Twelfth July…Know Your Flags

Those Orange Order types certainly love their flags….not just their own.

One of the interesting things about sixty odd years of observing Twelfth July is how more and more flags have been adopted. Dr Dominic Bryan at QUB could write a book about this kinda thing. Actually he has written a few.

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Back in the 1960s, there was only the British Flag wich flew from a dwindling number of “Protestant” houses at the Grosvenor Road end of our “mixed” street in West Belfast. In the early 1960s, there was a cluster of them. By 1966, there was only three, guarded by a designated RUC man from nearby Cullingtree Road “barracks”. When the RUC closed the barracks, the flags stopped going up. Presumably the handful of Protestants (and thats how we described them in the 1960s) thought it would be better for their windows if they did not fly the British Flag in a street, now overwhelmingly Catholic (thats how we described ourselves in th 1960s).

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Of course in those days, public display of the Irish National Flag was illegal and if noticed, the RUC would remove it (as in the Divis Street Riots of 1964).

There was and IS no official flag for Norn Iron although a flag, I believe invented for a Coronation in 1953, was becoming increasingly accepted by Loyalists. Important to make the distinction between Unionists and Loyalists. Increasingly Unionists were “traditionalists” who still flew the British Flag around the Twelfth but Loyalists were more extreme, often supporters of fringe unionist parties like Vanguard, UDA etc which sprang up in the 1970s. A Norn Iron Flag with the British Flag in the canton was associated with Vanguard and a Scottish style saltire, red cross on blue with a red hand became associated with UDA. Actually Dominic Bryan from North London knows more about this than I (from West Belfast) know.

The subtle changes in Loyalist and Unionist politics can be mirrored in the range of Flags hanging from lamp posts and private houses since 1969. The Scottish Flag of course to emphasise Scottish roots as Orange Order discovered their Ulster Scots roots (which they had happily minimised in unionism for centuries), a special Tercentenary Flag for 1990 and curiously the Flag of Israel.

Why Israel? Well theres a crazier strand of Unionist-Protestant-Culture which thinks the they are the lost tribe of Israel. Any tribe of Israel that ends up in Ballymena, Portadown and Dervock….is very, very very lost. But there is also the political link …The descendants of British settlors who made the Ulster Desert grow can identify with those Israeli settlors who make the Judea Desert grow. The Irish and the Palestinians are after all terrorists and/or lesser people who do not accept that Ulster and Israel are gifts from GOD to HIS people.

In 2012, Flags commemorating the UVF (1912-2012) appeared. Dubiously these were claimed to represent the “legal” UVF rather than the “illegal” UVF from 1966 who butchered Catholics in the 1970s and 1980s …and several Protestants in the 1990s.

Of course FLYING flags is only one half of the Flags Issue. Burning flags….the Irish Flag has always been a part of Orange-Protestant-Unionist “culture” and no LetsGetAlongerist ever noticed this fine old tradition of hatred …burning Irish Flags, GAA Flags, Celtic Flags, Sinn Féin and SDLP Election posters …until the Flag of Poland and Alliance Party posters became part of the “culture”.

Thats the problem with LetsGetAlongerists….they tolerate SOME hatred….if it is directed against Catholics and Nationalists.

This year we have seen the Confederate Flag fly. Although I have seen it before in loyalist areas there is a degree of bandwagon jumping by loyalists. More have appeared this year and certainly more have been noticed because of the South Carolina tragedy last month. It is very sinister that one was flying outside the home of a black family in East Belfast.

Whatever the debate in the old American South about “History, Heritage and Hate” ….there can be no sense of “History and Heritage” about a Confederate Flag in Norn Iron. Sheer unadulterated Hatred. Likewise it is hard to see that a fondness for British military flags, notably the Parachute Regiment is part of some long-standing tradition…rather a gesture of support for a regiment, notorious for Bloody Sunday (1972) and other atrocities.

Of course there are connexions between Norn Iron loyalists and extreme right wing groups in Europe. But it apparently shocks LetsGetAlongerists that Nazi Flags (now removed) appeared in Carrickfergus, County Antrim….ironically alongside British national, British military and Confederate (still flying in Carrickfergus) flags.

Clearly the Orange Order distances itself from this and although I am not surprised to see Nazi Flags, displayed by loyalists, I think those responsible were merely trying to shock.

But increasingly the argument around Parity of Esteem as the Orange Order claims for its pathetic “culture” looks as threadbare as flags left out too long.

The Orange Order has opened a museum in East Belfast and invited the Media and Fantasy Media (bloggers) to come and visit. They call it “outreach”. They (perhaps) genuinely want people to understand their culture. Former Irish President, Mary McAlease has visited.

It would churlish of me to not recognise genuine attempts at …dare I say….”getting along”.

But really Orange “culture” is too closely tied to right wing extremism and hatred to be tolerated in any society claiming to be civilised.

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2 Responses to Twelfth July…Know Your Flags

  1. benmadigan says:

    “Increasingly Unionists were “traditionalists” who still flew the British Flag around the Twelfth but Loyalists were more extreme, often supporters of fringe unionist parties like Vanguard, UDA etc which sprang up in the 1970s” Tend to doubt that. The numbers in the UDA, vanguard etc in the 1970s were phenomenal. Since then middle class protestant numbers have dropped off , as have numbers in the orange order -but not enough!!!

    • Yes thats true.
      Essentially this was a post for an American readership.
      “Fringe” was a very loose word to use. Vanguard were bigger than being “fringe” but came and went very quickly….as unionism divided …moderate, hardline, pro and anti O’Neill, or Faulkner …re-alligned, UPNI, Alliance, Vanguard, DUP…..Trimble was Vanguard before going back to UNionist and himself to be targetted as Faulkner was targeted.
      There were Vanguard people who were close to UDA.
      But I think the basic point is right that in the 1960s there was just one flag to be seen but progressively each manifestation of a unionist split or cause has produced new flags (remember the Drumcree flags?) ..there is definitely an increased Scottish influence …
      Unionism and Orangeism are not the same monolith but mostly I get the impression that they are very uncertain about their identity….good British Christians who will lay a wreath as they pass the Cenotaph at City Hall….or fascists who wave Nazi flags.
      They have had it both ways too long.

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