Working towards Irish Unity




The Twelfth must not be given legitimacy in a United Ireland

The 12th of July is not a unifying holiday. 

The year is 2030 and you’re searching for the best cultural holiday spots the world over. 

First appears France. On July 14th, the frogs celebrate Bastille Day. This commemoration marks the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 by the Sans Culottes during the French Revolution. The event is marked by bombastic displays of Franco military might along the Elyseè promenade, with the Patrouille de France emitting the French tricolour in the air. This celebration ensures the precept of liberté, égalité, fraternité is valued and cherished in modernity by the entire nation.

Next to crop up is the United States. On the 4th of July, the Yanks celebrate their Independence Day. On this day, Americans come together to commemorate the publication of the colonists’ Declaration of Independence in 1776. Families and friends gather to enjoy traditional American cuisines, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and corn dogs, grilled on sizzling barbecues. The US Stars and Stripes fill the land, and spectacular fireworks light up the skies, symbolising the pride of the nation.

And then appears Ireland which apparently celebrates its public holiday on July 12th. On this day a Dutchman invaded Britain, overthrew the Catholic monarch and proceeded to land in Ireland stripping the old Irish of their rights and possessions. This is celebrated over 300 years later with raucous marching bands predominated by geriatric, beer-bellied men with towering pelleted bonfires sprawling alongside housing estates seeing the faces of politicians, popes and flags burned causing widespread accidents, damage and pollutants in the air. 

“For tourism there is huge untapped potential relating to the Jacobite-Williamite war,” says trip advisor/Green Party TD Patrick Costello who has called for this day to become a public holiday in the Republic. 

Because what’s not to love about celebrating Halloween in July? 

The Dublin South Central representative suggested the Battle of the Boyne site, where King William III fought the deposed King James II’s Jacobite force in 1690, in Drogheda, Co Louth could become an “annual pilgrimage.” 

The pilgrims could also descend onto Limerick and Galway to the Treaty Stone and the Aughrim battlefield site respectively. 

“If the Irish state truly aspires to unite all the peoples of this island, then all of those people need to feel represented and included. 

“Designating the 12th as a public holiday would be a major step for that process.”

Leaving aside the irony of a Green TD calling for cross-border environmental damage, the idea that the Orange dominated 12th of July celebrations exude reconciliation is fanciful verging on the delusional. 

The annual July celebration has always been an expression of the subjugation of one group of people over another. 

Following King Billy’s decisive victory over the Jacobite forces the Penal Laws were introduced seeing the exclusion of Catholics and nonconformists such as Presbyterians from public life such as practicing law and entering Parliament. Restrictions were also placed on marriage, education and inheritance. 

While the Orange symbolism emanates from King Billy’s previous title as Stadholder of the Netherlands from the Principality of Orange, the more recent conception derives from the agrarian upheaval that defined Ireland in the late 18th century. 

In 1795 the Orange Boys, an offshoot of Peep-o-days gang who defeated the Catholic Defenders in the Battle of the Diamond and proceeded to ‘cleanse’ Armagh of its Catholic populace, formed later culminating in the Orange Order. 

Following the 1798 rebellion, in which the United Irishmen sought to unite Catholics and Protestants against foreign moneyed interests, Orangeism grew as a potent force in Unionist circles as a club against the Catholic majority. This domineering complex is not confined to Northern Ireland. The first Grand Orange Lodge opened in Dublin’s Dawson Street in the same year as Wolfe Tone’s ill-fated rebellion. 

Decrying the Act of Union (1801) and other attempts by Westminster to upend their iron grip on the Irish Catholic populace the Orangeist tradition of marching bands, bonfires and other conspicuous, in-your-face spectacles have been utilised as a constant reminder of their supremacist outlook. Many parades also include banners lionising the butcher of Drogheda Oliver Cromwell. They really haven’t gone away you know. 

Deliberate attempts to inflame tensions by marching at or near Catholic localities such as the Garvaghy Road during the 1995 infamous Drumcree parade have raised tensions and led to widespread violence and destruction. 

Following the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the continued presence of Orange machismo proved incongruous with the peace settlement when three boys from a mixed family – Jason (9) Mark (10) and Richard (11) – known as the Quinn brothers, were firebombed in their slumber by the UVF in the early hours of the 12th of July. The savage attack followed a standoff between the Order and RUC over the latter’s protestations regarding marching bands passing the Garvaghy Road. In the days following the attack loyalist marching bands passed by the bereaved Grandmother’s home despite a request from the parades commission not to do so. 

Orange marches have always been defined by violence from the 12 July 1813 sectarian skirmish in Belfast to the 12 July 2013 Ardoyne riots.

No wonder there’s an exodus of Catholics in their droves from the six counties during this ‘seminal’ period in the Orange tradition. 

To import this type of zealotry across the border is the antithesis of reconciliation and would certainly not accrue any tourism dividend. Indeed, the last time an Orange parade passed through the Republic’s capital riots ensued; dubbed the 2006 Dublin riots close to 20 people were arrested with O’Connell Street cordoned off. 

In Costello’s statement, he claims to be acting within Article 3 of the Irish Constitution – in lieu of the previous Articles 2 and 3 – which seeks to ‘unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions’. He mentions that St Patrick’s Day is already celebrated in the Northern Statelet. However, that annual holiday is a unifying day as St Patrick was and will remain the patron Saint of the entire island. 

St Patrick converted the whole of Ireland from paganism to Christianity in the late 5th and early 6th centuries with his church and posthumously his corpse located in Armagh.

In the past both Catholic and Protestant clergymen have wrestled with whether St Patrick belonged to one or the other branch of Christianity proving an equality of devotion to one of the most potent figures in Ireland’s history. 

In this divided society were St Patrick to venture up north he’d most likely be asked whether he’s a Catholic Saint or Protestant Saint, and his Britishness would evoke antipathy among the more sectarian elements within Irish nationalism.

St Patrick’s Day, while often messy and filled with inebriation and paddywhackery on a cringe-worthy scale, is not sectarian or divisive but rather cordial and a reminder of our shared history and identity. 

At the St Patrick’s Day reception in America, both Unionist and Nationalist politicians put their differences aside and descend onto the West Wing in Washington D.C to hobnob with the US President of the day. 

‘Quis separabit?’ Is the Latin derived Biblical verse from Romans 8:35 and later the motto used by Ulster loyalists including the order of St Patrick and the UDA. 

In English, it translates to: who will separate us? 

The only thing separating us is the further negation of what unites us and the elevation of what divides us. 

While there are many proposals worth examining if Ireland is to reunite the celebration of the subjugation of Catholics should not be entertained. 

St Patrick’s Day is worth celebrating. The 12th of July is not.

Theo McDonald is a student and writer based in Dublin.