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Sunday, 9 July, 2000, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Drumcree's hill of 'uneasy calm'
Orangemen on the march beside razor wire at Drumcree
Orangemen on the march beside razor wire at Drumcree
BBC News Online's Derek Crawshaw reports on the tensions at Drumcree as Orangemen set off on their controversial parade.

While the Orangemen at Drumcree are frustrated and angry, the aftermath of their Sunday church parade is a feeling of uneasy calm across Portadown.

In the morning, banners were unfurled, sashes and bowlers hats worn by Orangemen from the Portadown Lodge who were joined by members from other lodges from across Northern Ireland.

Relatives of the marchers and spectators from the town mingled with loyalist supporters at the Carleton Street Orange Hall.

The mood was uniformly determined that the march should go ahead, defiant that the Orangemen's right to march the Queen's Highway must be upheld, but - despite all this - pessimistic.

They all knew their Protestant parade would be blocked from going down the mainly Catholic Garvaghy Road - for today at least.

Some Orangemen took a more hardline view than others.

Most did not want to see the sort of street violence which Northern Ireland has suffered in recent days.

But one Portadown man - who did not want to be named - insisted the disorder was justified.

"I do not condone nor condemn the violence. It is the only thing the politicians understand," he said.

Harold Gracey, head of the Portadown Orange Order
Harold Gracey: Led protest to barricades

Like the others, he was resigned to the parade not getting beyond Drumcree Church today, but predicted that protests across the province would grow until the Orangemen got their way.

Just before the march set off, the marchers were led in prayer by their chaplain, who asked God to intervene on their side and restore what he called their civil liberties.

Many more than the predicted 1,000 Orangemen marched away, cheered and applauded by thousands more lining their route.

It was all very good-humoured. People of all ages came out, fathers carrying toddlers on their shoulders for a better view, old folk sitting on deck-chairs and waving Union Flags.

One woman had even dressed her dog up in a miniature Orange sash.

But there was a tense undertone to the celebrations.

Army helicopters hovered overhead as the march passed barriers of razor wire at the edge of a nationalist area.

As the Orangemen went by the staunchly loyalist Corcrain estate, they marched over tarmac scorched and potholed by night-time barricades of burning tyres.

A placard read: "Better to die on your feet than live on your knees."

Further on, at St John the Baptist Catholic Church, police and soldiers were behind more razor wire, concrete and steel.

So were the people attending Morning Mass.

Loyalist supporters cheered loudly and shouted "No surrender" as the parade moved past the church.

From that point, the Drumcree Church of Ireland can be seen less than a mile away across the fields.

The Star of David accordion band led the marchers through the country lanes and they filed into the church for an hour-long service to commemorate the First World War Battle of the Somme.

Afterwards, the marchers formed up and - to great applause from crowds at the roadside - made their way down the hill to the enormous metal roadblock put up by the Army.

Speeches at barrier

With the surrounding fields ploughed up and covered with a web of barbed wire, the parade was clearly going no further.

No-one from the security forces was on hand to accept the Orangemen's letter of protest, and they thought that was adding insult to injury.

Loudspeakers relayed their speeches at the barrier to the large crowds around Drumcree Church.

District Master Harold Gracey was cheered for a full minute before he stepped up to insist that while the parade would be dismissed, the protest goes on.

As a heavy shower swept across the green fields, many Orange supporters were heading away from Drumcree.

Scores - perhaps hundreds - remained on the hill, sustained by hot dog stands and their belief that their cause was just.

A sign near the church said that Harold Gracey had spent 734 days on Drumcree Hill, waiting until 1998's march was allowed to return along its traditional route.

Harold Gracey is unlikely to be deterred by a mere cloudburst, and there is no sign that the wider protest over this parade will simply be washed away in the rain.

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See also:

09 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Drumcree march draws thousands
08 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Drumcree: The route of the march
07 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Picture gallery: Drumcree dispute
08 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Drumcree protest 'has lost integrity'
09 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Dissidents linked to NI blast
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