A Tale of two cities

Orangemen more closely bound in country than town – Parades Commissioner

 by Rev Brian Kennaway

After the Twelfth it was said that it was a ‘Tale of Two Cities’, referring to Londonderry and Belfast, contrasting the agreed parade and family atmosphere of Londonderry to the contention and violence in parts of Belfast.

Charles Dickens began his classic novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness..”.

It is too trite to apply this to Londonderry and Belfast, but many commentators have drawn a contrast between parades in rural and urban areas.

Generally in rural areas, Orange parades pass off with little or no trouble. Most of these parades follow the tradition of a rotational venue around each Orange District, with each District Lodge taking it in turn to organise the parade every several years.

It has been assumed that Orange parades in rural areas only take place where the majority of the community are from the Orange/unionist tradition. This is not so. Look at the parades this year in Carnlough and Newtownhamilton, where the majority of the community are from a different tradition. No restrictions were applied and no problems whatsoever have been reported.

What is it about rural parades? In rural areas throughout Ulster, the community and church structures that bind rural Orangemen are often stronger than in large urban areas. This has created a much more significant attitude of neighbourliness where neighbour comes to the help of neighbour, regardless of politics or creed.

As a Presbyterian minister it seems to me that rural Orangeism is more faith-based. The religious basis of the Institution – ‘Christ-centred, Bible-based, Church-grounded’ – is more evident. In Belfast the tendency is to regard Orangeism as a ‘cultural’ expression, as seen in the creation of ‘Orangefest’ and the calls for the ‘recognition of our culture’.

If rural Ulster is the ‘best of times’, urban Belfast is not necessarily the ‘worst of times’. I watched the parade on July 1 from Clifton Street Orange Hall down Donegall Street to the Cenotaph and it was a model of good practice.

A pipe band stopped playing a hymn before they approached St Patrick’s and recommenced playing a hymn after they passed, in a manner which was both Christian and respectful. Some of the Orangemen removed their hats as they passed the church as a mark of respect.

Commentators posed the question, “could Belfast learn from Londonderry?” Perhaps it could be rephrased, “could the greater Belfast area learn from rural Ulster?”

Any observer could be forgiven for thinking that it is not just a matter of a ‘Tale of Two

Cities’ but a tale of two different organisations.


This article appeared in the Belfast News Letter on 9th August 2013