Sunny Boy and I were in Belfast for his birthday weekend with Number One Daughter. Who was to know that the date coincided with the anniversary of internment without trial, or that the march this year should unleash such violence?
Wandering the city centre with a street map around 5pm on Friday afternoon, we were advised by a young woman to go indoors, ‘There’s going to be a spot of bother. Find yourselves a wee bar and sit it out.’
Out of 600 marches or parades in this area annually, twelve are contentious. The Parades Commission, formed as part of the Peace Process, usually adjudicates or dictates where the march will go. The city centre is traditionally ‘neutral’, but trouble was expected, as it had been since the Orange men were denied their usual route to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. The march itself could have passed off peaceably, but the counter demonstration was the worry.
We saw shops pulling down shutters and armed police in riot gear spilling out of armoured vans standing around good naturedly waiting, presumably, for trouble. We took pictures and they did not seem to mind. We went back to the hotel two minutes away from the centre and although helicopters flew overhead and ambulance sirens sounded, there was nothing untoward. In spite of huge temptation to rubberneck ( Sunny Boy was not keen) we did as advised and stayed away.
The news had the extent of the violence, anger, retaliation, hooliganism (call it what you will) and the town’s absolute disgust at what had taken place. Belfast has worked hard for its reputation as the world’s second safest city, second only to Tokyo, we are told.