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9-WALK

Treading carefully over Glasgow’s Orange walks

JOANNA MAGOUFAKIS gives an outsider's view of a city that has its own colour code

I moved to Scotland from Norway as a student five-and-a-half years ago. I went to the University of Edinburgh and then moved to Glasgow, where I am now living. There was something about Glasgow I simply could not resist; a certain warmth and edgy beauty that really appealed to me along with the strong accents and the friendliness of the people. I fell in love with the city.

Many of my Scottish friends told me how rough and dangerous Glasgow could be and that there are certain places you wouldn’t want to go near. Sectarianism was one of the things they told me about, highlighting the ‘Old Firm’ games particularly. I dismissed the majority of their comments, laughing them off, thinking it was simply an Edinburgh-Glasgow rivalry thing. That was the first mental note I took. You are either an Edinburgh or Glasgow person.

Slowly, however, I started to see traces of Glasgow’s unpleasant history. I soon witnessed my first Orange walk. I was staying in Govan for a short while with a friend who lived very close to Ibrox. One morning I woke up because of the sound of loud drums and whistles. I was upset that my peace was so abruptly taken from me at what seemed to me to be too early in the morning.

I looked out of the window and saw people marching with Orange Lodge uniforms, others with Rangers tops, the majority of them holding the Union Jack or a William of Orange banner. I was very uncomfortable.

“Why are they marching today anyway?” I thought to myself. “It’s not even July 12. Do I shut the curtains? Am I in danger?” I was absolutely clueless about what was happening.

Nothing happened though and I quickly realised that they would march whenever they wanted. I must have witnessed at least five Orange walks when I was staying in Govan. It was an unpleasant experience every time. I actually felt uncomfortable walking on my own in the streets because I was not sure if I would attract too much attention.

My favourite colour has always been green but living there I thought I should probably avoid it. Most people would probably cope fine and not be worried at all. They would probably laugh at my discomfort, but I grew up in Norway where most people have no Faith at all so for me it was strange witnessing this form of religious (and political) expression.

The Orange walks did not end there. Later, I moved to the East End of Glasgow. My flat viewing was on the day Celtic was playing Aberdeen in the Cup Final last year. Being a Celtic supporter myself, I wore all green and was looking forward to watching the game later.

As I was walking up the street, Orange marchers were walking the opposite direction towards me. “Not again” I thought. “Why today?” I tried so hard to make eye contact with the police.

Once again, nothing happened. Apart from a few looks I was absolutely fine. I started to realise that this happens all the time.

I slowly grew less fearful of Orange marches and decided just to be at peace.

After all, not all Orange marches resulted in arrests and I was not in Northern Ireland, where all the scary things seemed to happen according to all the books I read).

None of my experiences put me off living in Glasgow, but I quickly realised that one could speak of ‘blue,’ ‘orange’ and ‘green’ areas.

There are certain pubs one should not go into I realised. They could also be ‘orange’ or ‘green.’ With time and experience I learned more and more.

As I was going down to Ayrshire one time with a friend’s dog, I came across anti-Irish prejudice. I went to a Costa to have a chat with my friend and tied the dog outside. The dog was visible so I was not worried at all about her safety.

As I sat down on the table, a man approached me, with genuine concern in his face and he urged me not to leave the dog outside. He explained that the Irish would steal her.

He said they are very professional, that they are members of gangs and they specialise in stealing. I was standing there not quite sure how to react.

When I tell people what I have observed they sometimes try to tell me that both sides aggravate each other and that it really isn’t as bad as I think. So far, I have only seen one Republican march, and people told me that that is a rare sight nowadays. The rest of my sectarian observations have been from the other side.

My personal experience is that anti-Catholicism and anti-Irishness are visible in society. However, it looks like people are just treating these circumstances as a laugh. “It’s just banter.”

As an outsider, it has been an interesting and slightly intimidating experience to discover this side of Glasgow. I have found that I have developed an inner filter. What I mean by that is that I find I am more careful about where I go. “Is this an Orange area or pub? If so I should probably not go there.” I have started to look for signs, in the form of flags, stickers and colours.

I tried to keep that new side of me down because I do not desire to be part of this mentality, yet I find, unfortunately, that it works as a self-defence mechanism.

 

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