I had four days off between my units in London and Milan, and I decided to go back to Dublin. There I met back up with Stephen McPhilemy, and we went up to Belfast for the Orange marches. In Northern Ireland, there's what's known as the marching season. It is where all the Protestants get together, bang drums and march down the street to commemorate a military victory hundreds of years ago (or intimidate the Catholics, depending how you look at it), and assert themselves as the best around, as Stephen explained to me on the train ride up. I had heard of the Troubles and seen the walls running through the neighborhoods in Derry and Belfast on my last visit, but during this visit the tension was palpable. When I told my dad where I was going that weekend, he said “you'll see parents teaching their kids how to hate.” There was nothing happy about this long series of marching band after marching band that the northern Protestants claim will one day be a major tourist attraction.
After the lengthy parade was over, we strolled down the route, empty beer cans and bottles lining the street. It looked as if this could have been the result of a week-long festival in what in reality took a single day. We continued down the street into a dangerously Protestant neighborhood called Sandy Row. Stephen explained there was a song with the line in it “…We're from Sandy Row where the Catholics never dare to go…” It was a bit of a rush to feel like you were in the enemy's home turf. Of course I never even dared think a subversive thought among a street full of skinheads and tattooed thugs looking for a fight.
Shortly after we got back on the train, we heard about minor scuffles up in Belfast later that night. Witnessing the marches was something I wanted to do, and I'm glad I went, but it's not something I'd ever go back to or really find uplifting at all. It was more one of those experiences one would call educational or parents would call character-building.
My photos from the Marches
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