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WHAT THE TWELFTH MEANS TO ME
WHY DO Protestants celebrate on the 12th July? Is it simply just an excuse for an Ulster-wide ‘booze-up’ and a chance to rub Catholic noses in the dirt? Or does it represent something much deeper? Here, Jerry from Castlecaulfield in Co. Tyrone, explores the culturally conservative values that underpin the Twelfth. His Co. Tyrone “country Twelfth” is a “social, communal and commemorative” event. He acknowledges that the Twelfth is a triumphant occasion – but not a celebration of Catholic subjugation. For as Jerry notes: “for thirty years Orangemen ourselves have been the subjugated. It is rather the triumph of the underdog, an entire community celebrating our own survival in the face of midnight assassination, of economic war and of the state sponsored anti-Protestant discrimination… It is a celebration of our community, our shared heritage, our place in the world”.
WHEN I WAS four years old, my Father brought me on my first Twelfth Parade up the Main Street of our home village of Castlecaulfield in County Tyrone. I remember the day well, the earliest memory which I can actually date. Orange and purple and black, umbrellas and the smoke from Gallaher's Blue cigarettes, cheap hamburgers with tomato sauce that tasted of vinegar, strawberries and cream. The broadest of Tyrone accents; the damp sweaty smell of pipes; the beat of the Lambegs and my extended family come down from the hills. Old men and young men, laughing girls and family fall-out's. Canon Williams complementing me from the top table at having walked the whole mile and a half there and back, roast beef and dried potato. Childhood memories of a folk festival anywhere.
There are three elements which make up a country Twelfth: the social, the communal and the commemorative. As a child I was mainly aware of the first and last elements; that our relations descended upon us like a swarm of locusts; that old friendships were renewed, new ones cemented, deals struck and - occasionally - matches made. I was also taught that very long ago, a great man called King Billy had come to Ulster and saved us from being killed or forced to go back to Scotland from where we came. It was in his memory that we marched. King Billy himself along with the Marshall Duke of Schomberg and even George Walker, a Governor of 'Derry who was Rector of St Michael's, a local Church, were displayed in all their glory on gorgeous banners. This is the most obvious significance of the Twelfth, and the one which any unbiased observer can see. It is a carnival complete with fancy dress bands and festive food. It is the commemoration of a 17th century victory by the re-creation of a 17th century army, complete with banners, fifes and drums.
As I grew older and was taken into the confidence of my elders, I became aware of the deeper significance of the celebration – its symbolic representation of community solidarity. The village where I was raised lies just by the foothills of the Cappagh mountains. For all the joy of the occasion; the carnival atmosphere, the hamburgers and the games, there were always whispered and half-remembered conversations about the shootings; the burned barns; the bullets pushed through the letter boxes; the intimidation that Protestants in Coalisland, Pomeroy, Cappagh, in fact all along the mountains, have had to bear for the past thirty years. The knowledge that we are on our own made, and makes, the significance of the occasion much more than simply social. The saying 'Where Orangemen cannot walk, Protestants cannot live' has been ridiculed many times. In spite of the ridicule no one has explained why, where Orangemen cannot walk, the Protestant population disappears like snow off a sheugh. The Twelfth also represents continuity in our community, values and ideals passed from old to young and held in common by those of all ages. Freedom to worship and think and say what we like; our Protestant religion; the Union; our support for the British State and our independence from its corruption and secularism. Most of all, the Twelfth is about our survival as a culturally and religiously distinct people.
The Twelfth is therefore a triumphant occasion. It is not a celebration of our neighbours’ subjugation - for thirty years Orangemen ourselves have been the subjugated. It is rather the triumph of the underdog, an entire community celebrating our own survival in the face of midnight assassination, of economic war and of the state sponsored anti-Protestant discrimination which encourages so many of our young people to emigrate to England and Scotland in search of work. It is a celebration of our community, our shared heritage, our place in the world. It is also a statement: 'we are not defeated, we will not be defeated, we are the people. We go on.'
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