Sharp-eyed readers will note that we haven’t posted for a long time. This is my fault (Marce.) It fell to me to write about the event below, and I struggled to find an approach that expressed our true feelings about the experience while avoiding offending anyone. The effort led to complete writer’s paralysis and delayed any continued blogging about our experiences in Ireland.
When we sought guidance from Irish friends the advice most often given was “just skip it.” We could have done that but Jack and I both feel that the blog is a chronicle of our life rather than a travelogue, or at least that’s what we meant it to be from the beginning. It’s for us, not for our readers. In the end, I came to the conclusion that worrying about what our readers may think is exactly the wrong approach.
And so, perhaps a little more truncated and diplomatic than I would normally be, here’s a story from July. And this should remove the roadblock and get the blog rolling again.7 October 2023
We waffled a lot about whether to duck back into Northern Ireland to experience Orangemen’s Day on July 12th. We strive to remain neutral in political issues in the countries we visit and we’re concerned that attending a march will imply support. On the other hand, we reasoned, who doesn’t love a parade, especially one with fifty bands? It was the promise of marching bands that convinced us to go to Ballinamallard. That and the need to swap out a propane tank with UK fittings.
We made a reconnaissance run the night before the march in search of the VIP viewing stand or any obvious place to watch from, and the food booths. We found nothing except a few Union Jacks and a couple of benches commemorating the recent coronation.
By the time we finished our second cup of coffee on the 12th the Ballinamallard football club car park was beginning to fill up with marchers and musicians. The weather, predicted to be cloudy but mild, was instead windy and damp, with intermittent rain showers.
We circled the area for B-roll shots of the preparations and found that not only did most of the participants completely ignore us, but many of the older men pointedly turned away from our lenses. This was a first for us. In every place we visit, most people we ask to photograph respond with a big smile or a thumbs up. We were starting to get the impression that this is not the kind of celebratory parade we Americans grew up with, for example on the Fourth of July.
We walked into town and found a spot along a low wall across from the grocery store and beside the church. It seemed as good a place as any and we could sit, always a bonus.
When the parade started we were focused on the musicians and it was only later that we realized the bands aren’t the point of the march, but rather each band heralds the officers of their lodge of the Orangemen.
It was a long and rather joyless parade. The bands were not the kind of marching bands we expected but rather usually made up of one or two instruments (accordions, flute and drum) and the same few tunes were played over and over, all in march tempo: Jesus Loves Me, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Nearer My God To Thee, Tipperary. One rogue band offered the only levity in the hours-long event by playing Sweet Caroline, a song Jack pointed out was written by an American Jew.
There was no viewing stand, the bands didn’t “perform” in the way we expected and we came to understand that the march is a show of strength as much as a celebration of victory at the Battle of the Boyne as it’s billed.
Scanning the spectators I’m pretty sure we were the only tourists there. And unlike everywhere else we’ve been no one asked us where we were from or welcomed us or thanked us for coming. It may have been my imagination but I felt that we were considered with suspicion rather than interest. We have never felt more like outsiders.
When the last Orangemen passed, we had no desire to follow them to the grounds where there would be prayers and speeches. We couldn’t shake our disappointment. Our expectations and the reality couldn’t have been more different and we trudged back through town to the van where we had lunch and waited until the traffic cleared enough to extricate EV from the car park and head south.