Friday, July 29, 2011

Back To The Boyne Water

The BBC's high-profile BBC historical drama The Hour has been the recipient of some truly scathing reviews over the course of the past fortnight from such disparate sources as Peter Hitchens, Max Hastings and Kevin Myers. The latter's often hilarious demolition concludes that:

Amnesia-themed vice is the great national dish of the English: this magical elixir unfailingly enables them to see old sin as completely new. It is why English history endlessly repeats itself, and in only slightly different forms. It is why eruptions in Ireland always take the English by surprise. It is why they then invariably -- and even gratefully -- accept the one-sided Irish version of history: for -- the poor dears -- they have almost none of their own.

This to an extent links in to earlier commentary on the summer intifada in Belfast and the ongoing existence of political violence which, as more and more historical commentaters are realising, should have theoretically ended in 1985 with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and a concomitant historical crackdown on paramilitarism on both sides of the Irish border. The footage from last week of North Belfast teenagers steering a burning motor car towards our extremely brave security forces was certainly not meant to happen a quarter century down the line from the agreement signed between Margaret Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald.

The attraction of the Irish nationalist political agenda in Northern Ireland to so many outside parties in mainland Britain - including half of The Beatles - does indeed to no small degree ride roughshod over certain obviously unpalatable historical pathways. This none moreso with regard to the annual violence associated with the parading season in Ulster.

Well regarded political literature from Ruth Dudley Edwards and Brian Kennaway on the Orange Order has analysed the social and religious framework of the organisation and clearly exposed the machinations behind anti-parade protests from political parties now in power at Stormont. This as confirmed by Gerry Adams himself during a Sinn Fein conference in Athboy, County Meath, in November 1996.

Eric Kaufmann's academic study in turn clearly underscores the attempts the organisation made in the early Seventies to steer membership away from Loyalist extremism in favour of clear support for the security forces. Kaufmann notes for example how following a government ban on parading in 1970 an Orange Order Central Committee meeting included assertions that a disorganised defiance of the ban would play into the hands of Republicans. Concern was expressed in turn over the rising influence of Loyalist paramilitaries and the infiltration of “undesirable people” into the Order.

There are of course a million and one variables to set against any re-appraisal of the Orange Order but the life experience and survival of the British in Ulster over the past forty years should be of considerable theoretical interest to all those concerned about the political direction of the mainland in the next four decades.

Not of course that historical qualifications such as these matter whatsoever anymore in a New Britain where several years ago a survey of schoolchildren noted that most thought the Battle of the Boyne took place in Lord of the Rings.

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