Given the date I thought I'd better get round to giving a very condensed summary of the article I mentioned earlier.
On the Twelfth of July in the Morning....(Or The Man Who Mistook His Sash for a Hat)
David Cooper, Folk Music Journal, Volume 8, Number 1, 2001, pp. 67-89
David Cooper comments that the loyalist community in Northern Ireland is currently involved in an exercise to validate its own folklore and traditions as a distinctive and autonomous culture.Songs such as the "The Sash My Father Wore" encode messages about 'Orangeness' which are partisan and exclusive, but the 'meaning' of the song owes a lot to the context in which it is performed as well as anything actually inherent in the words or the tune.
For most Protestants in today's Ulster 'their' folk music is that of the marching bands, especially the fife and drum bands with ther 'belligerent and aggressive style'. The tunes played in these processions come from a variety of sources, and some are the same melodies (under a different name!) as tunes in the 'Gaelic' repertoire.
The Sash My Father Wore is one of the most 'Orange' of all songs, which in Ulster and Glasgow, carries a very intense siginificance - an expression of pride and solidarity for the loyalists, and a message of intimidation to nationalists. But this set of 'meanings' doesn't exist outside - others just hear it as a song which is good, bad, or indifferent.
The 'Sash' appears to be a reworking of an Irish music-hall song 'The Hat My Father Wore' attributed to Johnny Patterson, who died in 1890 without having published or copyrighted any of his songs. In its original form it looks like many other comic 'oirish' songs, in which 'Paddy Miles, an Irish boy' returning from exile in America celebrates his Irishness through 'a relic of old decency/ The hat my father wore.' and the song has no explicit political or nationalist meaning. Later variants of 'The Hat' express a more overt nationalist perspective, and the hat becomes a symbol of the republican cause being worn at Slaney, Ross, Gorey, and in 'widow Cormac's cabbage plot' and at Slievenamon and other sites sacred to the national cause.In yet another variant by James Kane of New York the 'Hat' is transformed into the green sash worn in the St Patrick's Day parade.
The first printed version of an Orange 'Sash' appears in a songster Orange Standard published by Mozart Allen in Glasgow in 1936. This is a fairly mild account of a visit to Glasgow by an Ulster Orangeman wearing the totemic sash, and despite a reference to the sash being 'a terror to them papyish boys' the song is more a celebration of the larger loyalist community.
Cooper considers the question of the 'Sash' as a "parody" of the 'Hat', but as there is definitely no humourous intent involved he would prefer to call it an imitation. However given the way in which some themes have been redeployed in the 'Sash' ( the listing of famous battle sites, the appeal to a larger overseas community, down to the copying of exact phrases) Cooper sees the constuction of the 'Sash' as an act of appropriation, rather similar to the annexation of territory in warfare.
He considers the tunes associated with the songs:- the 'Hat's' melody being related to 'Irish Molly-O' while the 1936 Mozart Allen melody for the 'Sash' has some similarities to the 'Hat'. However the present-day melody used for the 'Sash' is a much more march-like style and it seems to have come into use after World War Two. Cooper analyses some affinities with the tune of 'The Lakes of Pontchartrain'.
Cooper concludes by suggesting that if anyone doubts the intensity of the feelings associated with the 'Sash' that they walk down the Falls Road whistling it. [He does not advise this.] "The meaning of the melody...has been constructed by the environment from which the song sprang."