It’s high tide for the marching season

Members of the Londonderry County Grand Orange Lodge
Members of the Londonderry County Grand Orange Lodge

The ‘marching season’ is like the tide. It’s always either ebbing or flowing and it reaches peaks at certain times of the year.

In just three days, it’ll reach its high water mark. It’ll be spring tide for loyalist marches.

Are these things related to phases of the moon just like the real tide?

We could be forgiven for thinking so. To an outsider, unfamiliar with our strange ways, dressing up and marching behind bands can’t look like an entirely rational activity. Some might think it better to keep the drums on the ground, apply some bright paint to the participants’ faces and then get them to run around the drums in circles rather than carry them along the roads.

In recent years the ‘marching season’ has tended to get longer.

Maybe it just seems longer! This year it began with all those unscheduled flag protests in January. One wag told me the ‘marching season’ starts on the 1st of January and ends on the 31st of December!

I’m all for a free society, so if that’s what people want to do, within reason, they should be allowed to get on with it. ‘Live and let live’ is as good a maxim as any when it comes to parades.

Many people will already be parading around the Mediterranean chasing the sun instead of trudging along our wet roads.

Some will have made their holiday booking for “the Twelfth fortnight in July” (much to the confusion of daft foreigners who think there are only two fortnights in July). Others will have made their dash to the airport as soon as the schools broke up or even before. Of those left behind, most won’t have any interest in parading so they’ll be getting on with their lives.

For a substantial minority, however, the ‘Twelfth’ will be the highlight of their year.

By now the bonfires will be enormous with tyres concealed behind the wooden pallets.

The tricolours will be briefly fluttering in all their glory on the top and the refreshments will be at the ready. It’ll be all set for the year’s biggest celebration of a community’s ‘culture’.

Others will be contemplating going some distance (sometimes literally) to be offended by the whole spectacle. Pity might be a more appropriate emotion.

The street theatre of parading as it is performed here, with its determination to stick to traditional routes, its swagger, its grandiose airs, its jingoistic overtones, and its grotesque elements of triumphant tribalism, ought to raise profoundly disturbing questions about this society.

It seldom does. Instead it’s accepted and excused as a celebration of ‘culture’.

For the last century and a half, and particularly since partition, the characteristic which has marked this area apart from more normal societies has been its all-pervasive sectarianism. Like all irrational prejudices, sectarianism has its roots in ignorance and even in stupidity.

It’s a sickness at the heart of society. OK, so at times parading can be relatively harmless but at other times it appears to be a symptom of that sickness.

Those who want to preserve it as ‘culture’ would be well-advised to do their best to keep it in the fairly harmless category.