Jude Collins

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sunday Sequence, William Crawley and evil

It may not be the biggest but Sunday Sequence  is certainly the best weekly programme on Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster. This morning was no exception.

William Crawley interviewed, among other, Fr Martin Magill   from Lenadoon. The priest made the point that people in Belfast talked about the Orange Order as an anti-Catholic organisation, but that he was from the country and had experience of neighbours who were kind and dependable - and Orangemen. I had something of a similar childhood. My father did cattle business with everyone, including men who were totally decent and Orange. As I picked it up, Fr Martin  seemed to see this combination as a paradox.

I don’t,  and it links to another item  discussed on Sunday Sequence today:  the notion of evil. The discussion came down to the point that all of us, under certain circumstances, have the capacity for the most appalling acts. William’s interviewee (I’ve forgotten his name) made the point that those who’d performed deeds of  cruelty in the past were often (i) haunted by what they’d done; and (ii)  friendly and likeable men (it was almost always men who were involved). Some attention was paid in the discussion to the preparation of young men for a life of soldiering. This required that they be detached from all things familiar, broken down, then rebuilt in a new simplistic way of thinking (good/bad, black/white) so that they could be got to do almost anything. 

It was a fascinating topic and a fascinating interview, and Crawley as always probed with skill and intelligence. I found myself being affirmed in thinking I’ve had for a long time: people are nudged into or away from actions by the environment/society in which they find themselves. There’s even research from Yale (the Milgram Experiment) which shows ordinary people will administer near-lethal pain on innocent others if they  believe officialdom sanctions it. 

So to come back to Fr Martin and Orangeism. Of course it’s possible to be a good person in many ways and a member of the Orange Order. The fact is, though, the Order annually brings out the worst in many people.

Let me tell you a little story. My birthday is on the Twelfth (yes, I know, I know, and I’ve heard all those comments fifteen times before...). As  a child, I’d get jelly and ice-cream to mark the occasion, then  my sisters and I would go outside to play. Half-way through the afternoon of the Twelfth a thudding noise would be heard. That was the sound of stones striking the back of our barn, stones fired from the all-Protestant council housing estate that bordered our farm. Normally we got along OK with the neighbouring Protestant youngsters. In fact I had one friend in particular by the exotic name of Gawain. He’d come over the fence between us and we’d roam the fields in search of rabbits or climb the bales of hay in the hayshed or other excitements. But the week before the Twelfth his visits would taper off. On the big day itself, my sisters and I would go up to check on who was throwing stones at our good barn. The Protestant youngsters, at the sight of us, would increase their volleys in frequency and intensity, and would shout remarks about the Pope and his sexual habits. Incensed, we’d pick up our own stones and throw them in retaliation, sometimes adding information about the family life of the English monarch. And always, somewhere at the back of the group, would be Gawain. He never seemed to look directly at us, and when he threw his stones it was always in a weakish, half-hearted way.  The exchanges would go on for an hour or so, until we got tired or it was teatime. Then it’d take about a week until Gawain,  a little shamefaced at first, would resume his normal visits and our normal friendship. 

My point? The Twelfth, the Orange Order and its associated ideas, was an annual source of division between people who otherwise would have interacted in a fairly civilized, friendly way. Year after year, the same pattern continued, until we all grew up and moved away. But here we are decades later and the Orange Order is doing what? Provoking normally decent people to engage in spiteful, bigoted behaviour. What our society is in sore need of is healing and the hand of friendship between former enemies. The Twelfth, year after year, brings its meat-cleaver division to these tentative efforts. Isn’t it time as a society we began to put two and two together as to what is damaging these delicate steps?

In the right environment, we are all capable of goodness and unselfishness. In the wrong environment, we’re all capable of being something closer to beasts. Guess which environment the Orange Order has been busy creating over the past century or two?


  1. Fionnuala McTaggart21 July 2013 at 13:26

    I really enjoyed this Jude, thank you. Daddy was telling us this year how his neighbours on the hill, now passed on, were Orangemen. When he was very young, one of them was the Grand Master of the local lodge and every year he would come down and ask Granny and Dad if they minded if he put up the British flag. He would only put it up in the garden for the length of the day before putting it away again. Do men like this still exist, and is it a matter of the few tainting all?


  2. Time for OO to pack up their tent and leave the stage forever

    1. Paul
      They aren't going to though are they? Banning them is hardly an option either.
      So how about a more constructive suggestion.
      We can all see the problem. The question is how do we solve it?

    2. The OO need to undergo a period of soul-searching whereby they ask themselves what elements of their culture are contentious and can stripped out. Some starters for ten:- (inherent supremacism and anti catholic ethos, statue/effigy burning, Sectarian songs (Famine song..), "kick the Pope" bands? numerous inward/outward bound "feeder parades", drunken/aggresive, hate-filled "coat-trailers, too many (offensive) flags in shared spaces etc.).

    3. Certainly the OO need to do those things. But that is a bit like saying kids need to do some soul searching and stop hanging round street corners, drinking.
      The problem group do not see themselves as being the problem. Which makes it our problem really.
      So how do we, the rest of society, persuade them?
      My own view is carrot and stick. Come down hard on the criminal/anti-social aspects and reward the decent behaviour. Like suernanny would do with a child.

  3. This piece find a resonance with many, Jude. I grew up in the Waterside area of Derry, a predominantly Protestant district but our neighbours were decent people, many of whom belonged to the Orange Order;our family enjoyed good relations with them for 364 days a year. My college blazer was unremarkable as I made my way to Bishop St. It's the individual and the herd syndrome. I have always found Americans to be fine people on an individual basis both here and in the US but I would not wish to be marooned in a transit lounge with a group of them.

  4. Could I suggested that the main issue in our society is not that most reasonable people know that the actions and ethos of the Orange Order is an impediment to peace but it is the ambivalence of the silent majority to tackling sectarianism and bigotry including the Orange Order that is the problem.

    It would be unthinkable in the United States that a demonstration by the Klu Klux Klan be televised yearly on local televisions and celebrated in their local newspapers with interviews with members of the organisation and supporters.

    Members of the coloured community would I believe quite rightly feel indignant that an organisation that excludes them from membership, prohibits marriage to coloureds, prohibits attendance at their places of worship and publicly denigrates their faith and culture should be tolerated and facilitated positively by organs of government and media.

    It shouldn't, happen!

    In Britain I don't believe the public would be happy if the BBC and ITV announced that they were covering the Agm of the English Defence League, Combat 18 or BNP like they do with Labour/Conservative/ liberal Democrat conferences.

    When are the silent majority going to bring pressure on these organisations to stop the practice of accepting and attempting to sanitise these organisations which espouse distasteful, offensive and bigoted views?