Squinter, on the green, outside City Hall

By Squinter

IT started off reasonably enough. One crowd of union jack-waving loyalists was on the City Hall side of May Street and another crowd of union jack-waving loyalists was on the pavement on the other side of the street. On a traffic island in between stood a couple of foul-mouthed Scotchies with not much time for Fenians beside  a clutch of young Belfast loyalists, most of them with scarves round their faces.

As Squinter stood on the island taking pictures, a large cheer went up and from the direction of Cromac Square came the East Belfast contingent, themselves waving flags and cheering, marching in the middle of the road and determined not to leave it. By the time the front of the East Belfast battalion reached the traffic island, May Street was in gridlock. Three or four police officers made a desultory effort to clear the crowd and a young woman in a black people carrier inched forward, her face a mask of concentration and concern. She got through, but she was the last.

The Trevors ceded May Street to the protestors and went to the back of the East Belfast contingent to direct traffic away from the scene. Above the back gate a figure appeared at a window and the cry went up: “It’s Alex Maskey!” Squinter later learned that it wasn’t, but the mystery man may or may not want to know that to many of those present he’s a “Fenian bastard” anyway.

Squinter crossed the road and then crossed back again. A middle-aged man in dark clothing and a black cap with ear flaps was getting up close and personal with the dozen or so Trevors in soft caps and high-visibility jackets. “Yiz are doing the f***ing Provies’ work,” he told them. Without much difficulty he squeezed between the thin fluorescent line and went as far as the crash barriers that were just feet from the back gates of City Hall, behind which a clutch of Council staff in high-visibility jackets were gathered. He began to bark insults at them too.

Behind him the crowd started doing the Rangers’ standard ‘The Bouncy’, waving flags and jumping up and down. Squinter’s not sure of the lyrics, but from what he remembers he thinks the song goes, “Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy,” and then, um, “Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy.”

An old man in what seemed like eight or ten layers of clothing went face to face with a plump officer with a goatee beard. “Yiz are having a go at the Protestants again. Isn’t that what yiz are doing? Having a go at the Protestant people.”

“Move back please, sir,” asked the officer in a south of England accent.

The well-happed-up protestor was not one for confrontation, however, and changed tack immediately.

“I’m ex-services,” he said.

The officer smiled.

Then came a rendition of “If you hate Naomi Long clap your hands”. A bloke to the right of me – 30s, burly, tracksuited – didn’t just do the clap-clap-clap in between the words, he shouted “F**k the Pope” for added effect. The words fit pretty well.

It was at that point that the police decided enough was enough. They retreated back to the crash barriers and while one officer held one open like a farm gate, the others filed obediently through. There were now no police officers among the protestors and this was a development with which Squinter was not happy; not happy at all.

The Christmas Market beckoned.

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