The Twelfth: village's shame over the flag-flyers who went too far
The hoisting of a Union flag in the grounds of a Catholic church in Dervock, Co Antrim, has added a sour note to the Twelfth celebrations for many locals in the mainly loyalist village
Bedecked in red, white and blue, Dervock is an unashamedly loyalist village. Union flags fly on entrance signs, while bunting and painted kerbstones of the same colours line the entire main road through the north Antrim village.
But it was the erection of one of those flags in the grounds of a Catholic church in the area that thrust Dervock into the media spotlight this week.
It was placed on top of an electricity pole near Our Lady and St John the Evangelist Church, and remained in place yesterday, despite widespread anger and condemnation, including from Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister.
A sense of revulsion was also felt by many of those in Dervock, who said the move was not done in their name, but by a group of young hardline loyalists.
The presence of paramilitaries in the area is clearly demonstrated by numerous flags carrying the emblem of the Ulster Defence Association, as well as murals to the group.
"I've no idea why they put a flag up there, it's not as if there aren't enough already," an elderly man in the main street told the Belfast Telegraph. "They should leave the church alone."
Another said the vast majority in Dervock did not support the move.
"This is known as loyalist Dervock, but what is loyalist about that?" he said.
"Live and let live. Look at that bonfire, there are six tricolours on it. What's that got to do with loyalism? It's embarrassing."
Scores of young families took part in a fun day yesterday organised to celebrate the Twelfth.
The laughter and cheering of local children could be heard from the grounds of the small chapel on the outskirts of the village that is at the heart of the ugly dispute.
Despite the outcry over the flag, it has yet to be taken down.
Feet away from the lamppost, kerbstones leading into the church had also been daubed with red, white and blue paint.
Senior unionist politicians said those responsible must rectify the damage done.
This week's controversy came two years after loyalists in Dervock were praised for scaling back on flags and emblems ahead of the arrival of the Olympic torch.
The village was selected as a venue for the event due to the success of its most famous son, Kennedy Kane McArthur, who took gold in the marathon 100 years previously.
Then, fluttering alongside the Union and Ulster flags were those of South Africa and Sweden.
The innovative move received the backing of the community, including a local flute band, Dervock Young Defenders.
As well as the flags, multi-coloured bunting was also put up, along with banners bearing the 2012 Olympic logo.
A similar spirit of compromise has been urged towards Catholic parishioners practising their faith in Dervock.
The DUP mayor of Ballymoney, Bill Kennedy, a member of the Orange Order, said it was "totally wrong" to put the flag up in the church grounds.
"There's many other places in Dervock where they could put their flags and they have done," he said.
"It doesn't help anybody's cause."
Ulster Unionist North Antrim MLA Robin Swann also called for the flag to be taken down.
"All places of worship of whatever denomination are entitled to be shown respect," he said.
"By entering the grounds of this church to erect a flag, those responsible are showing a lack of respect for both the church and for the Union flag itself."
Independent nationalist councillor Padriag McShane added: "Unless there is a paradigm shift in the attitudes of the police and political unionism, the scourge of sectarianism in north Antrim villages like Dervock will continue to go unchallenged."
Police said the removal of flags was not their responsibility, adding they would work with communities to address issues.