A lot of sweets and a little hope greet ceasefire: Mary Braid witnesses the reaction of Belfast's Protestants to the prospect of peace

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The Independent Online
AS A shower of lollipops and chocolate fell around her, Shaneen, five, was asked what she was celebrating.

'What was on the news?' her mum prodded as a street party lured hundreds of children from the backstreets around the Protestant Shankill Road yesterday. 'I only watch cartoons,' said Shaneen. 'I don't know what the party is for. I just know it has a bouncy castle.' In west Belfast, children are lucky to be so innocent.

'Adults have suffered over the last 25 years but the suffering of children has been more acute,' said Pastor Jack McKee, the Elim Pentecostal minister who organised yesterday's party, marking Belfast's first day of peace in a quarter of a century. 'We have kids here who have lost parents not just to bombs and bullets but also to prison.'

In 1989 Pastor McKee returned home to the Shankill, raised some money and bought the rundown 'Stadium', where yesterday's party was held. It is now home to a youth project designed to keep local children out of the hands of loyalist paramilitaries.

How could it be a celebration of an end to violence that should never have blighted the community, he asked. He preferred to mark new opportunity and 'light at the end of the tunnel'.

The children may not have known what the party was for, but it had some heart. What adult celebration there was on the Shankill in the first hours after the midnight ceasefire was a tit-for-tat affair.

The sad little groups huddled together in thick mist said there wasn't much to be happy about; only a determination not to be outdone by the 'Taig' celebrations six weeks before had forced them on to the street.

One little woman still in her slippers was clearly embarrassed by the poor show. 'We don't need a cavalcade like they had,' she said. 'We don't have to do anything like them.'

Some cars sounded their horns as they passed, but few seemed to have made a special journey. There were no flags, no razzmatazz and no music.

But the old west Belfast contradictions were there. 'I'm glad the violence is over on both sides,' said another woman. 'But I'll never run down our own paramilitaries and I'll not live with Taigs.' At the City Hall too the Protestant crowd was small. Draped in Union Flags, some people mounted the statue of Queen Victoria, singing 'God Save the Queen' and shouting 'No surrender'. They scared off peace protesters who had gathered to hold hands, play a guitar and sing.

With more than 3,000 dead in the conflict no one seemed capable of pure joy. On BBC Radio Ulster a man sang a ballad demanding Ulster 'wear black and cover its face' in shared shame for its national disgrace.

For most callers to the station it was the small changes in recent weeks that mattered - the easing of security and the ending of handbag checks in city stores. A man telephoned in to say he had just walked his dog the length of the Omagh Road for the first time in years. A woman said she was looking forward to putting a photograph of her son in Army uniform on the mantelpiece.

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