Paradoxically, the banners they will carry are emblems of compelling beauty, wrought with love and devotion; hoisted with defiance and bigotry. Each of the 100 or more lodges has its own distinctive banner, commemorating historical events such as the Battle of the Boyne, where Protestants and Catholics died fighting one another, and the Battle of the Somme, where they died in a united cause. As the Orangemen tramp city streets and country roads, resolutely facing the past, the silken banners will ripple with further ironies. One is the fact that several commemorate a branch of the police (the now-disbanded Ulster Special Consta-bulary) - an honour the police are unlikely to reciprocate on Wednes-day. Another is that while many lodges will begin the march bearing temperance banners, few marchers will be sober at the end of the day.
The banners are the work of a small number of craftsmen, using standards set in the 19th century by George Tutill, a London banner-maker. And although a small number of images are "modern" (like the one of George VI doing a BBC broadcast), most hark back to past glories and martyrs, the very stuff to ensure that working-class Protestantism remains locked in the rhythms of ancient rhetoric. Unsurprisingly, many depict slaughter.
Nevertheless, the Protestant middle class and "nobility", which once played the "Orange card" either to frustrate Home Rule or to dissuade the loyal masses from socialism, seem to be outgrowing Orangeism, associating it with the sectarianism that prompted the Troubles and from which Britain and the Irish Republic are trying to rescue the Province. A great number of Catholics now join the spectators lining the marches' main routes, content to have their children witness a colourful anachronism before it fades. They, like many forward-looking Ulster Protestants, listen to the Orangemen banging on their huge Lambeg drums, suspecting that the noise, generated in times past to torment Catholics, is now an effort to drown out the voices of reason. The original oath of the Orange Order, inaugurated in 1795, enjoined members to "support the King and his heirs as long as he or they support the Protestant Ascendancy". When Wednesday's marchers fold their banners and pocket their sashes, and temperance lies inert in the the suburban field where Belfast's Orangemen will gather before the sinking sun, the chances are that the ascendancy in Ulster will continue to be that of reason. !Reuse content