By Richard Parfitt |
Every year, on the 12th July (‘the Twelfth’), members of the Orange Order march to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. At this battle, near Drogheda on the Irish east coast, the Protestant William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II. It marks, for many Protestants in Northern Ireland, the source of what they see as the Protestant liberty that they enjoy today.
The Order’s history is long and complicated. Its origins lie in eighteenth century agrarian violence, but by far its most visible manifestation is in the annual marches each July. Members wear sashes and other regalia and march the streets accompanied by loud bands and various spectators. The marches, and the Order more generally, have often been at the centre of sectarianism in Northern Ireland.
This is not difficult to explain. The Boyne may symbolise Protestant liberty for Orangemen, but it symbolises oppression and discrimination for many Catholics. Offensive music (bands referred to as ‘Kick the Pope’ bands, for instance) and routes that have passed, in many cases deliberately, through Catholic areas, seek to assert Protestant domination. Walls can’t keep out the sound of the drums, and Catholic residents in some areas such as Drumcree have fought long campaigns attempting to keep the marchers out. The result has been public disputes and violent confrontations, even after the post-1998 peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
Given the contentiousness of the Twelfth, the concept of the ‘Twelfthie’ or ‘Twelfthieselfie’ may strike one as a little jarring.
The ‘Twelfthie’ is, as sharp academic minds such as yours will have gathered, a selfie taken on the Twelfth. Just as King Billy would have intended. The basic rules of the selfie still apply. Photo, preferably on a mobile phone, of your fine self. In addition, however, you need to Orange things up. Orange regalia (sash etc.) is highly recommended. If you can get the band, drum or banner into the background even better. Getting young members in is also encouraged, and a high proportion of Twelfthies feature children, dressed for the occasion, with an enthusiastic parent. Taking the photo on the march itself requires greater dexterity, but you get good results. Funny captions are also optional but fruitful. See this photoshopped twelfthie of ‘The Sash Mo Farah Wore’ (a reference to the popular Orange song ‘The Sash My Father Wore’).
The Twelfthie dates to 2014. On July 10th, the Grand Master of the Orange Order issued the call for marchers to take a ‘Twelfth Selfie’ with the hashtag ‘Twelfthieselfie’. BBC journalist Wendy Austin suggested ‘Twelfthie’ as an alternative and both have caught on. The call was printed in the Belfast Telegraph and tweeted by the Order’s official account. An illustration showed the Grand Master himself taking a selfie, in his sash, in front of a crowd of Orange men and women. On the day of the Twelfth, a modest but solid number of twelfthies began to appear.
What on Earth is going on here? More than a humorous anecdote, the twelfthie actually captures the Order’s prevailing ambitions. Since the outbreak of the Troubles, the Order has struggled to convey a positive image. Republicans had access to a left leaning popular musical culture that could spread its message with glee, putting it alongside international movements for freedom (Palestine, anti-Apartheid, anti-Vietnam war). Orangemen did not, and the behaviour of their members often didn’t help.
As such, the leadership made consistent efforts to counter the narrative. Public outreach programmes were devised, favourable histories were written, archives were opened, band contracts were brought in to try and prevent bad behaviour. They were not always successful. In recent years, the Twelfth has been rebranded as a festival, akin to the Edinburgh festival, in an attempt to turn it into a harmless tourist attraction instead of a symbol of sectarian division.
The Twelfthie fits into this trend neatly. By incorporating the Twelfth into a harmless cultural phenomenon like the selfie, the Order attempts to modernise itself and improve its image. The need to do so is in evidence in some responses to the Twelfthie. Two tweets responding to the initial announcement feature simply photos of raised middle fingers. On the Twelfth in 2014, another observer latched onto a twelfthie featuring children to say ‘you’ve got to start them young to turn decent kiddies into bigots and bullies’. Another asked ‘how many bigots can fit inside one field?’.
For all the mockery, however, the trend has been maintained for subsequent Twelfths, and even appears to be expanding. Will the twelfthie actually improve the Order’s image? That remains to be seen.
(Image Source: http://s1247.photobucket.com/user/laudrupno1/media/300838_10151184878481913_406126634_n.jpg.html)