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How Mr Whippy Could Save The World

July 19, 2013

“So you haven’t been put off your Christmas shopping?” the shop assistant asked.  It was a kindly meant question and I could understand why she was asking it, but she clearly had no understanding of exactly what it would take to keep me from thoroughly enjoying a child-free shop.  Maybe a herd of charging wildebeest, or a 100 foot fire trench, but even then I’d find a way round it.  

The problem was that a lot of people had been put off, and the good shopkeepers of Northern Ireland were suffering.  It so happened that when we came to Belfast last Christmas a good section of the people were up in arms about the flying of the Union Flag on the City Hall in Belfast.  The local government had decided that the flag shouldn’t be flown every day and various members of the community thought otherwise.  In other parts of the UK this dissension would be marked by a strongly worded letter to The Times.  This being Belfast, however, there were bonfires, riots and general disorder, but only in a few isolated areas. 

Last Friday was 12th July which is a Very Big Deal in Northern Ireland.  In fact, and I didn’t know this before having met my beloved who hails from over here, they have 2 days extra holiday here to celebrate.  I know.  We don’t get that ‘on the mainland’ (which is how one refers to the Island of Britain.  See, I’m picking up the lingo!).  The celebration is to mark the victory of King William of Orange (King Billy) over the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, so it’s very much a Protestant festival.  


The man himself!

In fact, the night before there are huge bonfires throughout many of the towns.  At the top of the bonfire is often an effigy of the Pope.  I thought that this was pretty scandalous until I remembered that on Bonfire Night on the mainland (something that isn’t celebrated in Northern Ireland – they traditionally go in much more for Halloween – strange, eh?) we burn an effigy of a Catholic in the form of Guy Fawkes, so I came off my high horse pretty sharpish.  

The 12th itself is marked by marches through the streets by the Orange Orders, which are Protestant men’s clubs for each of the villages and towns throughout Northern Ireland, and their affiliated pipe bands.  It’s all very jolly.  Some of them are very good and clearly practise hard.  Some are excruciating, but generally there’s a happy atmosphere.

Unless you’re in Belfast, where it all gets a little more aggressive.  Some people insist on marching through Catholic areas waving their “we beat you” banners which annoys the Catholics a little.  Having poked the bear, the marchers then withdraw to behind barricades and the two sides throw things at each other until the police have to intervene.  

The rest of Northern Ireland, however, basks in glorious peace and, this year, in even more glorious sunshine.  Whilst down a couple of roads in East Belfast people spend the day snarling at each other, on the coast we’re building sandcastles, paddling in rock pools and generally enjoying a 1950s style Enid Blyton seaside experience. 


This is almost exactly what our days at the beach have looked like

We’ve been building barricades of our own, but they’ve mostly been made of sand, covered in shells and disappear when the sea comes in.  And then we all head off for ice cream.  Maybe there’s a lesson there for international diplomacy:  you can throw things at each other for as long as your sand castle can withstand our water cannon, and then you have to sit next to each other and have a compulsory Mr Whippy (with flake).  This could be a winner…


[Photos courtesy of BBC and]


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