My Granny always put the flag out for the Orange marching season around the 12th of July. Always the Union Flag, even though in her later life, you began to see various models of a “Northern Ireland” flag instead, as loyalists came to the stunning conclusion that the rest of the UK didn’t give a flying fart about them. Granny didn’t approve. There was no tradition or history behind it.
If she was alive today, she’d be spinning in her grave at the variety of flying linenware. Orange banners, ensigns of paramilitary groups, and even Israeli flags. (If you aren’t from Northern Ireland and the latter confuses you, I think it’s because some people hold a vague and confused idea that there is an analogy between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Northern Ireland situation.)
In any case, Granny’s flag carried a different implications than the ones flying today. In that more innocent time, she took her “Britishness” for granted, and the flag had no deeper significance than the similar ones waved by hundreds of well-wishers at a certain recent royal wedding.
Not that I’m a fan of flags myself. I see them as nothing more than a symbol of slavery — you’re letting everyone know who your bosses are. I am governed grudgingly, under complaint, so I don’t see why I should make a song and dance about the fact. That soldiers or citizens might “honour” a flag is just nonsense.
Therefore, it may be that attitude which causes me to get so irritated at the seasonal outbreak of flags. Or perhaps it’s just because I think “Oh no, the sectarian fuckwits are at it again.” I do resent the evidence of that narrow-minded, smug, ignorant stupidity known as “nationalism”. Be it British or Irish, it’s equally asinine.
But then I had a realisation. In the last few years, flags have increased in number, but almost all of them are on public property, on lamp-posts and telegraph poles in the main. Back in Granny’s day, you put the flag on the front of your house, or in your own front garden if you were lucky enough to have one. It was a personal symbol.
These days, almost nobody outside a few self-imposed ghetto areas wants to identify himself as a sectarian bigot. What we have instead is a small number of aforesaid bigots attaching flags to items in the public domain, where ownership is not specific, and they know that social inertia and reticence will prevent local people from even discussing removal. You can see quite clearly that the bigots don’t even have the balls to identify themselves by flagging their own houses as well. Only the street lamps.
So what the flags in the street are really representing today is defeat. The sectarianism that was so pervasive in past decades is dying out, the flag-attachers a last remnant. Defiant, agressive and deluded still; but increasingly isolated, and definitely doomed. The flags are proof.