By John Kelly
Never have the two sides of Irish society been so clearly exposed as they have been during a harrowing week in which three young brothers were burned to death simply because their Protestant and Catholic parents dared to live together. Yet, even as their bodies were being prepared for burial, the great mass of the people on the island of Ireland enjoyed one of the most spectacular sporting weeks of the year.
There was the World Cup soccer final. The country came to a standstill. There was also the incredible verve and panache of the Tour de France, which started in Ireland for the first time, probably never to return.
It certainly forced Dublin to a total standstill.
But flashed on TV screens throughout Europe, it displayed Ireland at its most beautiful and was a major publicity coup for the country. The only pity was that France was the World Cup victor. The subsequent celebrations, involving a million people dancing in the streets of Paris, took some of the shine off the race start.
It was a tumultuous week, which should have been enjoyed by all, as it was in the Republic. That was certainly not the case in the North. Even as there were serious indications that the IRA was intent on beginning to decommission its arms in the coming months, according to Gen. Jean de Chastelain, the Orange Order continued its alleged “protest” at Drumcree Church, facing the Garvaghy Road in Portadown.
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Thus, the two faces of Ireland, one pleasant and carefree, the other flushed with sectarian hatred and terror, were displayed to the world.
Never has the Orange Order done itself as great a disservice as it has done in these last tension-packed days. While the terrible deaths of the three Quinn boys appalled the world, they tended to overshadow the fact that there were no less than 130 similar arson attempts throughout the North during the same period. The miracle is that no more than three were killed.
Conscious of this, many families left their homes to take their traditional annual holiday. Neighborhood community associations in the South offered accommodation to children for the duration of the marching season. Virtually, they became refugees.
At Drumcree, in a field owned by the Church of Ireland, members of the Portadown Orange Lodge continued to insist that they would not leave until they were allowed to march down the Garvaghy Road. They still refused to talk to the resident’s association, representing the majority of Catholic families on the road, because of the presence of their elected leader, Brendan MacCionnaith.
This remained their stance despite the fact that another lodge in Derry entered into negotiations with Nationalists there to smooth the way for the annual Apprentice Boys parade.
While the Drumcree protest was peaceful by day, thugs with their heads covered in balaclavas, armed with a home-made machine guns, crossbows equipped with explosive darts containing steel ball bearings, catapults and blast bombs, used the protest as their cover to attack the police under cover of the night.
There were some encouraging signs of rationality. Bishop Eames made one of his strongest statements ever, condemning the Orange protest and begging the leaders to end it. Most important of all, the Rev. William Bingham, chaplain to the Armagh LOL and one of the main leaders of the Drumcree march last year, bluntly claimed that the protest had gotten out of control.
Fiercely condemning the murders of the three Quinn boys, he said in part: “I believe in the right of Orangmen to walk. But I have to say this: that after last night’s atrocious act, a 15-minute walk down the Garvaghy Road would be a very hollow victory because it would be in the shadow of the coffins of three small boys who wouldn’t even know what the Orange Order was about.”
It was an act of courage that may not have very much effect at this time and one that enraged many of the Drumcree protesters so intensely that fisticuffs were exchanged in front of the world’s TV cameras, but it may yet have a much greater effect in the future.
Unintentionally, Rev. Bingham put his finger on the kernel of the meaning of being an Orangeman when he described any possible walk as a “victory.” What possible sense of victory can there be in a short walk through a neighborhood where they are not wanted?
The only possible victory celebrated by thousands of marching feet for many generations is to display to the Catholics of the North that they remain a defeated people. The victory is the display of power. It is a display that will always ignite opposition unless, of course, there is agreement.
Perversely, such agreement robs the Orange Order of some of its pride in its victory. Agreement removes the sense of enmity essential to the display of power, which is what the marching lodges really enjoy. Victory is possible for one side or the other only when there is such opposition.
As a result of the Drumcree standoff, the world now understands much more about the inherently sectarian philosophy of the Orange Order. It is not without significance that even in as conservative a newspaper as the Daily Telegraph was the voicing of a call for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. Certainly, the Orange Order has inflicted real damage on itself and the cause of Unionism this week.
Physically, while it may be unpalatable, even frequently dangerous, some Nationalists may have learned a lesson that republicans were often forced to learn through all of the generations: it is not those who inflict the most suffering who ultimately win, but those who endure the most.
There is nothing good in the deaths of three innocent children just as there is nothing good in the “politics of the last atrocity.”
But if it makes people like the Rev. Billy Bingham think more deeply about where it might all end, then perhaps something good may emerge from the horror.