Once the Twelfth of July would once have conjured thoughts of Protestant hegemony; the land of Seamus Heaney’s ‘Locked park Sunday Belfast.’
A hegemony where be-hatted Free Presbyterian ladies gathered for the latest burst of demagoguery; where men in shirts a collar size too small, carrying black leather bound Bibles from their shiny cars, polished the previous day. A hegemony where swings were chained up in a children’s park, a visual reminder that Sunday was not for enjoyment, that the King James Version held sway in this land, no matter whether you believed or not.
It was a hegemony where ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ was the watchword for parenting. Who knows how many violent actions sprang from the inculcation of violence as the answer to problems? Raising children in ‘the fear of the Lord’ seemed often a loveless and graceless affair. God was the violent and arbitrary father, coming home and swinging his belt; God was prone to violent and irrational outbursts. Whatever came along, it was God’s will; it must be accepted without question.
The Protestant faith was strident and triumphalist; there could be no place for diversity; there could be no questioning of authority. Scripture was invoked in support of beating children, in support of oppressing women; in granting no tolerance to anyone who did not conform. Scripture was conclusive in the inferior place of Catholics, for were they not led by the Antichrist himself? At best, the unreformed might be tolerated as the hewers of wood and drawers of water were tolerated in Bible times.
‘Locked park Sunday Belfast’ epitomised the hypocrisy of a society that made so much of its outward observances; where a man and his wife with their two submissive children filed into their pew each Sunday; where women stayed at home and baked bread and home made cakes each weekday; but where discrimination and injustice could be accepted, applauded even.
The old world was one without lesbian or gay people, it was a world without immigrants, it was a world without exotic religions, it was a world that was uniform and ordered, a world that was controlled.
The demonstrations this Twelfth of July will be a shadow of their former selves, but perhaps in the loss of the old world there has been a discovery of the civil rights and liberties that the bowler hatted marchers sought to proclaim. Perhaps in the dying back of the old, something new has grown.