Today is the Glorious Twelfth for some people, e.g. eccentric Ulster- Scots who enjoy going from British town to British town to march through them to the banging of drums and the shrieking of flutes. They do this to express Protestant pride, although many Protestant Scots find them embarrassing and even heretical.
Many people shudder when they see them, reminded of how really bad sectarian violence was in Northern Ireland only a decade or two ago, and how very bad it could have been in Scotland. It wasn't absent from Scotland, as anyone from the west of Scotland can tell you, but it wasn't ever as bad as it was in Ulster. It could have been; it wasn't.
At a recent dinner party I said I couldn't get my head around that kind of tribalism today. I felt comfortable that no-one was going to hate my guts because I belonged to a tribe called "Catholic"--particularly as I am a foreigner. (I once was amused by a Glasgow memoir in which the teenage Catholic author avoided beatings by teenage Protestant neighbours by claiming to be Polish.) I was much more worried about people despising me because I ascribe to a philosophy called "Catholic", go to church on Sunday and believe the tenets of the Catholic faith.
I find it almost amusing that the same Guardian readers who shudder at the bigotry of the Orange Order against Roman Catholics also shudder at Roman Catholics who are Roman Catholics in more than name and tribe. Almost amusing.
But what is amusing is this story of a fellow foreigner friend of mine who met an Ulsterman at a Scottish party. Maybe it was in Edinburgh. Maybe it was in Glasgow. Maybe it was in Inverness. She wasn't me, so I'll be more discreet than usual.
Anyway, this Ulsterman took a shine to my friend and as he did not approximate her ideal in any way, she began to dread that he might ask for her phone number, and that this would lead to later embarrassment. But she smiled and was polite and sought the company of her friends, and did not talk to him again until she was in the hallway, preparing to leave.
"Why are you leaving so early?" asked the Ulsterman.
"Well," said my friend. "I have to get up early. I have things to do."
"Like what?" asked her erstwhile suitor.
"I have to go to Mass," said my friend.
The Ulsterman was stunned.
"To Mass," said my friend. "To. Catholic. Mass. In the morning. It's Sunday."
"Oh, er, um," said the Ulsterman and, after a panicked stammer of a good-bye, melted back into the kitchen.
"I guess we know which side of the divide HE was on," I said, after a many healthy howls of laughter. But as a matter of fact, who knows? Was it her "tribe" or was it her faith? We'll never know, and it doesn't matter. Well, not in this story anyway.