Belfast Telegraph

SDLP councillor Cahill sings praises of Royal Black parades

Cahill praises 'hospitality' as marching season ends

By Brett Campbell

A nationalist politician who was among thousands of people lining the streets to watch the Last Saturday parades has praised the "overwhelmingly positive" response from unionists.

SDLP councillor Mairia Cahill attended the return leg of the Royal Black Institution parade in Cookstown with her seven-year-old daughter Saorlaith, who had "a great time" learning how to throw a band pole.

"She thought it was very cool and enjoyed trying to swing it through her fingers," the Lisburn and Castlereagh representative said.

"There is quite a difference between parades in the city and those in the country - the music was mainly church hymns, which was nice."

More than 17,000 members of the institution took part in six demonstrations across the province which saw hundreds of bands join the 350 preceptories taking part. Ms Cahill said she was surprised by the age range of those involved and has a new appreciation of the cultural significance of the event.

"We met a seven-year-old boy called Jamie who is the best drummer I've ever seen and he was having a ball," she said.

"His father told me he started as soon as he was out of the womb - just like he had done.

"It is being passed down the generations and I could see why that's important."

Ms Cahill, who noted the "wonderful" hospitality on the day, said the majority of negative comments regarding her attendance have come from Sinn Fein members.

"What is the point of preaching a message of respect and equality if you are going to attack those who step outside the box?" she asked. "I have received hundreds of messages from unionists which have been overwhelmingly positive."

She has also been encouraged by a message from a nationalist who said he intends to go to a Northern Ireland football match for the first time following her example.

The largest of the six parades was in Newtownards, where 5,000 members from 106 black lodges and more than 100 bands brought down the curtain on this year's marching season. Other demonstrations took place in Larne, Ballymena, Donemana and Limavady.

Ms Cahill was plunged into the spotlight in 2010 after she waived her right to anonymity to speak out, making allegations she had been raped by an IRA member when she was a teenager in 1997.

She further claimed that the IRA conducted its own inquiry into her account, subjecting her to interrogation and forcing her to confront her alleged attacker.

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