Page last updated at 13:04 GMT, Saturday, 12 July 2008 14:04 UK

New face of Belfast's Orangemen

By Chris Buckler
Ireland Reporter, BBC News

Orangemen give their views on the parade

Orangemen regard the 12th of July as a day of celebration, commemorating a great victory at the Battle of the Boyne.

But more recent history meant the marching season in Northern Ireland came to represent trouble and division.

Controversial parades near nationalist areas created enormous tension every summer. Residents did not want the Orange Order marching in their streets.

Orangemen, on the other hand, believed it was their right to walk on public roads.

All too often that ideological deadlock ended in violence.

However, there has been an obvious change. Last year's parades were almost exclusively peaceful and members of the Orange Order are keen to build on that.

They are trying to rebrand their Belfast parade as 'Orangefest'. It is an event which they believe has the potential to become a major tourist attraction.

Diamond Dan

The Order's new unofficial mascot is a symbol of their attempt to make the Twelfth into a family-friendly festival.

Instead of the traditional Orangeman wearing bowler hat and sash, they are promoting themselves with a cartoon superhero called 'Diamond Dan'.

"There is a very delicate balance for us to try and achieve here," says Drew Nelson, the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order.

"That balance is remaining true to our core principles, but at the same time making the Twelfth of July parades welcoming enough that people will feel able to come and judge for themselves.

Diamond Dan, Orangefest mascot
Cartoon superhero Diamond Dan is the new mascot of the Orangemen

"The Tourist Board have told us not to change too much or too fast, because cultural tourism is a reason why people visit Northern Ireland.

"They don't want to see another Lord Mayor's Show - they want to see the real thing."

In the past, the fear of a long, hot summer of violence did put many tourists off visiting Northern Ireland, but in recent years, thanks to the success of the peace process, the number of visitors has soared.

However, not everyone has the chance to benefit from that increase in tourism.

Outside Belfast some supermarkets and shopping centres now open on the Twelfth, but in the city centre, where the parade takes place, the shops will remain closed.

It is an expensive decision as tens of thousands of people will attend the event.

Huge numbers

"The retailers decided - and it was their decision - that they would not open this year," says Andrew Irvine, the Belfast city centre manager.

"They believe there is some work which we need to do as a city to make it work smoothly.

"It is all about controlling huge numbers of people - basic operational and health and safety matters. The retailers are not convinced that is all in place yet."

Talks have been taking place to try to address those issues. If they are successful, 2008 could be the last year that Belfast closes down.

Attracting tourists is one thing. Getting nationalists to support the Twelfth is something else entirely.

Orangemen marching
The Orange marches have descended into violence on many occasions

The Orange Order is fiercely proud of its roots as a Protestant and unionist organisation and that leaves many Catholics feeling anything but welcome.

In nationalist west Belfast, few were prepared to consider travelling into the city centre for the annual parade.

"I would be scared," said one man.

"Not of the Orange Order, but of the people who go to it.

"When I was a child, before the Troubles, I used to watch the parades, but they are different times now."

He was not the only person to talk of another era, now more than 40 years ago, when Catholics felt comfortable attending the Twelfth.

That changed with the violence, but the Orange Order says it remains hopeful that peace can change things once again.

Orangeman slams cultural tourism
12 Jul 08 |  Northern Ireland
Orange Order on parade across NI
12 Jul 08 |  Northern Ireland
Twelfth in pictures
12 Jul 08 |  In Pictures
Order critical of Adams meeting
26 Jun 08 |  Northern Ireland

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