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ORANGEMEN BOW TO THE BARRICADES; Grand Master slams Sinn Fein `fascists'.

ULSTER'S Orangemen turned out in huge numbers yesterday to mark their traditional 12th of July celebrations.

But despite fears of violent clashes after a march down the Nation-alist Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast was banned, the day passed off peacefully enough.

Razor wire, barricades and hundreds of police and troops were in place at Ormeau Bridge on the orders of the Parades Commission.

But in nearby Ormeau Park, where 40,000 Orange-men and supporters rallied in the scorching sun, it was all picnics, barbecues and red, white and blue ice-cream.

Security forces were on guard against alcohol-fuelled hangers-on defying Orange Order calls for a peaceful, dignified demonstration.

But terrorists from the Ulster Defence Association had already circulated among the Loyalist community pledging to punish anyone who marred the demo.

With tens of thousands of people slugging back beer in the sunshine before a tense protest, security was always going to be a nightmare.

In any other city, keeping the peace would require a Herculean effort. In Belfast it needed a miracle - and yesterday they got one.

However, the fact that peace was only attained by the threat of violence proved there is no thawing of relations between Loyalists and Republicans.

This remains a land defined by fear and hatred.

Yesterday's protest in Ormeau Park was the Orange response to a Parades Comm-ission ban on a traditional march through a strongly-Catholic community.

That 20,000 Brethren and the same number of supporters attended was testament to the division which exists.

And what a day for mutual intolerance it was, as the baking heat brought families in droves to watch the spectacle.

Just after 11am, members of the Ballynafeigh Loyal Orange Lodge gathered at barriers erected to stop them entering the Nationalist stronghold at the foot of the Ormeau Road.

Their leader told them: "We are not the problem, the problem lies on the other side."

Catholics living 100 yards away across the River Lagan were simply "those people".

And on the other side of the fence, those people also gathered to jeer their neighbours.

Newly-painted Republican murals, one clearly depicting the silhouette of a Provo in action - were admired.

At the barrier, Noel Ligget, of Ballynafeigh Orange Lodge, and Dawson Bailey, of the Belfast Order, marched towards Superintendent Stephen Grange, of the RUC.

There then followed the now-traditional handing over of a letter protesting at a ban on an Orange march.

Three men stood at the 20ft blockade, based on a similar one used at Drumcree Church to stop Portadown Orangemen walking along the Nationalist Gervaghy Road last Sunday.

Within the Orange throng, one man picked up a megaphone to offer a few words of encouragement to the hundreds who had gathered.

Quoting from Psalm 46, he told them: "God is our refuge and our strength."

Marching bands stayed at the barrier until shortly after noon, when they left to join with thousands of Orangemen heading for Ormeau Park.

Among them was the Paisley Imperial Blues Flute Band. One member revealed a tattoo on his leg imploring: "Hang IRA scum."

Children too young to understand the significance of the annual marching season held their parents' hands as they stamped along to the beat of the Lambeg drums, mimicked the flute players and birled around laughing.

Along the Ravenhill Road, families had gathered to cheer "the boys" on their way.

They sat in deckchairs, sipping from cans of beer and bottles of cider. The sickly-sweet smell of frying onions wafted through the still afternoon air.

Shortly after 1pm, 20,000 Orangemen poured onto the road as the same number of supporters got to their feet, cheering and clapping.

Children waved mini Red Hand flags.

The atmosphere was a mixture of pride and defiance topped off with a dash of unshakeable intolerance.

And in a nation of people so expectant of violence during the marching season, the tranquillity brought suspicion.

A common complaint is that things are just too quiet. Many feel they are experiencing the calm before the storm.

Meanwhile, in Portadown, County Armagh, another 40,000 Orangemen and their supporters gathered a mile from Drumcree Church.

Organisers of the demo had originally planned to hold it at the church but changed their minds and moved it to a less-controversial venue.

Loyalists heard speeches condemning both the Parades Commission and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, the local MP.

But again, as the demonstration passed off peacefully a mile away, the fields around the church were dotted with families having idyllic picnics and enjoying the summer sunshine.

Back in Belfast, as afternoon led to evening, those drifting from the park to the city centre saw soldiers swarming along side streets, their guns at the ready.

Their continued presence suggests that the trouble-free atmosphere of yesterday does not necessarily represent a precedent for the future of Ulster.
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Author:McCOLM, EUAN
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 13, 1999
Words:803
Previous Article:Grand Master slams Sinn Fein `fascists'.
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