Discontented Winters more concerned with local Orange history than elections

 

ARMAGH is called the Orchard County with good cause. Travel the by roads around Loughgall and you'll pass field after field and row after row of apple trees. It's apple blossom time in the county as well as election time.

The side roads will bring you to a small road junction, visually unimpressive, but a famous and hallowed spot in Orange tradition. It's the place where, 201 years ago, Dan Winter, with the aid of local Protestants, routed the Catholic Defenders in the Battle of the Diamond. The engagement led to the formation of the Orange Order.

Hilda Winter and her nephew, Colin Winter, descendants of Diamond Dan, are preoccupied with a family dispute relating to the famous battle. Their cottages are set 100 yards apart at the Diamond. Each claims that their cottage is the original one where Diamond Dan resided.

But they agree on their commitment to Orange tradition and the Union. "It's in our blood," says Hilda. "It's part of our folk memory. We remember 1641 1690, 1795, and all the times when our faith was under threat.

"So people should understand why, when we feel our backs are to the wall, we will hold on to our Protestant faith. We don't want a united Ireland where we would be ruled by Rome. You can take everything from a man but his faith." Talk of a pluralist Republic doesn't cut much ice. "Rome rule" remains a threatening spectre.

Colin Winter says the IRA must start giving up arms before Sinn Fein can enter talks. He's with the DUP on that issue. "Protestants can only go so far. If the IRA won't even give up as much as a bullet, how can they be trusted I could see civil war starting up if the South starts dictating to us in our country. That is none of their business".

Colin says he hopes the IRA restores its ceasefire. "Too many UDR soldiers and RUC men and ordinary civilians are in graves who shouldn't be in graves."

George Patton, a senior figure in the Orange Order, lives in Scarva, on the Armagh Down border about 11 miles from the Winter cottages. As far as the people of Scarva are concerned, he says, "Scarva is the centre of every where". The village comes to prominence once a year on July 3th when it stages the sham fight between King Billy on his white charger and King James on his dark horse. Guess who wins?

After that, the village settles back to its everyday somnolence. "This is a unionist area. People vote the way they have always voted. They won't get terribly, worked up over this election, says George. And that's another problem, he adds apathy. "I think all the parties still have a lot of work to do to get the vote out."

As for the Winter dispute, he is unable to come down in favour of either Hilda or Colin. "It would take the wisdom of Solomon to decide the issue," he concedes, adding diplomatically that there is validity in the argument of both aunt and nephew.

The regrettable aspect of the dispute, says George, is that it is inhibiting the British government from pumping in substantial finance for an interpretive centre dedicated to the Orange Order in this backwater of Armagh.

While politicians tramp the highways and byways seeking votes in what they call Northern Ireland's most important election, some things never change, whether in Orange or Green politics. The split, always the split.