Different Drums and the Spirit of the Samba

During the World Cup I was watching one of the Brazil games. When they were still contenders, mind. And I was well content, for a potentially decent game and a cold beer are hard to beat. A bit like Teenage Kicks, as the Undertones might have put it.

Anyway, the Samba spirit was in full flow and the drums were certainly adding to the occasion. By heavens, they were, and getting louder by the second.  They became so noisy that I thought they were outside my house. The Samba rhythm was like a wave of sound, beaching on the cockleshell strand of my ears.

Then, I made out a tune amidst this frenzy of bass. It was ‘Here Lies a Soldier’: eventually I realised that the ‘Samba’ drums weren’t over in Brazil but right here. And right now. They were outside my house.

I went to the door to see a parade going past. The women were dressed as nurses and the men as young lads just signed up to go to the slaughter fields of Belgium and France.  It was a Somme commemoration and the marchers had made a wonderful effort to capture the atmosphere and the feelings of the time through the uniforms and the music.

Our youngest and our finest, Protestants and Catholics alike, were butchered during those tainted years in Europe’s murderous acres.

Another wave swept over me in the few minutes before I returned to the match. I felt proud: proud of what our forebearers had done to keep the enfeebled flame of democracy alive when it was in danger of being extinguished.

And proud, too, that we still remember the courage of those young people who died on our behalf on the bloodied, be-poppied fields of man’s self-made Hell on Earth…

Parades, I suppose, are a part of my culture and I’ve no hesitation in saying that I’m proud of my heritage. As it happens, my grandparents are buried in Drumcree Cemetery, that celebrated scrap of land on the outskirts of Portadown that flashed across television screens all over the world for a few grim years.

I appreciate that Nationalists feel less than comfortable when marches are going through ‘their’ areas and I acknowledge that they might not agree with me on definitions of culture (although those who know me would aver that I tick a lot of culture boxes!).

Things are different in the country – with rare, though notable, exceptions – and I like to think that there might even still be a Catholic farmer or two who give their Protestant neighbours a wee hand out on the big day.

It’s different for many reasons and in many ways. The pace of life – and news – is faster and, at times of tension, the media delights in amplifying every tiny ‘difference’ between people in the city. Every issue becomes magnified in the spotlight of transient outrage and 10-second soundbites.

I cannot claim to have any miraculous solution to the Ardoyne problems, but there’s clearly a lack of understanding on both sides – something true in many aspects of a society that is still coping with a past that haunts our present.

We can all breathe a sigh of relief that things went so well at the weekend, especially in Ardoyne. False dawns lead nowhere, but there may be something to build on. If so, let’s do it.

As I headed back to watch the match, the ‘nurses’ and ‘soldiers’ of a bygone age walking into the distance to the strains of ‘Killaloo’, another thought or two occurred to me.

Firstly, for what possible reason had I imagined that Samba drummers might have ‘Here Lies a Soldier’ in their repertoire?

And more importantly, perhaps, that there are two Twelfths: the angry, snarly confrontations of the city, and the pleasant, incident-free rural parades that so many enjoy in towns and villages all over Northern Ireland.

I know which one I prefer.

Originally posted in Irish on www.meoneile.ie as Drumaí Difriúla ach Spiorad an tSamba i Réim