Orangemen go very politely to the barricades

 

The tone of the day was firmly set at around 11.10 a.m. on the Ormeau Bridge - the Twelfth's potential flashpoint - when an Orangeman suddenly bellowed: "We want our route." A tame rallying cry by Northern standards to be sure, but a bridge too far.

Within seconds, two burly brethren had lifted the startled perpetrator by the shoulders, divested him unceremoniously of his Orange collarette and bundled him back down towards Ballynafeigh with the words "You'll never walk again" ringing in his ears.

Meanwhile, the burly Ballynafeigh district master, Noel Ligget, had taken up the RUC superintendent's invitation to have a look around the enormous, bridge-spanning security barricade, designed to stop him and his loyal lodge marching through to the Lower Ormeau. The plan was for him to hand over a letter of protest there half an hour later, and the purpose of the familiarisation mission was to prevent him marching up to the spot and declaring that this scenario was not one that he had signed up to. On such sensibilities is Northern Ireland built.

So he walked up to one side of the barricade, peered around the edge, saw not a battle group of nationalists but a few relaxed looking soldiers and RUC men, and walked back down again, conceding only that he and his little parade would be back at 11.

Robert Brown, Apprentice Boy and "retired gentleman", seized the moment and a restless media with his banner: "Oppose your pervert priests and not our parades". "D'ye like it?" he asked civilly. His audience scattered when a few hundred from the Ballynafeigh lodge came marching up with their bands and banners honouring Cromwell's Ironsides and Stranmillis Temperance Volunteers, among others, and presented their letter of protest.

Their reverend speakers described the people "on the other side of this monstrosity" as interested only in "facing down the Protestant people and putting us off the road of the queen's highway" before rendering thanksgiving to King William "of great, pious and immortal and glorious memory". After a low-key rendition of five verses of The Lord is My Shepherd and a further 30 minutes of flute and drum music, they all marched off into Ormeau Park and the much-anticipated rendezvous with the Belfast county grand lodge.

On the other side of the park, out on the comfortable, leafy Ravenhill Road, a supremely relaxed citizenry had chosen to ignore the apocalyptic warning on the clock at the Rev Paisley's church - "Time is short" - and lined the route with deck chairs, having armed themselves with nothing more menacing than cans of beer, burgers and chips, and the usual paraphernalia of Northern parades. The massive union flags were selling for £5 and the much-coveted children's band poles (the batons thrown and twirled in the marches) for £1.50. Enormous inflatable hammers and clubs covered in the union flag were popular toys among the older folk and some were seen to hammer one another playfully with them in the park afterwards while the red, white and blue hair dye dripped down their faces. An infant snoozed through the march-past despite the bib proclaiming that he was "Proud to be a Baby Prod".

The sweaty and exhausted Orangemen and women finally arrived at the park after their three-hour marathon. Crowds up to six deep waited to welcome them with a plethora of "No Surrender" flags, tea and sandwiches and the smell of chips wafting across the grass. As the cans and discarded chips threatened to bury the park, the Ballynafeigh men took off home by the route they had come. In high good humour, they sallied back up to the Ormeau Bridge, rendered a high-octane performance of The Sash while doing a U-turn, and headed back for Ballynafeigh, careful to bring the last of their supporters with them.

Meanwhile, behind the barricade, according to John Gormley of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, the Ormeau residents had never had a Twelfth quite like it. They played bingo down by the river, strolled along the new river walkway, enjoyed a drink in the sunshine and watched the children play. Not a voice was raised in anger.

On this side of the bridge at any rate, the barricade was the star of the day.