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MARCHING AND RISING: THE RITUALS OF SMALL DIFFERENCES AND GREAT VIOLENCE Byron Bland Center ofInternational Strategic Arms Control What is really needed is the decommissioning of mind-sets in Northern Ireland. (Report of the International Body on Arms Decommissioning: The Mitchell Report, January 24, 1996) The 1996 Orange Marching season brought a major setback to peace process in Northern Ireland. On the Garvaghy Road in the Drumcree community of Portadown, Protestants and Catholics displayed the mutual intolerance and intransigence for which they are notorious. Within each camp, a contagion of ill-will took hold, metamorphosing ancient malice into modern hatred. A volatile fog, toxic with recriminations and threats, descended upon the countryside. The battlelines drawn at Drumcree energized other historical points ofconfrontation across the province. Just as the plucked string of a musical instrument sets the all the others vibrating harmoniously, so the cord struck in Portadown sounded the key to a counterpoint that seemed almost primordial. As the tragic notes of the final measures faded, a numbing silence enveloped a society once again stunned by the violence unleashed within its soul. It was as if the North of Ireland looked at the prospect of peace and announced that it was not going to take it lying down. A strangely 102Byron Bland irrational logic seemed to drive events. Viewed from afar, it never should have happened. Neither Protestants nor Catholics stood to gain anything of tangible value. Only in retrospect—from the finale once the standoff had energized every potential division backwards—do substantive political issues emerge. However, this collapsing of events obscures the interactive process from which this mishap arose and leaves the central and confounding mystery unsolved: how did a dispute about nothing so quickly become a conflict about everything? The answer to this enigma lies in the mimetic theory of René Girard. Sinn Fèin Party Chairman Mitchel McLaughlin parsed correctly, but not insightfully, the social dynamics of this explosive situation. Shortly before the July marching season, he affirmed the right of Protestants to march. Nevertheless, he maintained, Catholics would tolerate no triumphalism. The problem is, of course, that Protestants don't march in the abstract. They march down specific streets, passing through particular communities, toward specified locations. Their Lambeg drums boom out a terrifying cadence. Their Bowler hats, black-thorn canes, and orange sashes shout a silent message for all to hear. Without triumphalism, an Orange march is simply a pointless stroll. It is nothing—a non-event, a momentous occasion that did not happen. Orange triumphalism needs serious nationalist resistance to be more than ludicrous display ofparanoid-driven pomposity. Orange "marching" must provoke a Catholic "rising." It has to find a contumacious partner before the mimetic choreography of "not any inch" can proceed. Only then can the thundering beat of the Lambeg drum transform the contestants into violent doubles, each captivated by a spellbinding obsession with the other. From the pounding rhythms spring forth entranced rivals who are much more than mere competitors. Caught in a tragedy replayed thousands of times, Catholics and Protestants stare across the bloody boundary of small differences that separates them. Their opposition defines the mirrored sameness of their common Irishness as utterly alien. With melodramatic anticipation, both await the moment when violence seals off the expelled other and circumscribes the sacred realm of our metaphysical identity. Fully enshrined, the Protestants and Catholics of Ulster feel the fullness of their humanity. They are now complete, but sadly they are no longer whole. MarchingandRising103 History is a weapon, a poker you keep in your pocket to beat the present senseless and so reorder its alignment to the past andjustify present murder. (Kevin Toolis, Rebel Hearts) Marching and drumming make an Orange parade. The practice first entered Ireland with the arrival of "King Billy"—William of Orange in 1690. His troops—the vanguard of Protestantism—marched to the cadence ofkettle drums strapped to the backs ofhorses. When they routed the Catholic army of James II at the Battle of the Boyne, marching and drumming entered the lexicon of Protestant dominance. When the Orangemen hit the streets, they take on the identity of King Billy's Protestant troops. They triumph over the Catholics in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 101-119
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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