St. Patrick was a Protestant say Loyalist leaders in Northern Ireland
Protestant St.Patrick’s march leads to Catholic protests in Armagh
Even in towns with organised parades, the moving force was often the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and it was regarded as a partisan event with lots of Irish national flags and fervour.
So while the Queen of England presented her bowl of shamrocks in London to the Irish Guards regiment of the British Army and church-going Protestants often marked the day in religious services, there was little interest or motive for secular Protestants to get involved in the public parades or revelry.
But all that has changed. Meanwhile, the appeal of St Patrick’s has gone beyond partisan into the realm of good public relations with every community on the island of Ireland staking its claim to a part of the celebrations. Ulster Protestants have also latched on to the international commercial appeal of the patron saint and they want a part of that too.
So since the peace process took hold, parade organisers in Northern Ireland have gone to great lengths to remove what would be regarded as divisive political symbols from their events in order to create a more ‘welcoming’ atmosphere for Protestants to participate. Yet while there is green in abundance, there are also tricolours by the truckload at most venues. So many Protestants stay away.
In many Protestant communities, however, they have conducted their own cultural celebrations in their own time-honoured ways and often outside the glare of publicity which focuses on the more recognisable celebrations dominated by those from the Catholic National community. The local Protestant events include a traditional drumming contest in Lurgan and a couple of big marching band parades in the north coast town of Coleraine and in the small village of Killylea, Co. Armagh, near the Border.
These band parades form the recognised curtain raisers for the annual season for the tens of thousands of Protestants involved in Loyalist marching bands. Each band hosts its own parade, inviting in others for a big annual fund-raiser to keep them going. The season, which runs to mid-October, usually features several such band parades I different towns and villages each Friday and Saturday evening.
The Killylea village parade, only seven miles outside Armagh City, now comprises about 40 marching bands and it has already been regarded as the main Ulster Protestant celebration of St Patrick. This year, the venue has shifted into the local small city because it is the seat of St Patrick and can better accommodate the event.
The Parades Commission, an independent statutory agency, has given the go-ahead but nationalist/Republican politicians – particularly local Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy – are incensed at what they see as a provocative intrusion on the celebrations. A meeting between the sides failed to resolve the difference.
Afterwards, a spokesman for the band said that the event will be ‘enjoyable and trouble free’ for all who wish to attend: ‘St Patrick is the patron saint of all of Ireland and all of its people. We fully respect the rights of others to celebrate according to their own traditions, and in turn would ask that they respect ours.’
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