The Biomechanics of Aggression: Psychophysiological Conditioning in Ulster's Loyalist Parades
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The Biomechanics of Aggression:
Psychophysiological Conditioning in Ulster’s Loyalist Parades

Defending Our Cherished Position

A line of serious men marched past the house with their waving banners and bands. One particular banner fascinated me: it depicted a long-haired man riding a white horse with a sword in his hand. “That’s King Billy,” said my father, “and he defeated the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne.” Later I heard that those same marchers had damaged Catholic property.

From 1995 to 1999, loyalist parades ignited riots and instigated widespread violence in Northern Ireland. Some loyalists claimed that their violent actions demonstrated popular support for the Orange marchers who were prohibited from completing their traditional parade route in Drumcree. In Antrim, Down, and Derry, loyalist protestors attacked Catholic homes, businesses, and churches (Cusack 1998). In 1998, similar attacks damaged seven Catholic churches and completely destroyed three others (Clarity 1998a; Pogatchnik 1998). The violence was not limited to property. In 1996, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), an outlawed Protestant paramilitary organization closely linked to the Protestant parading institutions, killed a Catholic taxi driver near Portadown. The LVF threatened to kill others if British troops continued to blockade the contentious Portadown parade route (Cowley 1996; McKinney 1997; Reuters 1996). In the summers of 1996 and 1997, British paratroopers and the predominantly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) forced Orange marches through the Catholic Garvaghy Road along the Portadown route. The aggressive move ignited violent reactions, and the RUC reported over 215 injuries and 1,000 violent incidents over the two summers (Robinson 1997a and 1997b; Pogatchnik 1996). More appalling yet, on the Twelfth of July 1998, three Catholic boys were burned to death in another arson attack perpetrated by paramilitaries in support of the loyalist parades (Clarity 1998b). The impasse at Drumcree remains unsolved, and angry protesters from both sides of the conflict have continued the conflict into the summer of 2000.

What could inspire such aggressive behavior? Policies created in London that limit the loyalist’s cultural productions fueled much of the sectarian violence [End Page 9]

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1. “Plat of the Cittie of London: Derrie.” The early-17th-century print shows Derry’s circuit of defenses and four main gates. Besides the addition of new gates, the walled city’s street plan has not changed for over 350 years. (in Phillips 1928)

described above. Yet the chaos surrounding these supposed cultural celebrations cannot be interpreted as the manifestation of present political anxieties alone. Such analysis does not explain the durability of the commemorations themselves, and, if topical concerns alone do not inspire the continued performance of these rites or the aggressive behavior they incite, what social and psychological mechanisms preserve the loyalist parades and incite the animosities associated with them? This essay investigates an important but relatively unexamined source of Northern Ireland’s violence: namely, the careful structuring of certain activities in the loyalist parades themselves. These events utilize biomechanical grammars, carefully choreographed movements, gestures, and songs, which trigger a preferred emotional response in their performance. Loyalists in Northern Ireland mobilize the passions of their community by reproducing these prescribed movements in times of crisis. More importantly, the actions that constitute these cultural productions naturalize and rehearse the kind of violence witnessed in the 1998 riots and deadly arson attacks.

In Northern Ireland both sides of the sectarian divide produce confrontational displays and protests, and various factions participate in ceremonies that foster ethnic and religious hatreds. In this article, I limit my investigation to the loyalist parades staged in and around Derry. The Apprentice Boys commemorations employ powerful cognitive and physiological elements, which, when combined in performance, produce identifiably aggressive behaviors. The events are theatrical; they provide an inhabited symbology, where the participants embody ideologically meaningful signs and occupy historically significant spaces. Derry’s loyalist parades incorporate a large cast to enact these psychophysiolocally scored performances, and, to better understand how the parades contribute to the violence witnessed in Northern Ireland, I will examine these emotionally engineered events with theoretical models taken from performance theory, anthropology, and psychology. [End Page 10]

Ulster’s Loyalist Parades

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