As Orangemen prepare to parade, many no longer feel the old triumphalism but resentment at Britain's `betrayal'

allynafeigh Orange Lodge is a late-Victorian red-brick building with a royal-blue door and an odd little leaden turret. The narrow building is squeezed between shops on elfast's Ormeau Road, but it stretches commodiously backwards into the heart of a decaying housing estate where colourful bunting forms street arches and flagpoles display a message from antiquity.

The message is both leaden and loyal: "Loyalty to the royal family, loyalty to Protestantism, loyalty to our community and our ritish heritage," explains James Elliott, a former master of the lodge. All this loyalty is today being sorely tested.

Tomorrow, the Twelfth of July - Orange Day - Mr Elliott, a 55-year-old unemployed machinist, and his quaintly robed brethren were due to prove their constancy by marching through a section of elfast shared with Catholics, some of them republicans and equally steadfast. The parade traditionally is routed down Ormeau Road, past a bakery, a few churches, a lubricating oil business, and over a bridge spanning elfast's chief river, the Lagan. elow the bridge the road is flanked by neat new housing estates almost exclusively Catholic.

In an ordinary year these Catholics are unhappy about the presence of Mr Elliott and his fellow Orangemen in their midst. ut in an ordinary year there are only about 300 of them. This year the Orange Order has decided to divert its main Twelfth celebration from its traditional rural destination to join the allynafeigh march. The numbers were due to rise from 300 to 20,000 - which is why at this delicate moment in Northern Irish peacemaking, the Parades Commission decided on Thursday to ban the march.

The allynafeigh Lodge had already been prohibited from crossing the Ormeau bridge into the Catholic area. ut they have now been prohibited even from ending the march in alternative rallying places, such as a public park on their own side of the Lagan. The Orangemen feel betrayed beyond measure. Forbidden by the Commission to march through "enemy" territory, they are sore losers. Anger boils behind the royal-blue door.

Ormeau's various churches yield no Christian solution to this stand-off. Lubrication will be alcoholic. Trepidation will enter the yeasty air. At the heavily policed bridge tomorrow, Thermopylae may come to mind.

James Elliott is a well-regarded allynafeigh Orangeman, a lodge member for 35 years. He has had two heart attacks, and through the haze of his small cigar he holds his temper during our talk in the Templeton Arms, a loyalist bar. "We would not do anything to discredit our colours," he says.

Orange flute music partly drowns his words. rawny men are downing pints and shouting "f------ this" and "f------ that" to fortify themselves. The ban on Orangemen walking through Drumcree's Catholic enclave, Mr Elliott says, "has caused a cancer". Sinn Fein and the IRA have been "hell-bent" on disruption "because they basically don't want us.... Just because three Catholic children got burnt [to death] last year, we got the blame."

Listening to him and to others in his community, it seems that the Orange Order is less comfortable with itself than hitherto. There is an ambivalence towards it among some working-class Protestants. In Sunnyside Street a big man identifying himself only as "Harry" reveals that he has left the order he joined as a teenager. It appears he took a dim view of Orange marchers making obscene gestures when passing an Ormeau Road bookmakers where five Catholics were murdered by loyalists about five years ago. And as the Catholic population of allynafeigh has risen from 30 to 50 per cent over the 30 years of the Troubles, he has made Catholic friends. Mr Elliott's drinking companion, Harry Lindsay, tucks his chin into his tartan tie to say: "I used to belong to the Orange Order but I stopped - it was too difficult to keep up with other commitments."

There is also a kind of Orange furtiveness that was absent in earlier years. At the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland near the centre of the city, there is nobody available to discuss the "meaning of modern Orangeism". Three women in a glass-walled upstairs office seem uneasy. I ask to speak to an Orangewoman if the men are too busy. "The women don't talk to the media," one said. "They're not supposed to. I don't rightly know why."

Mr Elliott knows why. "Ach, we have old-fashioned standards," he says. "The men do the marching and talking, and the women make sure we get out of bed in time for events, and that our regalia is in order." He thinks women have had a negative effect on loyalist Ulster. Margaret Thatcher signed the 1985 Anglo-Irish Hillsborough Agreement and "didn't consult the loyalist people". As for Mo Mowlam, "Well, we know where she stands!" At that, he crushes his cigar stub into an ashtray.

allynafeigh has just over 300 lodge members, of whom only about two dozen are women. Yet Orange wives and daughters are no shrinking violets. Margaret Robinson, 60, declares with trembling mouth: "I don't trust Mr lair. I voted No to the Good Friday Agreement because lair is willing to do anything to get Sinn Fein into government. elow the Ormeau bridge they have placards saying `You are now entering Republican elfast'. My brother was put out of his house near there because he flew the Union flag. They came up here the other night, tore down my Union flag and ripped it to pieces."

Ms Robinson denies she is a bigot. She used to "chum around with a Catholic girl" from that part of the lower Ormeau known as The Markets, where the Provisional IRA are strong and aggressive. "ut that was years ago, when the Catholics would line the footpath and enjoy the Orange parades," she says.

Yet it is hard to deny the order's sectarian nature, or to avoid its paradoxes. After the 1800 Act of Union between ritain and Ireland was passed, many Ulster Protestants joined the Orange Order which opposed the Act, fearing it would lead to Catholic emancipation. Their descendants today cling to what's left of the union, fearing Catholic numerical, cultural and political supremacy. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, regards the order as "neo-fascist".

The elfast historian Andrew oyd says that Orangeism, an integral part of David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party, has "principles which are uncompromisingly anti-Catholic and must be the greatest obstacle to Catholic- Protestant reconciliation".

The more one talks to Orangemen, the more one sees resentment supplanting triumphalism. They have, they say, "no friends". When not banging drums they are coining bad words for everybody. Trimble is "a disappointment"; Adams "a poppycocker"; the police force "traitors"; lair "a "lying bastard"; the restraining hand of a Protestant archbishop "ignorant and futile"; the Government "unreasonable".

"We feel completely ignored," Mr Elliott says, a cigar-cough rippling the stripes of his T-shirt. "Imagine! Twenty-six Orange marches banned in Northern Ireland this year!" I ask him about Northern Ireland's condition in 10 years' time. "A most unhappy place," he says.

On Wednesday the men were joined by several hundred Orangemen from other parts of the city for a "mini-Twelfth" which involved marching through the neighbourhood and keeping a discreet distance from the Catholic lower Ormeau.

allynafeigh Lodge used to have 1,000 members, but as Catholics have moved in, most of the Orange sashes and murals found refuge in "safer" districts, such as Castlereagh and Cregagh. James Shaw, who is 70 and left allynafeigh for Cregagh's Clonduff estate several years ago, returned to his old streets for the "mini-Twelfth", discovering "a cheerful mood". ut he adds: "I worry about my grandchildren's future."

One of them, 17-year-old Glenn Sewell, a clever and articulate youth, shakes his head. "There will never be a united Ireland. I think we should walk the Ormeau like before. And you won't believe this. When I was in Derry last year I wasn't allowed into a sweet shop because I was wearing my bandsman's uniform!"

I do believe it. Hard times loom for Northern Ireland, not least for Orangeism and its elite cousin, the Royal lack Preceptory which marches in August. James Elliott is also a member of the latter. Why is the organisation "black"? He looks at me sorrowfully.

"ecause we are mourning the crucifixion of Christ, that's why," he intones.