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Twelfth memories from the Fifties

MY WIFE and I were born on the Ravenhill Road in East Belfast.  However, we left Belfast in 1971 and emigrated to Toronto, Canada.  Since then, I have walked in all Orange walks in Toronto except for one year when I walked to Edenderry (Belfast).

Born and growing up on the Raven we got to know many of the lads in the local bands.  I was active in the Boys Brigade and got to have a pretty decent childhood.

The Mini Twelfth was held each year in East Belfast and having been born on the 1st of July my father told me for years that the bands were coming out specially for me. Reflecting back at the number of men that my father knew and waved to in the lodges I actually believed they were waving at me (Birthday Boy).  The parade was always colourful and spectacular.  I loved it when the Drum major (and his little son) would throw the sticks up in the air... would they be able to catch it?  That was something I would practise with my motherís brush handle when it would come apart.  The guys in the bands must have really practised!

And I remember the Twelfth day from the mid to late Fifties.  My mother would get the flasks of tea going and sandwiches prepared, and the rugs and deckchairs would get put into the car.  Off we would go to Tate's Avenue and find a suitable place to grab the kerb and set up our wee family.  Eight of us in total.

The waiting for the bands to come was always the slowest part to the day.  A multitude of Men with scripture laden vests would always come first, damning all who were without salvation, as to where they would spend eternity.  It always struck me that these men believed we were all sinners and they were the saviours to mankind. 

The bands would then come.  Ravenhill Silver Band was there with all their heavy equipment.  My uncle was there, in the Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band.  There were the flutes, the accordions and of course the noisy kerb side hangers-on.

A special memory that I will keep is of the young girls in the York Street Girls' Accordion Band.  Some of these girls might have been eleven or twelve and the accordion looked to be so large on their little bodies.  Pulling them out and pushing them in all the way to Finaghy was more than a labour of love.

It was always so colourful to see the banners fly in the breeze, sometimes it made reading what was on the banner more difficult.

I used to remember and love to see the horse drawn carriages, the horses so neatly groomed and their manes platted and curled.  Rosettes adorned them and the carriage men were so well dressed.  I sometimes was afraid of the men carrying the deacon poles. As a kid sitting on the ground I felt like these deacon poles might hit me on the head as they walked by.

The bands came by, the lodges too and the number of men that my father would wave or shout at amazed me.  He knew such an awful lot of people when I being so young knew such a few.

Lunch and snacks would come out and the people all around us would be envious of the food we had prepared.  My Mum was brilliant in this department and always made sure if we were going out, we would be looked after.  A bottle of Fanta, or New City lemonade worked wonders for a fidgety wee boy.

The Twelfth was the most memorable time of the year.  But the bonfires the night before, in Memel Street, Sandy Row and up the Shankill helped get us in the festival mood.

Many years we would go to Scarva on the Thirteenth of July to see the Blackmen.  My mum always liked the Blackmen because the country walks being smaller always seemed to attract the Silver and Pipe bands.

The Twelfth is a wonderful experience, both for the onlooker or the participant

William Thompson


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