It is Friday the 5th June, 11pm, the eve of the controversial Orange Festival in Glasgow. For those not up on the history of Anglo-Celtic sectarianism, this isn’t a mobile phone fest but a celebration (rather than commemoration) of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne (named after a river in Ireland) by the Dutch Protestant (though supported by the Papacy) Prince William of Orange, who became King of Great Britain and Ireland by defeating the (Roman) Catholic King James VII & II. Bored? Yes it’s all rather run-of-the-mill so far, usurping nobles arriving from foreign parts supported by local factions – you’ve seen it all in Shakespeare.
To put this in context, apart from the recent reburial of the Norman English King Richard III, in the UK we don’t commemorate past monarchs and their victories and defeats greatly. So this celebration is anomalous. There’s a clue, as to why this is so, in the above bracketed info: “though supported by the Papacy”. Strange, given that 1690 is taken (by all Scottish sectarian graffiti artists) to be the defining moment of Protestant hegemony. One may have supposed other moments in Reformation history to be more defining, but mentioning “Luther’s 95 Thesis” or even John Knox’s rather lengthily titled “Ye First Blast of Ye Trumpet Against Ye Monstrous Regiment of Women” (he and Mary, Queen of Scots just didn’t get on) leaves your average Orangeman scratching his head. My personal favourite (which I adapted for posters during the anti-Poll Tax years) is Jenny Geddes chucking her three-leggit stool at the hied of the Dean of Edinburgh’s St Giles Cathedral shouting “Ye’ll no say Mass in ma lug!”. Quirky. Colourful.
The organisers of OrangeFest15 (I’m quite sure it’s hashtagged by now) have taken the brave step of inviting, among other religious dignitaries, the RC Archbishop of Glasgow (in lieu of the Scottish Cardinal who is presently overseas due to ecclesiastical embarrassment). I don’t think he will be going. I don’t trust the constabulary to come to my aid if I attempt to cross the road during one of these parades through the city in which I was born, neither do any of my coreligionists and no informed Catholic (Roman or Anglican) would consider it prudent to advertise their religion at such an event as the camp followers of King Billy are notably unruly. There are of course many for whom this is advertised as simply a great day out supporting a charitable organisation.
It’s a pity in a way that none of the hypocritical, homophobic, closeted clergy presently occupying the Scottish RC bishop’s seats will be present. The recent commemoration of the martyrdom of St John Ogilvie in 1615 and the annual (in the more multiply-deprived parts of South Lanarkshire, bi-weekly) celebration of the Battle of the Boyne have much in common. Neither of them has anything whatsoever to do with the state of religious denominational détente in Scotland today. Both of them are committed, obsessed, with repeating stories of communal trauma from the past.
Imagine being in Syria or Iraq right now and having any religion affiliation whatsoever which happens to differ from that prescribed by the terrorist group calling itself “Islamic State”. That’s what it felt like to man “old Derry’s walls”. From that fear and courage arises the cry of “no surrender!”. That’s what drove RC priests and people into the heather and (more in England) to hide in cubby holes and celebrate Mass in stables. That fear, that courage, that trauma. In 1690. In 1615.
There is so much more of historical and contemporary interest in these two traditions than the heyday of their antagonism. Is 400 years not time enough to get over it?
“Red Hand Print” by Dawn Hudson on Public Domain