What will these stand-off rivals be praying for today?
The province is holding its breath, hoping for the best yet fearing the worst.
Little else has been talked about all week. Cities and towns have been cleared by 6 o'clock each evening; late night shopping has been abandoned; hotels, guest houses and bars have been empty and people have been terrified to leave their homes.
It's an all-too-common scenario for the beleaguered people of Northern Ireland and one we hoped had gone forever after the jubilation of the Assembly elections just a few weeks back.
Unfortunately our elation was short-lived.
On Tuesday night, I was working in Enniskillen and left for the 100-mile journey home at around midnight.
I can honestly say that it was the most eerie experience of my life.
Although I was able to skirt most of the trouble spots, where roads had been blocked or rioting was taking place, I felt very uncomfortable and just a little frightened.
At one stage I thought I was the only car on the road and I drove for mile after mile glued to the radio for updates on road closures.
I even phoned the police traffic line, set up especially for that purpose.
As it happened, I encountered no problems at all and got home safely.
You would think that after living through the troubles for 30 years, I would be used to such tense situations.
Somehow this was totally different.
No group can be proud of what has happened this week - neither the Orange Institution nor the Garvaghy Road Residents' Group.
The uncompromising stance adopted by both has once again deflated the hopes of the people and rekindled unhappy memories of the UUUC strike in the early 70s.
Orange leader David McNarry's veiled threat during the week that they could paralyse Northern Ireland within hours was cruel and provocative.
This so-called Christian community of ours celebrates the Sabbath today at churches and chapels all over the province.
I would love to know what they will be praying for.
TO THE TOP
ONE of the world's most famous hotels, the Europa in Belfast, is back in the news this week and happily for all the right reasons.
General manager John Toner has just been named 1998 Manager of the Year in the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Awards ceremony at London's Grosvenor House Hotel.
John topped a list of 320, representing management from some of the UK's best-known and most prestigious establishments.
Assessed by an international panel, he was given the award for his operational, financial and management expertise, plus care and commitment to customers and employees.
Not only is the award a great personal achievement for the unflappable John but it also gives the Europa a timely boost in its efforts to shake off its well-worn reputation as "the world's most bombed hotel".
The Europa is owned by the Hastings Group and is just one of many fine hotels controlled by the company.
Also in the Hastings stable is the Culloden, Northern Ireland's only 5-star hotel, and Co Down's beautiful Slieve Donard, situated literally where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.
Over the years chairman Billy Hastings has invested millions, not only in his hotels but in the future of Northern Ireland and its people.
Forget any impressions of the Europa you may have gleaned from old news footage of the 70s and early 80s.
From the ground floor to the Presidential Suite, it has undergone a total refurbishment programme and is easily our finest city centre hotel.
As for the service, well that's now undisputed, thanks to the skills and commitment of Hotel Manager of the Year, John Toner.
My part in a
age of cash
BREAKING a champagne bottle against the side of a new boat is a custom normally reserved for royalty or captains of industry.
However, next Saturday, yours truly will be afforded the privilege when I help launch the first replica of a Viking longboat ever built in Northern Ireland.
The official ceremony takes place in my home village of Ardglass and I will be accompanied by a group of local children as the boat goes into the water.
The Ardglass Vikings are a charitable organisation established three years ago to raise money for the proposed new Northern Ireland Children's Hospice.
More than pounds 3 million is required and the Vikings, who come from all walks of life, are doing their bit.
This weekend they are in Peel in the Isle of Man for a Viking festival.
For 1998, the Ardglass gang have secure generous financial sponsorship from Peugeot NI, which will help them to provide activities at events all over the North.
Throughout the winter the team spent hours designing and building this longboat and the wraps were taken off last week.
It should be a wondrous sight on Saturday when the horned, helmeted crew of 25 begin sea trials.
Not since the 10th Century will Ardglass have seen anything like it.
Strange as it may seem, only female members of the crew have signed up for burning and pillaging duties - but there's a full quota of males for one other traditional Viking obligation!
New French miserables!
CA va? Le Tour de France ou La Coupe du Monde? Not bad for a dodgy B Grade at GCSE French!
Still, you would have to be from Mars not to realise that two of this planet's greatest sporting shows are being staged today.
For the people of France it represents a dilemma. Should they tune in to their world-renowned cycle race, which starts in Dublin today, or watch their soccer team's historic appearance in the World Cup finals?
Maybe I can ease their predicament because, as much as I hate bringing bad news, the French will not be celebrating a win in either competition.
I'm reliably informed that the cycling title is likely to go to an Italian and it just isn't conceivable that the French will outplay the Brazilians at soccer.
Two weeks ago I went to Marseilles to savour the World Cup and watch the brilliant Brazilians in their match against Norway.
OK, I know they were beaten 2-1 but you have to remember that this was the last game in the qualifying round and they were already assured a place in the final 16.
Even in defeat they were a class above Norway and, believe me, if Brazil had needed to win that night, they would have done so.
They'll win 3-1 tonight!
Hidden body of evidence
I WAS fascinated to hear that the body of a man who was killed nearly 80 years ago had been found this week in County Galway.
Not only that but the Garda were able to put a name and occupation to the skeleton.
Identified by his bones and various articles of clothing and jewellery found in his makeshift coffin, the police came up with the name Padraig Joyce.
Apparently Mr Joyce, headmaster of the national school in Barna, Co Galway, around 1920, was shot dead by the IRA for being an informer.
He was murdered in October 1920 and buried in a wooden box in a location unknown and unmarked.
Earlier this week Mr Joyce's skeleton was discovered by a farmer working on bogland around the village.
Another skeleton was found in Co Antrim last month in a cupboard of an old derelict house.
This time identification was made by a placard round the skeleton's neck. It read: "Northern Ireland hide-and-seek champion 1926!"
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|Publication:||The People (London, England)|
|Date:||Jul 12, 1998|
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