dr John Coulter: ‘Donegal Dander’ at Rossnowlagh is a good model for Orange Order parades – Belfast News Letter | Start Classified

This year’s Rossnowlagh Parade on Saturday 9th July – the parade is a popular pre-Twelfth event for many Orangers from Northern Ireland

Now it is time for Orangeism to consider the concept of whether Boyne commemorations – indeed all commemorations of the loyal orders – could ever become celebrations as comprehensive as Christmas and Easter.

Despite the challenges caused by Covid, the Orange Order will mark the anniversary of Protestant King William’s victory at the River Boyne over his Catholic father-in-law James with a full series of local parades.

And unlike the pandemic era, platform procedures are back on the demonstration fields like they were in pre-Covid 2019.

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dr John Coulter has been a journalist in Northern Ireland since 1978, including for the News Letter

Ireland, North and South, has suffered badly from the pandemic and medical experts are still warning us about the Covid variants still at large.

Once again, despite all the deaths and tragedy that the pandemic has inflicted on this island, there can be lessons that the ruling body of the Orange Order, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, can learn from organizing parades when we as a society need to ourselves face the reality of “living with Covid”?

My late father, Rev. Dr. Robert Coulter MBE, served as Assistant Grand Chaplain to both the Orangery and its higher order, the Royal Black Institution. Indeed, he served a three-year term as Deputy Sovereign Grand Master of the Blacks in the 1980s.

In these various roles of the Loyal Order he made frequent trips to the Republic of Ireland to preach at annual church services. As a Presbyterian minister he preached in numerous churches in Donegal Presbytery for several years.

Despite the legion of loyal Order events he attended during his lifetime, there was one occasion he has perhaps spoken to me about most – the annual Twelfth Demonstration at Rossnowlagh in County Donegal.

The Rossnowlagh demonstration took place in this picturesque seaside village on the Saturday before July 12th and was hosted by the Lodges of the Southern Ireland Border County so that they could take part themselves in the 12th mainline demonstrations in Northern Ireland on July 12th.

The parade route was neither long nor controversial. In my various writings on this event I have often referred to it as “Donegal Dander”.

Pipe and silver bands rather than the traditional Northern flute bands – often known as blood and thunder bands – are the order of the day. There are no political speeches and the panel procedure is strictly a worship service.

And no trip to the ‘Twelfth’ in Rossnowlagh would be complete without an ice cream and another dander on the village’s beautiful beach.

Despite the long drive from our home in the Co. Antrim hills to Rossnowlagh, as Father was visiting preacher that Saturday, Father and I could not overlook the relaxed family atmosphere of the Rossnowlagh demonstration.

Perhaps this is why the pre-Covid Rossnowlagh event has grown in popularity over the decades as more and more Northerners took part in the prestigious County Donegal Grand Orange Lodge outing.

In short, could the ‘Rossnowlagh model’ be used as a blueprint, not only for future parades in Northern Ireland, but also to increase the number of loyal order parades in the Republic of Ireland? The two main pillars of Rossnowlagh’s success are a short parade route and just one service.

The vast majority of unionists and loyalists see the Northern Ireland Protocol as a threat to their British identity. But for generations many of these unionists and loyalists have seemingly ignored their rich southern Irish culture.

To put it bluntly, half of the key battles referred to in that famous march tune, The Sash, took place in southern Ireland. The Boyne of 1690 took place in County Meath, while the decisive and exceptionally bloody Battle of Aughrim in July 1691 was fought in County Galway.

Again, quite frankly, how many unionists and loyalists have regularly – or even once – visited the excellent Battle of the Boyne Visitors Center at Oldbridge in Co Meath?

As a place for a fantastic family day out, the River Boyne and in particular the visitor center facilities are rated exceptionally highly.

If the Orange ruling body calls itself the Grand Lodge of Ireland, then it should give more credit to the organization of Rossnowlagh-style parades south of the Irish border. Could the Donegal Dander be a way to make the twelfth celebrations more inclusive for all parts of the community?

To help the island’s economy recover in a ‘living with Covid’ society, how much money could be generated for local businesses if another mock fight – traditionally organized by the Royal Black Institution in the village of Scarva every 13th .July is organized – could be staged annually at Oldbridge in Co Meath?

Despite the terrible pain of the pandemic, the faithful orders have received a gift horse in the struggle to make their events more inclusive – cultural, historical, spiritual and family. Hopefully they have the common sense to seize this opportunity and implement a future ‘Rossnowlagh model’.

dr John Coulter has been a journalist in Northern Ireland since 1978, including for the News Letter

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