AS the NI centenary euphoria courses through our veins like a shot of the purest opium at the moment, the News Letter has issued a commemorative pull-out to gladden the hearts of Ulster folk everywhere.
It’s 32 pages, which is either an epic piece of trolling or an unfortunate oversight, and given that the unionist paper of record has not been renowned down through the years for its keen sense of humour, Squinter’s opting for the latter.
The supplement is irrepressibly upbeat and it brought to mind the classic Johnny Mercer number:
Accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
Don’t mess with Mr In-Between.
Pics of smiling 1940s mill girls, gay picnics on beaches (that’s the 1950s Enid Blyton gay, naturally), friendly coppers, royal visits – that sort of thing. And the icing on this loyal cake was an editorial beaming proudly about how blessed are those who are lucky enough to call this place home. Squinter filled up a few times reading it, he doesn’t mind admitting, but the News Letter being the News Letter, it couldn’t resist a dig at nasty nationalists and republican rebels who haven’t even the basic Presbyterian decency to say the words ‘Northern Ireland’.
“Nationalists have made clear their dislike of Northern Ireland, and republicans have made clear their contempt for it – calling the Province a statelet at best.”
It’s true that the use of names post-partition has been a constant source of irritation and tension for the beleaguered Unionist people. Irish republicans, red in tooth and claw, when they’re not actively trying to knock down the whatever-it-is-we-have-here variously refer to it as the North, the Six Counties (the Six Northeastern Counties if they’ve seen the Wolfe Tones), the Wee Six, the Occupied Six, Narnia.
Strangely, however, the God-fearing Defenders of the Faith seem entirely to forget Matthew 7:1-5:
First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then thou shall see clearly to cast out the mote of thy brother’s eye.
Because if Unionism restricted itself to using the correct name of ‘Northern Ireland’ on every single occasion things would get very boring indeed – and very quickly. Because it’s regularly called ‘Ulster’, even though Ulster has nine counties; and reference is constantly made to ‘the Province’, when the same problem applies to the use of that term; and ‘the Mainland’ is frequently evoked, even though Ulster (of whatever hue) is not an island and so it therefore can’t physically have a mainland.
All of which is well-known, but when – as in the example above – the News Letter chides republicans and nationalists for using terminology that insults the Precious Union© while in the same sentence using terminology – the Province – that’s not only irritating to nationalists and republicans, but is just plain wrong, well… let’s just say the irony is rather tasty.
Celebrate good times, come on...
LISBURN celebrated the centenary of Our Wee Province on Bank Holiday Monday. Squinter went up to have a look and, to be quite honest, it wasn’t great.
Even though Covid restrictions have been significantly eased, with all the shops open and beer gardens welcoming back the happy throngs, the changed atmosphere wasn’t enough to lure people in any numbers.
🐻 Visit Lagan Valley Island & you'll be in for a surprise! To mark the Centenary, Lisburn Castlereagh residents can claim a teddy— LCCC #StaySafeSaveLives (@lisburnccc) May 4, 2021
They're for babies registered at LVI in May 2021 to parents living in the LCCC area
Details provided at registration but don't come in disguise... pic.twitter.com/WNmHOjHF1C
The Orange arch had been raised in Market Square in honour of the occasion, although Squinter should come clean here and say that as he passed under it, the only people in sight were a few teenagers sheltering from the rain in a nearby marquis, near the statue of John Nicholson, the Butcher of Bangalore, and another of a UDR roadblock.
The rain didn’t help. Because let’s be honest, when you’ve a long weekend to enjoy, bringing it to an end with a wet Monday in Lisburn is not the dream scenario. That said, though, refusing to turn up to mark the hundredth anniversary of Our Wee Country is not exactly the spirit of Carson. Did the threat of bad weather stop the crew of the SS Fanny braving the high seas to bring 216 tons of UVF weapons to the coast of Wexford in 1914? Did a bit of mud deter the UVF from going over the top at the Somme two years later? Did a sprinkle of rain stop the UDR heading out after their dinner? No it did not.
So it was with some regret that Squinter watched a flute band march through the city (yes, Lisburn’s a city, kids) to celebrate a century of prosperity, community cohesion and sporting achievement. As he enjoyed the music Squinter noticed that the big drum didn’t have a band name on it – it was white and bare, which, regular parade-attenders like Squinter will confirm, is rather unusual. It didn’t take long to find out, thanks to the ever-reliable advice of Professor Twitter.
The loyal ensemble playing their hearts out to celebrate the Pravince was the Noel Clarke Memorial Flute Band and it’s only right, despite their admirable modesty, that they are acknowledged for their contribution on the day. And who, Squinter hears you ask, is Noel Clarke, whose eponymous musicians were the provider of such rich entertainment?
A past Mayor of the town? A Victorian philanthropist? A former Orange Order Grand Pooh-Bah? A colonial adventurer?
Well, none of the above, sadly. Noel Clarke was a UVF/LVF charmer convicted of the March 1991 slaughter of two teenage girls and a 29-year-old man in a van shop in Craigavon. Eileen Duffy (19), Katrina Rennie (16) and Brian Frizzell (29). He was found dead at his home in Lisburn in September 2012 and the loyal flautists of Lisburn were left distressed and impressed – distressed at his early passing, but impressed by the contribution he had made to the epic story of This Here Pravince. And so they renamed their band in his honour. And the rest is history.
100 glorious years of it.