Blood & Thunder: Inside An Ulster Protestant Band was one of the books I commissioned towards the end of my time at Mercier Press. It sounded like it was going to be a cracker and the author Darrach MacDonald was great.
Since release, the book has attracted a lot of attention which I’m really pleased to see. It deserves it.
The allusion to blood and thunder, by the way, refers to the decibel levels and to the zeal of drummers playing until their wrists bleed and their drumsticks are stumps.
MacDonald concludes that marching bands are a vibrant manifestation of 21st Century loyalist culture. The Orange Order’s membership is dwindling in an increasingly secular society (it has fewer than 36,000 members in Ireland compared with more than 93,000 in 1968), but these bands offer an outlet to loyalist youths to celebrate their heritage.
If full reconciliation within the North’s divided society is to happen, MacDonald suggests that respect for loyalist traditions must be part of it. “Choosing to be entertained. . . rather than offended is the secret to a shared future,” he says.