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On Saturday I attended one of the flagship Twelfth demonstrations in Markethill, County Armagh, at the invitation of Orangeman and Ulster Unionist mayor of Craigavon, Colin McCusker. The day was arranged through a friend of mine who comes from a Catholic background in North Belfast. Our intention was no greater than to enjoy a day out with friends and to learn a bit more about Orange culture. I joined commentator and cartoonist, Brian John Spencer; investigative journalist, Lyra McKee; the Fine Gael deputy mayor of Fingal, Ted Leddy; and Australian-born SDLP activist and recent council candidate, Justin Cartwright. While all of us are outsiders to the Orange institutions in some form or another, we were all made to feel incredibly welcomed and included in the day’s events.

If you’ve never attended a country parade, I’ll describe the atmosphere. The streets are lined with people relaxing in lawn chairs, drinking tea and tins of beer, and eating sarnies and crisps. Kids run about and give parents a chance to chat and catch up. Guitarists play pop songs, stands sell coffee and tray bakes. The only explicitly political stand I saw was Willie Frazer and FAIR set up under a banner that read, “OTR: Only Terrorists Run.” Then, of course, the town is bedecked in red, white and blue. Union flags, bunting and Northern Ireland flags cover every corner of every street. It’s not a beacon of inclusiveness—if by inclusiveness you mean culturally neutral. But by no means is it the “hate fest” some would like to mischaracterise the Twelfth as.

Read the rest at Slugger O’Toole: http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/07/15/the-twelfth-it-aint-all-burger-vans-and-bouncy-castles/

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