Around 1,000 loyalists attended a rally at the Ulster Hall tonight to protest against Prime Minister Boris Johnston’s EU withdrawal plans.
The sound of Lambeg drums and the skirl of the bagpipes could be heard as far away as Royal Avenue as the historic venue opened its doors for the protest.
In the hall, a series of speakers rammed home unionist anger over the deal.
Many unionists have been strongly critical of the revised plan because it would see Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.
The agreement with the EU, reached in October, includes special arrangements for Northern Ireland, including a consent mechanism that would see the Assembly given a simple majority vote on how the rules on customs arrangements here would work after Brexit.
One speaker said: “Boris Johnson is a traitor. Sinn Fein smell blood.”
He added: “Despite the sacrifice and their loyalty, Ulster’s men and women have been betrayed by a Tory Government — and must come together to fight for their birthright.”
Another platform speaker - an ex-paratrooper from Woodvale, now in his 60s, who served in Northern Ireland and in the liberation of the Falklands - spoke with passion about the dedication and commitment of Northern Ireland servicemen and women to the UK over the decades.
He called on the ‘unionist family’ to come together in the face of the dangers he saw from what he called the Prime Minister's‘Betrayal Act’ - and also had a message for the Taoiseach.
To cheers from the floor, he said: “My message to Leo Varadkar is - do one. Stay out of the internal affairs of the United Kingdom.”
At the front of the hall was, the MC said, the largest Union Flag ever made, and which was hung in the same place at meetings during the Home Rule crisis in the war years of the 20th century.
The flag was upside down, just as it was in 1912, the organisers said, because an upside down Union flag is a recognised sign of distress.
“And Ulster is in distress,” the MC thundered.
The audience included senior Orangemen as well as several present and former unionist politicians, including DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, TUV leader Jim Allister, senior Orangeman Mervyn Gibson,
The attendees were mostly male and middle aged, with a sprinkling of highly-committed women, some wearing No Surrender” t-shirts.
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson and Jayda Fransen, former deputy leader of far-right group Britain First, were also there.
Interspersed with the political speeches were historical vignettes aimed at highlighting the ways in which Ulster men, and women had fought and sacrificed much to retain their British birthright.
On each seat in the Ulster Hall, which has seen many unionist mass rallies in its long history, lay a small Union Flag for people to wave. The balconies too were dressed with a profusion of unionist flag banners.