Friday, July 13, 2012

The 12th of July in The Millmount House

Good night, everyone.
Yesterday marked the 12th of July. The 12th is always a big issue on the Irish calendar, not just because it marks the 5 day countdown to my birthday, but also because it is a big day on the calendar of the Protestant community in the North of Ireland. I will not bore you with historical details or maps of where the Orange marches should or should not go, but basically it’s a problem because local Orange Orders insist on marching through areas where they are not wanted, which always triggers a response in the Nationalist community who, rather than looking the other way for 5 minutes, stage roadblocks and hurl rocks, bottles and petrol bombs at the police, the Orange marches and, well, pretty much anything else within range.  I ignored the riots in Belfast, Lurgan and other flashpoints for most of the day, basically because I was busy at work. On the bus home from work, I watched a clip of some riot or other in Ardoyne in North Belfast and decided to have a pint in the pub across the street from the supermarket where I normally shop during the week.

781. The Millmount House look a bit rough from the outside. The door doesn’t give much away about the interior from the outside and hand written flyers and other propaganda on the windows give the impression of a make-shift operation.  I walked in and found, to my surprise, that it was actually a 13-to-a-dozen neighbourhood pub with an L-shaped bar, a couple of TVs and 2 pooltables. Nothing much was happening, so I decided to split my attention between the paper and the pony races.  A couple of senior locals were sitting at the bar, dividing their attention, in roughly equal measures, between the horses, their pints of Guinness and their primary task of complaining about politics and the weather.  As there was not much happening at all, I focused on the paper and tried to read up on events in other parts of the world. Halfway through an article about yet another member of parliament who had found a way of siffoning off tax money to his offshore account, I heard some noise coming from the direction of the door. 

A guy in a Union Jack t-shirt walked in the door and loudly wished everybody a Happy 12th of July.  As you can imagine, this did not go down well with the locals, all  old school Irishmen who probably had parents that served in the resistance movement during the 1916 Easter Rising.  

While the  bar man tried to pacify  the situation, some locals moved on the Union Jack wearing intruder, clearly intent on marching (excuse the pun) him out of the door. Some locals went outside through the back door. While the Loyalist visitor kept trying to get his point across, a crowd quickly gathered outside. Old men, waving tricolours, closed in on the door. Younger neighbourhood teenagers eagerly awaited what might happen.  Inside, the mood turned ugly when one of the old timers threw an empty glass in the direction of the British intruder who responded by upturning a table and hiding behind it, armed with a couple of pint glasses. Outside, meanwhile, a sizeable crowd had gathered, no doubt tipped off by some of the regulars at the bar, carrying nationalist flags and shouting republican slogans. This is when the riot police pulled up at the end of the street with 2 vans and guards in riot gear. I was still right in the middle of this and somehow I couldn’t decide between making a safe exit through the back door, but missing all the action, or staying put while running the risk of getting caught up in some serious sectarian violence.  While the first pub window was smashed, and a nasty stand off between cops and nationalist materialised outside, the Union Jack wearing Englishman was still holed up behind his table in the bar. After 5 more minutes of throwing bottles and exchanging  unpleasant insults, both sides of the conflict all of a sudden focused their stares at me.
And it was then that I realised that I had been day dreaming again and everybody in the bar was still way more interested in horse racing than in anything even remotely related to politics.

So the count is now at 781. Boston next week, and I will keep you posted on anything that happens inbetween!


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