King Rat, Kate Adie and a cast of thousands

Ruth Dudley Edwards, a frequent attender at Orange marches, on the atmosphere beyond the barricades
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Early on Sunday morning, I was transported in a red MG Midget sports car to Portadown by Graham, historian, teacher and Orangeman, who is wearing a three-piece suit to set off his bowler hat, orange collarette and white gloves.

After a press conference, David Trimble, the OUP leader lamented that although he had prudently brought a book, he feared it would prove too short to keep him going throughout the expected siege.

I engaged in a lengthy conversation with a notorious, earringed, skinhead loyalist non- Orangeman known locally as King Rat, who, in current coy terminology, is close to the UVF. In his articulate and uncompromising way, he indicated that this last straw brings the loyalist ceasefire effectively to an end. He called me "Dear" throughout, for, except in republican politically correct circles, Ulster is a place where women are the fair sex and are referred to as girls or ladies.

On foot, we accompanied the 2,000 or so Orangemen on their four-mile parade to Drumcree parish church; the streets were lined with cheering crowds. It was clear that had the Orangemen backed down, they would have been given the white-feather treatment: one child carried a sign saying: "Daddy, don't let them take my culture away".

As with the other Orange marches l've attended, it was a good-humoured family event: there were hundreds of women and children around the place, and Daphne Trimble arrived with overnight necessities for David, who conducted a long telephone conversation with a journalist in London, while sitting with his three of his young children at a table outside the church gates.

Having been told by a large Orangeman that Catholics were so corrupted by their religion that they sent their children to paedophile priests, and that Gerry Adams was the Son of Satan and would be alive when the world came to an end, I reported to Graham that I have met a genuine, 100-per-cent bigot. "There was," he observed judiciously, "a difference between a bigot and a nut."

By mid-afternoon, I realised that the secret weapon of Ulster Protestants was an immense capacity for enduring boredom. Orangemen sat in the middle of nowhere, equably contemplating days of hanging about waiting. I acquainted Graham with this great truth. "But what else are monthly lodge meetings for, but to equip Orangemen to be bored?" he asked. "And what is the Twelfth of July, but being bored in a field?"

There was excitement, though, when two women walked through, carrying a large poster saying: "It must be war . . . Kate Adie's here" and Adie- spotting became the popular sport. At midnight I arrived at the house of my host, another historian and teacher, and asked why, after his local church parade, he didn't go on to Drumcree to bolster up his brethren. "It was awkward," he said. "A Catholic neighbour dropped in for a chat and I thought it would be tactless to leave him to go to Drumcree. But I'll be there tomorrow night."