Monday, 3 November 2008

What's in a Colour?

Not a lot for most of us but if the colour is green and the place is Larkhall - a small town to the south-east of Glasgow  - then a huge amount apparently.

Over the years I had heard or read snippets about Larkhall being an incredibly strong  protestant / Glasgow Rangers / Orange town but until an article in Saturday's Independent I hadn't considered posting.  A quick Google search unearthed two other articles both raising similar points (here and here): that the colour  "green is immediately associated with Catholicism, Irish republicanism and the football team Glasgow Celtic."   I have drawn points from these posts.

"Green is a colour noticeable by its absence in Larkhall, the small town with the big reputation as Scotland's most sectarian community. Ask the average person what the name of the Lanarkshire town conjures up and the most likely answer is tattoos, Rangers tops and Protestant marching bands."

"While Irish immigrants were able to mix successfully in towns such as Paisley, Greenock, Ayr and Kilmarnock, historians believe anti-Catholicism to have been greater in mining towns such as Larkhall, where Irish Catholics were used by pit owners to break strikes. So the fuel was as much economic fear as it was cultural dilution of Protestant stock, the idea which found support in sections of the Church of Scotland in the 1920s and 1930s.
Catholics, who account for just 2,000 out of the town's population of 15,000 are no longer feared as economic rivals. They have gathered to celebrate mass in community halls in Larkhall since 1872, but when there was enough support to fund the construction of a church in 1905, the local council insisted St Mary's be built on the outskirts of the town. 

Even with this background, some of the reported the happenings within Larkhall strike an outsider as strange.

"[T]the contempt with which the emerald tint is held in the town has prompted the sandwich chain Subway to change its traditional signage to black and the local pharmacies to switch their frontage to blue."

Photos are shown below:


        NORMAL                                  LARKHALL

Green Subway3 Black Subway3

Green Moss3 Blue Moss

I should point out that  I read on a forum that some Subway outlets actually use a black sign as normal.  I don't know which version is correct for Larkhall.

"[T]here have been reports that Telewest [cable]boxes - originally green - were vandalised and reappeared blue. Locals say that in Hamilton, a chain of Indian restaurants is green and white, while the Larkhall branch is blue and white."

Blue Gates2

"The most prominent example of the promotion of colours associated with unionism is the railings of Glenview Memorial Park. In the past they were red, white and blue. In the 1990s, the council painted them municipal green, an act which proved unpopular. In 2001, a resident painted a stretch red, white and blue, and  ......  the Queen's colours were then retained by the council."

There are reports that 205 green lights in traffic lights were smashed in 6 years and that these incidents occurred after Rangers' defeats.


There are those who believe the problems of Larkhall are not as bad as many make out.

"In the high seats by the window of the new Subway store, one local mother, who like many residents equates giving her name with "smashed windaes", said: "It's so embarrassing - imagine living in a town where people can't tolerate the colour green - you'll no see green wheelie bins. I had one and they set it alight." Like many people we spoke to, she believes sectarianism is ingrained, but at the same time is not as bad as many people might imagine. "You've got a minority of nutters who'll cause trouble, but that's about it."


"Today, the parish enjoys strong ecumenical relations with the town's other religious denominations. The local St Vincent de Paul group, a charitable organisation whose assistance is not restricted to Catholics, receives donations from the local Rangers Supporters Club, Orange Order and Masonic lodge.

The parish priest for the past 30 years, Canon Henry McGinn, 85, took umbrage at reports in the Catholic press that he was too fearful to walk the streets in a dog collar, which, in fact, he is rarely without. The attitude of the local Catholic community, which may surprise some people, is that the town has been unfairly treated."

" ..... a press officer with the Scottish Catholic Media Office, said: "Over decades, anti-Catholicism has been marginalised throughout Scotland. The majority of the decent people of Larkhall are no different to anywhere else in the country. Any disharmony is caused by the same antisocial tendencies you would find in other towns in Scotland and is therefore not peculiar to Larkhall."

Others too are fed up with the stigma attached to Larkhall.  The local SNP councillor said,

"The reputation Larkhall has got is simply not justified. Any problems it does have are shared by many other places in the west of Scotland. Yet there are urban myths about Larkhall that are continuing to be reported.

"I don't believe that the smashing of traffic lights has anything to do with sectarianism, and it has nothing to do with religion, but it has everything to do with vandalism.

"The vast majority of the people of Larkhall are pig-sick of being tarred with the same brush as a few idiots. It's quite simple. If you want to find people who will voice sectarian views, you will be able to do that, just as you are able to do that anywhere in Scotland, but the vast majority in the town want nothing to do with it."

A relatively independent assessment comes from an outsider from Edinburgh who travelled with his son's Under 17's football team to play the local Larkhall team.

"... I'm standing in a public park in loyal Larkhall, doing my best to stand up to the testicley challenging cold weather.  For the benefit of those not acquainted with the quaint traditions of Larkhall, this blight on the landscape is often described as Scotland's most sectarian town."

"Well, the signs were ominous. The home team took to the field in bright orange strips and at a rough guess about 90 per cent of the home team's supporters/parents/friends were adorned in Rangers-blue outfits. For God's sake, don't let them find out my son and a fair few of the Leith players and coaches are Hibees, I thought.

But of course, I exaggerate. Like all stereotypes Larkhall didn't quite measure up to its grotesque image. Sure, it was a hard fought match with some tough tackling, but it was played fairly and there was none of the vitriol that might have been expected. When you venture in to these fiercely proud former mining towns you expect a bit of aggro but even the supporters were surprisingly quiet, well behaved and non -confrontational." [despite the Larkhall team losing 2 - 0.]


What is the real Larkhall?  I'm sorry I haven't a clue!

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting account of sectarianism and changes in a community.