Parade. I must say though that the turnout of members and bandsmen is first class; the East End of Glasgow in particular. Although numbers are down from past years, the East End always seem to have more and more every year. I know my District are very proud of this, I hope the rest of the Districts are.

I know we take a lot of criticism from the general public and the gutter press regarding the "Big Walk" but hardly any of it is justified. The Order on a whole is very accommodating. We do literally bend over backwards to help people.

When travelling to Northern Ireland for the 12th each year the atmosphere is something not to be missed. For myself and my friends who go each year, the journey starts at Central Station. Itís amazing the amount of people who travel from Scotland each year. You only see them once a year but always say hello, hello. So many still have family in Northern Ireland.

I first travelled over in 1984 and that was when the boat docked at Larne. The first time you feel a bit apprehensive as the newspapers and TV always make it sound worse than what it is. In 20 years Iíve never seen any signs of trouble. I know it sounds hard to believe but itís true. The bonfire on the 11th night is special as well. My first digs were in Empire Street, which is close to Roden Street. The Roden Street Defenders Flute Band always did a short parade at the bonfire. What a night. Round all the wee streets for about an hour. A party was usually held afterwards.

In 1984 I couldnít take part in the parade due to not being a member, so I just followed the lodge my friend was walking with. Although it was good, a lack of sleep meant both of us went home when the parade reached Edenderry field.

In 1985 my lodge Thistle LOL 72, 12 District, Glasgow were invited to parade with a lodge. Sorry, I canít remember the name or number. The lodge had hired the Wilson Flute Band from Bridgeton. We started off in Finaghy and paraded to the train station. We then made our way to Sandy Row Orange Hall for the main parade. Iíd never seen a parade of this size before and it was very well organised. Each lodge knew which position they were in and everything went like clockwork. Being part of the parade was so much better than the year before. When on parade you always watch your Pís & Qís. Never drink to excess and bring shame on your lodge. The colours of the banners and the band uniforms help make the parade special. What a sight. No triumphal gestures were noticed, only ordinary people celebrating their culture and traditions. It amazes me that the other part of the community can say itís offensive. Then again, you canít keep everybody happy.

In 1990 our lodge was invited to parade with a lodge from the Shankill who had hired a Canadian Flute Band. This was the tercentenary of the Battle of the Boyne. We had a great number over that year. Not one complaint from any of the parties concerned. To me that means a lot. We also received a lovely plaque from the lodge and I presented them with a Bible. Unfortunately the plaque was lost in the fire at our Orange Hall. I was also given a momento of the day as I was acting Master.

When we changed our digs to Donegall Pass, we started parading with the lodge that hire The South Belfast Young Conquerorís Flute Band. This went on for three or four years. One year we decided to watch the parade from Lisburn Road. We picked a great spot. About six foot off the ground and the view is tremendous.

At about 10.45am the Office Bearers and visitors of the County Grand Lodge of Belfast accompanied by the Millar Memorial Flute Band come down Lisburn Road. The first time I watched the whole parade was memorable. Itís the first time Iíd ever watched a whole parade. The sight was outstanding, 250 lodges and countless bands. It must be the biggest in the world.

In more recent years we have paraded with the Prince Albert lodge from the Shankill. Since 2000 in fact, and they are a great wee lodge. They are always very welcoming and friendly. They do appreciate the visitors from Scotland. A few Brothers from Airdrie parade with them as well. One of the main things about the Twelfth is the people of Northern Ireland give us visitors a great reception. They donít see us as outsiders just turning up for one parade. The countless friends I have made, whether it be in Roden Street, Donnybrook Street, Donegall Pass or the Shankill. You get treated the same by everyone and we treat all the same. Friendship is a wonderful thing, and Iíd like to think that the family who have let me stay in their house for the last 14 years feel the same as me.

I would urge anyone who is not in the Orange Order to join up, and a very important thing for all to remember, we are a Christian organisation. This means going to Church regularly. Also, everyone should visit Northern Ireland for the Twelfth. Itíll be the best time of your life. This is where the Order originated from so itís a must to visit.

Norrie MacKinnon


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