O Superman (For Sash Gordon)

For many people the most recent memory of the Orange Order in Northern Ireland was the awe-inspiring refusal by Dawson Bailie to condemn the violence of Loyalist protestors, which included many sashless Orangemen, during the social malaise which occurred in September 2005. The following year, Brian Kennaway faced much criticism when he penned his authoritative assessment of the modern decline of the Order. Tristram Hunt’s recent BBC4 history of the ‘Protestant revolution’ served as a stark reminder of how the Order’s original guiding principle of upholding civil and religious liberties got lost during the Troubles.

The abatement of the Order’s ideological origins has not been helped by the fact that self-representation has possibly been one of the Order’s weakest points. So when David Hume, the Grand Lodge of Ireland’s Director of Services recently unveiled the Order’s new caped superhero in order to appeal to a younger generation, he may have been forgiven for thinking that Orangeism had finally turned a corner. Instead, ‘Sash Gordon’ as he has been dubbed by some in the press has become yet another metaphorical fish to shoot in the Orange barrel, lending itself so freely to Internet satire. Indeed there are many who would argue that the cartoonish elements in Orangeism manifested themselves during September 2005 with some senior members demonstrating a breathtaking ability to defy reality.

Rather than releasing benign sketches of meaningless supermen in an effort to soften and modernise, the Orange Order should perhaps act in a more circumspect and historically knowing manner. Arguably one of the main casualties of the conflict was the loss of a civic-minded attitude that was so prevalent in Northern Ireland’s working-class Protestant community prior to the early 1970s. There appears to have been a collective amnesia of a time when people cherished sporting achievement, respected the integral role of the churches’ uniformed organisations and held a passion for education and knowledge. The Order needs to play a positive role in helping to reclaim that lost sense of collectiveness and civic pride. Then the real intent of their role in modern society may become less ominous to everyone else, allowing tourism chiefs the integrity to make the Twelfth a day for cultural tourism.

Source: Belfast News Letter, November 2007

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