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Text: Dominic Bryan, T.G. Fraser and Seamus Dunn ... Page Design: Fionnuala McKenna

Political Rituals: Loyalist Parades in Portadown


Parading in Northern Ireland
The specific question at issue concerned the right of a number of Protestant organisations; namely, the Orange Order, the Royal Black Institution, and the Apprentice Boys of Deny, as well as accompanying bands and supporters, to walk through the predominantly nationalist areas in Portadown known as 'the Tunnel' (Obins Street) and the nearby Garvaghy Road. The contention often referred to as 'the right to march' is far from being a new one. Parades commemorating particular events such as St Patrick's Day (17 March). the Battle of the Boyne (12 July), the Relief of Derry (12 August), Lady's Day (15 August), the birthday of King William III (4 November), the Gunpowder plot (5 November), and the closing of the Gates of Deny (18 December) have been a common part of Irish life since the eighteenth century, and have historically been occasions for civil disturbances, particularly of a sectarian nature. As such, control of these events has often been a high priority of the State and there have been a number of occasions when the civil authorities have attempted to ban or 're-route' particular marches.

Pre-eminent amongst the occasions celebrated in the. north of Ireland has been the Twelfth of July, commemorating the victory of King William over King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a victory which confirmed the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. Regardless of the particular importance of the battle itself, a matter of some debate, the perception of its importance has meant that it has become of great symbolic significance. In the early years of the eighteenth century it was largely the Protestant elite of Dublin who marked Williamite occasions, chiefly his birthday, and the state organised rituals, usually involving a parade around William's statue. However, the Volunteers, in the 1770s and 1780s, in their campaign for reforms defined the Williamite campaign more in terms of its victory for a parliamentary democracy, attempting to give it a slightly less partisan and more inclusive interpretation, and organised rituals apart from those run by the state. Nevertheless, it was the formation of the more populist Orange Order in County Armagh in 1795, not more than a few miles from Portadown, after sectarian conflicts in the area, and its subsequent use of Williamite celebration, particularly 'the Twelfth', which raised the profile of the Battle of the Boyne in the north of Ireland. Indeed, so successful was this appropriation that the state soon abandoned its Dublin rituals apparently on the grounds that they were too divisive (Hill 1984, Simms 1974). Sectarian violence was often connected to commemorative parades and there were Party Procession Acts introduced restricting or banning many types of public demonstration. Such Acts were in place from 1832-1844 and from 1850-1872 and often had at least the tacit support of senior Orangemen. Such attempts to control these events, however, were met with resistance by rank and file Orangemen who refused to relinquish an event that expressed their identity, loyalty to the Union, and limited political power. Partly in opposition to Irish Nationalism, Orangeism grew in strength throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. This was particularly true amongst the growing Protestant working class of Belfast, who at times combined their Orangeism with proletarian radicalism to produce a heady political cocktail (see Gibbon 1975, Patterson 1980, Boyle 1962-63). For instance, the 'right to march' was taken up by a small land- owner, William Johnston, in the late 1860s, in opposition to the second of the Party Procession Acts. He was prepared to go to jail for the cause, and his popularity was such that he was elected an independent MP for South Belfast ahead of the candidate supported by the gentry of the Belfast Grand Lodge. Johnston combined class politics with Orangeism and in some senses successfully used the Twelfth to oppose the state, the Party Processions Act being repealed in 1872.

The role of Orangeism in fostering a more unified political position between Presbyterians and Anglicans, in the formation of the Ulster Unionist Party, in the opposition to Home Rule, and in the formation of Ulster Volunteer Force which was subsequently decimated as part of the 36th (Ulster) division at the Somme, has made the Orange tradition of central symbolic importance to many Irish Protestants in general, and those in Ulster in particular. When Northern Ireland was established in 1921, with its own Parliament, the Orange Order, through the Ulster Unionist Council, extended its political power giving membership of the Institution new possibilities of patronage and turning the parades on the Twelfth to a certain extent into a ritual of State. An Orangeman was inevitably walking behind the senior politicians of Northern Ireland and a political career was greatly aided by membership of the Institution. However, from the mid 1960s onwards any vague resemblance of political consensus within Northern Ireland collapsed. Divisions within the Unionist bloc, the civil rights parades, the riots of 1969 and consequent increased geographical sectarian divisions, soon followed by the activities of paramilitary groups, led to the eventual collapse of Stormont in 1972 and with it another significant turn of political fortune for the Orange Institution.

Throughout these developments, the general structure of the Orange Institution has remained largely the same and this structure is worth mentioning as it will impinge upon the events in Portadown. Orangemen are organised into lodges, on a similar line to Free Masons, and Orangeism uses many of the same symbols (Loftus 1990, 1994, Jarman 1992, Buckley 1985-86). Lodges elect a master and deputy master, as well as a number of other officers. The lodge masters in turn form into a local district lodge whose officers attend the County Grand Lodge, who in turn send representatives to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. Whilst certain rules and regulations are laid down by the Grand Lodge, there are limitations on its power and local lodges and districts retain a degree of independence and have distinctive identities. To see the Orange Order as some unified political block controlled by the Grand Lodge is to miss the nuances of politics within the Institution. Incidents such as those involving William Johnston, and also the formation of the Independent Orange Order in 1902/3 (Boyle 1962/63), are just the more obvious examples of the internal politics of Orangeism.

During Orange parades, district and county officials walk at the head of their area. Lodges usually try to hire a band to march behind although, in the 1950s and 1960s. the scarcity of bands meant that many lodges went without. However, there has been a significant development of a particular type of flute band, sometimes known as 'blood and thunder' bands, during the 1970s which has effectively exaggerated the position of bands within the parade over more recent years.

There are a whole range of parades, many run by the Orange Institution and many others which, in spite of popular perceptions, are not. The number of parades in general has increased in the last twenty five years so that of the 2,744 parades and demonstrations in 1992 an amazing 2,498 were described by the RUC as loyalist.[1] What is in general termed 'the marching season' runs from around mid-June until mid-August, but in fact parades take place from March right through until September. Parades under the auspices of the Orange Institution include local lodge church parades, Junior Orange Parades (particularly Easter Tuesday), district parades sometimes termed as mini-Twelfths (predominantly in late June/early July), parades to commemorate the Battle of the Somme (1st July) and pre-Twelfth church parades. The Twelfth itself involves lodges parading to their district meeting point, and the district then parading through the town or area before and after getting transport to one of nearly two dozen major parades. Closely related to the Orange Order is the Royal Black Institution which has its main parade on 13 July with local marches taking place prior to a sham fight in Scarva and a smaller parade in Bangor. There are further large Black parades in mid and late August. The Apprentice Boys of Derry, whose symbolic adherence is to the siege of that city in 1688, rather than to the Battle of the Boyne, parades on Easter Monday, on a Saturday in the middle of August, celebrating the relief of the-city, and again in December commemorating the closing of the gates of Derry, with the burning of an effigy of the traitor Lundy. In addition, bands have started having their own local parades where they try to raise money from spectators by holding a competition for bands that might travel from all over Ulster to take part. The increased number of bands and the necessity of their funding, the purchase of instruments and uniforms, means that on any Friday or Saturday during the summer months there are probably half a dozen band parades in Northern Ireland.

Again, all these types of parade have their local character and, despite the tendency of some commentators to simply lump them together, we must not lose sight of the differences. For instance, a district parade in Belfast that usually draws support from, and parades through, working class areas will contain many blood and thunder bands with large groups of female support accompanying them, and have a rowdy atmosphere. On the other hand, a parade through somewhere like Saintfield in County Down, with greater middle class involvement, a greater number of pipe bands and even, the once much more common, silver bands, has a quite different complexion. In some senses Portadown is a mixture of these two with large working class estates bordering rural areas. Whilst there are areas where processions have ended in physical conflict, most recently on the Ormeau Road and Ainsworth Avenue in Belfast, and processions can cause many to be inconvenienced, it must be said that a large number of processions take place with no trouble, minimal policing and the good will of the local population.

The nature of rituals
In assessing the importance of these occasions, we are forced to consider the nature, or perhaps function, of rituals. Social anthropologists when studying non-industrial societies have understood the importance of ritual occasions to the cohesiveness of communities and to the very fabric of their life cycle. Durkheim saw the coming together of the community for intense periods of social interaction as, in some sense, the essence of religious experience (Durkheim 1915). Thus an initiate might not understand all of the symbols being used in a particular ritual but the experience of the event contains its own power. Such 'power' might be seen in initiation ceremonies and help define an individual's new identity, perhaps making a boy into a man or a man into a king. Nevertheless, rituals, also 'say' something. They carry within them the beliefs or ideological structures significant to that community. However, defining ritual has proved quite difficult and it has recently been suggested that this is precisely because rituals fall between being an action, something that people do and feel, and also a statement (Bloch 1986).

There are, nevertheless, some very general definitive elements to a ritual. It is formalised and routinised, there are established ways that those involved must conduct themselves and there are strong sanctions against those breaking that formalisation. Ritual also has the tendency to be repetitive, to have at least the appearance of continuity through time. This in itself is an important aspect since it gives the impression of stasis, of lack of change, even of timelessness, and thus a security of identity to those taking part. This is probably best encapsulated in the idea of 'tradition': the belief that something has taken place in the same way over a long period and often that this is a justification for its continuing (see particularly Hobsbawm & Ranger 1983). Rituals, however, are more than just repetitive social actions, they crucially use symbols as an integral part of the event of conveying a message. As such, ritual also has enormous potential for the legitimisation of power, for in suggesting that something is right because it has always been that way, it is part of what the participants are. Since it is part of the participants' identity, opposition to the ritual becomes an attack upon both the individual and his or her community. A ritual is thus always political in the broadest sense. It defines the individual, the boundaries of the community, and very often the positions of power within that community.

In industrial society the nature of our social relationships has changed. In the main, individuals live more diverse lives and our identity cannot easily be defined in terms of a family group, village or tribe. We live in large communities which require more than just an ability to trace a family lineage through to other members to hold them together. Modern dispersed communities are defined by symbols: flags, songs, commemorative occasions, coins, passports, uniforms such as football shirts, the wearing of certain insignia and so on. We might even suggest that the more diverse or maybe threatened the community becomes the more elaborate and regular the attempts to define it. We are, of course, talking in terms of community in the widest sense, the ethnic group or the nation, and in doing so drawing upon a body of work that has examined the area of political identity (Anderson 1983, Cohen 1985, Kertzer 1988).

We have already alluded to the intensity of feeling that can be associated with ritual occasions and, bearing this in mind, it is not surprising that rituals have retained an importance in defining groups in industrial society. Rituals are the occasions par excellence when a community makes its symbolic displays.

We must, therefore, understand the nature of symbols. Symbols contain layers of meanings, meanings which can be constructed and reconstructed. The same symbol may be interpreted in different ways by different people even if, when using the symbol, they identify to the same group. For example, if a range of people throughout the British Isles, who claim themselves to be British were asked what they understand by their use of the Union Jack, a range of answers would be forthcoming; however, that does not stop all those individuals showing allegiance and feeling themselves a part of that national identity. Thus, through symbols, political solidarity can be asserted despite a lack of consensus. Symbols also act to condense meaning. They can invoke a wide range of feelings and understandings that are not obvious purely by defining the symbol (Kertzer 1988:11). Thus the Union Jack might mean a pride in the war effort, memories of a last night of the prom, or Linford Christie's lap of honour after winning Olympic gold, depending on whether the respondent is a Chelsea Pensioner, a public school boy or a railway guard at White City tube station. The same symbol can elicit a wide diversity of emotion.

The reason that rituals are so important is that they are able to work at different levels: the psychological and the social, the emotional and the ideological, for the individual 'self' as well as for the community. Rituals are therefore a powerful political resource and a successful politician invariably learns to use them to increase her or his political capital. We need only think of the appearance of politbureau members at May Day parades in the old Soviet Union, the staging by Margaret Thatcher of a victory parade after the Falklands war, the appearance of heads of states on commemorative days and at the opening of sports events, or even the organising of a 'party' to convert enthusiasm over a 'successful' football team into political popularity.

Rituals, however, offer more than simply possibilities for the powerful to enhance their political legitimacy. As already suggested, they play an important part in symbolising a community whether that community be a neighbourhood, a religious or ethnic group, political party or a nation. A ritual helps define a community to the community and to those outside (Anthony Cohen 1985). Rituals are part of a process whereby a group symbolises its internal and external social relationships. However, this process is a creative one. Although an event might appear unchanging, 'traditional', the influence of different political interests both within and outside asocial group will effectively be redefining the meaning of the ritual. An example of this can be seen if we review the work of Abner Cohenon another 'British' ritual, the Notting Hill Carnival (Abner Cohen 1980, 1993).

The Notting Hill Carnival
Cohen has shown how the Notting Hill Carnival has developed providing a cultural and political forum for the West Indian community in London. Management of the event became not only an issue for the state but also for those within the community. It helps to define the relationship a community has with other communities and with the wider society. Depending upon the use of the ritual these relationships can be conciliatory and encompassing, an event 'for all', or oppositional and antagonistic. On visiting the Notting Hill carnival as a non-West Indian one can experience both a welcome and hostility.

Although the West Indian community is often viewed by outsiders as homogenous it contains groups whose cultural heritage derives from different islands and different nations. Further, this distinctiveness was often reflected in the parts of London in which these groups settled in the 1950s: Jamaicans in Brixton, Trinidadians in Notting Hill and Dominicans in Paddington. Cohen has persuasively shown that the development of the Notting Hill Carnival provided a significant symbolic focus for the West Indian community. The Carnival in fact started in 1966 as a revived 'traditional' English fair and, as well as containing some Trinidadian bands, had inputs from Asian, Turkish-Cypriot and Afro-Cuban groups, as well as personnel from the American Airforce base in High Wycome, and involved some individuals dressed in Dickensian costume. During the late 1960s, against a backdrop of increased racial tension and housing difficulties, Carnival took on a new political dynamic. By the early 1970s, it had developed into a Trinidadian-style carnival, with steel drums and masquerade costumes, and become the arena for violent confrontations with the police. However, the more politically radical movement within the West Indian community was that of Rastafarianism, Jamaican in origin, which was expressed through reggae music and large sound systems. The introduction of this cultural form into Carnival, predominated by the steel drum, was not without conflict yet the ritual grew into an important expression of West Indian identity in Britain. Through the 1980s the state tried to control the event both through vigorous policing and by attempts to introduce 'Thatcherite' financing to the organisers, leading to a split in the organising committee and a long and vehement debate on ownership of the Carnival.

It can be seen that the Notting Hill Carnival played a significant role in the development of a West Indian identity in London, with West Indian leaders attempting to reify the concept of the carnival and exploit its political, symbolic, potential. This was aided partly by its opposition to the state and in spite of the contested nature of the event from within. Diverse West Indian groups contested the meaning of the event yet it still worked to unify and objectify the community.

Compared with the Notting Hill Carnival the Twelfth has a far longer lineage. However, this major London occasion serves to show the creative potential of ritual events, as well as their use in providing a symbol for a diverse community. The events bear comparison since the Twelfth also takes place within a community with significant divisions and has recently developed against a backdrop of high levels of unemployment and significant housing problems. The Twelfth, as with the Notting Hill Carnival, has become a symbol of a community to those outside and, as such, can greatly influence inter and intra communal relationships.

The Twelfth in Northern Ireland
Parades in Northern Ireland are not unique; they are simply a local example of something common to all political, ethnic, or national communities. Further, they are highly complex political events that can be viewed in a number of different ways. The incidents we analyse in Portadown will strongly suggest an element of territoriality in the parade route and many commentators, particularly critics, view what takes place simply on that level. To do so is to underplay the political interactions within the Orange Institution and the unionist community and to miss the more general symbolic nature of what is taking place. It is not acceptable to use some analogy of an animal marking its territory.

The Protestant or loyalist community in Northern Ireland is divided particularly on the basis of class, but also by denomination. Within the political field there are a variety of 'interests' (Bourdieu 1991) arising from those divisions. We must ask if different political interests will be reflected in the uses and understanding of the parades. The Twelfth does not simply represent the undifferentiated beliefs of a group, but acts to create and recreate the possible community and the status of individuals within that community. It is interesting that whilst far from all of the Protestant community identify with the Orange Order, the Institution and particularly its leaders, in typical fashion and with some success, identify themselves as defining the Protestant community, and place others outside by describing them as 'so-called Protestants'. The parades are a resource that have been understood and used by various groups (or classes) for different political purposes at different points in history. However, the parades as controlled by the Orange Institution also allow a legitimation of the position of the office holders within the Institution and although there is much evidence to suggest that many taking part in the rituals, particularly the young band members, have little interest in much of what the hierarchy of the Institution stands for (indeed they might have quite a different political agenda, or none at all), they wittingly or unwittingly provide that hierarchy with legitimate symbolic power.

[1] Chief Constable's Annual Report 1992, p.36.

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