The village of Keady summed up the divisions in Northern Ireland, even though the County Armagh Orange demonstration there yesterday went off peacefully and without a hitch.
For while the periphery of the south Armagh staunchly Catholic village was awash with the red, white and blue of 5,000 Orangemen and bands — plus 20,000 supporters — the heart of Keady was deserted.
The demonstration — organised by Keady No 8 District — is excluded from the main street, owing to an understanding from the past.
Thus, the marchers and revellers in the biggest Orange demonstration in Northern Ireland had to keep to the agreed route skirting the village.
The route from Bachelor’s Walk to the field at Crossmore Road — a couple of miles — was thronged as the county’s 11 districts made their way up hill and down dale, accompanied by about 80 bands.
They included Portadown — the biggest district at the biggest demonstration — to the border areas like Newtownhamilton and hosts Keady, who led the morning march and brought up the rear in the evening farewell.
The contrasts in the field were just as unusual as the social divide up in the village. For while the sun shone non-stop, the ground had been saturated and marchers had to pick their way through churning mud to find the drier ground at the top of the hill.
Many of the visitors wore stout ‘wellies’.
Organised by district master Gordon Boyd and his willing band of officers, the parade boasted the traditional service and resolutions. Activity at the field suited all ages, especially the children, who revelled in activities like fairground stalls, face painting and bouncy castle — and, of course, the traditional ‘grub’ went down a treat with church tents serving up a wide range.
There were many things to savour. The Pride of the Birches Accordion Band, for example, had a couple of Norwegian women guests and one Latvian in its ranks, the result of European trips by the ensemble in recent years.
There were three new banners held aloft — by Knocknanin LOL 1158, Newtownhamilton, Glenanne LOL 133, Markethill and Kilbracks LOL 19, also Markethill.
County grand master Denis Watson took the chair and the traditional service was conducted by Rev Dr Alan McCann, the county grand chaplain.
The act of remembrance was by Rev Maurice Laverty, deputy county grand chaplain, and the address by Pastor Gordon Graham, deputy grand chaplain.
The main speaker was former grand master of Ireland Robert Saulters and the resolution of thanks was introduced by deputy county grand master Joseph Campbell.