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13 February 1997 Edition

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The front line of bigotry

An Phoblacht reports from Harryville



SOME REPORTS FROM HARRYVILLE last weekend suggested that the Orange band parade in the 22nd week of loyalist protest outside Ballymena's beleaguered Catholic Church of Our Lady passed off peacefully.

Up to a point. No parishioners were beaten leaving mass, no buses burned nor were any houses petrol bombed, as happened on Saturday 1 December when Orange mobs used the excuse of a banned march at Dunloy the previous Sunday to go on the rampage. In the following week dozens of Catholics were attacked and houses and chapels torched across the Six Counties.

Last Saturday was tense. The RUC and the shadowy organisers from the Harryville Residents Association agreed to delay the time of the parade and allow the massgoers to leave unhindered.

Our arrival at Harryville coincided with the first arrivals from the Orange mob. They stood across the road singing about being ``Billy Boys ... up to their knees in Fenian Blood'', then claimed their protest for civil rights threatened no-one.

``Print the truth,'' one said to a Dublin journalist beside me, ``no one is here to intimidate anyone''.

Then speaking to a massgoer entering the chapel I was told that Father Mullan, the parish priest, had just that week been warned ``not to come back'' while on sick visits to his parishioners in the Ballykeel estate.

The Orange sashes, the Glasgow Rangers scarves tied tightly around the faces and in some cases the dark glasses tell their own message of threat and intimidation and the true nature of this `cultural phenomenon' known as a band parade soon exposed itself - when the parade started, led by the Portadown Defenders it was a contest to see who could beat their drums and blow their whistles loudest outside the chapel.

The Protestant Boys from the Shankill in Belfast stopped and blasted out the Sash not twenty yards from the chapel; not regarded as a place of worship by these Orangemen and so on and on with the bands from Tandragee, Randalstown and Dunloy Accordion band who at least didn't play passing Our Lady's.

And all along the drunken louts with their beer and threats: ``youse are probably just Fenian Bastards'', they growled pushing photographers and shoving cameras in the faces of those who dared stand just outside the RUC line for a better shot.

It is clear then that what passes for peaceful in Ballymena is that the Catholics remain invisible and the Orange mobs will rule.

 

Tightening the Ballymena Bible belt



By Laurence McKeown

I agree with Ian Paisley. The man is right, one hundred per cent correct and I'm sure that the residents of the Ormeau and Garvaghy Roads would agree with me, loyalists do have a right to march in an area which is 96% Protestant. Now why anyone would wish to organise a march on a Saturday night in the middle of winter is another thing but who am I to tell people how best to spend their Saturday nights?

When I first heard of the proposed march timed to coincide with the Catholic church service I thought, possibly naively, that maybe this was just another attempt at proselytising in the Bible-belt area of north Antrim. Perhaps the congregations at Free Presbyterian services had been dwindling. Maybe the Catholic churchgoers of Ballymena would be bored with what was on offer to them and who better to bring a breath of fresh air into their lives and their worship, than those young boys and girls who David Trimble is always telling us make up the bands who march to and from church services playing nice hymns? No doubt they all go home afterwards and have their roast beef, potatoes and two veg which all makes for a healthy day's diet for both body and soul.

Imagine my disappointment therefore when all I heard from the bands was the Sash. Not just one band playing it but eleven of them. So if this was an attempt at proselytising they had got a few things badly wrong.

Firstly, there was bad timing. There was no one in the Catholic church at the time and if you are trying to get a message across to people it's better that they are present to hear it. No doubt the influx of Fenians into the recently reformed RUC contributed to the delay in the commencement of the parade.

Secondly, I don't think anyhow that the Sash comes anywhere near Hail Glorious Saint Patrick or Faith of our Fathers so, try again boys.

As for the band from Dunloy who remained silent, well, if that's all you have to offer why not just stay in the pub. Oops forgot, these are young boys and girls not given to the demon drink.

But it gets worse. Not only was there no one there with whom to proselytise but those from the media who went along to hear just what the message from God was and who probably would have filled the newspapers and airwaves with it were shunned (though the two cameramen who were beaten up would probably have welcomed such a lack of attention). Again, this is not the best way to make friends and win converts.

Just when it seemed like organisationally the crusade had been a failure Dr Ian, the proselytiser to beat all proselytisers, stepped forward to save the day. Interviewed by Mark Thompson on Morning Ulster he called a spade a spade and it doesn't matter which foot you use to dig with it. Mr Thompson, he said, you weren't in Harryville so you don't know what you're talking about. Mark was converted on the spot, worshipfully cast away from him his worldly goods in the form of his prepared script (no doubt the works of the devil), went on his knees for forgiveness and handed the podium over to the big lad. And what a sermon he gave, soaring to the heights we have all come to expect from the great man, touching the hearts of the ex-RUC men numbered among his followers in the way only a truly great and holy man can.

So any of you who thought that this protest on the outskirts of Harryville was about the little boys and girls in their colourful regalia being prevented from marching through Dunloy, forget about it. This is about church going, and what church you go to. It's just that the Free Presbyterians think the proselytising approach of the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses a bit jaded and passive.

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An Phoblacht
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