Saturday, 6 July 2013

A Dark Corner

A Dark Corner

My blogs are usually related to football and its surrounding culture but today I’d like to diverge a little and touch on a subject are which today of all days is in the minds of a lot of my fellow Celts here in the West of Scotland.

Those of you who know the east end of Glasgow will know well the distinctive Catholic church of Our Lady of Good Council. It’s hard to miss with its steep angled sloping roof. Some years ago I attended a funeral there of a fine man who’s sons I knew well.  Old Mr Murphy (Name changed) was a true gentleman and a big Celtic fan who would entertain us as kids with tales of Tully, Stein and Evans. He had a big family and brought them up well in difficult circumstances in a tenement flat in the east end. Below him lived another family who were of the Orange persuasion. Mr Murphy didn’t have a bigoted bone in his body and chatted to anyone. He lived in the same close as his orange neighbours for 30 years or more without any problem. It’s fair to say that this very decent man showed by example that he was one of the good guys. As I walked towards the church I saw two of his orange neighbours standing outside. There they remained throughout the touching funeral service. Even in death they wouldn’t pay their respects in a Catholic church. I watched as Mr Murphy’s coffin was carried out and one of his sons glared at the neighbours, obviously emotional and upset at such a snub of such a fine man.

I last saw one of the men who stood outside the church that day as I visited a friend in hospital. He was in a bed on the same ward and a very ill man. I remembered big John (name changed) from our youthful football games when he’d shout things like ‘Mark the Irishman’ to team mates as I came up for a corner. My Grandad was Irish, I’m Scottish but this didn’t matter to him. He died later that week and I and many other RC’s attended his funeral. The Crematorium was lined with men wearing the sashes of his order and perhaps he would have liked that. At least a quarter of the people in the crematorium were Catholics and I recall thinking that it was right to show your support of the wider family by attending as not all of them thought like ‘John.’

So what is this organisation which so despises Catholicism that it would not tolerate members entering a RC Church? Today we shall see thousands march in our streets their bellicose drums booming out like artillery. What is it all about? The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland will tell you that it’s a celebration of Protestantism and not bigoted in any way.  Yet the Church of Scotland faces huge issues of falling attendance and empty pews. It’s clear that most attending parades today are seldom if ever in church. Nor is there much sign of Christian love and humility from those who attend such events. I recall prizes for those who boom the big drums most loudly as they pass RC Churches. As a child I even saw one big drum with the face of the Pope painted onto it. The drummer would then batter it all day long. This isn’t a Christian celebration, this is tribalism in its ugliest and most base form. I recall being in Glasgow City Centre on the day of such a parade and watching young men take turns to spit on the windows of a small shop in the High Street which sells Catholic statues and other such items. I watched as fellow citizens tucked their crucifixes out of sight or covered their children’s Celtic shirts. The Loyal Institutions say that it’s not them but their followers who behave so poorly but it is they who create the context of anti-Catholicism where it flourishes! They organise parades that degenerate into bigoted festivals. What sort of society allows that to go on? Is this Scotland or 1930s Germany?

I’m sure many of you reading this can offer similar anecdotes on the behaviour of some of our fellow Scots. One has to conclude that if such hatred was shown towards Muslims, Jews or migrant groups there would be outrage and yet little is said about this annual outpouring of bile. Today it’s the turn of Coatbridge, a town with a huge Catholic population, to suffer the booming drums and medieval attitudes as many of the parades will merge there. No doubt the Police will keep a lid on things but is this really the brave new Scotland of the 21st Century? Is this really the best we can do in Mr Salmond’s ‘Best wee Country in the World?’ I accept the right of citizens to demonstrate but they should respect their fellow citizens and do it at a time and place which causes least disruption. There are plenty of empty fields in Ayrshire they could march in but as we all know this isn’t just about marching, this is about mindless triumphalism.  Perhaps they should also pay the Policing costs of such marches as the irony of the Catholic tax payers of Coatbridge funding such parades is obvious to all.

As I drove along streets I’ve known all my life this morning I noticed that flags and bunting were up in some of them. These are poor districts, places of high unemployment and little hope. Perhaps such attitudes flourish better in poverty and ignorance? A few early risers were on the beer early preparing for a long day of marching ahead. Somewhere I could hear an accordion playing a song made famous by the Beach Boys as ‘Sloop John B’ although here in Scotland we know it better as the tune of the ‘Famine Song.’  That’s the reality of modern Scotland’s darker corners. Few see how this bigotry stops the working class uniting and working together for jobs, decent housing or social equality. It's frustrating to hear one group in our society celebrate the defeat and subjugation of another 3 centuries ago. What possible relevance do battles fought in the 17th Century have for Scots today? I don’t write these words in anger rather I’m a little sad.  I don’t consider myself to be an unreasonable or in any way bigoted person. I simply find it amazing that we allow these Parades year after year and none of our Politicians has the balls to say ‘Enough of this nonsense!’ These are the same politicians who persecute football fans for singing the odd distasteful song and then allow, indeed pay for, tens of thousands to boom out nakedly sectarian songs all day long in our city and town centres. These are the politicians who said nothing about 100 years of ‘FTP’ songs at Ibrox and now try to tell us that in certain circumstances you could be arrested for blessing yourself. They could change this culture if they had the will to but they hide away from it like the cowards they are.

 As I think back to old Mr Murphy, I can’t help thinking that the decent, gentle old chap that he was, he’d ask us to be patient and not allow ourselves to be seduced by hate.  Of course he is right and most decent Scots no matter their religious convictions, if any, have little time for these Parades. Be safe if you’re out and about today and rise above any of the intolerance you see on your travels. We as individuals and as a country can be so much better than the displays we’ll see today.




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