The Marching Season – Whats it all about?

We are now a week past the 1st of July, the day the Somme Offensive is remembered, and the “Glorious Twelfth” when the Battle of the Boyne is celebrated is just around the corner, these historic events are by tradition the main reason for the many parades and celebrations at this time of year and to a few history buffs they are a welcome reminder of one of  Ireland’s periods of greatest significance on the world stage.

…. however ask most of those parading on the Twelfth why they are there and I doubt history is at the forefront of their thoughts, they might manage a quick line about King Billy on his White Horse, or to show superior knowledge state “the Pope was King Billy’s side you know!” but most will know more about Sundays battle between the modern Dutch and Spanish than any fought in bygone days of yore.

So why do hundreds of thousands of people still attend and participate in these events?  Is it to “express our culture and identity” or  is it to “claim towns and villages as our territory” or maybe, as we are often accused, is it blatant “triumphalism and coat-trailing” ?  (I have no idea what “coat trailing” is  by the way, but at the price of suits and band uniforms i doubt many will be trailed on Monday )

… once again if you suggested these reasons to spectators and marchers on the Twelfth the response would be much the same as before, a few might discuss the finer points of banner art, Lambeg tuning and championship pipe bands, sadly a few might spout “they don’t like it up’em you know” rubbish, but most people would quietly smile at your two heads and ask did you hear the vuvuzelas in the parade.

So if none of the above are that relevant what is the real reason we parade?  its quite simple really, because we enjoy it.  I know the idea of Orangemen having fun seems alien to many, but walking down a road behind a good band with family, friends and neighbours watching is actually an enjoyable experience, even with no-one watching it is still a pleasure.

I remember a few years ago I took part in a parade where the only spectators for most of the route were sheep, but it was a gloriously bright Sunday evening, walking behind an excellent silver band through beautiful countryside to an ancient Church, the pleasure and contentment from that parade remain fresh in my memory today, along side those of the Tercentenary Parade in Belfast where the crowds cheering and the music reverberating of the building carried us along for the entire route.

Normally the parades I take part in are of the smaller nature, usually just the one or two bands with a few dozen Brethern behind each, some are in the countryside, but most are in small villages and towns, and because of the area I live in many of the villages have Catholic majorities, the parades in these villages are viewed no different from the others, and simply result from the local band or lodge from that locality inviting their neighbours to join them for a service or parade,  I don’t believe we do anything that is intended to offend or could be taken as offensive, the increasing number of Catholics who come out to watch bears witness to this I believe.

I am not on here to argue about Ardoyne or Drumcree, there will be ample chance for that over the coming days, but I just wanted to counter the “ban them all”  statements of some posters, only a tiny fraction of parades are contentious and are focused on a handful of interfaces, hopefully over time these can be resolved, but in the meantime lets us have our parades and enjoy them.   I would agree we probably need  Gok Wan to give us a makeover sometime,  but in the meantime I ‘m happy to look almost as ridiculous as a professional golfer,  and come Monday will proudly wear the Sash my father,  grandfather (and grandmother),  great grandfather and six or more generations back all wore on the Glorious Twelfth in their day.

We are reader supported. Donate to keep Slugger lit!

For over 20 years, Slugger has been an independent place for debate and new ideas. We have published over 40,000 posts and over one and a half million comments on the site. Each month we have over 70,000 readers. All this we have accomplished with only volunteers we have never had any paid staff.

Slugger does not receive any funding, and we respect our readers, so we will never run intrusive ads or sponsored posts. Instead, we are reader-supported. Help us keep Slugger independent by becoming a friend of Slugger. While we run a tight ship and no one gets paid to write, we need money to help us cover our costs.

If you like what we do, we are asking you to consider giving a monthly donation of any amount, or you can give a one-off donation. Any amount is appreciated.