Thousands mark signing of Ulster Covenant with march in Belfast

Monday 01 October 2012 17.00
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The parade passed St Patrick's Church without any major incidents
The parade passed St Patrick's Church without any major incidents
Around 30,000 people took part in today's events
Around 30,000 people took part in today's events
Edward Carson signs the Ulster Covenant in September 1912
Edward Carson signs the Ulster Covenant in September 1912

A contentious Orange Order parade passed a Catholic church in Belfast without incident this morning, but residents have accused some marchers of breaking rules.

More than 2,000 people from north Belfast lodges were surrounded by a heavy police presence as they marched towards City Hall to take part in a massive parade to mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

An estimated 30,000 marchers took part in the Orange Order parade from the City Hall to Stormont in east Belfast.

Unionists agreed with the Parades Commission to play only hymns along Donegall Street as they passed St Patrick's Church near the city centre.

Locals had requested that no music be played outside the church.

The church has been the scene of disorder at points during the summer after a band was accused of playing sectarian music outside it on 12 July.

Protesters and residents claimed the bands breached the rules set by the Parades Commission by playing the most famous Unionist anthem - The Sash - before reaching the end of the road.

Carrick Hill Residents Association chairman Frank Dempsey said they had flouted the rules.

"Some of the bands, yes, they did stick by it, there's no problem there. But a number of them bands broke that."

The local man insisted he was not nitpicking over the rules set by the commission.

"You saw the way they danced there with the drum and that's supposed to be a hymn," he said.

But, Fr Michael Sheehan, administrator of St Patrick's, said while some of the bands beat their drums exuberantly, he believed they showed respect during the 20-minute march outside the church.

He insisted the talks with the Parades Commission had been fruitful, saying continued dialogue was needed to avoid future trouble.

"They marched with dignity down the road," said Fr Sheehan.

"I think a degree of respect was shown that hasn't been shown before."

Lodges including the Pride of Ardoyne and Pride of the Shore played Abide With Me and Onward Christian Soldiers, as spectators looked on.

Police were on high alert, with up to 50 Land Rovers stationed near the church.

The parade finished at Stormont with a cultural festival held to commemorate the 1912 proclamation against plans for Home Rule in Ireland.

Other contentious sections of the participants' journeys to and from the main meeting point at Stormont were also monitored by police.