Red Hands Red Poppies Red Flags

She was just a slip of a girl, perhaps 6 or 7 at most. Her starched white blouse with its razor like creases, complimented the perfectly pleated grey school skirt and black shoes, the latter having been cleaned to a standard which afforded a mirror like reflection. She was almost dwarfed by the large wreath she bore, lilies and poppies interlaced by a florist who was quite clearly at the very top of her game. The little girl would soon be relieved of her floral burden as she laid it in accordance with the instructions her mother had given. Her mind turned to the great great grandfather she had heard of only in story, who fell at a place called Thiepval , and an elder brother she would never know, for he died just a few yards from where she currently stood. Across the street on a plain grey and white sign were the words “Omagh Shopping Centre”.

Sometimes the ordinary, the everyday, that which we take for granted, can in themselves be symbols of bravery when exercised elsewhere. Perhaps we should be grateful we live in communities which make no such demands of us.

The recent confiscation of a Red Hand Flag from a Northern Irish Rangers supporter entering Ibrox, and the subsequent furore it caused, only served to emphasise how raw the subject of Ulster remains within the Rangers support. With a significant number of Ulstermen contributing to the Rangers support such rawness should come as no surprise, notwithstanding the shared heritage, faith and history and language between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Those with longer memories will remember the airbrushing of picture to erase the Red Hand Flag from a Rangers photograph as well as the censure of Zoe Salmon on BBC’s Blue Peter for having the temerity to say “’I’m from Ulster and I’d like to cover a plane with the Red Hand Of Ulster” when explaining a British Airways “Best of British” logo competition.

The enemies of the Protestant/Unionist community in Ulster have sown their seeds of hatred well. And perhaps more significantly, continue to cultivate.

Of course in the broad church, or Rangers family, such sentiment or concern is not shared by all. There are those amongst our support who view the whole subject of Ulster and her trials and tribulations as “nothing to do with us”. Thankfully, a view not shared by the Ulstermen who laid down their lives to protect these shores in 2 world wars; or the generations from Northern Ireland who have supported this club overcoming significant logistical difficulties to follow follow. Nonetheless it does however remain a legitimate position to adopt.

But perhaps not without cost. Having no interest in the political or religious affairs of Ulster may well be proposed and argued as a reasonable viewpoint, particularly amongst an ever increasingly secular support, but does such disconnection and disassociation from the issues affecting a considerable section of our support usurp and weaken the notion of a “Rangers Family” ? Before anyone accuses me of waxing lyrical, many older bears will attest that years ago being part of the Rangers support had a sense of family at its beating heart.

It is a strange anomaly of life that one has to either step outside, or come from outside in order to effectively defend something, whether that be an organisation, an institution or a community of people.

Ruth Dudley Edwards did just that. The Dublin middle-class academic of Catholic background was given warts and all access to the Loyal Institutions in Northern Ireland. Her critically acclaimed book “The Faithful Tribe” not only gives intriguing insight to the loyal institutions themselves, but also wider aspects of community life in Northern Ireland. She completely destroys much of the Sinn Fein propaganda and exposes the true nature of the “residents groups” and their formation. The way she disarms the veiled threats against her for speaking the truth, is well worth the read itself.

I fully accept and understand that there will be those reading this who are genuinely struggling to understand the raw emotion Ulster generates amongst our support. I can only leave you with a signpost however – the words of the late Labour leader John Smith:

“These are my people, and I will never desert them”

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