Why the real Twelfth is not near Ardoyne
How much was the violence that erupted on Monday actually to do with the Twelfth? And how much was it to do with the current power struggle within republicanism?
The dissidents were squaring up to Sinn Fein as much as to the parades and to the police.
And Sinn Fein know only too well how street violence can be manipulated — especially to bolster a support base.
They will fear that every brick being thrown is helping to build support for dissidents who make no secret that they’re out to lead the market in naked sectarian hatred.
And as ever it’s the police who bear the brunt of the savagery. A young policewoman smashed over the head with a breeze block. Three officers shot. Dozens injured.
It’s inevitable and understandable that this is the story that dominates the headlines.
But what of the Twelfth itself?
Lost in breaking news headlines is the reality that, on the day, hundreds of thousands all over Northern Ireland had a great family day out.
And that for the vast majority there was no hint of trouble (nor desire to cause any).
The rural parades have a more sedate atmosphere than Belfast’s Orangefest. Given the size of the Belfast parade, it depends on where you’re standing what impression you’ll get of that one.
Last year I saw cops clamp down on on-street drinkers. This year I didn’t even see a cop. (Although further along drink was, reportedly, being confiscated.)
Where I was standing the sheer volume of alcohol consumption (and I say this as someone who would not be a stranger to Smirnoff) was literally staggering.
Maybe they should rebrand it Vodka and Orangefest?
The audience mix at the Twelfth is always fascinating. Alongside elderly ladies in their picnic chairs and tourists vying with their video cameras, revellers park themselves on a solid wall of Harp lager multi-packs.
The beverage choice of the young is Buckfast and WKD (the blue one, for some reason).
Over there is a group of stylish youths with tight jeans and extravagant hair. Over here a Roma family jigging in time to the music. There’s a gaggle of camp lads with feather boas and eye liner. Two big girls in tight orange T-shirts and Union Jack leggings.
Students. Chinese people. Lots of tourists. There are men with arms lavishly tattooed in foreign script draped around women with multi-coloured hair.
We are ankle-deep in litter but when one tot knocks over somebody’s bottle of Carlsberg everybody rushes over to pick up even the tiniest pieces of glass, as you would if this was somebody’s living room floor.
In the parade an Orangeman dances with his friend in a wheelchair in an acrobatic display to chill the heart of Health and Safety.
The parade itself could be summed up as working class, male and playing a flute.
The bands are really, impressively good. In working class areas they now provide young men (there are few girls in the bands for some reason) with camaraderie and musical skill and they deserve credit for what they achieve.
The majority are flute bands because those are cheapest to equip. Judging by the number of bands from the Shankill every lad of flute-playing age on the road must be in one.
The atmosphere on the Lisburn Road is genuinely carnival and fun.
But meanwhile over at the Ardoyne interface