Happy Twelfth?

By Fr Des

T he Twelfth will soon be upon us again. Festivals in most places make people wish each other Happy Fourth, Happy Christmas, Happy Mother’s Day, but before the Twelfth we say, Hope there’ll be no trouble.
Will it ever be a festival with everybody celebrating, rather than a day of doom with half the population leaving town? Possibly, but you cannot force that on people. Yet we cannot afford to wait until time does its healing for us either.
There are some signs of hope. At Sandy Row, one of Belfast’s most ardent areas of support for King William, there is a great mural and at the base of it – in small print, but very plainly there – there is a list of different nationalities of people who helped the King in his battle at the Boyne. For some people that may be a surprising list, so many different people were involved, not, as sometimes pretended, a solid crowd of Catholics on one side and a solid crowd of Protestants on the other. Maybe next year the muralists will go a step further and include the name of the Pope then in office, Alexander VIII, because of the cash he gave William so that William could pay his troops. Maybe in years to come the Twelfth celebrations will include a vote of thanks to him. But one step at a time, step by step towards the day when we are not nervously hoping it will be a peaceful Twelfth this time but wishing each other a Happy Twelfth and really meaning it.
Meanwhile, an extension of our planning laws might help. If you want to put a church or a pub or a house anywhere you have to get planning permission and local residents can object, so if you want to have a march (straight or circular) local residents should have their say in that too. It means extending an existing law to suit what we need. Better use existing laws rather than make new ones.
Both Kings, James and Billy, wanted the same things: crown, money, power, control of the same people, and there were not enough crowns, money, power and domination to go round, hence the battle at the Boyne and lots of other battles as well. We Irish have a way of fighting other people’s battles for them – and often condemning ourselves for fighting our own. The British and other empires were won largely by soldiers from Ireland and other non-Empire-building nations, including, amazingly, such encounters as the Boer War. What were Irish people doing in the Boer War? Or why were we involved in fighting for the Papal States rather than for the unification of Italy? Why were we in either of these wars? Could we have a new international law that people are allowed to fight only in their own armies and in their own wars? That might reduce the number of wars and might make clear what some of our wars are really about. Not practical of course. Nice thought, though, for the Twelfth.
A few years ago the eminent historian, Sean McMahon, gave a fine summary of the Boyne and other battles fought in Ireland in his book, Battles on Irish Soil (published 2010), where he points out that King William had no confidence in his English troops and that “in his own crack Dutch Blue Guards” some of the troops carried the Papal flag as Catholics.
Next year, why don’t we have a Summer School on Kings, Knaves and the Boyne?