Every year the 12th July parades come around and every year there is a continuance of the wilful ignorance of history.
The Eleventh Night bonfires declaring hostility to the Pope and Catholicism are a nonsense. (One placard this year announced that, ‘All Taigs are targets.’ It would seem unlikely that the person responsible would have had any idea that ‘Taig’ is simply a version of the Irish for Timothy.)
Protestant community leaders have done little to educate their supporters as to the realities of late-17th Century history, perhaps there has been little wish to do so. Even the supposedly progressive Church of Ireland has never issued a statement debunking the myths and distancing itself from sectarain parades.
When working in the North, there was always the temptation to say to the supporters of the Williamite cause heading off for the day that I hoped that they realized that the Pope supported the Prince of Orange because he was seen as a bulwark against the growing power of Louis XIV of France.
The temptation was easily resisted, what was the point in causing trouble? The facts of history were never allowed to get in the way of a good story.
There were unionists who recognized the facts of history, facts that were depicted in Pieter van der Muelen’s painting, The Entry of King William into Ireland. It was a painting that was hung in the House of Commons at Stormont when it opened.
Pope Innocent XI is shown, seated in the clouds, pronouncing a blessing as he looks down on William, Prince of Orange.
When Stormont parliamentarians realized what the picture showed, some were outraged.
John W. Nixon, an independent Unionist was foremost among the objectors, his protest at the papal presence is said to have elicited prime minister Craig’s declaration,
“I am an Orangeman first and a Protestant and a member of parliament afterwards . . . All I boast is that we have a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people.”
There were Protestants of more violent inclination who were visiting Stormont in 1933.
Charles Forester and Mary Ratcliffe of the Scottish Protestant League visited the parliament building with the intention of destroying the painting. Forester threw red paint over the image of the pope and Ratcliffe slashed the canvas with a knife. The pair were fined £65 at Downpatrick court and the painting was restored at the cost of £32 10 Shillings.
The painting then disappeared into storage for more than fifty years.
A real recalling of the significance of the battle would have a papal figure applauding the man on the white horse.
The facts would, however, spoil the story, facts tend to have that effect on people’s perception of history.