The sound of drums
I took a stroll through Glasgow Green last Saturday and it remains one of Glasgow’s finest Parks with a long history. It was on Flesher’s Haugh by the Clyde in 1745 that the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie were paraded. Glasgow was generally hostile to the Prince as they were doing fine under the Hanoverians and the young pretender’s religion was anathema to many in the City. Nearby is the People’s Palace which remains a fine example of a museum dedicated to the ordinary folk of a city and the former Templeton’s carpet factory building is surely one of the finest looking factories ever built. The design was said to be based on the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Sadly as it was under construction in 1889 part of the building collapsed onto the weaving sheds below and 29 women and girls were killed. If you know where to look, a plaque to their memory is on that spot today. My old mum also likes to point out the spot where the air raid shelter used to be during World War 2. She recalls as a 6 year old the excitement of hearing the sirens go off but also the worried looks on the faces of the adults as the drone of plane engines could be heard and then the booming sounds as the big Flak guns began shooting at them. She recalled that on those two consecutive nights in March 1941 when Clydebank was devastated by the Luftwaffe, the ground was actually shaking in Glasgow 7 miles away. They had emerged bleary eyed from the shelter as dawn was breaking and saw that the western horizon was glowing red as the fires consumed Clydebank.
Thankfully Glasgow Green was a more placid place as I passed through it although I soon noticed that there was a considerable crowd gathered in one section of the Park which was a little raucous. It seemed the Orange/Loyalist Parade which passed through the city ended with a rally at the park and the union flags and white and red Ulster banners had obviously sold well. I watched from a distance still a little bemused by the mind-set of these people who seem so out of step with the modern world. Two young lads, one draped in a union flag, worked cooperatively to pour a half bottle of vodka into a half full Irn Bru bottle. As I strolled down towards the High Court an older chap wearing a uniform which wouldn’t have looked out of place at the battle of Waterloo walked beside me for a while. ‘Great to see the bands out,’ he smiled taking me for one of the revellers. ‘The sun shining tae, God’s a proddy.’ As he chatted away I got a sense of the meaning all of this had in his life. ‘I went oan my first walk in 1969, big crowds then, seventy, eighty thousand in Glasgow. You don’t see that these days.’ His friend, a stout chap dressed in a Help for Heroes T shirt joined him, ‘Mon you,’ he shouted to his comrade, ‘forming up for the march back.’ The older chap shook my hand, ‘Nice meeting you mate, we are the people.’ Then off he sauntered to join his friends. He seemed like a harmless granddad and not the stereotypical intolerant Luddite associated with such events. As I watched them leave I couldn’t escape the feeling that their view of the world was so out of step with modern Scotland. I wondered if they knew or cared that the bulk of the population of this country views them as an anachronistic left-over from a bygone age.
It’s easy to dismiss such folk as unintelligent or bigoted and in truth there was a noisy element of uncouth types hanging around mouthing their worn out loyalist clichés and singing songs of a dubious nature. The people I saw around me, for the most part working class Scots with a smattering of accents from the north of Ireland. They seemed to find some form of common identity in such gatherings and the idea of ‘belonging’ is a very strong human desire. One big drum had the words ‘Maintaining and celebrating our heritage’ stencilled on it around the ubiquitous picture of a Dutch King 300 years in his grave. I always had a rather jaundiced view of what this ‘heritage’ actually was as it expressed itself in my experience in bigotry, triumphalism and a sort of inward looking tribalism. It seemed to have precious little to do with Christianity. My first encounter with the Orange Parades sticks in my mind and came as a small boy when I was in a shop which sold Catholic statues and other such devotional items. It stood in the High Street and I waited with my mum gazing out the window as the parade passed by outside. The shop window was covered in saliva by the time they had passed. I recall wondering what sort of people did things like that.
We have also seen in recent years the attempted hijacking of Armed forces day (whatever you think of it) in Glasgow by loyalist types who seem to forget that all the people of these Islands fought in Britain’s wars and not just their little tribe. To me patriotism isn’t about unquestioning, brain dead loyalty or the sort of unhealthy hero worship of the military which sees any legitimate questions about their role as tantamount to treason. I find the whole mind-set baffling. I knew an Orange man from a poor scheme in the east of Glasgow who voted Tory and based this purely on the Party’s strong unionist principles and tough position on battling the IRA. His beliefs totally clouded his judgement on most of the big issues of the day. They were the prism through which he viewed the world and seemed to strip him of any ability to reason or argue a point logically. Everything was very black and white, us and them to him.
Like it or not these people share our country with us and we may not agree with much they say or do. They are however decreasing in number as the years pass and Parades which once saw 80,000 people on the streets now struggle to reach 10,000. As people inter-marry and religious observance continues to decline it is not unreasonable to assume the decline in this particularly Scottish sub-culture with also continue. I feel such historical echoes thrive in poverty especially when there is another group to blame for the country’s ills. A prosperous, fairer Scotland would, I feel, hasten their demise. It seems harsh to say I wouldn’t miss them one iota but it is nonetheless true.