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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 171: July 2009

[Return to the related issue of Nonviolent News]

A baker’s dozen

The first house I lived in when coming to Belfast was in front so I take an almost proprietorial interest in the fate of the Ormeau Bakery building on the Ormeau Road. It was part of the fabric of the city dating back to the 19th century and its history and advances marked changes in technology and culture. The wee house I lived in was an artisan terrace house owned by the Bakery, not at all bad to be in but you had to watch the weather when you had the washing out; leave your clothes out in the rain and the smuts from the bakery which normally ascended would descend and be washed into your clothes which would duly come back in looking rather worse and greyer than before they were washed in the first place. The house and its neighbours disappeared in the early 1980s when the bakery was extending and they built what I describe as a modern red brick fortress complete with narrow windows looking like they were designed for firing arrows at passers by. Even in the context of Troubles Belfast it looked out of place and certainly not in any way matching the older red brick building and its extensions (though at the back the Ormeau Bakery always looked prison fortress like).

The Ormeau Bakery was known as a Protestant workplace, though the Ballynafeigh area where it was situated was, and is, very mixed. I don’t know how mixed the Bakery was but I do know a trade union shop steward who attempted to take action on (loyalist) flags and emblems issues, before he had the backing of the law on neutral work spaces, was knee-capped for his troubles. His pay was docked from the moment he didn’t appear in to work. But the margins in the bakery business were small and changing diets and the growth of supermarkets meant the bakery business was becoming much more difficult. The small ‘home’ bakeries which were a pleasant aspect of retail life in Northern Ireland began to close. Then the Ormeau Bakery itself was bought out by a multinational (RHM) and, while the brand continues, the product is made elsewhere in the city.

The Ormeau Bakery building was bought to be turned into apartments. The new overall external design was – is – rather unimaginative; the 1980s red brick castle was changed somewhat by the addition of large vertical stripes but nothing to make it link more with its traditional older part. And a grey two-storey superstructure was added. The net result is that the building looks like it has three parts, none of which fit together; it looks smart only because it’s just being finished. Shortly after the scheme was announced, all the apartments were booked by word of mouth, without advertising, though a Diarmuid Gavin designed courtyard was included; with the slump in the property market I understand many of these erstwhile buyers have lost their deposits by refusing to go further with their purchase, perhaps reckoning that a lost deposit was a small price for not paying even more over the current market odds for what had been their dream apartment.

I have copies of photos from 1974 showing a bakery lorry being hijacked on the Ormeau Road immediately outside the Ormeau Bakery during the Ulster Workers’ Council strike, and another photo of two policemen running for cover under gunfire from loyalist gunmen in the street nearby (Park Road) at the same time. Right beside the Bakery a Catholic family house was blast bombed in 1976, I think the third time they had had a house bombed – fortunately they were not injured, and there were other pub and house bombings and killings in close proximity.

We have travelled far in the intervening years, as far indeed as loyalist paramilitary decommissioning. But I remain intrigued by a black roughly rectangular mark the size of a poster on one corner of the bakery building, and its survival despite all the intervening time and the building work which has gone on. It is indeed the location of a poster, long since peeled off leaving a black mark from the original adhesive, of what was a government exhortation to move from violence in 1972 after the Bloody Friday bombings in Belfast by the IRA (21st July 1972; 26 explosions, 11 killed, 130 injured). The past remains in the present, and the mark of Cain endures.

Sláinte an Twalfth

The Orange Order has admitted it is much smaller than it had purported to be – not a hundred thousand, not even forty thousand, about 36,000 (Irish News 29/6/09) though in 1969 it had swelled to 93,000-odd. But when you take into account all those who support it one way or another coming up to and on the Twelfth of July (bands, fellow travellers and spectators) it is still a sizeable body of people – if you were around parts of East Belfast on the fine evening of 1st July you would think everyone was out on the streets to support the parades. However with the Troubles over, I wonder whether the Orange Order will slowly decline, not to non-existence but to near-irrelevance, if it hasn’t already achieved that. Of course if people want to celebrate their Protestant-only heritage in the North, or even in the Republic, so be it, but when you consider the exclusive Protestant and Catholic ‘heritages’ respectively in Ireland, you wonder what there is to celebrate without some big ‘buts’ or excuses for parts of that ‘heritage’. Me, I would much prefer to pick and choose what I celebrate; I feel there’s far too much dirty linen on all sides to wave it as a flag.

But my attention was drawn to a poem or song by nineteenth century cabinet maker John Frazier (1804-1852) which is named “July 12th” but celebrates the collective. John Frazier or Frazer – my limited researches from my desk indicate both spellings used – may have been born a Presbyterian in Co Offaly, certainly that region of the country, but became a Catholic and is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin cemetery, a k a ‘the dead centre of Ireland’. There’s some information on his writing if you do a web search including on the website of the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society at - see ‘The contribution of Offaly writers to Irish literature’, item no.31 under ‘Reading Resources’ on the side menu. An interesting aside here is that John Frazier, who may have been from Birr, was a Presbyterian who became a Catholic; in the 1820s a Catholic curate in Birr, Fr Michael Crotty, fell out with the church and became involved with Anglicanism and he had a cousin, Fr William Crotty, who joined Michael in Birr and eventually became a Presbyterian minister.

There are four verses of “July 12th” which are well sung by Sean Tyrell at Youtube and I will only quote the final verse;

And though it be in our country’s cause

Our party feelings blended

‘Til lasting peace from equal laws

On both will have descended

‘Til then the orange lily be

Your badge, my patriot brother

It’s the everlasting green for me

And we for one another

And we for one another

The only thing I will add to that is an ‘amen’, and hope that the marching season goes smoothly this summer.


Continuing with things Northern, when is it OK and PC to poke fun at cultural identities such as the Ulster-Scots dialect? Certainly the extent of usage of ‘the hamely tongue’ (as Ulster-Scots is colloquially known to its fans and users) in Ulster today remains to be proved. The main function of some Ulster-Scots promotion seems to have been to allow Unionist Prods to proudly claim they had their own language, and thus badge of identity, as well as Teagues (Ulster-Scots and Irish respectively). Certainly the Ulster-Scots dialect exists, along with a number of Ulster-Scots words in common usage in the North, but there are profound questions to be asked about the extent to which it should be supported by the state (advertising such as for a ‘Head Yin’ for an Ulster Scots body has done nothing for the image).

Anyway, there is a website, “1690 ‘an all thon” at which, ironically for a website purporting to be Ulster-Scots but poking fun quite deeply, may edumicate sum folkes in Ulster-Scots wurds. Read them and weep with laughter? Or feel it is poking fun heedlessly and needlessly? Or both? As with the web in general, you are the jury.

‘Sláinte’ amháin

The summer time is comin’, the trees have already been sweetly bloomin’, and I hope you’ll be having a wild mountain (or beach) time of it. Part of getting the ambience right for relaxation is having the right drink to sip. I have nothing against alcoholic beverages, indeed I have been known to partake of the odd one the odd time or two. But while there is a time and a place for many things, alcohol is not something you want all the time, plus there is the fact that some people eschew alcohol altogether, and there is a fine art of mixing non-alcoholic drinks which is sometimes ignored (certainly by pubs which tend to charge through the nose for any non-alcoholic drinks apart from those with designated driver schemes). The popularity of smoothies over the last years adds to the options but, again, you may not want a fairly heavy fruit drink all the time either. I’m quite partial to non-alcoholic beers as well though I think the availability in some European countries of low-alcohol beers (0.5 – 1.00% alcohol) is also quite good – to get drunk you’d have to get sick (sic) of drinking them first.

My favourite non-alcoholic drinks are very easy, such as half pure orange and half soda water, of course best if the orange is freshly squeezed but very acceptable in any case; this is easily ordered in pubs as well. A drop of concentrated apple or pear juice with tonic water gives a very pleasant buzz (unfortunately the price of concentrated apple juice doubled very quickly over the winter at my wholefood store where, incidentally, prices in general seem to have been soaring due to supplier increases). The old cut up lime or lemon in a jug of water in the fridge is an excellent standby, giving you cool hydration and nothing much else apart from a bit of flavour. If you can buy (or make) elderflower cordial then that and soda water is perfect.

You can experiment with all sorts of combinations of soft drinks though unfortunately most dilutable drinks in your supermarket are likely to have aspartame as a sweetener which I would not recommend since it is a known carcinogen and health hazard (a crazy situation I have commented on before). And a low rather than no-alcohol drink for the hot weather that I enjoy as well is cooled water with maybe a quarter white wine – taking the alcoholic content down to the level of beer or below. It has also been proven, as a learned person like yourself probably knows, that hot drinks cool you down in hot weather better than cool drinks (presumably the body’s reaction) but in the peak of summer you probably don’t want to be sipping your hot tea all the time either.

Now I hope we get the weather to go with it…..

- - - -

Well, I rest my case for the summer, though if the truth be known I don’t use a case or a briefcase, some people would think I should use a nutcase but that’s another matter. I wish you a good rest over the summer from whatever you do, recharging those batteries is important for all of us (and that can be a relatively green thing to do) - I’ll see you again as autumn is coming in. Until then, have fun, be funny, and may we get our share of the sunshine, literally and figuratively - Billy

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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