After my invitation to join me on a walk in Belfast this morning only one Slugger reader came along. The following is a taste of our day and the photos, mostly provided by Gerard, are on Flickr. A big thanks to Gerard for providing some great company. Unfortunately logistics meant despite best intentions we couldnt get to every aspect but we gave it a good go
UPDATE: Youtube footage now added (one of the UDA groups arrives at 6:18)
This blog entry needs a joint credit – Gerard, I couldn’t have done it without you. ThanksWe met up at 10am before heading into the town via the Falls Road. Passing Dunville Park where SF were assembling it was a mass of high visibility vests with marshals greatly outnumbering any early protesters but groups of people were congregated around shops near the park.
At Divis Tower the éirígí protest had attracted around 200 and a throng of journalists, the riot squad had formed up 100 yards down the road with 25 landrovers, around 200 police men, and dog units. We hung around for a bit before heading into the city centre.
Passing College Square North we noted the presence of 2 parked water canons which werent used.
At Fisherwick place, the arrival point of the SF protest, a crowd of around 1,000 had already started to gather this number was to swell hugely later.
Round at the city hall the streets were lined by 10s of thousands of well-wishers. The atmosphere was light and carnival like. Then at three stages the crowd erupted with cheers as groups 100s strong marched towards city hall down the centre of the road it became apparent that two of these groups had numerous well known UDA figures the other UVF figures it was pretty clear these were the paramilitary contingent.
Then, I made my way back towards the eirigi protest while Gerard stayed at Fisherwick Place. Arriving back on the Falls Road the eirigi protest parade was slowly moving towards police lines headed by yet more marshals in high visibility vests. I rang Gerard suggesting he come back to this protest but he was prevented from getting near by the PSNI and from his report was close to arrest for pursuing the issue.
As eirigi came towards the police blockade an announcement was made over a loudspeaker that the parade was illegal and participants could be subject to arrest. In response an eirigi member made an announcement over their loud hailer This is an eirigi announcement, ignore that announcement. We will be walking on this road.
As the protesters stood face to face with the police a PA system was erected and speeches started. The initial announcement was that with regret Relatives for Justice would not be attending and a statement was read on their behalf.
Then Brenda Downes, whose husband John was killed by the RUC at a protest rally in 1984, addressed the crowd. At this point the police helicopter which had been high overhead descended to a much lower level and my ability, and I assume that of the protesters, to hear the speech was greatly reduced.
After Brenda, eirigi chairperson Brian Leeson made an address and of what I heard two lines got the loudest response
As proud Irish Republicans we will march on our streets without asking their permission
And the much more interesting
The day will come when we fight them, today is not that day
Brian then announced the intention to turnaround march back up the road and disperse. At this point I decided Id make a move back towards the city centre.
Back in Fisherwick Place Gerard had managed to get himself into the centre of things as his photos show and I was on the fringes of a by now greatly swollen, tense and hostile group of 5,000+.
As the SF protest started to march down the Grovensor Road the crowd began to sing.
We were treated to:
Home, home on the range”
Do you want a pastie supper Bobby Sands
And then the Rangers classics The Famine song and The Bouncy which was accompanied by much bouncing.
To shouts of Gypsies, scum, much more and various hand gestures the shinners edged closer at which point members of the crowd that had scaled scaffolding started a barrage of fireworks and bottles that continued intermittently until well after the parade had passed.
Then the drum beat struck up from within the grounds of Inst, received a huge cheer and the soldiers marched out onto the road to what I assume was the RIR regimental march which was followed by Onward Christian soldiers as the parade passed the demonstrators.
Most of the soldiers marched stony-faced but a few couldnt keep huge grins off what were often frighteningly young faces that couldnt have had too many occasions to need a razor.
The crowd at Fisherwick Place went mental as they passed saving a massive roar for the RIR contingent who followed the other soldiers. A small group followed them on their way but the majority preferred to stay on for more jeering at the shiners and sporadic missile throwing.
Then the shinners turned, left and the crowd started to disperse.
So then on along the route of the parade where the majority of well wishers were and a much lighter atmosphere to try and see what was happening at the Markets and the answer to that was not a lot things may have been in the process of breaking up but at Friendly street there were small groups of residents clustered about and a demonstration of around 30 with 32CSM and RNU banners on the road outside the St Georges Market.
As we arrived a policeman politely asked them to break up and they politely complied.
And that was my Sunday morning in Belfast. How was yours?
And here is some video: