Belfast Telegraph

Marching songs fail to bring home the futility of violence

By Alf McCreary

Today, the last Saturday in August, marks the end of the main marching season, and people will breathe a little easier.

To be fair, the Loyal Orders have applied stricter controls on their marchers and, while the vast majority of parades pass off peacefully, the less possibility of confrontations and counter-demonstrations the better.

Recently a letter-writer to this newspaper complained about the sectarian bands and their music which accompany some of the lodges, but few of the rest of us know exactly the derivation of the songs which store up such hatreds.

Lest people believe that all non-Orange supporters are incensed by such material, a favourite party piece of a former Catholic Cardinal, Archbishop Tomas O Fiaich, was to sing 'The Auld Orange Flute' in Gaelic.

The cardinal was a warm-hearted man who was much misunderstood by unionists and loyalists. He was a non-violent traditional republican, with a broad sense of ill-humour, which was shown in his choice of a well-known (and quite humorous ) 'Orange' song as his party piece.

One of the most popular 'Orange' songs is 'The Sash', which I have heard in some of the most unexpected places, including a fashionable party in Washington DC where some Irish-Americans, well-connected to the Irish Embassy staff there, sang every word with gusto.

Most of us know about "Derry, Enniskillen and the Boyne", but perhaps not so much about the Battle of Aughrim, which was one of the bloodiest in Anglo-Irish history.

On the way back from a recent visit to the west of Ireland, I stopped off at Aughrim which is easily accessible east of Galway, just off the main motorway to Dublin.

Aughrim is now a small village nestling in beautiful rural countryside, and it has an informative interpretive centre and a well-marked battlefield trail.

Given such peaceful surroundings, it is hard to image the sound and fury, and the grotesque blood-letting, when the Jacobite and Williamite armies clashed there, almost exactly a year after the Battle of the Boyne.

The outcome of the Aughrim Battle would copper-fasten the Protestant ascendency in England and Ireland, but at enormous human cost.

The Jacobite forces had been routed at the Boyne but not destroyed, and their forces were able to make a crucial stand at Aughrim.

The Jacobites numbered 17,000 and the Williamites slightly more. It looked at one stage as if the Jacobites might prevail, but their commander was killed by a stray cannon shot, their cavalry fled and their hapless foot soldiers were slaughtered by the Williamites.

On that fateful day, three thousand Jacobites and two thousand Williamites perished - a total of 5,000 men in one single day of fighting.

The details of this bloody carnage are long forgotten, but as I gazed over those peaceful fields where so much death had occurred, I wondered what the men on both sides would make of it all today if they were transported back from ancient history. They fought on Irish soil, but the island is now partitioned, and has not gained full independence.

The Irish and the British are today close trading partners, but soon they will no longer be partners in Europe.

The 'Protestant supremacy' is now meaningless in a secular society where and fewer Protestants or Catholics bother go to church regularly.

So the men of Aughrim might well ask themselves today "was it all worthwhile?" Some of the modern 'party' songs on both sides have a lilt about them, but they romanticise battlefield murder.

None of our marching songs bring home to us the suffering, bloodshed, disillusion and futility of violence, and the long aftermath of history which continues to poison our community relations today.

If you are ever near the battlefield of Aughrim go and see it for yourself.

It will open your eyes to what really occurred there.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph