"The Nineteenth century saw a great Springtime of Nations as the revolutions of 1848 saw new countries created the length and breadth of Europe. In our world today we are now seeing our own Spring Awakening with people and cultures that have long been dormant and subdued asserting their right to exist, their right to dream." Adam Price MP
Is there another festival in a European city which is so offensive to its citizens that they will travel to the ends of the earth to avoid it?
I doubt it and yet the grand wizards at the House of Orange have the audacity to call this week's tension-filled, misanthropic outing a fest. It's so much of a 'fest' that entire sections of the city have emptied on its eve. On the Malone Road on Saturday morning to pick up papers from a garage newsagent, I felt like an extra on Hitchcock's The Birds as an eerie silence replaced what is usually a bustling, early-morning market scene.
Never mind the Fenians, the many Protestants sipping their cider at Sandy Row by the Sea this Twelfth don't care enough about the 'fest' to stay in Belfast. And those that do must prepare for an exhibition of open-air urinating by bandsmen and hangers-on not seen since the RUA last displayed at Balmoral.
And when the jackdaws of Orangeism swoop this morning, it will be Fenians, victory over whom they are supposed to be celebrating, who will ensure their provocative parade past Ardoyne does not result in rioting. How far, indeed, they have marched. Gone are the days when, as a previous columnist to this paper once recalled, Orangemen in East Belfast could march into his home — the only Catholic one in the street — on the Eleventh night, stomp upstairs, pee in the bath, and troop back out again. In their place has come a new era where Orangemen can only march if they ask permission from a Parades Commission which has already banned them from their favourite hunting grounds on the Ormeau Road and in Drumcree. And there's even better to come when the Commission is replaced by a body on which Sinn Féin will have direct appointees.
Are there any heroes in this fest? Yes, the community activists standing under brollies at the Broadway interface on Saturday night ensuring there would be no repetition of the drunken rioting which had rocked the area the previous weekend. And the republicans who will rise early this morning (Monday) to ensure the yesterday's men striding pompously past Ardoyne do not spark a violent reaction .
And spare a thought too for the working class loyalists, linked to the paramilitaries, who will be expected by the Orange Order to do the fest-fighting and cleaning up too, if it comes to that. Thankfully, the leaders of working class loyalist communities are getting wise to that old Orange Order trick.
Other than that, have a great Twelfth.
(Photographic update from the front line: didn't have a chance to get a snap of the bonfire in the Village, yards from Catholic Roden Street, where they decided insulting the neighbours by putting two Tricolours on top of the 'bonie' will not suffice. Therefore, they opted for insulting a people 2,000 miles away by adding a Palestinian flag. Class. Over in Belvoir, meanwhile, their Council-funded monstrosity (pictured) has the biggest Tricolour I've ever seen..as well as a Celtic shirt. Good to see the World Cup theme get an outing. Culture, indeed.)