Thursday, 24 October 2013

Willie’s Rantings: - The Twelfth Day

Growing up in Northern Ireland I looked forward to the Twelfth of July in the same way as I did Halloween and Christmas. As a child and a teenager, in pre ‘troubles’ time, I was aware that my Catholic friends and neighbours didn’t really celebrate the 12th, but the fact that they would watch the parade, occasionally help collect materials for the bonfire,  or dance a jig under the Orange Arch suggested to me that it wasn’t really a big deal.

It wasn’t until I left Northern Ireland to travel and work in other countries at the age of 21 years, that I realised the 12th Day was projected across the world as a bigoted anti-Catholic event.  I couldn’t really understand this as the majority of those who participated in the Twelfth, that I personally knew, were not bigots: l but I had to do some soul-searching. For a period I was made to feel embarrassed and guilty for having ever enjoyed the music and fun. I could recall songs being sung in drunken exuberance that were most certainly offensive; but I arrived at the conclusion from examining other cultures with a very open mind, that every culture, class and creed has their extremist elements.
When I returned to NI in 1997 I was shocked at the level of animosity in the media, and among the middle-class good and great, towards the 12th.  They were going on about narrow-minded bigots and I wondered when narrow-minded bigotry was not narrow-minded bigotry.
There are different aspects to this celebration and it means different things to different people. There are religious, political, cultural and social elements but - love it, or loath it - it is an exceptional indigenous cultural festival that Tourism Ireland should be promoting world-wide .  Here’s hoping for a sunny, spirited, peaceful, dignified Twelfth Day 2013: celebrated in a respectful manner and with due consideration for everyone in Northern Ireland.

[By Willie Drennan for Issue 11 of The Ulster Folk]

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