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Luke's back in sashion .. my decommissioned loyalist returns for an online Twelfth

My decommissioned loyalist returns for an online Twelfth

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Dan Gordon as Red hand Luke dressed in his orange sash

Dan Gordon as Red hand Luke dressed in his orange sash

Dan Gordon as Red hand Luke dressed in his orange sash

Red Hand Luke - my decommissioned alter ego from BBC TV's Give My Head Peace - is back. I can assure you it came as big a shock to me as it has to you, but they keep telling us we live in 'unprecedented' times.

Luke vanished 15 years back under the waves of Belfast Lough during a prison break that went wrong. This may have been due to the involvement of Uncle Andy, Big Mervyn and a giant pedalo swan hijacked from the Pickie Pool in Bangor - don't ask.

I always assumed Luke didn't drown but did a Jason Bourne and headed to Europe - ending up drinking pints of diluted orange, sunning himself on a Spanish beach and keeping an eye out for the Assets Recovery Agency.

Luke resurfaced briefly for a Christmas Special three years back and, thanks to the magic of television, marched out of the rain and into Uncle Andy's house like Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower in Dallas (Google it).

Luke then masqueraded as an amateur dentist when Dympna had a toothache; he displayed many of his old charms and produced a Black and Decker drill.

In the intervening years he went to ground again until just last week, when he appeared as a poster boy for this year's 12th of July celebrations. Makes sense, really, as this year's 12th (held on the 13th as the 12th is on a Sunday) will be anything but normal.

Belfast Orangefest, which promotes many events around parades and the marching season in the city, has cancelled all parades across the board. With tens of thousands of folk normally expected to attend major demonstrations in Belfast and around the province, it had to come up with an alternative plan.

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Dan Gordon as Red hand Luke dressed as King Billy

Dan Gordon as Red hand Luke dressed as King Billy

Dan Gordon as Red hand Luke dressed as King Billy

That's where Luke comes in - to reinforce the message that celebrations are still on but, because of the coronavirus, they have to be limited to online, in people's homes and at their front doors.

Even though a band could theoretically social-distance on a road and parade down it, under present regulations the thousands of people that gather to watch and follow couldn't.

Instead, folk are encouraged to decorate their homes, listen in to a specially commissioned internet radio station (Radio Boyne) and keep to government guidelines.

The rules are updating regularly but at present people are still being encouraged to stay in small family groups and bubbles.

As far as traditional Eleventh Night bonfires go, they are out, too. They draw large crowds and in an unprecedented (there's that word again) move, many communities have agreed either to have bonfire material removed or not to collect anything in the first place. Monies gathered for Eleventh Night bonfire festivities have been donated to the NHS.

It'll be strange with no bonfires on the 11th or parades on the 12th but Orangefest is encouraging socially distant bubble barbecues for those with a bit of outdoor space around their homes.

We are particularly expert at the rain-soaked, wind-torn, all-weather variety of barbecue so that should be no problem. This is held whatever the weather when the woman of the house buys, prepares, oversees and plates all the elements necessary to feed everyone, while man of the house, beer in hand, wrestles for 20 minutes with igniting a disposable or, God forbid, a gas barbecue.

Red Hand Luke will be locked down like the rest of us over the 12th but it won't stop him celebrating.

If you give him a Google you'll find him playing a traditional tune on social media using whatever came to hand.

It's not the first time The Sash has been drummed out on pots and lids, but I guarantee it'll be the first time you've heard it on a didgeridoo...

Belfast Telegraph