As much as I have generally negative feelings about The Twelfth, I did love it when I was younger.
A diary entry from a very young Hails reads:
I woke up because there were drums outside and we went outside and waved at the orange people. Then we put on our new clothes and went round to Queen Street. We sat on the kerb and watched the bands. There were lots of people. I had a flag and I waved it and mummy took photos of me. Then everybody came to our house and had broth.
A diary entry from a 12-year-old Hails reads:
I love the Twelfth Day! It’s like a big party.
It’s so exciting to wake up and hear all the drums in the distance – today the first band went past and I had to hide behind the curtains to watch, because I was still in my pyjamas and the boy that I like is in that band. I saw him though – he looked sooooo cute in his uniform! And then later when we were out watching the bands, Colin was teasing me about him, and he decided to get a photo of him, and ran out into the middle of the road to take it – I was so embarrassed!!!!
After the parade everyone always comes round to our house for broth. It’s a tradition to have broth on The Twelfth. Mum makes the best broth in the world, and she makes two big giant pots of it. We have family members and passing friends calling in and out all afternoon, and it’s such good fun. It feels like a big festival with all the noise of crowds and bands in the background, and the flags and streamers everywhere.
And then everybody goes round to the local pub – it’s the only day that children are allowed in, and it’s always packed full. Today some men had guitars with them and they played music and we had a singalong. And the barmaid let us have a Hooch each, but she said we weren’t to let on so we drank it out of glasses and pretended it was fizzy orange!!! I had a great day.
27-year-old Hails doesn’t have a diary, but she has a blog. Today’s entry reads:
I woke up to the sound of drums. Not just from the neighbours’ grandson, who received the somewhat unwise gift of a drum and a pair of cymbals several months ago and has been a very lively presence ever since, but also from the bands from all over the town who were on their way to the Field. This is where they start and end the parade.
The parade consists of bands and Orange lodges. There’s a band from each local area, each one with its own uniform. The most common kind is the flute band, but there are also accordian bands, bagpipe bands, and lambegs. Oh, the lambegs… huge big drums, for anyone who isn’t familiar with the concept, so large that the drummers can only carry them for a short time, and so they play in shifts. When the lambegs play, you feel it in your stomach and hear it for a week afterwards.
In between each band is an orange lodge. These are mostly made up of older men who have been brought up to be staunchly proud of their history. They walk with dignity, dressed in suits and bowler hats, often with decorative swords, flowers in their lapels, and all with an orange sash draped across them. There’s no one in Northern Ireland who doesn’t know the song:
It is old, but it is beautiful,
And its colours, they are fine.
It was worn at Derry, Aughrim,
Enniskillen, and the Boyne.
Sure my father wore it when a youth,
In the bygone days of Yore.
And it’s on The Twelfth I love to wear
The Sash my father wore.
The Twelfth commemorates the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, where William of Orange (or King Billy, as he’s known round these parts) ended the attempt of ousted Catholic king, James II, to regain his throne by ensuring that the few remaining Protestant strongholds in Ireland were captured by his new Irish Catholic Army. Although deeply unpopular in England, James still had quite a loyal following in Ireland, whose natives were Catholic – but his occupation of the North caused great resentment amongst a population with a heavy concentration of English and Scottish Protestant settlers. William’s troops marched in to relieve the besieged city of Derry, and all hell broke loose, for a while, until the Battle of the Boyne eventually brought an end to James II’s confidence about his chances of hanging on to Ireland.
No doubt there are umpteen versions of this story, but this is a simplified one, and the only one that I can even vaguely understand – it’s all very complicated, and I’m not likely to be able to explain the Irish Situation in one blog post, when none of us here really understand it anyway. Anyway, to this day, you’ve got the Protestant Unionists, who are grateful to King Billy for liberation, and who see themselves as part of the UK. Then you’ve got the Catholic Nationalists, who see themselves as Irish and would rather James had been successful (he was known as Séamus an Chaca or James the Shit when he deserted his Irish supporters and returned to exile in France!).
Anyway, what I’d really, really love to do would be to go up to a number of random band members, flag wavers, banner carriers, and Sash singers, in my capacity as an investigative journalist (!), and ask them to tell me about what they’re celebrating. What was the Battle of the Boyne? Who was King Billy fighting against? Why?
I guarantee you that the percentage who could answer with more than a shrug would be very, very small.