I wonder how the Twelfth looks to outsiders. I know Mary McAleese, when she was in the Áras, thought of the Orangemen’s day as part of our culture. That’s why she invited unionists down to the Áras, put on a big spread for them. Most of us, however, are outsiders. We look in on the Orangeman’s day via the media - mainly television.
In the good old days (Wha’?), the BBC used to cover the marches and bands in exquisite/excruciating detail. I’ve even heard it said by those who should know that the Grand Master of the Orange Order would be invited by the Controller of the BBC to sit with him (it was always a him then) and watch the bands go by, maybe while enjoying a quality lunch to the sound of their music.
Nowadays things are different. Television doesn’t go on for hours and hours - maybe around an hour in the morning and a half-hour wrap-up in the evening. It’s not something I circle in my Radio Times, but I can’t recall a TV commentary that presented the marchers and bands and brethren as other than decent folk out having a bit of fun on a colourful, musical day.
Except, of course, it’s more than that. At considerable expense to the tax-payer, the bands and marchers are there (and on 3,000-4,000 other occasions each year, ach sin sceal eile) to remind themselves and their neighbours that in a battle over 300 years ago, the Protestant tradition in the shape of William of Orange defeated the Catholic tradition in the shape of James II. This, of course, is an honourable expression of Protestant/unionist culture, nothing to do with sticking two fingers up to the taigs - never has been, never will be. Which is why so many Catholics/nationalists look forward to the big day with happy anticipation also. And why papers like The Irish Times present pictures of the oh-so-high bonfires, taking care to crop out the tricolour perched on top.
So between TV and the papers, the uninformed outsider comes away from the Twelfth with the vision of a happy people acting out a time-honoured event, and a vision of those who complain about it as a bunch of trouble-fomenting bigots. Shame, isn’t it?