Another Year of Booze and Bruises at the Belfast Twelfth
July 12 is probably the biggest date in Northern Ireland’s political calendar. Each year, hundreds ofOrangemen and loyalist marching bands descend upon Belfast to parade around the city in commemoration of a Dutch Protestant defeating an English Catholic in a battle that took place over 300 years ago. As with everything that involves religion in Northern Ireland, the parade rout—and the Twelfth in general—is a deeply contentious issue. To the loyalists, it’s an important celebration of Protestant traditions; to the republicans it’s a bit like if the Afrikaans marched through the streets of Johannesburg celebrating apartheid.
The main parade travels from Belfast city center to a park on the outskirts of the city and back again. After that, various local bands split off into smaller parades to return to their respective communities. It is these return routes to the North and East of the city that have historically caused the most tension, as they involve the loyalist bands parading through republican areas. The largely republican Ardoyne district in the North has been a flashpoint for the past decade, with last year’s riots seeing police attacked with bricks, Molotov cocktails, and gunshots, leaving 20 officers injured.
Tensions have been running particularly high during the lead up to this year’s Twelfth. The Parades Commission, in an attempt to prevent a repeat of last year, banned the Orange Order from marching through Ardoyne after last-minute talks failed to produce a compromise. This is a huge source of contention for the loyalist community, who are already concerned about the “erosion of their culture” after the removal of the Union flag from City Hall last year and the ensuing riots.
Helpfully, the republican community has also been enraged recently, after a republican protest against the Orange Order’s Tour of the North resulted in Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly being taken for a ride on the hood of a police Land Rover. Northern Ireland Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin was hospitalized after trying to come to the aid of her colleague.
So, with both sides on the verge of a fight and the PSNI more tooled up than they’ve ever been following last month’s G8 conference, I went to Belfast to see if everyone couldn’t just put centuries of animosity aside and get along.
Bands from all over Northern Ireland and Scotland assembled at Belfast City Hall, while a short service took place at the city’s war memorial. Once that was finished, it was time to begin the march.
The morning parade was very family-orientated; the streets were lined with people in deck chairs, nobody was drinking, and this guy went around handing out Union flags to children, like a chuckling loyalist Santa Claus.
As the parade moved along its designated route, things grew increasingly raucous. I met these two, who had come over from Scotland. I asked Cook, the one on the right, why the Twelfth was so important to him. “I’m just over for a party with my pals, really, that’s about it,” he said, working his way through a bottle of Buckfast at 11 AM.
After a two-hour march in the July heat everyone was pretty exhausted, so it was time for a rest on the grass. On the stage, various Orange Order officials gave speeches about the importance of the event, but most people seemed more interested in sunbathing than hearing about how great William of Orange was.
Which isn’t that surprising, I guess, given they’ve probably been hearing the same speech over and over since they were kids.
After exploring the park a bit more it became clear the Orangefest crowd was made up of two distinct factions. On the one side, you had the Presbyterian types who set up marquees and bunting and gave off a sort of Jubilee garden party vibe.
And the second was the younger crowd, who took their shirts off, got their faces painted, and gave off more of a Gathering of the Juggalos vibe. Like this guy, whose Buckfast and Carlsberg with a vodka-based chaser made me think he probably wasn’t an expert on the Twelfth.
Irish Women Are Buying Abortion Pills Advertised on Street Lamps
Names and identities in this article have been changed.
"This is what it’s coming to," said Katie. "These stickers are popping up on lampposts all over town." The Dublin streetlamp she’s pointing at, along with many others around the city, has been branded with a large, pink dot beneath the words, "A SAFE ABORTION WITH PILLS." It’s part of an ad campaign for a website selling miscarriage-inducing drugs, a good deal of which are being snapped up by young Irish women for whom abortion remains a stigma that can’t be addressed openly.
"Vulnerable girls and women are ordering shite like this online and hiding away to ride it out and hope for the best. It’s hideous," Katie told me, repulsed. Ten years ago, she—like tens of thousands of Irish women have in the past decade—made a secret trip to the UK to terminate her pregnancy. But today, abortion in Ireland is still illegal and divisive. Politicians may have voted overwhelmingly to introduce limited abortion last week, pushing the bill onto the next stage, but even if it were passed, it would only allow women who were deemed to be sufficiently “suicidal” to stop unwanted pregnancies in their tracks.
Ireland’s quietest export—women who travel to the UK seeking an abortion—is often referred to in the country’s ferocious abortion debate. But the less publicized practice of self-administering—when Irish women order their own “abortion pills” online—is actually much more common.
“No one talks about women who self-administer,” says Amy. Four years ago, she carried out an abortion on herself using a pill bought from the internet. “We talk about our 5,000 women a year who travel, but no one talks about the really dark underbelly of self-administering, and there are far more of us. We’re swept under the carpet.”
Anti-abortion posters in Dublin. Photo courtesy of @redlemonader
“This kind of abortion is a lot more common than people think,” said Cathy Doherty from the Abortion Rights Campaign. “Before I’d heard of it, I never really thought you’d still have the ‘back-alley abortion’ in Ireland these days—women sitting alone in their houses, still desperate enough to try it.”
The Gay Sex Club Next to the Vatican Is the Saddest Place on Earth
Last month, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica discovered that the Vatican had paid $35 million for an apartment block housing the Europa Multiclub, which calls itself the “number-one gay sauna in Italy.” The media used the story as another example of the Catholic Church being so obviously gay that they should just come on out and admit it. As a former Catholic schoolboy who believed in God till I saw Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz, a Broadway musical about Liza Minnelli’s first gay husband, I wasn’t surprised. I remember my school’s baseball coach sexually assaulting students and my first-grade teaching assistant nearly losing her job after she had an alleged lesbian make-out session with a PE coach—Catholics and shady sex shenanigans go together like red wine and wafers.
Naturally, when I visited Rome recently, the Multiclub was on my sightseeing list, though I was a little nervous. The last time I had been in a bathhouse was my senior year of high school, when my friend Diva D and I went to one in Miami. We ran out of the building after 20 minutes because a guy claiming to be Gloria Estefan’s “background dancer” shoved Diva D, naked, into a locker. I’ve never forgotten the horror. Luckily, the sex club, as well as the Vatican-owned apartments, were located in Salustiano, a nice (read: bourgie) area that didn’t seem like it would hold any insane gays.
After a few minutes of procrastination, I swallowed my fear and buzzed the Multiclub’s entrance. A Tarzan look-alike wearing nothing but a white towel appeared and gave me a once-over—to see if I was hot enough, maybe?—then opened the front door.
Inside, I joined the line behind businessmen in suits carrying backpacks—the postwork closet-case crowd was just arriving, I guess—and examined the portrait behind the receptionist of two gay men jerking each other off in an empty disco, until the receptionist shouted at me in Italian.
“I only speak English,” I explained. “I’m an American on vacation.” Silence.
He looked at Tarzan as if I had said I were Amanda Knox visiting Rome to murder a few sodomites.
“So you’re new?” he asked.
The Holy War on Irish Wombs
It’s a freezing Saturday afternoon in Dublin and, on the corner of O’Connell Street, a nervous young man called Dennis wants me to sign a petition with a picture of a dead baby on it. Dennis is 21 years old and doesn’t like abortion one bit. Especially not now that there’s a chance, for the first time in a generation, of liberalizing the law just a little to allow women at risk of actual death to terminate their pregnancies.
“I’m trying to keep abortion away from Ireland,” repeats Dennis, churning out the slogan being yelled by stern older men behind him. “If [a woman] doesn’t want a child, there’s obvious steps she can take to not have a child.” Like what? “Well, for example, abstinence,” he says, looking down at me uncomfortably. “Purity before marriage.” What about sexual equality? Dennis is blushing, despite the cold. “Well, I’m here against abortion. I wouldn’t have anything to say to that.”
It’s illegal for a woman to have an abortion under almost any circumstances in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, even if she might die in the delivery room. Every year, thousands of women with crisis pregnancies scrape together the money to travel overseas to have abortions—and that’s if they’re lucky. If they’re unlucky—immigrants, shift-workers… anyone who is too poor to afford a red-eye Ryanair flight to London—the only options are to take black-market abortion pills or be forced to give birth. Right now, members of the Irish parliament are trying to push through legislation that would allow women to have abortions if they’re at risk of suicide, but the Catholic hard-right are fighting back.
Since 1967, when Britain made abortion legal, over 150,000 Irish women have gone to England to end their pregnancies. They go in secret and, since that figure only covers those who list Irish addresses, the true number is probably much higher. It’s a situation that has been tacitly accepted in Irish society for years: abortion is sinful, but we’ll put up with it as long as it happens far away and the women involved are shamed into silence. “It’s an Irish solution to an Irish problem,” says Sinead Ahern, an activist with Choice Ireland. Now all that might be about to change.
I WENT TO THE LAST GAY CATHOLIC MASS AT THE UK’S CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF THE ASSUMPTION
Other than a few fauxhawks, better music, and the bishop wearing a rainbow-colored stole (the scarf thing that goes over their robes), gay Catholic mass in the UK is pretty much indistinguishable from normal Catholic mass. Being a gay Catholic may seem kind of contradictory to you—like being a Log Cabin Republican, a Muslim EDL members, or Skrillex’s new future garage track—but just because you like hooking up with guys doesn’t mean you can’t also like the Holy Spirit.
The “Soho Masses” at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption have provided a safe place for hundreds of LGBT Catholics to worship for six years, a service provided to the community ever since neo-Nazi David Copeland nail-bombed the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street in 1999. That was until last week, when Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, put an official end to the masses. After his recent fight against the introduction of gay marriage, it seemed to only add insult to injury, but it’s a story that has been widely misinterpreted by the media.
This Sunday, I went to one of their last masses before the dissolution, and the bishop assured his flock that they needn’t worry. “We may have been given an ‘Ite, Missa est,’” he said from behind the lectern, “but we can translate that, not as ‘The mass has ended,’ but as ‘Go forth, go forth and find God in your lives, however some people may describe those lives.’”
Mexican Catholics think Baby Jesus is so goddamn adorable they can’t resist putting him in all sorts of cute little outfits and costumes. This is especially true in December, when the veneration of Niño Dios (God Child) kicks into full gear. On Christmas Eve, families gather around their Nativity scenes to delicately place a figurine of the newborn Christ into his manger, where he will rest until February 2, the date of the Candlemas celebration commemorating the purification of the Virgin Mary.