Belfast peace gathering: United in their simple plea
The sky was the colour of aluminium and the rain was the sort of rain that only ever seems to fall in Belfast — a fine, relentless mist that leaves you soaked to the skin. It was cold, too, the biting chill that threatens snow.
And still they came. Propelled by campaigns on social media, by information on news bulletins and papers, but most of all by fear and dread and hope.
Around 1,000 people of all ages and from all backgrounds converged by 12.30pm on Sunday at the front of the City Hall for the peace rally.
Traffic flowed freely, amid a small police presence, as they took their places on the cobbles and pavements.
The rally was organised on Facebook, by the same peace-loving group responsible for a similar event before Christmas.
Everyone, including the children perched on their parents shoulders, was united in their hope for peace, and, through words and song, shared their desire for the flag-related violence of recent weeks to stop.
There wasn’t a flag of any description in sight.
Instead, the main banner for the event, positioned at the front railings of City Hall, read ‘Belfast Gathering No Silence For Peace’.
Other placards carried similar messages of hope and positivity, such as ‘Everyone Wins With Peace’, ‘We Can Work It Out’, ‘I Love Belfast’ and ‘Give Belfast Back The Love’.
A five-minute no-silence started at 12.55pm, with huge cheers, whoops and clapping, accompanied by whistles sounding, drum beats and other percussion instruments.
As happy noise filled the area, passing motorists tooted their horns in solidarity.
Belfast musician Duke Special and UUP MLA Basil McCrea were among the throng. Mr McCrea said that he was attending the peace demonstration “as a citizen”.
The MLA, who is facing disciplinary proceedings from his party for agreeing with the decision to fly the Union flag on designated days only, added: “I do think ordinary people are absolutely frustrated and fed up with the situation and really want a message to go out to people that we want this nonsense stopped.
“It’s ruining our city, it’s ruining our country and our way of life.
“I think people are quite prepared to give a bit of tolerance for people to express their view for protest, that’s fair enough, but it’s going beyond that.
“Where people are starting to affect the lives of others, you have to get the authorities to take a different stance and I just think it’s gone on far enough.
“There is a danger of us pandering to people that cannot be talked too and if that’s the case then we need to find another way of dealing with the situation.”
When the five minutes no-silence was up, a huge round of applause erupted, marking the end of an event, which was brief but hugely inspiring to those present.
A key aim of the rally was to cause minimum disruption and maximum benefit to retailers.
And — encouragingly — afterwards, while some people stood around chatting and others headed home, many headed to the shops, restaurants and coffee shops ... the rain and biting chill notwithstanding.