Pop songs, hymns and tears greet a new era

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AT THE end, being Irish, they sang. David Ervine, the former para-military who had emerged as one of the most impressive of the new political leaders, belted out "Memories". At another venue John Hume and a few friends sang "We Shall Overcome".

There were a few moist eyes at this at this old civil rights hymn sung with passion and hope. Those present remembered the marches of 30 years ago, and the brutality of the B Specials which lit the fire of the long struggle for equality.

Mr Hume looked very tired but happy. "It's nice to see him smiling again, he had worked ever so hard for the settlement," said a woman fondly.

Across the road at the Kings Hall where the votes on the referendum had been counted, the Rev Ian Paisley and his supporters had been snarling, shoving and kicking their way out. They did not have much to sing or smile about. Mr Paisley did not turn up to preach at his church yesterday morning.

Just days ago the booming voice of the Democratic Unionist Party leader seemed to be everywhere. The "Yes" campaign had never really taken off and was spluttering. The "No"s appeared to be gathering in more and more support from Unionists suspicious and fearful of the agreement. The catalyst had been the presence of the Balcombe Street Gang at the Sinn Fein Ard- fheis in Dublin and Milltown cemetery killer Michael Stone at a "Yes" rally in Belfast's Ulster Hall.

These images in newspapers and TV filled many with dark forboding for the future. The morning after Stone's appearance George Cartewright, a supporter of David Trimble's Ulster Unionists, said: "I felt I had been slapped in the face. First of all the IRA murderers and now Stone. What the hell was he doing there?" He had intended to vote yes, but decided to change it to no.

Margaret Jackson, a former teacher married to a surveyor, described how she had been shoving her doubts about the peace deal to the back of her mind, and she had to thank the British and Irish governments for making her address them. She decided to vote no.

But the "Yes" campaign got a huge boost among the increasingly crucial young voters. The concert at Belfast's Waterfront Hall where the singer Bono, of U2, appeared with David Trimble and John Hume was a resounding success.

After that Mr Paisley and the "No" campaigners began to look more and more outdated and negative. A visit by Tony Blair and William Hague last Wednesday was generally well received and on Thursday along the sunlit Protestant Shankill Road and the nationalist Falls Road the mood was optimistic and bullish. People refuse to be afraid any longer. Colin Huston, 33, whose father had served a prison term for offences connected with the loyalist Ulster Defence Association seemed to sum up the feeling of many when he said: "Mr Paisley has had his day, he can't keep scaring us."

Yesterday in the first morning after victory the mood in the streets was optimism tinged with caution. Jo and Des Nixon, 36 and 41, said there was simply no alternative, "we can't go through more of the same". The couple both Protestants from Carrigfergus, voted yes.

The couple, who have a daughter Kathryn, 12, and Allan, 11, feel peace is essential for their future. Mr Nixon, who works at a Mercedes Benz dealers, said: "We are missing out on so much because of the troubles. Look for example at tourism in the south, at the moment we are not getting any of that."

The Yes campaign picked up a large proportion of women's votes. Clare Dorman, 27, a teacher voted yes along with her husband James 28. She is a Catholic, he is a Protestant. Ms Dorman who is pregnant said: "Of course I am thinking of my child's future, but I'm also voting for myself. I am 27 years ago and I shall spend the rest of my life here. And I want to see peace."