In the United States, when you say parades, images of celebration or patriotism are immediately conveyed. Parades in Northern Ireland are sort of the same, but yet markedly different. Rarely, if ever, does it conjure up the idea of a contentious situation or even potential violence, as is the case in Northern Ireland where the declaration and demonstration of political or religious allegiance can have serious repercussions.
Parades, like the interfaces, represent one of the ways that cultural divides remain visible on a nearly daily basis (at least during the “Marching Season” that is currently at its yearly height). Many parades, like the bands that dominate them, are affiliated with “lodges” or other political/religious groups and have their own “traditional” routes. These can oftentimes take them directly through areas controlled by those of opposing beliefs, greatly contributing to the potential to flare tempers, raise tensions, and even possibly incite violence.
The question I struggled with all week – from hearing Dr. Ray Casserly speak on the tradition of bands and their role in parades to visiting the Apprentice Boys of Derry, who are behind one of the biggest parades each year – was that of why bands continue to march through contested, or even heavily opposed, areas?
I realize now that I never actually asked the question, so I can only guess by piecing together bits and pieces of related discussions while I try to come to my own conclusion ---
The Apprentice Boys of Derry, for example, march to commemorate the siege of their city over 300 years ago – an event the route they march commemorates. Others have similar reasons for choosing their own routes. To change this plan because of the demands of the opposing community would not only sell this tradition short, but would represent a concession to the opposition. While this could mean significant progress for the peace process, it would undoubtedly be interpreted as one side having “won,” which could potentially incite more conflict. In this way, I suppose the current situation represents the most feasible method at present to avoid a return to all-out fighting. Instead, such clashes can be retained within the general context of these summer marches.