Silence reigns in Portadown as march proceeds

Click to follow

They had tramped the samecountry lane for 188 years. Yesterday, later than planned by almost 48 hours - some violent, many dull - the Orange brethren from the Co Armagh town of Portadown made it 189.

Only silence and the sound of 500 pairs of marching feet filled the air as they conducted their 20-minute parade, bereft of their cacophonous bands as part of the deal struck with Catholics.

Yet there was no hint of defeat. Indeed, with purposeful strides and heads held high, the marchers in their Orange sashes exuded a flinty-eyed pride that the tradition of their forebears had been preserved for another year against the backdrop of swelling Nationalist resistance along the Garvaghy Road route.

For many hours in the tense two-day stand-off that began after police barred the march as men from Portadown's Orange Lodge spilled from the pews of Drumcree parish church, it had appeared they would not get their way. Yet as the hours passed, tempers frayed and numbers mushroomed.

As the often dignified protest by white-haired gentlemen degenerated into running battles between police and the young bucks, it was clear something had to give. Several thousand loyalists stood in darkened fields in driving rain awaiting word from the negotiators.

At 9.30am yesterday the Rev Ian Paisley, the Big Man to devotees, gave that word: a deal had been done. A few minutes before 10.30am the marchers emerged through the ranks of police with their Portadown District Lodge No. 1 standard at the head. Three abreast they walked, some in their Sunday best, others in football shirts, such is the diversity of the pull of Orangeism for young and old.

Police manning road-blocks observed the bizarre spectacle, which could probably only happen here. Even Catholic residents who had been blocking the route parted to watch in silence, only cheering as the last passed.

Brendan McKenna, of the residents' group, was optimistic about what had been achieved: "Through negotiations ... solutions can be reached. If the peace process holds, this is a demonstration of what can come out of it."

Yet in the distance a band hailed the approaching marchers and they were cheered by thousands of supporters.Back at Drumcree church there was no triumphalism, only quiet satisfaction from one lodge member: "We went to church on Sunday, and came home from church, which is what we have done for 188 years."