The sad continuation of officially sanctioned sectarian agitation occurs regularly every July in Northern Ireland. Hundreds of government-approved parades and dozens of subsidized massive bonfires together celebrate the superiority of Protestants over the Catholic population by commemorating a 300-year-old military battle.
It is an old story, one that has caused thousands of deaths on both sides since Ireland’s six Northern counties were separated from Ireland and added to Britain in 1922. The people of Ireland have paid a tragic price for this over the last 95 years, and despite a peace agreement in 1998, Protestant and Catholics continue to live almost exclusively in their own communities with little trust between them.
And every July, the Protestant side, with the government’s backing, reminds us all how bitter and profound the divisiveness exits. It is a severe commentary on the capacity of mankind for stubbornness and intransigence. We see, and have seen, this situation in many places in the world, even here in the United States, with our Civil War and some of what is coming out of Washington these days.
The summer marching season, as it is called in Northen Ireland, finds one side of the conflict obligated to vigorously remind the other of Prince William of Orange’s victory over King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. There are hundreds of parades, many of them running loudly through Catholic areas that were formerly Protestant. The parades feature very loud huge Lambeg drums with the participants singing anti-Catholic and anti-pope songs.
The Orange Order, a club reserved to Protestants that has many government leaders as members, is the prime mover behind the parades. This was a banner year for the parades. With the Catholics staying away, there was little resistance to the Orange marchers ruling the streets with their government-approved permits and protection from mobilized police in full riot gear, which further aggravates the environment.
The atmosphere is so charged that even the fairest most thinking members of government are afraid to act, and for years many families on both sides have left Northern Ireland during this period to avoid any trouble.
Parades can take place most any time of the year, but many of the largest are held on July 15. The night before is called the “Eleventh Night” and it calls for hundreds of bonfires – some as high as a ten-story buildings – to be lit at midnight. This year at one of the bonfires, a casket was hung halfway up its side accompanied by a picture of the recently deceased Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness. Sometimes they will have pictures of the pope.
Last year some people hung a stuffed effigy of Gerry Adams from a bonfire. The fire department assigns their men to each bonfire to prevent the fire from spreading. With bonfire piles more than 100 feet high, local firefighters stand on adjacent buildings with their hoses forcing water down the sides to prevent damage. Can you imagine Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh or his fire department tolerating such a practice?
No one wants a return to the violent years, so insulting parades and dangerous fires are still allowed in the hope that such an outlet will discourage resorting to trouble again. But the Catholic population is growing so rapidly that such tolerance may not continue for much longer. There is no doubt that the Catholic influence will soon assume political authority.
The Telegraph ran an article recently, showing that 47 percent of university students in Northern Ireland are Catholic and 30 percent are Protestant. This analysis did not include foreign students.
The ratio in the universities has been growing more Catholic for many years, and it is much the same in lower grades.
In another article in the Telegraph recently, David Williams wrote that “ When you look at those children and babies born in Northern Ireland since 2008 the figures reveal that 31 percent were Protestant and 44 percent were Catholic.
Sooner rather than later these trends will become reflected in government policy. Since 1922, when the separation occurred, the republic of Ireland economy has grown substantially while the North’s economy has shrunk and is now dependent on Britain. With Brexit looming this will only get worse. Few like to talk about a United Ireland, but a prudent person should start preparing. Things will probably change as far as anti-pope parades and massive bonfires are concerned.