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Prods just wanna have fun!

SINCE THE MID 90s pan-Irish national-chauvinists have successfully waged an Ulster-wide Orangeophobic campaign of hatred, defamation and slander. The Orange and Black institutions and the Apprentice Boys of Derry have been the main targets for all the poisonous invective. Also in the firing line have been a number of small isolated Protestant communities in rural areas - and trouble is virtually a way of life for the patchwork of small Protestant areas in North Belfast.

The Twelfth. Do you think it's fair to say that the vast majority of urban Protestants would be 'cultural Protestants' and the majority of rural Protestants would be 'Bible Protestants'?

David Gilliland. I would certainly accept that there is a very strong rural/urban split within the Protestant community. I would also accept that urban Prods now tend to be much more secularised. Many sociologists would argue that this is the case across the world in terms of city dwellers being more likely to have a secular outlook than their rural counterparts.

I remember being at a conference many years back at which some of those present were talking about two issues – the first was all about ‘Popery and Superstition’ and the other was in relation to how ‘Catholics were more likely to be ‘doing the double’ etc. I remember being very unpopular for challenging both of these assumptions – one on the grounds that we were living in the 20th Century, and the other on the basis that if they looked at any loyalist enclave in Belfast, then they were just as likely to find people doing the very same thing – it was a necessary step for survival for many families. I think that was probably the first time that I became aware that the rural/urban divide was so wide.

I also know from my work within the loyalist/unionist community, that many loyalists outside Belfast regard it as ‘a den of iniquity’. Although here there is also the added complication that there is also an age divide. Younger people are more secular in outlook. Young people are drifting away from the old certainties that many of their elders hold dear. I have a friend from rural County Armagh whose parents are heavily involved in the church, and she and her siblings were brought up in this milieu, but all have now left a large part of it behind, none go to church on any form of regular basis – typically weddings and funerals which tends to be the case with most urban Prods.

But despite this apparent rejection of the values many within the community still hold some vestiges of religious belief, indeed at the time of the vote regarding Sunday opening of pubs, one of the UUP MPs was witnessed staggering from the Members' Bar drunk, to vote against Sunday Opening. I have also been at meetings where men who normally swear like navvies hold their tongue when a minister is present. That said, many within the Protestant community wouldn’t have the first idea about any of the principles of Protestantism, and not all in the rural areas would be Bible-believing Protestants waiting for the latest broadcast by some Jimmy Swaggart type.

The Twelfth. How would you define ‘cultural Protestantism’?

David Gilliland. I think in some ways it could be a polite way of saying ‘nominal Prod’. Many people within the loyalist/unionist community are not really Protestants but call themselves Prods as a way of letting you know they are not Catholics.

There is, however, a large number for whom some of the aspects of Protestantism are very important, but cannot, or perhaps will not, accept the religious baggage. I would probably class myself in this category. I am a believer to a point, but as yet I cannot make the leap of faith required. However the whole tradition of Protestantism and the belief structure is very important to me. I have friends who were quite shocked when they found out I was a ‘believer’ as they have rejected the whole notion of God, but yet even they would define themselves as Prods. There is also an element within it of being proud of the whole Ulster heritage and the traditions they have grown up within, so perhaps ‘cultural Prods’ is a more meaningful term.

The Twelfth. As a cultural Protestant, how do you view the Twelfth? Do you see it as colour, excitement and music? Do you take any interest in its religious aspect?

David Gilliland. I have grown up with the Twelfth. I joined the Orange Order at about 12 years of age, and for about four years carried the District Bannerette every year on the Twelfth. I got involved in political circles round about 17 and sort of drifted away from the Orange Order, probably because I thought they weren’t being direct enough in opposing the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I never transferred from the ‘Juniors’ into the Lodge proper, and despite being asked many times over the years since I have never wanted to join again. I think that is in part due to the fact that I couldn’t in all conscience take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen.

I always however go to watch the Twelfth, as much for the bands as anything else. I enjoy the day out. I meet up with friends and we watch the parade and have a few beers. The religious aspect of it is always in my mind, but largely plays little part in the day. This is definitely the case over the last number of years and that may change but not in the foreseeable future.

I feel the whole thing is very important. I reject the notion that has arisen over the last number of years that it is an exercise in coat trailing. Many of those making these claims are bigots who hate all expressions of Protestantism, either religious or cultural, yet cannot be honest enough to say this is the case. The Twelfth used to be a good day out for all, and can still be. No one should be offended by it, nor should it be allowed to perish.







For some reason, the Unionist and Orange leadership has been unable to respond to these hate mongers. Indeed, they don’t seem to have a coherent strategy to counter this viciously intolerant hatred of any public display of Protestant culture and identity. This public relations failure has allowed pan-Irish national chauvinists to paint a very negative picture of ‘Orange Monsters’ rampaging through quiet and peaceful Catholic areas. It has also allowed the hatemongers to portray all Protestants as belonging to a monolithic block of Bible-bashing fanatics, drunks, murderers and bigots.


So what’s the truth? Are Ulster Protestants just one intolerant monolithic block? Are we all morose bigots - or, individually, are we as diverse as any other ethnic or religious grouping? For a deeper understanding of cultural Protestantism – and the importance of the 12th July celebrations - we spoke to David Gilliland. David is a former full-time community worker and is now active within the cultural sector. He has lived all his life in a working-class area of North Belfast.

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