‘O Happy Day!’ Is that the song unionists will have on their lips today? Especially the flag protestor unionists? You might expect so, because today the Union flag will be raised over City Hall once again. It’s to mark the birthday of Katie Middleton, former commoner, now the Duchess of Cambridge. It’ll go up on 17 or is it 18 other days in the year, including the queen’s two birthdays (don’t ask.) Anyway, the sight that so many unionist hearts have hungered after will be available - is available - all day long today. The question now is, will it really be greeted as a happy day? Will the glass be half-full or half-empty?
Half-full, if they look on the bright side and see their flag, the flag of their country, fluttering proudly over the heads of shoppers, dole-collectors, beggars and beauticians. And, of course, taigs. Half-empty, if they look on the dark side and keep reminding themselves that as dusk falls, the flag will be lowered again and won’t appear until another important date on the calendar, like the birthday of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. In other words, will unionists rejoice in the flag going up or seethe as the flag is brought down again?
I suspect it’ll hurt more than heal, tantalise more than reduce tension. IA bit like somebody who’s gone off cigarettes or drink for Lent, being periodically offered a few puffs or swallows, only to have the desired fag or glass snatched away again. The wound created by the realisation that Belfast is now a city with a nationalist majority may be helped heal as the flag goes up, but it may also itch and bleed as the flag is lowered some twelve hours later.
Maybe some comfort will be derived if they recall the words of Enoch Powell (who was, after alll, a stout unionist MP for a time) when he opined that “all political careers end in failure”. That’s how life is. Or they could take a wider, more historic view of power and its ultimate futility, by remembering Shelley’s great lines in ‘Ozymandias’. You’ll remember how the traveller has come on”two vast and trunkless legs of stone” in the desert with an inscription written beneath:
“ ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
So am I suggesting a comparison between the Ozymandias statue and that of Queen Victoria in front of Belfast City Hall? Pass.