Saturday, July 12, 2008

Orangefest, A Celebration Of Religious Hatred

The Orange Order has re-branded their annual Twelfth of July celebrations. For over three hundred years, the Protestants have lorded over King William's defeat of the Catholics in Ireland. Marching season culminates with parades through Catholic areas, and wouldn't that make for a perfect tourist attraction?

Northern Ireland tourism promoters have been touting Orangefest, the old Twelfth of July in fancy dress, and urging folks to come from all over to have a grand time. Unless you're Catholic, in which case you might be offended by some of rhetoric. And also if you're part of the Irish diaspora, in which case, you'd never consider traveling to the north if your life depended on it.

The problem is, any tourist spending this weekend in Belfast would be hard-pressed to find anything open. Shops close up, restaurants are shuttered, and anyone who can get away has left the north for Donegal or points south.

What is now Orangefest was traditionally marked with violence and riots. You'd be mad to consider a weekend in Portadown, for instance, even today. Leaving the area during the middle of July is as much a part of the celebrations as balaklavas and beating drums. Why cower in your house while the petrol bombs are flying? Take a holiday in Dublin, where you can walk to Mass without having your life threatened.

Like every year, there have been riots and arrests and police officers injured, but it isn't as bad as it used to be. That's what the tourism office wants you to know.

Pretend that the bowler-hatted and orange sashed aren't marching in triumph over the Papists. Pretend that there's not a hint of sectarianism on display, that you aren't watching a modified version of the Ku Klux Klan. Pretend that there's nothing amiss when a so-called celebration sends the locals fleeing.

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