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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 14:58 GMT
Joy at school route peace
Parents take their daughters to school at Holy Cross
The first peaceful school run in twelve weeks
By the BBC's John Thorne in north Belfast

By habit the parents, their little girls and their supporters gathered in the shadow of what they call the "wailing wall" to contemplate the usually dangerous and traumatic walk to school.

As always the girls were immaculately decked out in uniforms, with hair neatly combed into plaits and bunches.

But somehow this morning the atmosphere was different.

There remained an anxious tension on the faces of the Catholic parents who had endured 12 weeks of angry loyalist protests on their way to the Holy Cross primary school.

A freshly painted mural in Belfast
The dispute has embittered community divisions
But under a brilliant blue sky on this sharp November day a new, incredible ingredient was about to be tested.

The parents moved off in groups, manoeuvring pushchairs, holding firmly the hands of their young daughters, ignoring a school bus available to them and walking purposefully up the Ardoyne Road towards the welcoming gates of the school.

And it all worked - you could see the relief on every grown-up face as the mothers and fathers returned down the road 10 minutes later.

The suspension of the angry loyalist protest had been delivered.

Laughing and joking

Nothing had gone wrong. No-one had sabotaged a rare piece of negotiated "peace settlement" in miniature in the notoriously volatile area of north Belfast.

In Northern Ireland terms, the Ardoyne Road had at last become a normal school route again without the sectarian extras from the side streets and pavements of the Glenbryn Protestant enclave.

Father Aidan Troy, the priest and Holy Cross school governor, who has counselled and comforted his flock throughout the confrontation, stood along the route this morning watching the transformation.

He couldn't suppress the smile that lit his face - not that he wanted to - as parents passed on the way home, laughing and joking in relief that they had delivered their offspring without incident.

True, there were scores of police officers along the roadway backed by army patrols - but there were no armoured vehicle barriers, no riot squad escorts and no street-corner demonstrators, silent or otherwise.

Protestant fears

The contrast with other Mondays was marked - and now on the Catholic side at least there appears to be an optimism that something constructive can be achieved across the community divide to ensure the Holy Cross crisis never features in the headlines again.

After 9am the Ardoyne Road was deserted apart from one white armoured police vehicle sitting unobtrusively nearby.

But the street corner opposite the red brick of the "wailing wall" was still littered with the debris of a previous riot, the half-bricks and broken bottles of the many clashes this school dispute has generated.

And the reality is that it could all go wrong again so easily.

The ingredients of the deal have to be delivered to ensure that the Protestant people of Glenbryn feel their own security fears have been adequately answered so as to make their protest redundant.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Mervyn Jess:
"Security has been scaled down because of the deal"
Father Aidan Troy:
"This Monday morning is completely different from any other Monday morning"
Glenbryn resident Jim Potts:
"The people in Glenbryn feel the protest was worthwhile"
See also:

25 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Parents discuss dispute school run
25 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
School dispute plans to be finalised
24 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Loyalists suspend school protest
24 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Holy Cross School: Hatred amid the hope
24 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Twelve depressing weeks
Links to more Northern Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


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