Holy Cross reopens without protests

Peace broke out in Ardoyne yesterday, temporarily at least, as Catholic girls made an uneventful trip to the Belfast school at the centre of one of the city's ugliest conflicts.

It was the first day of the new term at Holy Cross primary school, scene of three months of loyalist protests last year. But despite expectations, all was calm yesterday.

However, the dispute could flare up again since mediation efforts failed to produce agreement. A new peaceline has been suggested but the geography is complex and difficult.

Loyalists, who object to the children going to school in a Protestant area,are still unhappy but found their protest was counter-productive. Yesterday they stayed indoors, leaving the scene to police and Catholic parents taking their children to school.

The children were taken from Catholic Ardoyne into loyalist Glenbryn in ones and twos rather than the protective convoy used last year.

The children seemed relaxed but the parents were tense. Yet they tried hard to look normal, suppressing their fears. There was a falseness about all this. The first day back at school was anticipated with dread by many, and meetings in both communities were fraught as they reviewed their options. People here are living on their nerves, many taking tablets to get through all the anger and fear.

The few police along the route also feigned normality, strolling not patrolling, lounging casually against walls. In the end nothing happened, but there was a sense that police and troops, republicans and loyalists would quickly have been there if needed.

On the border between the two districts, some Catholics stood watching as children and parents ventured into the Protestant area. Two priests hovered anxiously. Catholics have painted a large mural depicting the Holy Cross dispute and linking it to the 1960s civil rights campaign in America's Deep South. Loyalists are cast as bigoted rednecks.

Yesterday, the loyalists put a large US Confederate flag on the route to the school. Evidently a reply to the mural, it was also a reminder of the lack of loyalist PR skills.

Elsewhere there are signs of progress. In west Belfast, Springfield Road police station closed at the weekend after decades in which it was a beleaguered Fort Apache in the hostile Falls Road. In north Belfast, Crumlin Road courthouse, redundant as big trials tail off, is empty. A sign sells a "unique opportunity to acquire modern office space".

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