I never moved. When Brother Skeehan was teaching us to play the recorder in Fourth Class, like all the other little horrors I stared at the notes, groped for the holes in the recorder and blew. But otherwise we never moved. Same thing when I was butchering Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ in St Columb’s College. My fingers crash-landed across the piano keys but the rest of me was crouched still as a statue. I used to marvel at Jerry Lee Lewis, who could stand while he was playing the piano and sing at the same time. But even he was relatively stationary. Apart from his butt.
You probably see where we’re going with this. Staying in one place is what people naturally do when grappling with a musical instrument. To move about at the same time is a weird thing to do. But that doesn’t bother us in this tired, tormented little corner of Ireland. Last Sunday a republican band parade passed Clifton Street Orange Hall and I really wish they hadn’t. Yes because it’s harder to play and move at the same time, but more importantly because it gives journalists and politicians the excuse to trot out clichés about the police ‘holding the line’ between warring groups of Protestants and Catholics. It also allows the rest of the world to take home a simple-minded vision of unionists and their daft marching bands vs nationalists and their daft marching bands.
Yes, yes, you’re quite right. Loyal order bands do out-number nationalist marching bands. According to the 6th Annual Report of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, over 70% of parades were by unionists/loyalists. But in journalistic short-hand, that comes out as loyalist bands vs nationalist bands.
So I know Nigel Dodds says we must have “quiet conversations” about the mayhem that occurred on Sunday and Monday night. I know Martin McGuinness says people must observe the rulings passed by the Parades Commission. I know the parade by the republican band on Sunday was legal and the earlier parade by the loyalist bands past St Patrick’s Church was illegal. And I know unionist politicians tend to spend a nano-second condemning all violence and the next ten minutes getting stuck into the Parades Commission and the PSNI and the provocation that decent loyalist rioters were subjected to. But tell you what – I don’t care. Because these clashes come about when marches happen. There is only one answer to this knotty problem and it’s staring us all in the face, and it was suggested by a contributor to Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh’s ‘Talkback’ on Monday: don’t march.
So it’s traditional for Orangemen to march on the Twelfth to the sound of the flute and the bang of the drum. It used to be traditional to own slaves and send 10-year-old boys up chimneys to clean them, but we’ve wised up on such things. So no more marching, by anyone. If people want to demonstrate their loyalty to the queen of the island next door, let them do it in one fixed place, and I don’t mean outside St Patrick’s Church. If people want to demonstrate their dedication to Irish republicanism, fine, but do it at home. Stop moving. It’s an unnatural act which doesn’t improve the music and leads to violence. And yes, scrap the Parades Commission, because if we don’t have parades we don’t need a commission.
The caller to ‘Talkback’ suggested a 10-year ban on all parades. OK, I’ll settle for that, although I’d prefer 25 years, or better still 50. Celebrate, honour, play to your heart’s content, if that’s your idea of fun. But do it in one place, preferably a hop, step and lep from where you live.
So you see, I’m not just opposed to a handful of contentious marches. I’m opposed to the whole bloody lot of them. Pass the law, would you, and put an end to these unnatural musical acts.