Three Irish mammies in vanguard of demonstration

 

On the March/ Waterloo Place, Edinburgh, 8.45am: Rain is spitting down on hundreds of anti-G8 protesters who are waiting at the side of the street to travel to Gleneagles. Three well-dressed women stand out from the crowd. Helen (51), Patsy (61) and Aileen (45), from west cork and Limerick, have travelled over for the demonstration.

"We were looking at each other this morning thinking, 'why are we doing this'," jokes Helen. "The last protest I was on was when Reagan visited Ireland. But we all feel very strongly about this. We answered Bob Geldof's call, if you like."

The women, who have nicknamed themselves "the three mammies", point out that they're not exactly living the typical protester's lifestyle.

"We've rented an apartment here for a few days and have a nice restaurant booked for this evening," Helen says. "You don't have to be a member of a specific group to protest, though. We just care about the issues."

Broxden Roundabout, 10.35am

The bus is full of socialists, environmentalists and individual campaigners, most of whom have taken the day off work to protest.

There are travelling to the G8 Alternatives protest at Gleneagles which, in contrast to anarchist protests, has been carefully organised with police co-operation.

Ahead, dozens of buses have been forced to pull over. The road ahead has apparently been blocked by anarchists. The police won't allow the buses through.

A veteran socialist campaigner grumbles that everyone should occupy the road in protest. One passenger points out that we are stopped strategically close to Perth Prison. Rumours swirl that the march has been cancelled. The bus cheers as the engines start up again.

Main Street, Aughterarder, 3.10pm

The narrow road leading to Gleneagles is crammed with protesters. It's a cacophony of drums, whistles, chants and foreign accents.

A large group sings, to the tune of Yellow Submarine: "We all live in a fascist regime." Another group chants: "Un altro mundo est possible."

"They're all so young and with shining eyes," says Helen excitedly.

"You don't see that anymore. They say young people don't have a lot to say, but they do - they are not represented in politics".

The three women have chosen placards from a stack provided by protest groups. Patsy carries a grim black and white poster of George Bush with the words: "World's 1 terrorist."

Locals stand at their driveways as the march crawls noisily past.

There are different reactions. "What do I think? It's waste of a day."

Local residents shouldn't have to put up with this," says a man in his 40s, behind folded arms. "It's brilliant!" shouts one protester.

"Best of luck!"

Outside Gleneagles, 3.30pm

Joe Small, a 54-year-old unemployed Glaswegian, is walking along the road wearing nothing except a pair of red underpants. He has also daubed himself in red paint. "It's to signify the blood of Iraq," he says, although the effect is lessened slightly by an open turquoise umbrella he is using to shield himself from the rain.

Entrance to Gleneagles, 3.55 pm

Police from all across Britain are lining the route of the march.

Local police are friendly, chatting and joking with protesters. The Met, up from London, are less communicative. As a member of the Rebel Clown Army pokes her duster lightly in the face of one of the policemen, he twitches his face angrily away.

The first sign of trouble comes when black hoodies tear down a perimeter fence. There is some cheering, but protest organisers plead with them to stop. The riot police arrive and the crowd moves on.

At a poorly protected field, the hoodies jump over a low barbed wire fence. They make for a police watchtower in the distance. They are followed by a group of socialist campaigners, environmentalists. Soon hundreds are pouring through the gap in the fence.

It's a surreal sight as the red-figure of Joe Small makes his way carefully through, followed by rebel clowns, while a subversive Seattle-based marching band, the Infernal Noise Brigade, takes up the rear.

After a standoff with police for an hour or more, black Chinook helicopters swoop overhead carrying riot police. "It's like something out of Apocalypse Now," says an older man with a rainbow flag. When the reinforcements are in place, the crowd leaves quickly, although there are a few scuffles. One young protester leaves the scene, his head dripping with blood, shouting: "Look what they did! I wasn't doing anything."

Aughterarder, 6.30pm

Back at the bus, protesters are tired. Some are angry at the actions of anarchists. Others feel frustrated at the police control along the route.

Helen, Patsy and Aileen, who decided to head back to the bus when there were signs of trouble, are happy that the march made its point without descending into serious violence.

Aileen says: "I'd have been very upset if there was violence. It was well organised. The police we spoke to were nice to us. It's been terrific."

Patsy nods her head: "It was a great day. It was peaceful for the most part, there were people of all sorts, there was a real theatrical buzz, and I think people were able to make their point."

Helen says it's a reminder of the right, and the need, to protest. "It's important to keep that going."