Guardian Unlimited

**I posted this article last year:

Off to the loyalist Mecca with three bottles of vodka, two cases of beer and a sea of union flags

The Scots crossing the Irish sea to take part in Orange parades today, the 'glorious 12th of July'

Audrey Gillan
Saturday July 12, 2003
The Guardian

There are two cases of beer, each with 24 bottles, on the table, three bottles of vodka in a bag and quite a few of Buckfast, a cheap tonic wine brewed by monks in Devon but consumed primarily in the west of Scotland. It is 7.13am and the ferry train pulling out of Glasgow's Central station is packed.

By 7.50am, the first crate of beer - shared between nine men - is finished and at 8.15am the optic is taken off an empty bottle of vodka and stuck on a new one. A few minutes later and the men are singing about Fenian bastards, your Pope and your IRA. One of the tables has been draped with the red hand of Ulster flag.

This is the first train of the day, heading to Stranraer to meet the ferry that crosses to Belfast. On it are men and women travelling over the Irish sea to take part in Orange parades today, the "glorious 12th of July", to celebrate the anniversary of the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The summer marching season is the most sensitive time in Ulster's calendar, a period of heightened sectarian tensions punctuated by sporadic violence between the rival sides of the religious divide. While many of Ulster's inhabitants go on holiday to escape, 15,000 Scots march straight into this volatile mix to help the indigenous Protestant population defend their traditions.

Some are in flute or accordion bands, some in the Orange Order, and others are just there for the ride, watching from the sidelines and sometimes causing trouble.

On the train, the worthy master of a small lodge from the East Kilbride area of Glasgow says: "It is just like a wee holiday for us, it's like going to Mecca". He parades in Ulster because of his religious beliefs, and because when he hears that band strike up he gets an adrenalin rush right through him.

"It brings us all together," he says. The men are sharing a massive carry-out and later they will get stuck into "the diesel" - a tub filled with beer, spirits, and anything else they can get their hands on.

But they will not be drinking on the march. "We have a wee drink and enjoy ourselves now, the day before, but once we are on parade we don't drink because we could be kicked out of the Orange for that."

At 10am, the train pulls into Stranraer and the throng sways up the ramp for the ferry queue, suit carriers - containing their marching outfits - in one hand, the vestiges of their carry-out in the other.

For the bands, their parade gear is usually a militaristic combination, often in red or royal blue, with gold braiding and a peaked hat or a feathered number. For the Orangemen it is a black suit, shirt, tie, Orange collarette - the sash - and white gloves.

Inside the ferry is a seething mass of royal blue sportswear, chunky gold jewellery and tattoos. There are boys with baseball caps with the acronym PWYD, short for the Prince William young defenders, there are T-shirts with the badge of the Black Skull flute band, there are women with the red hand of Ulster encrusted in gold and hung round their necks, and tattoos proclaiming affinity with the UDA. Even mobile phones are rigged out in red, white and blue Rangers FC casing.

The Paul family are travelling together. Mum Marilyn is wearing union flag trainers and a Rangers baseball cap, daughter Lindsay, 15, has dyed her hair orange, her cardigan is also a union flag, as are her trainers, and her T-shirt was pinched from the East Belfast Protestant boys. Her red hand lapel badge is accompanied with the words "no surrender".

"This is a tradition with us, it's more or less what our lives are based round now," says Mrs Paul. "It's the way we have been brought up." Her husband is a member of the Pride of Govan flute band but she gave up the bands when she started having kids and just tags along beside them

Lindsay is in the 24-strong Kelvin Hall Covenanters ladies flute band: she plays the flute and her cousin Victoria, seven, plays the cymbals. "This is something that is important to me," says Lindsay, who is also in the juvenile section of the Orange Order.

"It's something we should keep up and show we are not going to back down to anybody. We get a bad reputation because people who are not in the bands get too drunk and start fighting."

Sitting in the fast food area of the ferry, Lindsay is getting excited. She plans to go to the traditional eve of the walk bonfires which "give you the buzz of the weekend, it's like a party atmosphere". She says: "When I get to the main parade it makes me feel hyper - you just want to run the parade instead of walk. I just want to start dancing because I like all the songs."

But like everyone else on the ferry, Lindsay admits there are people who think she is daft, that many outsiders associate the Orange walk with trouble, drunkenness, and sectarian violence. Last week, a poll for the Scottish newspaper, the Sunday Herald, found that 47% of Lindsay's countrymen wished that both Orange and republican marches would be banned. At last Saturday's pre-12th march in Glasgow, 54 people were arrested.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland is trying to gain a more positive image for the Order, to show it is simply a means of promoting the Protestant religion.

"It's not about burning down chapels like people think," says Robert McLean, the organisation's executive officer. "I accept there's a problem with a minority of people causing anti-social behaviour. We would rather they would stay away."

But they do not stay away. And they must be on the train and on the ferry somewhere. Talk to anyone, though, and they will tell you the trouble is caused by people "hijacking" the parade.

Most say what they do is not sectarian but it is about religion. Robert Young, who has been attending for 32 years, says it is also political. "We go because we believe that Northern Ireland should still remain British, that it should remain under the Queen's crown."

It's 11.10am and they are singing the Sash, the Orange Order's most famous song which celebrates the travels of an Ulster Orangemen visiting Glasgow. Robert McLean points out that there are no sectarian connotations to this song, but on the ferry the singers add in a thumping great "fuck the Pope" pay-off line.

At midday, as the foot passengers throng at the ferry exit, their excitement mounts. They begin a song to the tune of the Fields of Athenry - a republican staple - that is clearly a two-fingered gesture to republicanism. They end with their own refrain: "Die, die, die, ya Fenian bastards": a woman turns to her husband and laughs.

Off the ferry and the terminal is filled with the bellowing sounds of "hello, hello, we are the Billy bhoys, hello, hello, you'll know us from our noise, we are up to our knees in Fenian blood, surrender or you'll die, we are the Bridgeton Billy bhoys". The Scottish Orange Order are in Belfast and they say it is nothing to do with hating Catholics.

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